Is Coaching for Your School or Program?

May 23, 2019 no comments S

This blog is the final in a four-part series on EdVision’s coaching model in the Midwest School Transformation Project.  Click here to start with part 1.

The Midwest School Transformation Project is a three-year project that will provide up to 15 schools across Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota with individualized support to transform education to more student-centered learning models. For more on the project visit http://edvisions.org/the-edvision/mstp/ and stay tuned for further articles on the project by our insightful writer, Dr. Nancy Allen-Mastro!

Dr. Allen-Mastro began her career in education as an elementary school teacher and later spent 26 years as a school administrator, serving in a variety of roles, including Principal, K-12 Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment, Assistant Superintendent, and Superintendent in rural and suburban schools in Minnesota.  She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Montana State University, a Master’s degree from Bemidji State University, and a Doctorate from the University of North Dakota.  She retired in 2017.  


Is Coaching for Your School or Program?

By Dr. Nancy Allen-Mastro

In the first post in this series from EdVisions on coaching, we looked at the research around coaching.  In the second post, we heard about the way in which the Midwest School Transformation Project (MSTP) seeks to use coaching to harvest lessons about school transformation from charter schools by linking charter school leaders with district schools.  In the third post, we heard from some of the coaches and people in the districts who’ve signed on to the project.  I hope you have enjoyed all three posts.

I also hope you are thinking about how you can begin to incorporate coaching into your own school.  Perhaps you already do and are looking for ways to expand the role. Wherever you find yourself, coaching can help launch an innovation as well as help peel back the layers of change when seeking to transform an existing program.  

The question you might be asking is whether coaching is feasible financially.  The answer is yes. Sure, coaching, like all forms of professional development, costs money.  On the surface, it seems like it would cost a lot more than traditional approaches, especially if you don’t have a grant to assist in start-up costs.  But what if we viewed coaching as an opportunity to think differently about how to support teachers and principals rather than a zero-sum budget proposition?   

No one would argue that schools are cash-strapped.  There are never enough resources to go around. It’s frustrating, to say the least.  But when budgets are tight, there’s only one way to go, and that’s to look inward. If you want to embed coaching into your professional development model, there are several ways this might occur.  

First, are there existing positions you can revamp?  Granted, no one is sitting around doing nothing. People in schools are busy people!  But ask yourself, is what people in various positions currently do more impactful than what a coach might accomplish?  If not, this might be a place to start.

Second, are there ways to redistribute your current expenditures to support a coaching model?  In my last district, before I retired, we shifted roughly one million dollars of state, local, and federal funding in our existing budget to staff one instructional coach in each of our five elementary schools and two coaches in each of our three secondary schools.  This was accomplished through a collaborative planning process that took an entire year. The total shift was nearly one percent of our operating budget; everyone had to have skin in the game. But we were successful, providing evidence that major shifts are possible.

Third, if necessary, start small.  Instead of dedicating an entire full-time equivalent to a coaching role, what if you did so in small increments?  For example, at the elementary level, is there a way for two teachers to job share, enabling one person to serve as a coach on a part-time basis?  At the secondary level, can a teacher be released for one or two periods to serve as a coach? I’ve seen this work well also. This approach can be done at a minimal cost.     

It’s worth noting that coaching need not be the only kind of professional development offered.  According to Kraft, Blazer, and Hogan (in press)¹, the effect size for coaching is larger by .31 on instruction and by .12 on achievement when it follows group training on things like content knowledge.  A second consideration these researchers point out is the added benefit when coaching is offered in conjunction with instructional resources and materials.  And the third bit of good news from these researchers is that they found no evidence that coaching needed to be delivered in high amounts in order to have an impact.  In other words, when coaching is combined with other measures, a little can go a long way.

That all said, coaching for innovation is different than coaching for literacy, math, or technology, areas in which coaching is becoming more common.  This important reminder comes from Julene Oxton, the director at EdVisions for the Midwest School Transformation Project, who states, “Coaching for innovation encourages people to dream of something different for students to the degree that it transforms a system, not merely improves it.  That means redefining the roles of teachers and students and creating new models around the use of resources such as time, technology, personnel, space, assessments, and how students are grouped, to name a few.”

If there is anything we’ve learned from our coaches in the last two blog posts, it’s that solutions will come in many forms.  Your local context, the resources you have at hand, the needs of your students and staff, and the unique opportunities that your situation presents will drive much of what you do.  But beyond the more tangible elements are those that are intangible: vision, passion, determination – these will be of far greater importance.

Gone are the days when we can throw up our hands and say it can’t be done.  Imperfect as things are, educators are proving more can be done. Don’t be shy in stepping out into uncharted territory.  It might take multiple iterations, and things will shift along the way. But that’s the work of transformation. As we’ve heard, it’s messy.  Expect it, plan for it, and embrace it. If you do, good ideas will flourish and innovation will prevail.

For inspiration and ideas for your program, stay tuned as we journey along with the schools in the Midwest School Transformation Project in future blog posts.      

CITATIONS

  1. Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D., Hogan, D. (in press). The effect of teaching coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research.  Retrieved at https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mkraft/files/kraft_blazar_hogan_2017_teacher_coaching_meta_analysis_wp.pdf