Starting the Year Strong: Creating an Instructional Coaching Culture That Sticks

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With the school year off to a start, we’ve been talking to our partners—a lot. What we’ve been hearing from them became the inspiration for this post. Many of them have a common goal at the beginning of their school year: Start instructional coaching early.

Need a quick primer on what “Instructional Coaching” means? Click here.

What Is an Instructional Coaching Culture? 

We turned back to Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s Leverage Leadership 2.0 for more information. 

To start, Bambrick lays out some foundational steps for building a coaching culture among staff. The key takeaway is “Model Constantly—with Constancy.” Here are the headlines:

  • Set the norm with your leadership for “all hands on deck”

  • Start with the staff who are most invested in change

  • Follow the rollout plan: hook, frame, model, debrief, practice

  • Put aside instruction for one or two days and reset

  • Remain emotionally constant 

The following Core Idea sums up the spirit of this approach well: “Culture leaders don’t succeed because of charisma but because of constancy: always being there, repeatedly, as the calm in the eye of the storm.”

It is apparent that developing a coaching plan that can be faithfully implemented early in the year (or sooner) requires a great deal of trust and understanding between leadership and staff. On this, a thought: “If instructional leadership is about giving your staff the ability to succeed, staff culture is about making sure they want to.” 

How to Keep Up with Teacher Coaching

Once a culture is taking form, how do you preserve it? A great deal of focus is put on making time for coaching activities, and most importantly, protecting that time. Following your plan and remaining committed to your schedule will help in signaling the value of the work to your team and staff. Be sure you’re able to answer the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for the observation and/or coaching meetings with each teacher?

  • How often do these occur? When, specifically, will they occur?

  • What tool, form, or framework will be used for these conversations? 

  • Are systems in place to protect this time for coaches/administration so that they aren’t pulled away?  

How School Leaders Are Preparing for Instructional Coaching this Year 

We posed a few questions to partners and fellow coaching enthusiasts. We wanted to know about their plans for this school year, and how they ensure they’re getting started on the right foot. Here’s a little bit about them: 

What are your coaching goals for the first week and/or month?

Erika: This is the first year that we have this admin structure and our goals are to have all 6 coaches/admin giving quick feedback to all teachers at least 2 per day (teachers receiving 1 from primary coach and one from coach’s coach).

Ashlee: The first 6 weeks are all about evaluating the degree to which our summer learning sessions were effective by measuring the execution of a few key metrics in the categories of culture and instruction. 

Ashley: During the first week of school and/or month we are following up on the effectiveness of the bite-sized action steps that were introduced and mastered during Summer Institute. During the first month of school, the goal is for all teachers to have weekly feedback as aligned to Key Performance Indicators regarding classroom climate, lesson frameworks, and personal effectiveness.

What do you do Day One with teachers to build a culture of coaching?

Erika: Last year we started practicing in PD and coaching sessions. This year in PD we incorporated that. We had folks share what was helpful about it whole group to help with buy-in.

Ashlee: I start by naming my own areas of growth, discussing my professional development goals, and showing teachers that regardless of our years of experience there is still room to improve on behalf of our kids. 

Ashley: We roll out Whetstone and our culture of coaching day 1 during Summer Institute. We are obsessed with professional learning and use Whetstone as the tool to independently practice skills to mastery. In addition, it serves as the one-stop-shop for teachers to see their progress over time. 

How do you focus coaching conversations for a strong start?  Is there a framework, rubric, or protocol that you refer to?

Erika: Coaching conversations start with intentionality around a strong adult culture (overnight retreat, surveys, one on one meetings all before coaching). 

Ashlee: We use the Strong Start FAST Tool because it focuses on the classroom essentials that will set teachers and students up for success throughout the year. Strategic plans change, and goals change, but the core components of a high functioning classroom are always the same—relationship, culture, measurable objectives, etc. 

Ashley: We use the Leverage Leadership frameworks for coaching conversations in addition to the Professional Development structures. 

Erika, Ashlee, and Ashley shared fantastic examples of how their schools are preparing for the year ahead. They are taking the necessary steps, priming their staff, and using all tools available to them. Can you say the same? 

We know that there are thousands of moving parts to manage at the beginning of the school year. Our goal at Whetstone is to help your school get off to a strong start with instructional coaching. Plus, our job doesn’t end after the first weeks of school. Whetstone exists to support emerging and veteran coaching teams throughout the year, making the work more transparent, efficient, and data-driven. The ridiculously amazing Customer Success team (seriously though) will be with you from the start, through set-up, training, support, and beyond

Have an amazing year! :)