Coaching as a Leadership and Equity Lever

by Tammy Gibbons, Director of Professional Development, AWSA

Educator Effectiveness is meant to be an individualized and guided professional growth process.  Inherent in the process is that supervisors act as coaches who develop the capacity and expertise of classroom teachers so that the needs of students can be met.

Recently there have been many indicators revealing that opportunity and achievement gaps exist and are growing in the state of Wisconsin.  You may or not be familiar with WEERP, the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness Research Project. WEERP is a research-practitioner partnership between the Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. This project focuses on monitoring and influencing Educator Effectiveness as a means for impacting achievement and engagement for all students in the state of Wisconsin.

Recent briefs distributed by the WEERP have implications for school and district leaders.  Among the findings included in those briefs is that the current evaluation data of the Educator Effectiveness model in Wisconsin shows that we are really good at telling educators where they are (feedback) but far less impactful on coaching them for improvement (feedforward). In other words, holding a conversation after a walkthrough or formal observation that focuses mainly on the observation components but falls short of focusing the conversation on an educator’s reflection of their impact on learning and engagement. So how might school leaders consider entry points for coaching for improvement?  The use of coaching stems can assist with making an evaluation sound like a conversation, a necessary component of coaching.

While there are many coaching stems that are effective in traditional coaching conversations, the kind that disrupt and interrupt thinking and actions that may undermine improvement for students in our schools must also be used.  These have never been more important than now. When the state in which we live and work continues to be identified as a state that is consistently struggling at closing achievement gaps, we must make coaching a priority like never before.  

We should all be triggered by statements that marginalize groups of people, or dispositions and actions that reflect a fixed mindset.  Finding opportunities to disrupt thinking in teams or with individuals is where a renewed focus must be placed.

Consider  these statements that might be heard in schools:

  • “Those kids won’t ever be at grade level.”

  • “Oh, but these kids live in low-income housing, all we can do is love them.”

  • “We need more interventionists if we’re going to close the gaps.”

  • “It’s not my fault that the kid goes home and no one is there. He didn’t do the homework, he doesn’t get a grade.”

Statements such as these reflect a belief that failure is an option, that low expectations are somehow serving children and families, and perhaps that a sense of efficacy is missing.

Equipping ourselves with coaching stems that may challenge this thinking and lead to action steps that in turn transform and impact instructional beliefs and practices is critical.  Consider the following stems that may allow for more productive conversations. While they may be uncomfortable for you, or for the educator, we are mutually accountable for the experiences our children are having in our schools.

When you hear...

You might say...

If parents aren’t reading at home with their kids, how can I expect to get them to grade level?

Can you name the belief you’re holding about ___ (parents, poverty/wealth, race, ethnicity?)  If you hold that belief, what’s possible–for you as a teacher? For the kids?

Kids aren’t returning their homework.  Parents simply don’t care about their kids.

What is another interpretation other than to conclude that parents don’t care?  How is this perceived problem within your control?

Our school has changed so much.  It’s full of students who don’t care.

What are you hoping to achieve by talking about children that way?

Those kids will never be at grade level.

When you say “those kids”, it makes me think that you believe that only some kids are capable of learning. Is that what you want others to hear?  What does that say about you as an educator?

We need a new literacy curriculum, this one isn’t working for our ____ (poverty/race/ethnicity/gender)  students.

What are you gaining by holding on to that belief about children?

We all have to accept where we are on the journey of being an impactful school leader, we just don’t have permission to stay there.  Why? The evidence is stacking up that gap closing, cultivating resilience and culture-building must be on every school leader’s agenda.  Developing principals as effective coaches has been embedded into a number of AWSA Academies to include the New Building Administrator Academy, the Building Effective Leaders Academy, and the Impactful Coaching Academy.  These are safe places to practice these conversations, to embrace your discomfort, and grow in your ability to be impacting teaching and learning in your school. Our kids need you.


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Elementary Edition - Secondary Edition - District Level Edition