2 ways I promote powerful teacher-coach collaborations

As an instructional leader, I’m always focused on schoolwide student growth, but we leaders know our students don’t all need the same strategies or supports to grow. That’s why one of my top priorities is leveraging our data to understand the student needs in our classrooms then providing the targeted tools and resources our teachers can use to meet those needs. This big, ongoing work can feel especially daunting for teachers in Tier 3 classrooms where students require additional individualized support. To make everyone on my team feel supported about growing our practice together, I looked for ways to promote powerful collaborations between teachers and instructional coaches.

My staff and I adopted two strategies to center coach-teacher growth: collaborative PLC cycles and weekly coaching cycles. This approach has been so successful in promoting trust, energy and investment on my team – and we’re excited about the difference it’s making for our students! Here’s how we do it:

Collaborative PLC cycles

1. We set the stage for productive teacher-coach collaboration. We provide teachers with asynchronous activities to prepare for each PLC, such as reflection on recent classroom strategies and student outcomes. When the PLC starts, coaches aren’t asking teachers to sit down and review student data – they’re asking what teachers want to achieve for students and how they want to collaborate. Because teachers had time to prepare, they’re coming in eager to discuss questions, insights and ideas.

2. We set up teachers to lead PLCs. Before each PLC, we ask coaches to reflect on takeaways from our previous session, review the new data from teachers and outline what the new session needs to cover. This enables coaches to kick off the PLC and then quickly hand it over for teachers to lead – and that makes teachers feel excited to take charge of the work.

3. We connect student progress and teacher practice to the learning standards we need to meet. While we’re discussing student data, we’re coaching teachers on how to identify which standards may not be mastered. Next, we model how teachers can go into district resources and pull standard-aligned units of instruction to support each student’s needs. Then, teachers work with coaches on integrating those resources into lesson plans. This helps all of us stay connected with where our students are, what goals they need to progress toward and what strategies we’re using to promote their progress.

4. We support sustainable growth by prioritizing teachers’ time. After each PLC, we build in the time teachers need to make instructional changes and measure impacts. We have to give teachers a chance to pull standard-aligned resources, adapt lesson plans, collect student data and reflect – because that’s how we empower them to come into our next PLC ready to work with coaches and improve student outcomes. Building a sustainable PLC schedule has really boosted our team’s confidence and enthusiasm about meeting goals for student growth.

Weekly coaching cycles

In between PLCs, we run a weekly classroom coaching cycle. We focus first on our Tier 3 teachers because we know they’re tackling challenges and we want to help them maximize their impact on their students.

1. We bring clarity and collaboration to the way we talk about tiers. Our leadership team determines tiers in conversation with all our teachers by discussing instructional rounds and state data standards – and we keep the conversation going so teachers are always in the loop. We never want a teacher to feel like we’re standing back and applying labels to them or their students – we want them to know we’re all in this together. This clear, communicative approach has really helped teachers buy into weekly coaching cycles and set growth goals.

2. We connect weekly coaching cycles to goal-setting and growth. On Tuesdays, our coaches visit Tier 3 classrooms to observe lessons or subjects teachers have identified as challenge areas. On Wednesdays, the coach meets with the teacher to reflect on the lesson and collaborate on new strategies. On Thursdays, the coach will visit again to model a new tool, help the teacher implement it or observe how it’s working for the students. As Tier 3 teachers and coaches make practice shifts and gauge student progress, they map out goals for moving into Tier 2.

These two strategies have been so effective in promoting a culture of student success – and a culture of teacher support, too. Sometimes, when we leaders share big goals for instructional growth, it can be easy for teachers to worry about being put on the spot with student data, classroom observations and coaching plans. By putting teacher-coach collaborations at the heart of our instructional plans, my leadership team and I have been able to create a culture that makes our whole staff feel excited about growing together – this year and next year.