I am a true believer in the power of coaching. I have previously written about the need for teachers to embrace this practice with a growth mindset and shed any negative stigmas attached to instructional coaching in order to realize its potential to improve our craft.
Now, I’d like to consider the impact of a leader’s role in the coaching process.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Melvin Love, principal at Oxmoor Valley Elementary School in Birmingham City Schools in Alabama. He shared some firsthand experiences from his role as an instructional leader. In our conversation, he touched on the collaborative and supportive nature of instructional coaching, the importance of strong teams and, above all, the necessity of trust.
Venola Mason: Do you see yourself as an instructional leader in your building?
Dr. Melvin Love: Certainly, I do. There is the management piece, which is a day-to-day operation, but you also have the instructional piece to ensure that quality instruction is taking place in each of the classrooms. It’s necessary to coach teachers so that they’ll trust your leadership and want to follow you.
Everyone can be coached, even a principal—coaching and development happen for me every day. But as an instructional leader, I must identify resource-based strategies and bring them into the classroom, making sure the rigor of a lesson is where it needs to be.
When you go into the classroom, you want to let the teacher know that this is not a “gotcha” moment. This is part of the coaching process to make you better.
Part of the role of an instructional leader is looking at the data of your school—including attendance and assessments—and making informed decisions to ensure that teachers are meeting the needs of students. You’re looking at progress reports, gradebooks and even lesson plans to offer the tiers of support that teachers need to drive that instruction home.
How do you establish buy-in with your teachers so that they accept you as an instructional leader and are open to your feedback?
The biggest thing in establishing trust as an instructional leader is that you must have a vision—that you want the students and all your teachers to be successful—and that vision needs to be carried out.
When I came to this school in 2015, our data from the state of Alabama showed an eight percent proficiency in reading in grades three through five. So, of course, I had to have difficult conversations with the teachers in the building and then provide the professional development to improve. Through this development, we moved off the state’s failing schools list within a year and are continuing to make progress.
I like how you frame this: To help teachers, you must provide the vision.
Right, and it’s also important that your instructional leadership team—for me, that’s my instructional coach, math coach, literacy specialist and assistant principal—is familiar with this vision and your instructional plan. I tell my team, “You’re an extension of me.” As an instructional leader, it is critical to recruit those individuals that have the pedagogical expertise necessary to be effective while providing support to teachers.
How do you and the coaches work together to set expectations for what teacher development is going to look like in your building?
We use our district priorities as a lens and strategically look at the data of our teachers to make informed decisions, standing side-by-side to coach teachers. It’s important to create a constructive coaching atmosphere, to continually be moving from developing, to applying, to innovating. I make sure that our teachers understand that the instructional coaches are not administrators—they’re there for coaching purposes.
You bring up such a good point; sometimes teachers wonder whether the principal is in the classroom wearing an administrator’s hat, an evaluator’s hat or a coach’s hat. How do you straddle that line with your teachers?
We have our formal evaluation process, which is multifaceted and very structured. However, we also have a more informal process where we “walk through” classrooms looking for evidence of student engagement and rigor in instruction. Using the data from these visits, we can coach teachers upward. To be clear about expectations, I’ll give teachers a heads-up when I’m on the PA system during the morning announcements about which areas I’m focused on at any given time.
How do you know if coaching is effective?
When I go into classrooms, and I see the glow on the faces of students learning; when I see the “aha” moment of teachers who look at their data and say, “Okay, I think the things that we’re doing are working.” When I see teachers thinking outside the box and doing things that make students great and productive citizens in society—then I know things are working.
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