You donâ€™t have to spend a lot of money to create a sustainable professional development program that will successfully impact student learning. You have the people and the means in your own organization to make it happen. The challenge for you in creating a coaching and mentoring program will be determining the program goals, choosing and training the right people as mentors, providing the appropriate incentives, creating relevant resources, and finding time to develop and implement your program.
Definition of Coaching
Coaching is customized, relevant, and focused support for classroom teachers. It is a more personal approach than whole group workshops where a wide range of participant abilities can leave beginners lost and advanced users frustrated. Coaching provides individuals and small groups the opportunity to learn just what they need when they need it. Teachers become more motivated to act on new skills learned because coaching is ongoing and personal. It has been demonstrated that guidance is essential for successful innovation of technology. (Zhao et al., 2001) The mentor can then provide relevant support materials, model lessons using technology, and give feedback that the teacher will be able to use to go the next step.
The coaching process is an ongoing process that involves building trust while developing a relationship between mentor and teacher. If you are building your coaching program as part of a grant with a one- or two-year timeline, develop realistic expectations. Determine if the program is meant to target specific grade levels, focus on a curriculum area, or help the entire school. Start small and build a model that can be replicated. Goals can vary, depending on the needs of your school or organization: increasing technology skills, developing lessons or projects, solving problems, or improving teaching practice. If the coaching program only benefits the mentors or does not focus on what teachers teach and what students need to know and do, teachers will not put in the effort needed to make the program work. Be SMART (Eaton & Johnston, 2001) when designing goals for your program.
- Specific: include everyone in the decision to ensure consensus on the goals.
- Measured: define who will be targeted, what they will achieve, and by when.
- Achievable: make sure the goal is realistic and achievable in the time allowed.
- Relevant: ensure that the goal meets the goals of the school improvement plan.
- Timed: develop a timeline that includes who is responsible for what by when.
Here are two examples of coaching program goals:
Goal 1: By the end of the school year fourth- and fifth-grade teachers will map the curriculum and create activities that use technology and increase student literacy and math skills with the support of their assigned mentor.
Goal 2: By the end of the semester, each core department for the sixth- and seventh-grades will form a team with a mentor and one to two teachers to co-author an activity focused on their standards-based curriculum that will serve as a model for their colleagues.
Choose the Right People
The most technology-savvy teacher may not always be the best mentor. Unsuccessful coaching programs have mentors with goals that differ from the program goals. The characteristics of a good mentor include:
- good listening skills and empathy
- effective classroom management techniques
- basic technology skills
- expertise in a curriculum area
- being humble, yet motivational
- persistence without being intrusive.
There are good mentors that have a difficult time coaching their colleagues or being accepted by them. It takes unique individuals to work with their colleagues. The saying â€œyouâ€™re not a prophet in your own landâ€ can ring true for some mentors. You may want the mentors from one school to work with another school in the district. Even if you are a small school, choose more than one mentor so they can bounce ideas off each other. Look for people who complement each otherâ€™s areas of expertise: a curriculum leader and technology teacher. Ask possible candidates to provide evidence demonstrating how they use technology with students.
There are teachers that will offer to coach their colleagues without incentives. However, being a mentor in addition to doing their full-time job will take extra effort and time beyond the school day. You want to keep the mentors, so show you value them.
- Give the mentors a laptop with a wireless Internet connection so they will be able to create projects and communicate with their teachers at any time.
- Offer several release days for planning with other mentors.
- Send them to technology and curriculum conferences so they keep current on innovative teaching practices.
- Provide them a coach for their own support and professional growth.
- Find money for stipends for time spent on planning and coaching beyond the school day.
Create an Action Plan
After you select your mentors, develop an action plan that meets the objectives of your programâ€™s goals. It is really easy to plan more than is possible in the time allowed. It is better to â€œunder promise and over deliver.â€ Partial sample action plan for Goal 2:
Collect examples of curriculum projects
Create or adapt technology use survey
Coach mentors on adult learning strategies
Offer summer institute to teachers
Coach the Mentors
Mentors who have provided traditional professional development need coaching on how to listen and react to their teachersâ€™ needs. It is not easy to watch someone struggle as they learn a new skill without taking over. But as with any skill, they have to do it themselves. It is the same with teachers using technology and incorporating projects in their classroom. To learn coaching strategies, mentors need to explore best practices, collaborate with another mentor, reflect on what they are learning, create examples to use as models, and experiment with activities that they will be asking their teachers to do.
"...when teachers are learning to integrate technology into their classrooms, the most important staff development features opportunities to explore, reflect, collaborate with peers, work on authentic learning tasks, and engage in hands-on active learning." (Schacter, 1999)
Begin the Coaching Process
When the mentors have created model projects, they can identify which teachers will be part of the coaching program. Identify the teachers that already use technology with their students and work with them first. The coaching process involves classroom observations, ongoing constructive feedback, co-authoring lessons and projects, reviewing what worked, what did not work, and why. Each coaching session is unique for the individual being mentored. Use the GROW model (Eaton & Johnston, 2001) so the mentor and teacher know the results they would like to achieve.
- Goals â€“ determine outcomes
- Reality â€“ understand the situation
- Options â€“ review choices available
- When â€“ agree on individual learning plan
Each teacher going through this process will develop his/her own individual learning plan (ILP) and how coaching will best support reaching his/her goals. This will require some rethinking about their traditional responsibilities. Rather than providing knowledge, teachers will use the coaching process as a model to guide, facilitate, and mentor students. A coaching program with your own teachers and mentors builds a growing learning community. Mentors and teachers develop a feeling of ownership and pride when the program works â€“ especially when teaching practice incorporates the coaching model.
This article first appeared in OnCUE April 2004 â€“ Vol. 26 â€“ No. 2 p. 18-19 .
Eaton, J. and Johnson, R. Coaching Successfully. Dorling Kindersley. New York. 2001. ISBN # 0-7894-7147-7.
Schacter, J. The impact of education technology on student achievement: What the most current research has to say. 1999.
Zhao, Y., Pugh, K., Sheldon, S., & Byers, J. (2002). Conditions for classroom technology innovations: Executive summary. Teachers College Record, 104 (3) 482-515.