Getting the Most Out of Coaching

Kelsey McLachlan is the Instructional Leadership Coach for Leading Educators’ New Orleans program.  Kelsey began her career as teacher in Chicago Public Schools where she taught for six years.  She also led teacher leadership development at Teach for America Greater New Orleans and was the Founding Assistant Principal at KIPP Leadership Primary.  Kelsey spoke with us about her direct work with teacher leaders to advance educational equity through rigorous classroom instruction.

LE: Tell us about your role. What does an instructional leadership coach do at Leading Educators?

KM:  To my thinking, excellent coaching is about transforming leaders so that they not only increase student achievement, but also positively affect all of those around them. My aim is to help the leaders I coach be as successful as possible at grasping opportunities to improve and reaching goals through collaboration.  I have the privilege of partnering with teams of teacher and school leaders to ensure that they are making steady progress towards student and teacher goals rooted in college and career readiness standards. Reaching these goals is the way to live and achieve our mission of equitable schools for all students, and it's my job to use all of the components of our program to do that: one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and professional learning sessions.   

LE: What are common challenges your coachees face when stepping into instructional leadership?

KM: Accountability is often a challenge for new leaders. I support people to become stronger at holding each other accountable through explicit coaching around this skill in addition to modeling it in my own interactions with them. Holding people accountable to their student and personal growth goals and being honest, or “showing them the mirror”, is a strong way to build trust. In the course of our work together, we agree on goals that impact students' lives, and I want to hold them to those goals in a supportive way. I try to become invested in their goals as if they are mine and check in on them regularly.

Motivating others to action, and teaching the skills to motivate is vital in leadership coaching. I often compare coaching both teachers and leaders to coaching Olympic athletes: you can’t run the 100 meter dash for them, you can’t practice the race for them. The teacher or leader has to drive their own performance through reflection and practice. The coach is there to share strategies and feedback to improve their performance, for example, by suggesting that they shorten their stride or pick up their pace.

LE: What have you tried to help coachees land on a clear path forward?

KM: The most important first step to moving the needle is building trust with people.  I try to deeply listen to words, of course, but also body language and gestures, so that I can hear and understand everything the person means. So that means, I need to allow time for the person to speak and then ask questions to probe their thinking more deeply. Driving people forward in reaching goals is a baseline for a coach.  However, I think one of my most important realizations from many years of coaching is this: what sets a great coach apart from a mediocre one is the ability to see the leader’s “best self” and to help them access that “self”. Getting them there might be hard work, but a strong foundation of personal growth and discovery will make success more likely.

LE: You’ve mentioned a passion for educational equity.  How does that lens influence your approach to coaching?

KM: Elena Aguilar wrote in Education Week, “Coaching with an equity lens means that we pay attention to the social and historic forces which create and maintain systems in which children are treated differently based on who they are.”  In coaching, it's imperative to keep in mind my own identity and the bias that I bring to the table.  I have to do the work of unpacking my perspective, while also listening to and lifting up biases that may live within the work that teacher leaders do.  Also, building deep content knowledge with the teacher leaders I coach allows for a focus on instruction that is rigorous for all students.

LE: I know you love New Orleans! What keeps you so invested in serving New Orleans schools?

KM: New Orleans is, in my opinion, the best city on the planet. It has so many amazing bright spots that you can only experience in the Crescent City, and I believe the people who live here are its greatest asset. Still, our city has experienced generations of inequity and we individually and collectively have so much to do to change that. It's this injustice that keeps me here to prove what’s possible to achieve with our amazing students.