coaching for growth

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.


Building Up Teacher-Leadership in Houston

This year, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) has partnered with TNTP to design and implement four teacher-leader roles as part of its In-School Collaborative Design pilot program. Across the district Instructional Practice Coaches, Intervention Specialists, Technology Peer Leaders, and Data Tracking and Analysis Specialists spend time outside of the classroom supporting teams of teachers at their schools. To introduce teacher-leaders to their new roles and provide them with intensive support throughout the 2012 – 2013 academic year, Leading Educators was tasked with designing and delivering a series of formal trainings and  small facilitated groups called Problem Solving Communities wherein teachers examine common challenges.

At the start of the school year, HISD teacher-leaders explored the foundations of leadership with our sessions Stepping up to Leadership and Influence without Authority. Their professional development then continued with role-specific, customized sessions: Stabilizing InstructionObservation and FeedbackProject ManagementNext Generation Instructional Technology, and Data Driven Instruction, respective to the different teacher-leader roles. Alongside this training, we developed two Problem Solving Communities (PSCs) to further familiarize role-alike participants to their new positions and to create a space for them to share best practices and troubleshoot common challenges. We also trained internal HISD Teacher Development Specialists (TDSs) in the facilitation of these PSCs in November and December.

“Since the first training, I’ve been using the tools,” said one teacher-leader in response to a written survey. “They help us to think about how we can work with teachers to make their jobs easier.”

The trainings built upon those tools last month with the third and final formal training day of the year, when all the teacher-leaders attended a Middle Leader, Know Thyself! session and then separated by role into sessions on Coaching for GROWthThe Growth Mindset, and

Next Generation Instructional Technology II. Two new PSCs were also designed for this spring semester, focusing on Time Management and Situational Leadership; HISD Teacher Development Specialists are leading these sessions in February and March.

One teacher - leader described the sessions as “Very positive and supportive. I feel with these individualized trainings, HISD is committed to teacher leadership roles. "In addition to participants’ anecdotal feedback, our partners in HISD and at TNTP have shared some very useful data on the outcomes of this year of training and support. The chart to the left maps survey responses aggregated from each of the three training days, and is complemented by the many inspiring anecdotes and verbal feedback the Leading Educators team has received from teacher-leaders who have found this professional development to be transformative.