Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals
by Diane Sweeney
(Corwin, 2011 - learn more
Reviewed by Janet Kaylor
Professional reading has always been the investment I make in myself to stay on top of my practice as a reading specialist, instructional coach, team member, and leader. Fortunately, my spouse merely smiles when I hand him my personal work expenditures (the professional book bill) at tax season. And since it is an investment in my work with districts, leaders, teachers and students, I want to get the most out of any book I read professionally.
Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide to K-8 Coaches and Principals
(2011) by Diane Sweeney was an impulse purchase. The draw for me was strictly the title, “student-centered.” (Read Sweeney's introduction
.) As always, I made sure to read this informational text with these three questions foremost:
1. What will I learn and be able to do after reading this book?
2. What logistical considerations in this book will help me apply new learning to my practice?
3. What potential does this book have for impacting the longevity of my work?
With these questions in mind, I want to share some highlights from my learning.
Establishing student-centered coaching
Section 1 is about establishing student-centered coaching. Here are my key takeaways:
► The use of a coaching cycle is a crucial part of supporting refinements in instructional practice in an organized and purposeful way to support coach and peer learning. Coaching is part of the overall plan for impacting student learning.
Early on, Sweeney paints a picture of a collegial, credible, and professional coaching cycle on pages 10-14 of the book. The snapshot is a dialog between Sweeney and a language arts teacher Kristi. The thinking behind the coaching decisions is made visible as Kristi and Diane discuss student learning evidence from a metacognition lesson Kristi has just taught.
The coaching team makes decisions about adjustments that are student-centered, based on the evidence/data Diane has collected. These evidence-based decisions result in refined goals for ongoing coaching cycles, improved learning targets and enhanced teaching practices.
► Section 1 demonstrates Sweeney’s belief in supporting teachers, coaches, and schools while “learning along the way” (Learning Along the Way
, pubished by Stenhouse in 2003, is another title by Sweeney).
► This section also offers insight into how to get student-centered coaching started. It may seem daunting to get the coaching cycle off the ground, but it is much easier to enter into a collaborative relationship with teachers when the work is centered on a goal for student learning.
► Developing a culture where coaching is at the heart of the learning environment is dependent upon building relationships grounded in respect, trust, credibility, and reliability.
► Every chapter has a reminder of the significant role the administrator must play, headlined Meanwhile…in the principal’s office.
Administrators in collaboration with instructional coaches and teachers support the implementation of impactful student-centered coaching.
From Chapter 1 of Student-Centered Coaching. Read entire chapter.
Data is essential to student-centered coaching
Section 2 takes the reader into data as an essential component of student-centered coaching.
► Navigating data is a launching point for student-centered coaching. In Sweeney's book, data is defined this way:
Data is any student specific evidence that helps us understand where the students are in their learning. The data can focus on academics, student behavior, or classroom community, and it may include written assignments, student notes, behaviors, verbal statements, or anything else that we see or hear students doing. Student evidence can be collected through formal and informal assessments, conferences, or just talking with kids. It can be hard for teachers to manage so much information, yet the richer the array of student evidence we use, the better our instruction
(Student-Centered Coaching; Sweeney, p. 64, 2011).
• Coaching is dependent on authentic, student-centered conversations about what we see (not what we believe) students can do. And that requires data. The use of data teams and assessment walls are practical tools examined in this section.
• A school-based coach works with a sense of urgency and engages in dialog with others about student data/assessment.
• Teachers often perceive data as overwhelming; they can even feel they are made more vulnerable when the focus is placed on data.
• This focus feels far less personal if conversations are centered on student work and student data from observations of student learning. It is amazing what happens when dialog and coaching are grounded objectively in student work—collected, real-time, authentic data.
► Section 2 is also about another kind of data — data that measures the impact of student-centered coaching
. Data can affirm the efforts of the instructional coach with individual teachers and small groups of teachers. The work of an instructional coach is dual in nature, focusing on adult learning outcomes with student outcomes at the center of every coaching interaction.
► So, how do we measure the impact of our work? We use student data formatively to assess impact, but it is also important for coaches and teachers to see the impact the work has on student learning. Sweeney emphasizes using student and adult data to affirm the efforts of coaching and recommends tools, including Coaching Logs, Teacher Participation Logs, the Results-Based Coaching Tool (p. 95-97) and Exit Interviews with teachers.
► The Results-Based Coaching Tool guides us through the following protocol and questions:
• Results-Based Coaching starts with a student learning goal that includes baseline data for the student and charting that data across the coaching cycle. What did we learn from analyzing the student work?
• The coach and teacher team plan what teacher practices will likely produce the desired student learning goal. What is our goal for student learning? What practices are you planning to use?
• The instructional coach determines what coaching practices are needed to help meet this goal, knowing that every interaction with adults requires situational intellect. How will we extend our learning?
• The instructional coach and teacher(s) note what practices the teacher is now using on a consistent basis as a result of the coaching interaction. What practices?
• What evidence is there that student(s) have accomplished the desired learning goal?
We look at newly collected student work to celebrate and determine next steps. (p. 97-103)
Regardless of the work we do we need to know we are making a difference with all learners!
From Chapter 1 of Student-Centered Coaching. Read entire chapter.
Best practices for student-centered coaching
Section 3 moves into practices for student-centered coaching. Instructional coaching is thinking work that requires colleagues to work together in a way that exemplifies just how valuable they are to impacting student learning.
There will always be barriers to coaching that must be overcome; closed mindsets, competing expectations, standards to learn and content knowledge growing spaces. The main points that I took away from this section are:
► Students are the motivation to grow and change. All efforts must focus on student learning.
► Coaches should remember to talk less, listen more and focus conversations on student learning.
► Creating a community of learners for ALL stakeholders requires connecting with others in a productive, outcome-based way.
► Celebrate adults as learners who take chances and ask tough questions!
► Learning alongside one another contributes to the learning of everyone. Credibility as a learner will get a coach invited into classrooms more often.
► Collaboratively analyze challenges and work collectively toward solution(s).
► If it looks easy, then we are missing something because coaching is never easy. Coaching IS NOT intended to ‘fix’ teachers or be a quick cure. Student-centered coaching is an option for every teacher.
► Coaching is part of a larger plan for growth and change. It’s hard work! It is important work! Instructional coaches think positive thoughts and strive to make teachers believe that they can (and will) meet their goals daily.
On page 180, Diane Sweeney offers a very thoughtful final word:
(B)y combining data-driven coaching practices with a humanistic approach, we are driven by what matters….the success of each and every student, teacher, coach, and school leader in our schools. And isn’t that what really matters?
Can this book help you meet your goals?
Further resources about Student-Centered Coaching:
✔︎ Diane Sweeney offers an overview of her ideas in this video
✔︎ Two PDFs created by Diane Sweeney for presentations in 2012
include samples of several tools, including two versions of the Results-Based Coaching Tool.
✔︎ Diane Sweeney's professional website
Janet Kaylor has been the Region 3 Team Leader for the Alabama Reading Initiative since 2005. Prior to her ARI leadership, she was a teacher and literacy coach in the Madison (AL) City Schools for 12 years.
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