At the National Equity Project, we believe that equity-focused instructional coaching begins with developing a caring and meaningful learning partnership between the coach and teacher. Bringing a genuine curiosity about who this teacher is – as an educator and as a human being – helps us actively get to know what she values and needs most to do her best work on behalf of every student. Building this trusting relationship starts with intentional and focused listening.
Here are some of the things we listen for:
- What inspires and excites the teacher, what initially drew her to become a teacher – where she gets her energy
- How the teacher is thinking about student achievement – what he values as indicators of success, what he is most committed to achieving with students
- What the teacher knows about how students are experiencing her classroom, particularly students who have not historically felt successful in school
- The language the teacher uses: how he describes the way different students “show up” in class, how he describes his “best” students, what categories he holds in his mind about different types of students – all of this can help us understand what this teacher values, as well as potential “blind spots” that might get in the way of serving every student well
- How the teacher explains the challenges she has faced with students she has had trouble reaching – how does she interpret this challenge and what is causing it? How curious is she about what else might be going on?
Ideally, we have opportunities for this listening and relationship building before we see the teacher working with students, to start the coaching relationship from a place of interest in and empathy for the teacher (rather than the inevitable questions and pedagogy-focused assessments that arise when observing classroom practice). As we begin to understand more about the values, beliefs and priorities of the teacher, we can start to move into some explicit conversations to co-construct the coaching partnership and what it means to coach with an equity lens. For us, this often involves:
- Learning about the teacher’s previous experiences of being coached (formally, or informally when learning something new) to understand what helps him feel more open to feedback and new learning, and what can help him trust we are on his side
- Making connections between what she cares about most and what we want to help her achieve
- Collaboratively identifying artifacts or data that will focus our coaching conversations, such as
- Exploring what kinds of student work analysis might deepen our learning
- Clarifying what meaningful student engagement looks like (for each of us) and how we will gather data on engagement
- Sharing observations of students in class and conversations we have with students about their experience and their thinking
- Determining if and how we might focus on a few students for deeper learning, based on who the teacher is curious about and which specific students we need to learn more about to help them accelerate their own learning
Throughout these initial conversations, as instructional coaches for equity we hold on to the urgency we feel to ensure that every child receives a high quality education, while we honor that it is the teacher who ultimately chooses if and when to learn and grow. We trust that with the right kind of support, teachers have the capacity to solve their own problems and can take on bold new actions in service of supporting the success of every student in their care.