Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reflections on Coaching

Four years ago this past August, I started my journey as a tech coach. Just like my first years in the classroom, I thought coaching was about content and knowledge. I studied up on new tech tools the summer before and read about all of the newest and greatest tech fads. I have now realized content knowledge is important, but the most important thing about coaching is the relationship established with the teachers. In my classroom, children didn’t care what I knew until they knew I cared about them. Teachers are the same. I can have all the knowledge in the world, but if I don’t listen and hear what their needs are, it doesn’t matter how many new tech gadgets I know about. While forming relationships, I am able to show the teachers I am there to support their goals and this establishes trust. Marzano and Simms (2013) emphasize “trust is an important aspect of effective coaching relationships and effective schools” (p. 10).  Parker Palmer (2007) uses the phrase “teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability” (p. 17). When I go into a classroom or into a team meeting, I always try to remember what it was like to be the teacher being coached and feeling vulnerable. I have been lucky that I have had two phenomenal coach mentors in my career that I have been able to model myself after.
Cameron McKinley, my tech coach when I was a fourth grade teacher, was (and is) an incredible teacher-leader. Cameron would often pop in while I was teaching to ask me a question, but she always had her eyes and ears open. She would read the charts on my walls, ask my students questions, and would ask me what I was teaching. She asked it in a way that I knew she wasn’t judging me but would gently offer me suggestions of how I could incorporate technology to help the students understand the concept better. She would not only suggest, she would also come in and support me as I implemented those ideas. I knew, because of the trust we had built, that I could always ask follow-up questions and advice. Cameron was split between many schools, but she would often take time to sit down with our team while we ate lunch to hear us talk about our lives and our frustrations and successes in our classrooms.
My second coach-mentor is Kathy Snyder, our literacy coach. Kathy is masterful at helping us identify, define and solve our problem areas as teachers. She did this through constant feedback. Marzano and Simms (2013) say “feedback helps teachers figure out how to accomplish their goals” (p. 11).  Kathy would often sit down at a meeting with me and I would discuss an issue I was having in my classroom. Through dialogue, she helped me identify what the root of the issue was and helped me set goals that were important to me. As a coach today, I work hard to listen to teachers’ personal goals. Gallwey (as cited in Marzano & Simms, 2013) expertly explains that by ”allowing someone to choose what to work on and how to work on it builds trust and keeps a coaching relationship from becoming manipulative” (p. 11). The video below also emphasizes the importance of using feedback from the coachee to drive instruction (Tremonte, 2016).  I apply this now as a tech coach and always start the year off with asking teachers to identify their goals and for me to help them achieve them.

Marzano, R.J., Simms, J.A., Roy, T., Heflebower, T., & Warrick, P. (2012). Coaching classroom instruction. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.
Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tremonte, A., (2016). ISTE coaching standard 4: Professional and program evaluation. YouTube. Retrieved 29 September 2016, from



  1. Sara, what a great couple of coaching experiences you have had. A good coach can do a lot of good, but I know from observation that a bad coach can do damage that can take a long time to remediate--if it ever can be.

    Trust is the first goal in Cognitive Counseling (Costa & Garmston, 1992)--"trust in the process, trust in each other, and trust in the environment" (p.92). I think it's interesting that they list trust in the process first and trust in each other second. And subsequent research bears that out: our text lists two recent findings that suggest that the success or failure of a coaching experience depends mostly on the willingness of the person being coached to go through the process (Marzano & Simms, 2015, pp. 9-10). Trust in integral to getting the coachee to be willing to invest himself or herself in the process--to be willing to do what needs to be done.

    Costa, A. & Garmston, R. (1992) Cognitive coaching: A strategy for reflective teaching. In: Teacher Support Specialist Instructional Handbook (pp. 91-96). Winterville, GA: Northeast Georgia RESA. Retrieved from

    Marzano, R. J., & Simms, J. A. (2012). Coaching classroom instruction. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.

  2. Sara- As always, I loved your post! I could not agree more with one of the quotes you made in your blog. Marzano and Simms (2013) emphasize “trust is an important aspect of effective coaching relationships and effective schools” (p. 10). Trust is HUGE, hard to gain, and easy to lose. Trust is the glue and the spring board for learning. I would love to come see you in action. I also enjoyed reading about being "goal oriented" with your teachers as well. Nothing beats small wins! It sparks the growth mindset in all of us! Thank you again for sharing!