What is this “coaching thing” all about?

What is this “coaching thing” all about?

Literacy Specialist – Uh oh. You have been assigned a new role this year (team lead, literacy lead, FI lead, coach, etc.) and you aren’t sure what this is all about.

Well, that’s quite a natural feeling. These job terminologies imply that you will be working in a coaching capacity with your colleagues and it may feel awkward. A few years ago, I was assigned to be an instructional coach at my school. It took me a few months to feel comfortable with this. I recall hesitating before accepting this new role as I did not see myself as an “expert” in any specific area. Moreso, I did not want my relationships with my colleagues to change because of this new role. After some reflection, I decided to accept the coaching role and focus on the “co” part of the word. I dedicated myself to working alongside teachers to co-teach, co-plan, and collaborate with those who could provide us with support. My role enabled me to serve as an extra set of eyes in classrooms. Together, my colleagues and I could decide how to better meet the needs of learners. After settling into the work, I felt great about myself and fell in love with the role.

Here are a few tips that helped me on my journey as a coach:

  1. Job clarity – Make sure that you are clear about the expectations of your new role. Make sure that your administration and colleagues are also clear about it. Teachers will not feel comfortable opening their classroom doors if they are not clear on why you are there. Depending on your job assignment, your role might be to coach, co-teach, model, co-plan, find resources, etc.
  2. Relationships – Relationships are key to success! If you don’t establish relationships of trust, it will be hard to have authentic discussions with teachers. Each teacher is a learner with their own learning style (just like our students). Some may prefer to watch you model a lesson, others may want you to suggest articles on a certain topic, while others may want to try a new practice with you. One size does not fit all. Get to know the teachers you will be working with. Don’t hesitate to ask them how they want you to support them. A coach needs to have strong interpersonal communication skills, be a good listener and be able to question teachers in a non-threatening way. Once a relationship of trust is established, the coach can support the teachers in elevating their instruction to be more impactful on student learning.
  3. It’s not about “fixing” teachers – Coaching is not about judging the practices of colleagues or “fixing them”. Coaching is collaborative work where together you establish goals, try out new strategies that teachers have in mind, and work to elevate areas in teachers’ practices that they have identified.
  4. Keep the focus on the students – Diane Sweeney (2010) defines Student-Centered Coaching as being about “setting specific targets for students that are rooted in the standards and curriculum and working collaboratively to ensure that the targets are met.” By keeping the coaching focus on students and practices that impact their learning, it will not be threatening to teachers. It’s not about them – it’s about improving student learning.
  5. Change is hard – Humans are creatures of habit and change can be uncomfortable. Change often causes anxiety and confusion and it takes time to move from confusion to coherence. Coaches therefore must be patient because each teacher processes information at a different rate. Changes in practice will not happen overnight. “A coach might come to believe that teachers are stubbornly resisting change when in reality they are simply taking time to balance competing demands on their time” (Knight, 2007, p. 72).
  6. Support for in-school PL implementation – One-shot Professional Learning (PL) is not effective and the best rate of implementation that can be hoped for is 10% (Bush, 1984). The coach can help bridge the learning and assist teachers to add the new PL to existing classroom practices. I view coaches as resources who help teachers connect the dots between the initiatives and various demands of the teaching world. Instead of new initiatives being interpreted as “add-ons”, coaches can show teachers how they should be interpreted as “build-ons” that connect to what is already being done.

Coaching is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth for coaches and teachers. We are all working towards the same goal: supporting our learners to become engaged and successful.

Resources to help support and build capacity around coaching




  • Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Sweeney, D. R. (2010). Student-centered coaching: A guide for K-8 coaches and principals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Bush, R. (1984). Effective staff development. In making our schools more effective: Proceedings of three state conferences. San Francisco, CA: Far West Laboratories.
1,700 Years of Service Recognized

1,700 Years of Service Recognized

Superintendent of Schools – Late last week I was honoured to be a part of RVS’ Long Service Awards. We celebrated the contributions of 70 staff members who contributed 20, 25, 30 and 35 years of service, as well as those who recently retired. These 70 staff members served our students and communities for an unfathomable 1,700 years in many different roles.

The evening was a small token of appreciation and a chance to celebrate their substantial contributions. These contributions cannot be quantified, measured or categorized, but they are significant. All of the staff recognized made a difference in our schools and communities.

Those who celebrated their 35th year started in RVS in about August 1982. At the top of the charts in August 1982 was a famous song from a Rocky movie – Eye of the Tiger. Anyone celebrating 30 years in RVS might recall driving to work on their first day in September 1987 listening to La Bamba by Los Lobos, which also was a movie tune. They might have bought a brand-new IBM PS/2 with the 386 chips with their first few months’ worth of pay. Those celebrating 25 years with RVS likely saw in their first year either Wayne’s World at the theatre or Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. They went to the movie to take a break from flipping diskettes while Windows 3.1 was loading. Our friends celebrating 20 years did not have an iMac because they were not even released quite yet. They may have been early adopters using AOL Instant Messenger on their dial-up modem while singing Elton John’s Candle in the Wind.

In between the movies, songs and technologies, these 70 staff members built connections, found countless ways to contribute, laughed, maybe cried, and hopefully had plenty of fun.

For those we are recognized last week for their long service and/or retirement – thank you. We thank you for all that you do and all that you did. Thank you for your contributions to public education. Thank you from the kids. Thank you from the parents. Thank you from Rocky View Schools.

Congratulations to our 70 long service recipients/retirees and to those celebrating their 10 and 15 year service milestones (who we will be recognizing later in the year).




Superintendent of Schools – Noun – ad·vo·ca·cy \ ˈad-və-kə-sē \ – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.

Let me start by saying I am not an elected official. I work for the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools and have an employment contract directly with them. At the same time, I have a long list of statutory requirements in the School Act that I must comply with. In my role, I work closely with our trustees to support them in their advocacy efforts. I might provide them background information, discuss strategies, share what I am hearing about the topic through my circles, draft letters, and countless other tasks.

Over this past year, I am consistently impressed by the work our trustees do to advocate for students, staff and communities. The advocacy takes all different forms – meeting with the Minister of Education; meeting with MLAs; meeting with local government officials; meeting with other trustees from around the region; working as a collective through the Alberta School Boards Association or the local zone; writing letters to the Minister on topics such as capital needs or transportation funding for French Immersion students; providing feedback on potential legislative changes; attending consultation sessions to provide input on a wide variety of topics; and meeting with parents and other stakeholders in a wide variety of settings, including school councils.

RVS’ advocacy efforts are often focused on influencing potential changes or decisions being made by government. Board of Trustees are heavily influenced by laws of the land and associated regulations. Boards do not have complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do.

Recently, I was able to spend two days as part of an RVS contingent at an Alberta Education consultation for our region. Trustees, senior staff members and parents were in the room discussing a wide variety of topics related to potential legislative changes. The sessions included group work, but also allowed individuals to provide direct comments to Alberta Education through online tools. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these topics and provide input rather than reacting to them once they are enacted. Having table discussions with people from different school divisions and from different roles helped me understand the issues from different perspectives.

While advocacy efforts take time, and may not have immediate results, I believe those efforts are worth the time and energy.


Learning about Learning Sprints

Learning about Learning Sprints

Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was able to join one of our schools and take part of a pilot project being led by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The project is called the Agile Schools Network led by Australian, Dr. Simon Breakspear. Dr. Breakspear and his team have looked at educational research, effective teaching practices and what works in the business world to come up with their approach. Their model, called Learning Sprints, is not revolutionary, but brings laser focus to small, incremental changes in an effort to make large change. In our context, it is about working collaboratively, focusing on student outcomes and how to help students achieve success by addressing one small issue at a time.

Dr. Breakspear challenged us to work as a team to take “boulder” challenges, break them into “pebbles” (smaller components), and then find a narrow, specific outcome called a “sand” focus. Once the issue is defined, we work to understand the issue. Why are students struggling with this outcome and how might we be contributing?

Next we look at what we can do to design learning opportunities to specifically help students achieve the outcome. We don’t look to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead we look at what we can do in an effort to help students achieve that small, specific outcome. We identify a target group of students for the sprint. We look at what research tells us, as well as build on the collective wisdom and experience of the people in our sprint team.

Now it’s time to put the plan into action. We spend 1-4 weeks attempting the designed activities and we assess. We hold weekly stand-up scrums to discuss successes and challenges and share what is working. We ask ourselves, “How do we know if we helped address the outcome? What worked and what did not? Given the experience, what do we focus on for the next sprint?”

Dr. Breakspear and his team developed a number of tools, which he shared over the course of the day. The approach seemed very manageable and calls on us to collaborate and work collectively. We learn and grow as a small team focused on a specific student outcome. It builds on concepts of action research, spirals of inquiry, professional learning communities, but on a micro-scale. I liked the concept of multiple, micro-projects rather than spending the whole year on one outcome. Through addressing multiple “sand” problems we will be able to address the larger “pebble” challenges, which when put together helps tackle the “boulders”.

Favourite quotes from Dr. Breakspear over the day:

  • “Literacy and numeracy are the gateway drugs to learning.”
  • “The best way to do big things is to do a bunch of little things.”
  • “You’re not teaching if students are not learning.”
  • “Teaching causes learning.”

We will spend two more days with Dr. Breakspear and I’m looking forward to learning more. If you want to learn a more, check out http://www.agileschools.com.


Celebrating and Supporting Beginning Teachers

Celebrating and Supporting Beginning Teachers

Principal, Ralph McCall School – Some of them “played school” in their basements as a kid. Others discovered a passion for working with children and teens through volunteer or paid involvements. Many of them have family members who are educators. Each one recently completed a succession of valuable practicum experiences. And now all of them are embarking on their teaching careers in Rocky View Schools and throughout the province.

Welcome to the profession, beginning teachers!

In RVS, we are recent beneficiaries to innovation, energy and the enthusiasm of working alongside dozens of colleagues new to the profession. How valuable each is to their site and to their students. How fortunate the families of these learners is to have an inspired new teacher leading their sons and daughters.

But as thrilled as we are to have them on the RVS team, how do the veterans among us ensure these new teachers aren’t merely surviving, but thriving? According to an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) study from 2013, there remains a high attrition rate of teachers who leave the profession within their first five years. The potential reasons for this are vast and not the focus of this commentary. Rather, it is to highlight how experienced colleagues might mitigate it happening, providing ample support to beginning teachers from the outset. In RVS, and across the province, there are many options and formats being employed. If you’re a new teacher yourself, I hope you are accessing some / most / ALL of these. If you are in the position to guide or mentor, please do so! We all need to be aware of the following opportunities for our colleagues, just starting out:

  • RVS Community of Practice for Beginning Teachers
  • ATA Beginning Teachers’ Conferences in Calgary and Edmonton
  • #ntchat (New Teacher Chat on Twitter)
  • School Based Mentorship Partnerships and Programs
  • Induction Ceremonies
  • Administrative Support through formal and informal evaluations
  • And more – just Google “Supporting Beginning Teachers” and there is no end to the titles, resources and other ideas!

All teachers were once beginning teachers. We all remember what an exciting time it was, what it felt like to be starting out and what a big difference even the smallest of supports made. We are lucky to have so many new colleagues in our Rocky View Schools. Let’s ensure we nurture their talents and their well-being!