Tag Archives: coaching

Reflecting with #5wins

Hey everyone,

It has been a while since I’ve blogged, as life and work has been busy. Each day brings news challenges and opportunities, and there have been many days that I have worked long until the evening.

Sometimes, as a coach who works in multiple schools, I begin to doubt my impact. In my classroom, I had a regular barometer of my effectiveness with my students’ engagement and progress. As a coach, this is somewhat true, but results are often more delayed. In addition, when you are involved in so many activities, it is sometimes difficult to assess your effectiveness because you are always working on to the NEXT THING.

In the past several years, reflection was a required part of my life – as I worked on a Master’s degree, the Governor’s Teacher Network and National Board renewal. But this year, I have not had so many additional projects — which, quite honestly, has been a breath of fresh air.

But, there has been a downside.

When I am so busy during the day and I am not regularly reflecting, I begin to doubt myself. I begin to wonder about my impact.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Baruti Kafele speak about evidence and reflection. He essentially said, “Look at yourself in the mirror, and ask yourself, ‘what is my evidence of effectiveness?'”

I feel like I have been neglecting that question: “What is my evidence that I am an effective instructional coach?”

So, I came up with an idea. Each weekend, I am going to reflect on my week and post #5wins from the week. I am going to look at impacts and evidence of growth in students, teachers, and myself. Here are my tweets from this week.

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I think this will be a good way for me to make progress transparent. If you’d like to join me, please post about your successes from the week with the #5wins hashtag. I’d love to be inspired by what you’re accomplishing as well.

Three Growth Mindset Lessons from My Journey as an Instructional Coach

The following post was my share about growth mindset as an ASCD Leader at ASCD L2L in Arlington, VA on July 23rd, 2015.

I am Kenny McKee, and I am a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. I want to share 3 lessons I’ve learned on my  growth mindset journey from when I shifted from being a classroom teacher to a high school literacy coach in my district. I hope that regardless of your position, that these leadership lessons will resonate with you.

Lesson 1:  You can’t do it alone.

Before the instructional coaching program in my district expanded, little progress in literacy had occurred at the high school level. Although I had success in my classroom, influencing instructional change at such a vast  level intimidated me.  My first “a-ha” was I couldn’t do it alone, which as someone who occasionally suffers from “perfectionism” was very hard. I reached out to others in my position, scoured professional literature, and found an amazing online community of coaches on Twitter.   I learned that I must  truly partner with teachers because the top-down approach our district had used in the past had made little impact. And in that process, I learned from the teachers I worked with as well.  If you are open to learning from everyone you work with, I believe that you’ll find that there are many people who will go on the growth journey with you. And you need them.

Lesson 2. The rhetoric of “best practices” can stifle growth.

The approach to literacy our district had used before emphasized a fixed “right way”  that was actually holding back progress. The content-area teachers had vast, and often untapped, knowledge of how experts read, write, and think in their disciplines. Rather than the prescriptive “one-size-fits-all” approach previously dictated to teachers, we focused on what mattered most, students’ learning, and that led to subtle shifts in culture and instruction. School-based, cross-content literacy teams began to influence both what forms of instruction would impact all disciplines and how literacy looked different in math, English, history, and the other domains.You see, I think that sometimes the phrase “Best Practice” can become the epitome of a fixed mindset, as it implies that things cannot get better. It also implies that what is best is the same for all students, subjects, and classroom contexts is the same which is simply not true. Focus on “better” to continually improve — not “best”.

11800158_10207057608060066_8002370731518309674_n (Photo Credit: Thanks to 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader, Michael Matera (@mrmatera), for the great photo.)

Lesson 3. Change can’t occur without conflict.

Those literacy teams’  ideas  and new district leadership collaborated to create an instructional framework that asked that students read, write, move, speak, and think in each class every day. The framework would empower teachers with the autonomy in how those activities would happen.  This work was not easy. Some teachers did not want to take up the challenge of diversifying their instruction — even if they had control over how they would do it. I had been rather naive, believing that my politeness, professionalism, and a supportive stance would avert all conflict. Because of that anger, I had to personally grow by finding ways to  become more resilient and navigating conflicts that emerged.  I have learned that any time your position yourself as a leader, whether formally or informally, you are inviting conflict, and sometimes that can result in greater solitude. So, it’s important to effectively communicate with all stakeholders, especially the naysayers.  If you do, you’ll find that there are many people willing to take the journey with you.

The Coaching Cycle: The Link Between Coaching and Student Achievement

Instructional coaches are tasked with many responsibilities. Leading and developing workshops, collaborating with PLCs, facilitating school-wide assessments, organizing learning walks, analyzing student achievement data, and various other activities all contribute to  positive change in schools. However, in the proceedings and productions of these large-scale activities, oftentimes, the heart of coaching, the one-on-one coaching cycle, can fall to the wayside.

Why? To some people, the coaching conversation seems so small. Facilitating workshops and school-wide activities seems important and can make the coach feel important. Activities like these might provide justification for his or her job to wary teachers and administrators.  Let’s face it — big activities look good.  Also, it feels like we are accomplishing more (faster!) when we have lots of people involved. The coaching cycle just doesn’t seem time efficient, right?

However, much of the available research about coaching suggests that change really happens one collaboration at a time, through the use of one-on-one coaching.

So, what do I mean by a coaching cycle? Although there are many interpretations of what constitutes a “cycle”, I categorize a cycle as a professional learning sequence that includes a pre-conference, classroom instruction, and a post-conference reflection.

The classroom instruction and reflection can play out in three scenarios.

  1. The coach observes the teacher teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the teacher.
  2. The coach and the teacher plan and teach a lesson together. They then reflect together.
  3. The teacher observes the coach teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the coach.

There is still much research to be done, but studies that suggest that coaching has a positive impact on student achievement describe collaborations that I would characterize as coaching cycles.

Some studies show that teachers implement more literacy strategies in their classrooms when they work with literacy coaches (Feighan & Heeren, 2009; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Teachers especially give high praise to one-on-one coaching when compared to traditional off-site professional development (Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Of all the possible ways coaches work each day, teachers report that significant coach and teacher collaborations have the most impact upon the learning in their classrooms (Campbell & Sweiss, 2010; Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Most studies show that teachers report increased student engagement and on-task behavior as results of coaching collaborations (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Coaching cycles help teachers make changes in their instruction because coaches can tailor data collection, planning, and advice to the individual teacher’s situation and needs.

A three-year study of elementary schools tracked the amount of time spent coaching and resulting student achievement.  The researcher used alphabet letter recognition and scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (PPVT-III) to measure student achievement.  A significant correlation between time spent coaching and student achievement was found in the first year, but weak correlations were found during the following two years.  The first year both coaches and teachers had a strong focus on particular content and techniques.  They also had well-defined consultative and reflective conversation cycles.  Teachers and literacy coaches had little focus and fewer structured coaching cycles in years that yielded weak correlations.  The author suggests that more time is not as important as the “type and quality of the interaction” (Shidler, 2009). Thus, the use of structured coaching cycles and a school wide focus likely explains the greater student achievement results in the first year of coaching.

In a study of four middle schools where literacy coaching was implemented for one year,  teachers reported much higher student engagement levels, and student scores made modest gains. Baselines from the state reading test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) from the prior school year were compared to scores on both assessments after the year of literacy coaching.   Classrooms with the treatment (individual literacy coaching collaborations) increased an average of five points on the state test and seven points on the ITBS (Feighan & Heeren, 2009).

According to available research, structured coaching cycles yield a significant impact on student learning.

Lasting change happens one conversation at a time. Let’s not allow the elaborate productions of meetings, workshops, and high-stakes data blind us from what we can do that really helps teachers become better for their students: one-on-one coaching.


Campbell, M. B., & Sweiss, C. I. (2010). The secondary literacy coaching model: Centrality of the  standards and emerging paradigms. Journal of Reading Education, 35(3), 39-46.

Feighan, K., & Heeren, E. (2009). She was my backbone: Measuring coaching work and its impact. CEDER Yearbook, 67-93.

Gross, P. A. (2010). Not another trend: Secondary level literacy coaching. The Clearing House, 83, 133-137.  doi:10.1080/00098651003774844

Kretlow, A. G., & Bartholomew, C. C. (2010). Using coaching to improve the fidelity of evidence-based practices: A review of studies. Teacher Education & Special Education, 33(4). 279-299. doi:10.1177/0888406410371643

Shidler, L. (2009). The impact of time spent coaching on teacher efficacy of student achievement.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5). 453-460.

Establishing Partnerships as an Instructional Coach

So you may be excited to begin your first position as an instructional coach, or you may be an experienced coach moving to a new school. Heck, you may be going back to the same school. Regardless of your situation, many instructional coaches have a similar, persistent, and, often, silent fear: “What if nobody will work with me?”

We’ve all been there. Here are a few tips for how you can build partnerships with educators in your school as the year begins.

1. Understand and Practice Partnership Principles

Before the school year begins familiarize yourself with Jim Knight’s partnership principles: equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, and praxis. These principles communicate that instructional coaching is about two knowledgeable and competent professionals working together to improve student learning. The coach’s role is to leverage partnerships to enhance professional culture, adult learning, and student learning. It is not the coach’s role to “fix” people. When coaching is viewed as something for weaker teachers, it is never successful. Often coaches work with the strongest teachers in the school, the ones who are most driven, open, reflective, and dedicated to students. The impact of the coach’s work with these teacher leaders affects the professional actions of their colleagues as well.  As a literacy coach, I understand that I have skills and knowledge in the areas of literacy, instructional practice, and assessment. However, the classroom teachers I work with are experts in their curriculum, their students, and the disciplinary literacies of their content areas. Partnership brings the best of each professional’s skills and knowledge together to impact student learning. Take every opportunity to show that you deeply respect the work of classroom teachers.

2. Teach People Your Job, or They Will Make it Up for You

I learned this from a professional development I attended a few years ago. As an instructional coach, you may be the only person with your job in the school building (or in several buildings based on the number of schools you serve!). Many misperceptions may exist about your role, so you must proactively describe your role. I often help define my role by explaining what I am not. I am not an evaluator. I am not an administrator. I am not a substitute teacher. What am I then?!?! I am a teacher in a lateral position whose job is to enhance adult learning and professional culture within the school to impact student learning. It is just as important that you explain your role to administrators as it is to teachers. In addition, be clear and precise about what work you do. If your work is not defined, you will be asked to do all sorts of activities that do not ultimately impact culture, professional learning, or student learning. I know this is easier said than done, because I still find myself involved in activities that don’t work toward my goals from time to time.

3. Create an Easy, Expeditious Way for Teachers to Contact You

I have found that contact must be easy and timely for teachers who want to work with a coach. This can be complicated when you are serving multiple schools. I have found one of the most useful tools I have is a coaching menu. This form teaches people my job (see #2), and it provides options for types and areas of collaboration. I find the a digital form created in Google Drive has been really successful. I am able to schedule by earliest responses and teacher availability. In addition, a digital menu sent to teachers at the beginning of the school year often elicits many responses because teachers have reflected over the summer and come into the school year with defined goals. Also, if the school’s culture has not fully embraced coaching, individual teachers who want to participate will more likely respond to an electronic survey in private than turn in a paper form in a room full of colleagues.

4. Begin with the Willing

Seriously, begin with any teacher who has expressed the desire to work with you. These early partnerships establish you as a colleague. If no one in the school has observed you as a teacher, find any opportunity to work with students. Teachers will view you completely differently once they have seen you work with students. Listen carefully and ask reflective questions to determine how you can best support them, and the results will likely be positive for their students. I am amazed at how openly and emphatically teachers will advertise my services once they have seen results from our work with their students. That advertising cannot be bought, and it will steadily increase the number of instructional coaching requests you will receive.