SMART Goal Book Review: Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight

I’m usually the type of person that doesn’t get too flustered with how things play out, but as I began reading this book as my final SMART Goal book for the year, I realized something. This book should have been the book I started with to begin my first year of coaching teachers. If you somehow stumble upon this blog looking for instructional coaching resources, please take this advice! Read this book before you even start working with other people. It’s practical, has great steps to take, and it will be influential on how you approach your work.

If you’d like to see the fragments of the book that I highlighted to help me look back later, you can click this link to Goodreads and check them out. I’ll be talking about some of them here.

Three Big Takeaways

Partnership is Key

When we authentically see our collaborating teachers as equal partners, when we engage in dialogue and encourage reflection, when we focus on praxis, when we respect teachers’ choices, when we listen to and encourage teachers’ choices, when we expect to learn from others as much as they can teach us, we remove many of the barriers that interfere with communication.

Knight, Jim. Instructional Coaching (p. 78). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Coaching will only be successful when the coach and teacher see each other as equals. If a coach presents themselves as more advanced, more intelligent, or more experienced, or, if the coach suggests the teacher is ineffective or unsuccessful, the teacher may see an obstacle that is too large to overcome. Digging the heels in the sand or being too stubborn will prevent the relationship and the time put into the coaching relationship from being successful. Coaches must be mindful of how the teacher perceives them and the language they use when communicating with teachers. The most beneficial partnerships should be two-way conversations, where both parties are able to learn and grow from each other.

The Big Four Help Us Focus

A good learning experience is motivating, challenging, meaningful, and inspiring. In a well-run classroom, students are focused on learning, they are respectful, and they are growing. Students learn from a teacher who is caring, compassionate, and clear, a teacher who knows what information is most important to teach and makes sure every student masters it. Students know their learning targets, and they receive useful feedback on their progress toward the target. Learning activities and reading materials are appropriate for each student’s unique learning needs, and students learn about topics that are relevant to them.

Knight, Jim. Instructional Coaching (pp. 139-140). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

The “Big Four” are Behavior, Content Knowledge, Direct Instruction, and Assessment. These are the four main areas under which most of the coaching content falls. The coach can provide support in these areas, being another set of eyes, ears, and hands with the group of students. In our specific environment, we have focused a majority of our time on the assessment category. We are using the Understanding by Design model to help us backward plan and design our assessments to fit the needs of our learners as they seek to master the standards. Coaches and teachers can go through assessment design and reflection on how well the assessments meet the standards, and how well the students did on their summative assessments. (One of the tools we use for this is the Assessment Quality Analysis from Nicole Vagle’s Design in 5.) As we continue our journey into supporting teachers using the coaching model, the other three categories will play a big part in helping our students have better learning experiences.

Coaches are Leaders

Whether they like it or not, effective coaches must be effective leaders.

Knight, Jim. Instructional Coaching (p. 197). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

My job-alike partner has been working through courses to get her principal license, which requires a lot of reading regarding leadership practices. I have only benefitted from her learning, as she shares with me some of the awesome things that she has read. One of the books she recommended is Good to Great by Jim Collins. Though I’m not finished reading it yet, it has been eye-opening to realize many of the steps to great leadership lie in humility. Knight references Collins in this book and talks about how great leaders “need a paradoxical mix of humility and ambition.” In my circles, we have called this servant-leadership. We lead because we have the skills, knowledge, and experience to share. We lead because we know it will help others grow. We lead not because we know everything, but we realize that everyone else in this world has something they can teach us (one of the major tenets of this blog!).

To Conclude

In all of the reading I’ve done this school year, I have appreciated the fact that each book has had something special to teach me about how I can go about my work and be more effective. The teachers I worked with this year were able to teach me lessons about communicating, partnership, and teaching. I am grateful for their experience and expertise. I am grateful to my job-alike partner for answering all my questions. I’m thankful to our district leadership for being a group to bring ideas to, even if we have struggled through conflicts. I am glad to have this year under my belt of experience, and I cannot wait to see where we go from here.

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