“I don’t think instructional coaching works for me, it’s just someone asking me questions. I don’t need that; I need someone who can help me by telling me what to do!”
“I don’t think instructional coaching works for me, it’s just someone giving me advice. I don’t need that; I need someone who can help me by acting as a thinking partner!”
There are many approaches to instructional coaching out there. Pretty much all of these share the characteristics of being professional partnerships where a coach works with a coachee to support them to develop their teaching practice in a focused and incremental manner.
One of the differences between the various approaches, however, is in the way the coach’s role is conceived of. In some the coach is expected to be an expert guide directing their coachee with their knowledge and experience. In others, the coach is cast in a role more akin to that of an executive coach, where active listening and skilful questioning are the main devices used to help a coachee move forwards.
For me, instructional coaches need to be able to use both of these coaching styles, simply because every school will have practitioners who at different times and in different situations, will stand to benefit from one or the other. A one-size fits all approach to coaching, runs the risk of being impactful for only certain people and can easily lead to the kinds of statements at the head of this blog.
Our ICIC (Instructional Coaching in Context) programme refers to two coaching ‘modes’, which all our coaches are trained to use: Map Mode and Torch Mode
- In Map Mode the coach takes a largely directive role in the coaching process: suggesting possible changes that have the potential to positively impact student learning in the coachee’s classes; guiding them towards meaningful and achievable goals related to these changes; and pointing out strategies and approaches which could help them achieve the goals (while also supporting them to practice and implement these).
In this mode, the coach is like an experienced explorer, using a metaphorical map to help the coachee to understand the terrain they are in, guiding them as to where they need to go next, providing them with a route to get there, and then making sure they don’t get lost along the way.
- In Torch Mode, the coach is more of a thinking partner for the coachee: working with the teacher to hypothesise about what is happening in their classes and what changes might lead to better learning; challenging them to set stretching improvement goals; and jointly inquiring into the best possible ways to achieve these goals (while also supporting them to practice and implement these).
In this mode, the coach usually knows the coachee has a degree of familiarity and comfort with the terrain they are in. However, they also know this familiarly and comfort may have led to the creation of habits, which mean the coachee cannot see the potential to take different routes and reach better destinations. In this situation the coach uses their metaphorical torch to light the way for both coach and coachee as they explore new possibilities together.
All of this begs the question, how does a coach know when it is best to use Map Mode and when it is best to use Torch Mode? We will explore this further in the next blog in this series.