Triangulation is the world of research when three pieces of data crash together, affirming or at least connecting the variables. This blog is due to the triangulation of three coaching experiences that collided in the past month for me.
The first data set was a two-day coaching intensive that CACE held at Surrey Christian School. Two of our Teaching for Transformation (TfT) School Designers, Amanda Albright and Sara Espinoza, along with CACE’s Project Manager for TfT, Darryl DeBoer, gathered instructional coaches from 23 different TfT schools to engage in instructional coaching protocols. Two powerful days of learning together and when I say learning together, I mean that every participant contributed to the learning. Too often professional development opportunities resemble what many would consider a second-rate learning experience with one expert in the room downloading information to participants. Instead, these two days were filled with discussion, questions without easy answers, commit-to-trys that led to authentic learning experiences in real classrooms. It was so good to see Christian schools investing in instructional coaching.
The second data set occurred a couple of weeks ago when a good friend, Darin Keizer, who serves as the athletic director of Southwest Christian High School (SWCH) in Chaska, MN, called and asked if I had some time to talk about how SWCH might “TfT” their athletic program. Darin was looking to replicate what TfT was doing in the classroom to shape what was happening in the co-curricular classroom. We had the opportunity to stream in Jake Pettingill, dean of students and head football coach from Sioux Falls Christian (SFC). SFC is developing a Coaching for Transformation model, a way of being for their athletic coaches. It was another powerful learning experience, to brainstorm about how schools can be even more intentional about the formation of young men and women who participate in co-curricular activities.
And the third data set happened at the Iowa State Volleyball Tournament. Two Christian high schools from Northwest Iowa met in the championship game. And it was a good one with Western Christian coming out victorious over Unity Christian, three sets to one. The volleyball was great, competitive, and enjoyable to watch. What struck me, however, was that before the game one of the local television channels captured the two teams joined together, arm in arm, praying before the match began. This prayer time was not meant for public viewing, at least not to my knowledge. I wish I could have heard the prayers. Following the game, I noticed the two coaches not simply shaking hands but embracing one another, speaking words into one another’s ear. I wish I could have heard those words.
These three episodic events caused me to pause and wonder how often coaches (or substitute the word “leader”) get coaching. I think Christian school athletics in my part of the world are moving in the right direction, considering how to evaluate coaches through the use of good metrics such as parent and participant surveys and observations by the athletic director or, as Sioux Falls Christian has begun, peer observations from other coaches. However, I wonder how often we consider getting our coaches some coaching beyond the Xs and Os? Or, how many of our school leaders have a coach, providing both warm and cool feedback on their performance?
Peter DeWitt (2018) offered some thoughts on this topic in a recent blog in EdWeek. He writes “Many leaders agree that coaching is an important way to grow. He also suggests some reasons why the “head coach” might be a bit reticent to engage in coaching. Head coaches might have some insecurity as to whether they have the competency needed for the position. Coaching might give the impression that the teacher needs help. And there is always plenty to do and not enough time to do it so why add coaching to an endless schedule? Or, what could a coach offer the person who is supposed to know what s/he is doing?
Leadership. It is incredibly complex and there is no sign of it getting simpler. Whether it be pressure to win, pull off a flawless choral performance, or walk alongside a teacher in need of some assistance, the pressure to perform at a high level is real. Thus the need for coaching. We need help understanding the research, putting best practices into practice, figuring out why the zone coverage did not work, or why teacher A continues to underperform. DeWitt (2018) also identified four priorities that coaches wanted to be coached on. These four priorities include community engagement, collective efficacy, political climate, and communication. He found coaches identified these four areas as foundational (think Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs) to their positions, precursors to their ability to succeed on the higher levels.
DeWitt (2018) concluded with a quote from one of my favorite educational psychologists, Albert Bandura. Bandura (2000) states “when faced with obstacles, setbacks, and failures, those who doubt their capabilities slacken their efforts, give up or settle for mediocre solutions. Those who have a strong belief in their capabilities redouble their effort to master the challenge.” Let’s not forget about our principals, department heads, activities directors, and instructional leaders when we budget the professional development dollars for the coming year. And then…find a good coach!
DeWitt, P. (2018, November 04). Why Should Leaders Start Being Coached?
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.