Mentor blog: Coaching is Not Cookie Cutter

February 1, 2019 - 5 minutes read

Coaching is Not a Cookie Cutter Process

By Carissa Noel, IU14 PIIC Mentor and Terri Lewis, IU13 PIIC Mentor

Imagine this: Mr. Brown’s 7th grade science class is composed of learners with varying needs. His content is complex, so he knows that he must differentiate in order to be successful. Some of his students thrive with hands-on activities, while others lean into the reading and writing components. In order to accommodate for the students’ varied needs, interests, strengths, and personalities, Mr. Brown differentiates his lesson. He spends a few minutes chatting with students before starting class, asking about their weekend hobbies and latest interests. During a formative assessment, students have the option to write their responses or record their spoken words on computers. At the end of class, Mr. Brown reminds the students to keep thinking about which topic they would like to focus on during an upcoming project-based unit, as the students will have choice. Teachers do not view their instructional decisions as a “cookie cutter,” since they know that different students need different types of support to be successful. The same is true for instructional coaching!

Coaching is not a cookie cutter process. Teachers have different interests, learning styles, and personalities, and instructional coaches must consider this before, during, and after each coaching interaction. Consider the following three profiles of very different teachers. When reading, think about which coaching strategies will match each teacher’s needs and personality.

Teacher Profile 1 Years of Experience: 20Grade/Subject: 3rdPersonality: Funny and personable Teaching Passions: She makes connections with each of her students and tries to meet each of them at their level/needsWants to learn more about: Technology IntegrationTeacher Profile 2 Years of Experience: 10Grade/Subject: 7th GradePersonality: CautiousTeaching Passions: She is great at being sensitive to the needs of each of her students and their feelingsWants to learn more about: How to improve practices (math and tech focused)
Teacher Profile 3 Years of Experience: <1Grade/Subject: High School SciencePersonality: Serious, commandingTeaching Passions: He values the content and is passionate about making sure each student learns.Wants to learn more about: Individual student needs and accommodations

These three teacher profiles show vast differences in experience, content, personality, and goals. Therefore, just as teachers differentiate to meet students’ needs, coaches must differentiate approaches for the teachers with whom they work. Teacher 1 has lots of experience, but wants to learn more about technology, something that has clearly changed a lot since she started teaching 20 years ago. Her coach reports that she wants to learn everything at once. Knowing this about Teacher 1, her coach attempts to slow things down and works with her to identify bite-sized goals.

Teacher 2 is more cautious than teacher 1. She is very sensitive to the needs and feelings of each of her students, but the coach perceives she is not as confident when attempting to implement new teaching strategies. Teacher 2’s coach tries to build her confidence by modeling for or co-teaching with her and providing positive feedback.

Teacher 3 recently joined the teaching profession after working many years in another industry. He is serious and focused, valuing his content above all else. His coach shares that while he is a more reluctant participant in the coaching process, Teacher 3 knows that he would like to improve his teaching in order to address individual student needs. Teacher 3’s coach works with him through a series of conversational questions in an attempt to match quality teaching strategies with Teacher 3’s content priorities.

Most coaches don’t have the luxury of working with only 3 coaches! Most work with whole staffs or grade-levels, which means MANY different teacher profiles. Rather than a cookie cutter approach, getting to know and build relationships with the teachers with whom they work is the first step in meeting the unique needs of teachers. Knowing the experiences, personalities, and goals of teachers helps coaches make decisions about the best approaches to align with each teacher’s profile.

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