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Learning Coaches at CSS: The Very Beginning….

-by Erin Couillard, PD and Collaboration Coordinator

At the end of the year last year, the administration at the Calgary Science School proposed the idea of modifying the existing role of Curriculum Lead to that of a Learning Coach.

Traditionally the Curriculum Leaders (one Math/Science and one Humanities) at CSS were in charge of the team budget, team meetings and coordinating PD opportunities within their curricular area such as lesson studies. Within this role there was no formal instructional leadership component built in. That said, Curriculum Leaders did serve, in an informal capacity, as mentors within the school.

The shift from Curriculum Leader (CL) to Learning Coach was a deliberate move made by school administration to increase the leadership capacity within the school. The primary goal of learning coaches set out in the job description was “to promote exemplary teaching and learning by providing sound instructional leadership.” It was recognized that in the job description that there are many definitions of instructional leadership, “but for the purposes of our learning coaches we can define instructional leadership as actions taken by colleagues to directly influence and improve the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.” The job description made special note to ensure that applicants fully understood that the role of the learning coach is not evaluative but to operate as instructional support and guidance in working toward exemplary practice.

This coincides with the work of educational researchers such as Jim Knight of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. According to Knight, the “partnership approach to collaboration” is the model that most enhances the work that learning coaches can do with colleagues. He clearly states that “people will not embrace learning with us unless they’re comfortable working with us”. In his article, “What Good Coaches Do”, published in Education Leadership, October 2011, he considers seven partnership principles that coaches can use to describe how they strive to work with teachers. Two of these principles that stood out for me and most accurately describe the work we are doing at CSS include “equality” and “dialogue”. Equality in that “one partner does not tell the other what to do; both partners share ideas and make decisions together as equals”. And, dialogue in that “the goal is for the best idea to win…and the best idea wins most frequently when both partners think their way through a discussion”.

All teachers in the school were invited to submit a letter of intent in July of last year if they were interested in pursuing this role. Specifically, the administration team was looking for teachers who had curriculum and discipline knowledge, a focus on relationships, knowledge of the change process, creativity, sound understanding of current technology, excellent communication skills as well as patience and perseverance.

Successful applicants (two from the Math/Science team and two from the Humanities team) began working with administrators in August of this year to clarify the goals and expectations for learning coaches. The main goals identified through this process were to: support teachers in developing exemplary practice through the examining student work process, assisting with the documentation of this process as well as to assist in publishing the work accomplished through the Connect! Blog.

Sources cited:

Calgary Science School (2011) Learning Coach Role Description

Knight, Jim (2011). What Good Coaches Do. Educational Leadership. Vol 69. No. 2.


Garry McKinnon said...

Erin, I appreciate the background information you provide in regard to building leadership capacity through learning coaches and the significant impact learning coaches can have in promoting exemplary teaching and learning as instructional leaders. You share some thoughtful insights in regard to the conditions for success for learning coaches.

Pamela Adams said...

Because the most influential point of impact on student learning is the teacher, it is imperative that exemplary classroom practice forms the raison d'etre for these professional partnerships. I look forward to observing the evolving roles of your Learning Coaches. Good luck Erin!

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