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A Visit with Superior's Coaching Crew

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Meets Coaching Competencies: #1a #1b #5a #6b #6c

Written by: Joseph Kanke with Crystal Hintzman

This quarter I had the opportunity to travel up to the North Shore of Gitche Gumme and visit with the coaches from the School District of Superior. I learned about their systemic approach to coaching from a colleague at CESA 12 who sent me an article that the Wisconsin RtI Center had shared to highlight the district’s success.* I was especially interested in digging deeper into the section which highlighted coaching and stated,

  • Superior has taken several steps to ensure the success of their coaching model:
  • All ten coaches are members of the district leadership team.
  • A job description for coaches was created to identify exactly what coaches do and don’t do.
  • The coaches focus on the district’s four initiatives.
  • All coaches, principals, and district level administrators attended the Wisconsin RtI Center’s Leadership and Coaching training.
  • Coaches receive support - and support one another - by participating in monthly collaborative meetings.

Initially, I reached out to Crystal Hintzman, the instructional coordinator and champion of the coaching group. From that conversation, one pillar of success that stood out to me was the district’s commitment to a culture of learning. While this is a common vision of many districts, Superior has positioned their coaches as lead learners in such a way that they live this vision:

In the School District of Superior, instructional coaches are lead learners in educational best-practices. They support colleagues in a process which builds professional relationships that are based upon open communication, transparency, and trust.

Superior’s instructional coaches are professional developers who continually build capacity in all or our staff members to increase student learning, to enrich professional learning a communities, and to become reflective practitioners.

In the past Superior had a district leadership team called the CCC (Curriculum Coordinating Council) which was composed of department and grade-level leader representatives who attended to tasks that were more technical in nature, such as coordinating the completion of curriculum maps. Then, about five years ago, the team shifted to a shared leadership model dedicated to building a culture of professional learning. All of the district’s ten coaches (2 high school, 2 middle school, 2 elementary, 2 technology integration, 1 behavior specialist and 1 IEP compliance) are part of the district leadership team. They meet monthly, along with building and district leaders, to engage in collaborative conversation around goals, problem-solving, data and upcoming professional learning days.

Another key objective of the coaches is the planning of monthly professional learning. They take this learning to the building leaders to build their capacity and then this learning is shared with staff during Professional Development days. This format ensures that everyone in the district is receiving the same information. The alignment amongst buildings within the district has helped to ensure that a guaranteed and viable curriculum is being implemented at all grades and schools.

The culture of learning does not stop with the coaches. Crystal stated, “Coaches deserve coaching themselves-that they deserve professional learning themselves.” Besides engaging in regional and state learning opportunities, the coaching team comes together once a month for a full day to build their own capacity around curriculum and instruction. A critical component of the time the coaching team spends together is supporting one another with the planning process for the district’s Shared Leadership Team. This 60 member team includes teachers and administrators who come together monthly to engage in professional learning around district initiatives and leadership skills.

Building a culture of coaching alongside the culture of learning is also important. Many of the coaches have been in their positions for several years and admitted that initially their colleagues were skeptical of the process. Some teachers were concerned that coaching equated to the notion that they needed to be fixed in some way. Over time, as trust was built, the culture of coaching has became established. Although trust always takes time, Superior was mindful in taking some concrete steps for coaching partnerships to thrive. The coaching team is operating under their shared vision of work and clear job descriptions. While these may seem like simple, standard documents, having them in place provides a clear definition of roles for coaches, teachers and leaders. It also begins to formalize the culture of continuous learning and coaching. Another important factor was the district’s communication that coaches would never be in an evaluative role. This research based best-practice lowers educators’ effective filters; allowing them to take risks, engage fully, fail forward and set personalized goals.

Superior’s focus on building a trusting partnership between leadership and coaching is also critical to both the leadership team and coaching system. The principals understand that coaches are lead learners of instruction and coaches understand the demands of the principal role and they rely on this partnership to bridge the technical and instructional capacity of staff. Based on research by Jim Knight on the importance of the principal/coach relationship, the coaching team worked with the district to develop a systemic approach to calendaring and providing time for coaches and leaders to come together. Kate Tesch, the principal for Bryant Elementary stated, “ Creating a relationship with the coach is key. I can’t do it all. I want to be this great instructional leader, but the reality is I am lucky to spend 50% of my time here. I rely heavily on the coaches to carry me along in terms of my instructional leadership. I have to do some learning alongside, and I see this power of learning alongside my staff.”

With leadership and coaches joined together with a common vision and culture of learning, the district has made great strides in changing instructional practices and student outcomes. When principals, coaches, and teachers learn together, it creates a system of accountability and trust for all.

*Wisconsin RtI Center Article