Teacher Coaching: Art, Science, or Cottage Industry?

imagesIn her book, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, Elena Aguilar summarizes her background working in under-resourced public schools while serving challenged students in an urban environment. Aguilar describes coaching as a potentially valuable resource for impacting both individual teacher practices as well as student outcomes. Effective coaching, however, requires “necessary preconditions” in schools in order to flourish, such as principals who “demonstrate effective leadership” and teachers willing to be coached. The Art of Coaching promotes both “Directive” and “Facilitative” coaching models that are collaboratively developed. “Directive” coaching changes the client/teacher’s behavior, with the coach serving as a subject matter expert who shares expertise. In “facilitative” coaching, however, the coach works more as a process facilitator, not sharing expert knowledge, but targeting the pursuit of new skills and habits. “Transformative coaching” incorporates strategies for both Directive and Facilitative coaching models. Aguilar repeatedly highlights inequalities in educational attainment and school performance across race and ethnicity, directing much of her writing toward the belief among many teachers that school system performance is more a reflection of the home environments and neighborhood conditions of children than of teacher effectiveness. She effectively promotes coaching as a means of empowering under-resourced teachers in challenged school districts to better cope with the stresses of teaching. Aguilar emphasizes the importance of a trusting relationship between teachers and coaches.

I have to admit that I am somewhat reluctant about the “Steven Covey-fication” of education as expressed in The Art of Coaching. I personally prefer the term “facilitator” over “coach.” Still, one gets the sense that Aguilar is a seasoned teacher who strives to provide both useful strategies and emotional support to overwhelmed teachers. I was most drawn in the book to points where Aguilar hints at larger structural contradictions while adopting “six lenses” from the National Equity Project on changing expectations of teachers: 1) inquiry; 2) change management; 3) systems thinking; 4) adult learning; 5) systematic oppression; 6) emotional intelligence. The Art of Coaching provides a window into the challenges facing public education and a solid introduction to teacher-led coaching. It is a good book and I recommend it.

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