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What goes into a strong initial coaching meeting?

When you are beginning your coaching partnership with a teacher, the initial meeting can set the tone for your work together and get you started on the right track. It’s also pretty likely that the same needs and questions will come up repeatedly with each person you coach, which is why I recommend creating a structure for your initial meeting and not re-inventing the wheel each time. 

Here are 7 components to include in your initial coaching meeting agenda for you to tailor to your specific situation. 

  1. Teacher’s Background: Ask questions and provide time for the teacher to share a little about themselves and their career. You might also include questions that promote story-telling around their formative experiences with school — questions like, "What was school like for you as a student?" or, "Tell me about your favorite teacher". These can begin to help you understand how they think about their role and what they hope for students (but you'll get to more of that in a bit).

  2. Your Background: Share your own pathway into coaching – not just your resume, but what drives you in your work, your beliefs about students, about teachers, and about the work you can do together. This is also where I include how different aspects of my identity inform my work, how my own mental health struggles as a high school student shaped my desire to support teenagers specifically, and some of the struggles and mindset shifts I learned as a teacher with the support of my coach. It can be disarming to model vulnerability, and I've had many people appreciate opening up the floor for honest conversation here.

  3. Vision & Values: Here we shift gears from "How did we get here?" to "Where are we going?" Ask questions that invite the teacher to share their hopes and dreams for their students, how they hope students will experience the class community and their teaching, the impact they hope to have as teachers, and what they hold as important as a teacher. Some people will be familiar with the language of vision and values. For others, asking questions around the topics I just listed will get them sharing their vision and values in different words — your job as a coach, then, will be to listen for both content and meaning, and pick up what they're putting down.

  4. Process: Give an overview of the mechanics of your coaching work and what the teacher can expect throughout your partnership. Depending on how familiar they are with the coaching model at your school, you'll want to cover things like confidentiality, goal-setting, the rhythm of your coaching cycle, how the work plan is decided, how coaching fits into other schoolwide initiatives like professional learning, schoolwide goals, departmental/grade level work, or things like the use of teaching rubrics. If you hold other formal leadership roles here, clarify what that does or doesn't mean for your work as a coach. For example, do you evaluate the teacher or is your work used to inform evaluation by another person? Do you provide updates to administrators, and if so, what's included? As Brene Brown says, "clear is kind".

  5. Focus: Start to set goals with the teacher for student outcomes and teacher practice. If existing data is available, ground in that data. Otherwise, get started on a plan for what data will be collected to track progress and how you can support making that happen. In addition to data from student work, I find that the initial observation can also provide some insight, so I usually don't land on a goal with folx before that.

  6. Teacher Preferences: This is a learning partnership. Find out how the teacher prefers to engage as a learner. Do they like to read articles, watch videos? How do they like to get feedback? How do they want to introduce you to students? How do they prefer to communicate and keep in touch? And, this one can be important — if they've worked with a coach or mentor before: what worked for them and what didn't? Anything else they want you to know about themselves as learners or how they're feeling about the process?

  7. Next steps and calendaring: Get on the same page about getting startine. Determine what you'll do next, what the teacher will do next, and what you'll both do together. schedule your initial observation, recurring meetings, or anything else you’ll be doing in the immediate future to support the teacher in setting and pursuing their goals for their students.

And while these are all essential components of content to include whenever you start an instructional coaching partnership, you might be wondering how to ensure the meeting is successful or how to tailore it to your school's needs and constraints. Depending on your context, all of these components may not fit into an initial coaching meeting, or there might be other avenues to communicate some of the information so that face-to-face time can be used to prioritize some components over others. All of that and more will be covered in my next post, so stay tuned to learn more about how to ensure that your initial meeting is a success so you can start strong with every teacher you coach.

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