Many schools are looking at the transition from Learning Support or Special Education Teachers to Coaches (many different names are used for this role, Learning Coaches, Inclusion Coaches, etc.) shifting focus to in-classroom support for students and teachers. In this inclusive model, Coaches need to have professional credibility with their colleagues, especially in school cultures that have traditionally left teachers to close their doors and focus on isolated teaching practices.
In the past, Learning Support or Special Education teachers may not have had much experience in their role working inclusively in classrooms. They may have worked with students in a pull-out model of support. They may have worked with teachers in building Individual Program Plans (or the school may have had a model where classroom teachers did this on their own or the Learning Support Teacher developed these for students). Often their role was working in conjunction with classroom teachers but depending on the school culture of support, it may not have been necessarily collaborative. Either way, the role of a Coach looks vastly different. They are now working in classrooms with groups of students in partnership with teachers. They are working collaboratively with teachers to differentiate lessons and provide support for instruction that benefits all learners. This requires a much different set of working relationships within the school that rely upon support, trust and credibility for the Coach.
A great way to begin building credibility for teachers in the Coach role is through their involvement in student-centered meetings. In a Collaborative Response Model, we refer to these as Collaborative Team Meetings, however these comments can apply to any variation of team meetings where students are the focus of conversation. We have written about the power of including as many staff members in these meetings as possible, including support staff working with a particular group of students. In these meetings, students are discussed and the team works collaboratively to establish action plans to support students.
It is in these meetings that Coaches can not only play a key role in discussing students but can begin building in-roads to working with teachers in classrooms. They can be suggesting alternative instructional strategies, volunteering themselves to enter classrooms for support, arranging outside supports and assessments and a myriad of other supports, focusing on ways to support the child. Having Coaches involved in these meetings, the following benefits occur:
- The focus is placed on students, not teachers. It becomes far less intimidating for a Coach to enter a classroom when focused on the student(s) and not the teacher. Although instructional practices may be addressed in the future, it is a great first step for teachers to open up their doors.
- Classroom teachers see the Coach as truly committed to the best interest of students.
- Classroom teachers can hear about the impact the Coach may be having on students in other classrooms and the support they are providing. Often guards are dropped when success is witnessed in other colleague’s classrooms.
- Support for teachers can be differentiated, knowing that not everyone adopts new practices at the same pace. Although it may take a little longer to develop trust and acceptance with some staff members, that patience will pay relational dividends in the long run.
Inclusive supports provided by a Coach may be a smooth and painless transition for some schools. However, for schools where this shift is greater, the Collaborative Team Meeting can be a great venue for Coaches to begin building credibility and establish their role as one which supports the learning of students.
Adapted from a previous posting – originally published April 2, 2012