Let’s start with a question: Who is in charge of a coaching cycle? That’s a trick question, right?! Right. A coaching cycle is a cycle of intense collaboration around a shared goal of professional growth or classroom life. It is collegial, non-evaluative and co-constructed every step of the way. Together with teachers, we create a shared vision for our work, engage in co-learning and/or co-teaching and end with collaborative conversations.


There’s one part of the coaching cycle that doesn’t feel nearly as collaborative. In fact, it often removes the coach and the teacher from the equation completely and delivers pre-determined content instead: the observation rubric or checklist. Think about it. We work so hard to connect and collaborate within a coaching cycle, but then often evaluate our shared efforts using an arbitrary document that doesn’t account for our unique coaching contexts. But how does an outside company, curriculum or organization understand our particular coaching partnerships, materials and resources we have, the length of our cycle and more. It doesn’t.

But we can change that. Enter the ‘Creating Collaborative Look-Fors’ activity. It is based on another one of my coaching sketchnotes from my Coaching Sketchnote Book called The Sticky Note Idea Sort. And it’s the perfect way to collaboratively create a set of ‘look-fors’ to guide our work and evaluate learning throughout a coaching cycle. This works well to create look-fors with the whole faculty, grade level teams, small groups of teachers and even individual teachers.

Here’s how it works:

First, you need to launch your coaching partnership and decide on a shared vision for your work together. After that, it’s time to think about how you’ll evaluate your work together, what you’ll look for during instruction or how you’ll document your learning. Let’s work through what the process might look like if deciding what to look for to evaluate virtual reading instruction.

Invite teachers to imagine the kind of readers they want to have at the end of remote instruction, the end of the quarter or even the end of the year. They can sit quietly to visualize in their mind, briefly draw an image of what they hope for or even create a bulleted list.

Then, ask teachers: What practices does your classroom need to get there? Provide teachers with plenty of sticky notes and invite them to represent each practice on a separate sticky note. Compile these sticky notes together on chart paper or on the wall and examine them. Or, if you are working virtually, try using Padlet or Jamboard instead. You’ll find an image of a Padlet brainstorming session below:

Next, it is time to sort. Examine all the sticky notes and reflect: What seems to matter most to everyone? Literally move your sticky notes around to group them together based on the categories that are emerging. What practices, instructional routines, materials and mind-shifts are needed? After that, look at the categories and label them accordingly.

Now, supplement teachers’ brainstorming with clear-cut connections to the research. Provide summaries of the research, checklists for best practices, articles and posts to consider, websites to browse, and/or standards documents and more. Give teachers time to revise and add to their groupings as needed. This way, we ensure we are combining what we personally know we want with what professional literature and research offers us, too.

Finally, use the collected information to collaboratively choose ‘Look-Fors’ to guide learning in future coaching cycles, look-fors that all teachers can feel comfortable using since they had a voice in creating them. You’ll find an example of a set of look-fors for virtual literacy instruction that I co-created with my community of literacy coaches below. Click on the image for the full document, but keep this in mind: It’s pretty comprehensive, so your set of look-fors is likely to be smaller and intricately connected to your coaching content.

Can’t you just envision how the entire feel of a coaching cycle can change if teachers were completely involved in the co-creation of how it would be evaluated? Me too. So, grab some sticky notes, a few willing teachers and get started! And then, share your successes and tips in the comments below!

One last thing: If you'd like to hear me talk through this to the coaches in my Virtual Coaching Roadmap course, click here!

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