Every good athlete needs a coach to help them improve their practice, from student athletes to superstars like LeBron James and Serena Williams. This same principle can—and should—be applied to our teachers.

Teacher effectiveness is an essential factor to ensure that each student is achieving their highest potential in school. In my suburban Chicago district, Maine Township High School District 207, each and every one of our teachers receives coaching on a regular basis. In fact, this year’s seniors are the first class to go through a district where every teacher was coached every year.

Teachers Coaching Teachers

All of our coaches are teachers. We don’t hire outside support unless it will help build our own internal capacity.

Our coaches teach half-time, and coach the other half. This gives them credibility with the teachers they coach. If you’ve been out of the classroom for five years coaching, teachers may become skeptical about whether you really understand their experience, and may not take your feedback as seriously. We have considered a future where our coaches may coach full time for a certain period of time, and then cycle back into the classrooms, but for now we think it is most valuable to have them with a foot in both worlds simultaneously.

The experience of coaching is just as valuable for the coaches as it is for the teachers being coached. As William Glasser once said, “We learn 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear… (and) 95 percent of what we teach to someone else.” When our coaches are giving feedback to their peers, they are also learning how to improve their own teaching practice, which they can apply immediately in their own classroom.

Our coaches work with every teacher, from the willing to those who may be reluctant or hesitant about the coaching process. This is a great learning opportunity for our teacher coaches, and we think that experience will become our “Leadership 2.0” path, because of the unique experience that our coaches receive in coaching the willing and the reluctant.

We have seen several of our coaches begin to move into administrative positions in the past few years.

Using teachers as coaches establishes our teachers as experts in their field. They are the individuals who are in the classroom every day, interacting with students and observing what works and what doesn’t. Giving them an opportunity to engage in the coaching of their peers creates a sustainable coaching model, where teachers own their own learning. The point of coaching is to give our teachers the space and opportunities to improve their practice through self-reflection, as well as peer feedback. As is the case with our students, if educators own their learning, they will be that much more invested in growing their practice.

If we want our teachers to be great, we have to give them space to be great.

(Next page: advocating for coaching; video and self-coaching)

Advocating for Coaching

In our district, we believe in the power of coaching so much that we embarked on an entrepreneurial venture to found the Chicago Coaching Center. The purpose of the center is to instill instructional coaches with the specific skill sets they’ll need to provide effective, consistent feedback to classroom teachers.

My district is a high school district, but we’ve partnered with a neighboring district to add elementary school coaches to the center. We envision this coaching center to be a model that not only pays for itself but provides extra money for us to pour back into our district. We also see this one center growing into a national model that advances instructional coaching from a practitioner’s point of view.

Video and Self-Coaching

One tool that will help us in our goal of regular coaching for every teacher will be the use of video through the Insight ADVANCE platform, which we will launch this fall. Based on our experience, video is a great tool for teachers to study themselves in real situations, which is why it is so prevalently used in to improve performance in athletics.

Our teachers will own the videos they take of themselves, and will be able to submit them for evaluation observations or as artifacts if they wish, but it will not be required. There will be no “gotcha” here. The teachers will have total control. We believe the best practitioners are those who are self-reflective, and video amplifies that in a way no other tool does. If the worst thing that happens is that teachers keep the videos for just themselves to look at and reflect, I will be completely satisfied.

Our district has a long history of innovation (for instance, we were the first K–12 district to partner with Google) that I am proud to be a part of. I haven’t seen anyone else doing wall-to-wall coaching—every teacher every year—like we have in our district. I feel so privileged to work in a district that gives me space to lead in an innovative way like this. I also feel a tremendous responsibility to showcase how innovative world-class public schools can be, so no one will ever think twice about sending their children to public school.

Learning is a coin. On one side is student learning, and the other side is adult learning. It’s a symbiotic relationship. If you’re not attending to adult learning, you’re not going to get the results you want with student learning.

Teachers are not only the single most important factor when it comes to student learning, they are also a district’s single greatest asset when it comes to teacher learning.

About the Author:

Dr. Ken Wallace is the superintendent of Maine Township High School District 207 and founder of the Chicago Coaching Center. He was recently named the The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Champion of the Year. Find him on twitter at @KenWallace207.