A Team of Tendons (Anthony Smith)


In my previous post, “On Being a Tendon”, I’m afraid that I may have oversimplified instructional coaching in the Albemarle County Public Schools, possibly leaving a reader with the impression that a single tendon (one instructional coach) is all that’s required to help muscles (teachers) move the skeleton (the curriculum).   While a single instructional coach can certainly help teachers move forward, systemic growth requires multiple tendons, a team of them in fact, collaborating purposefully.

Collaboration between instructional coaches starts with open conversations about collaboration itself:  what it looks like; when, how and why it is beneficial; and even when it is not beneficial or practical.  In terms of what it looks like, we’ve landed on things like:  sharing the work equitably, treating each other as full partners, disagreeing respectfully, assuming best intentions, and proactively incorporating others’ ideas.

As a fifth-year coach in my final year of coaching (we make a 3 to 5 year commitment to this work), collaboration is purposeful but relatively unstructured. As the school year progresses, experienced coaches like me help newer coaches to develop relationships with teachers and navigate school dynamics; we bring newer coaches into existing projects as full partners; and we provide feedback and praise as novice coaches learn about their new role.  In short, we work to maintain and grow the instructional coaching model in our schools.

As a team of coaches, though, collaboration is more structured, the sort of structure that doesn’t disappear with the changing of the guard; nothing is left to chance.  Here’s what our collaboration looks like:

  1. We meet weekly to share what we’re working on. We talk about new relationships and projects, share successes and struggles, and brainstorm ideas for moving forward.  We have norms for these meetings, one of which is to “seek opportunities to expand collaboration” (my team has an almost palpable pride in collaborating well).
  2. Because a large number of grade level PLCs have asked us to attend their meetings, we rotate ourselves in and out of the meetings. Coach A might attend the 5th grade PLC at a school one week, for example, Coach B the next week, and Coach C the week after.  We also do this with the 5th grade PLCs at our other schools (we are all at three schools).  Such a schedule forces collaboration and communication for all of us, gives the new coaches an immediate “in” with teachers, and helps teachers learn what instruction and assessment look like in other schools.
  3. We use online calendars to share our schedules and online documents to share our progress with PLCs and on various projects. We take copious notes on goings-on so that we all know what any one of us knows.

Teachers don’t see all of this collaboration, of course, but what they do see is a team that works fluidly, seamlessly, and thoughtfully.  They know that when they are ready to move forward, they are doing so with the full support of a strong team.