Student-Centered Coaching Cycles

Student Centered Coaching Cycles

Student-Centered Coaching Cycle Guide

Are you new to instructional coaching? Have you started conducting coaching cycles? Try implementing student-centered coaching cycles using a student-centered coaching cycle guide. Student-centered coaching cycles are based off of the book called, Student-Centered Coaching by Diane Sweeney. Student-Centered Coaching introduces a new way of looking at and delivering school-based coaching across grades K-12 that puts the needs of students’ front-and-center. By focusing coaching on specific goals for student learning and student data, rather than on changing or fixing teachers, a coach can navigate directly towards a measurable impact and increased student achievement.

Components of Coaching Cycles:

  • 4-6 weeks long
  • 1-3 times per week in the classroom during instructional time
  • 1 weekly planning conversation (35-45 minutes long)

Coaching Cycles

Get Your Copy Here!

Student-centered coaching is a great framework to use to take the pressure off of both the teachers and the coaches. Student-centered coaching focuses on using student data to drive instructional decisions.  Pedagogical changes are made according to student needs. Student data is used to focus on differentiation techniques and the art of teaching. As we know, EVERY student has special needs. No two students are exactly alike. They learn at different rates and have different abilities. It’s time we adapt our teaching to fit the needs of every individual student, not just the students with “special needs”, to throw out the one size fits all framework to teaching and focus on doing whatever it takes to educate all students (our school district’s mission statement).

It’s time to gently push your teachers outside of their comfort zones for the benefit of student learning. Our job as an instructional coach is to get teachers to think outside of the box. (P.S. Don’t be surprised if you only get a toe outside of the box, consider it a success)!

Goals Of Student-Centered Coaching:

student centered coaching

There are seven core practices for Student-Centered Coaching:

1. Setting goals for coaching cycles:

Goals should be student-centered, standard focused, set by the teacher and focused on student pre-assessment data. Data should drive your instructional decisions.

2. Using standards-based learning targets:

A Learning Target is…  A goal for students derived from standards, written in concrete, student-friendly language, tracked by students and teachers to assess growth and achievement, about learning, not a task and easily measurable.

3. Using student evidence to co-plan instruction:

Anything that makes student learning visible, performance assessments such as; reading and writing tasks, discussions with students, conferring notes and student work samples. Student Evidence usually doesn’t include…  summative assessments from the back of the book, bubble in assessments, tasks that don’t involve reading, writing, or solving problems, tests!

4. Organizing coaching through cycles:

Qualities of Coaching Cycles: Ongoing, aligned with standards and curriculum, focused on a goal that is set by the teacher, incorporates best instructional practices, incorporates co-planning and co-teaching.

5. Co-teaching with a focus on effective instructional practices: 

There are 6 models of co-teaching including: one teach/one observe, one teach/one assist, parallel teaching, station teaching, alternative teaching and my favorite…… co-teaching! Make sure that the classroom teacher directs the coaching cycle. Make sure that you are co-planning and co-decision making. Remember, it is their classroom and you are a teacher, not an administrator. Also, in order for the teacher to successfully adopt the learning from the coaching cycle they will need to “buy in” to the process and feel that their voice is strong throughout the process. If they feel that the coaching cycle was truly a joint learning experience, they are more likely to continue using the strategy.

I really like using the gradual release model so that teachers feel supported. We create a coaching cycle together, but the teacher continues with the strategy. I check in from time to time (more at the beginning of the release) to see how things are going to see if they want any more support. That way they don’t feel that it is just a dump and run (dump a strategy on them and leave with no support).

6 Models Of Co-Teaching Information

6. Measuring the impact of coaching on student and teacher learning: Make sure that you are constantly evaluating the impact of your coaching cycle. Use data to inform your decisions.

7. Partnering with the school leader: Support from your administration is super important! Make sure that you are sharing your plans and communicating your process with your leaders.

Student-Centered Coaching Meshed With PLC Essential Questions:

Our student-centered coaching cycles are based off of Rick DeFour’s 4 Essential PLC questions.

  1. Who are our students and what do we want them to know? (Standards/learning targets)
  2. How will we know if they have mastered the essential learning? (Formative/Summative Assessments)
  3. How will we respond if they don’t master the essential skills? (Innovation & Differentiation)
  4. How will we respond if they have already mastered the essential skills? (Differentiation)

Student Centered Coaching Cycle Guide

Click Here for the full guide

Student-Centered Coaching Cycle Visuals

I have to admit, I am a visual learner so, I created this visual of what student-centered coaching looks like in my school district.

Student Centered Coaching Cycles

Click Here For Your Free Copy!

Student-Centered Coaching Tool: Diane Sweeney

The results based coaching tool is a must use tool in conducting student-centered coaching cycles. It really helps keep things focused and lays out the process nicely. I really like the teacher and instructional coach reflection that has been recently added to this tool. I believe that reflection is a MUST when growing as a teacher/coach. My coaching partner and I took the results based coaching tool from the book Student-Centered Coaching and tweaked it to fit our student-centered coaching cycles. Below is an example of the student-centered coaching tool that I completed with a 5th-grade teacher on the topic of informative writing. Student-Centered Coaching Tool

Click here for a better view of this completed tool

What forms do you use in student-centered coaching cycles? Please leave a comment. I would LOVE to learn about other tools.

3 Ways To Build Trust As An Instructional Coach

4 Ways To Build Trust As An Instructional Coach

3 Ways To Build Trust As An Instructional Coach

Whether you are new to the district or have been there for a while, taking time to build relationships is a must! Even if you feel that you have great relationships with your colleagues. The MOST important steps in starting out as an instructional coach are building relationships and building trust. Trust is a tricky thing to gain. Once lost it is nearly impossible to get back. Without trust, an instructional coach has very little influence over the professional growth of a teacher. This will ultimately affect student achievement. Building trust can seem like a huge undertaking as a new coach, however, trust can mean the difference between your success or failures as a new coach.

  4 Ways To Build Trust As An Instructional Coach

Be Available And Open:

One way that I found to build relationships is to be available. Been visible in the hallways, teacher’s lounge, lunchroom, classrooms…… Be available before and after school. Find out when each grade level eats lunch and conduct your “work time” in the teacher’s lounge. Share your schedule with teachers. Check in with teachers. Go to every grade level meeting. Attend every grade level PLC.  Please just make sure that you are valuing teacher’s time. Teachers have a lot of things on their plate and a lot to do to get ready for their lessons. Don’t take all of their time to chat. Be there, be visible and available if questions come up.


Listen, Listen, Listen:

Communication is one of the most important factors in  building trust. Get teachers talking. Ask them questions and really listen. Talk less and listen more. Get to know the teachers. Share stories, laugh and emphasize. I recently took a class called Cognitive Coaching. It was all about framing questions in order to get teachers to come to their own solution. Paraphrasing is used to help validate what teachers are saying. In this class we had to practice paraphrasing. It was much more difficult than I thought. I realized that I had never REALLY listened to people before. I had heard what they were saying, but never really listened. Does anybody? When you have to summarize someone else’s words it forces you to really listen. Most of the time teachers just want to be heard. They want to feel that someone really cares about their stressors. Sometimes they just need to vent their stress or have someone listen to their successes. People love to be validated and heard. Especially by someone who can relate to their experience. Someone who is in the trenches with them. Of course, in order to build the relationship you also need to let them get to know you. If you are only known as the person that comes into their classroom to see what they are doing they will not be as receptive to you if they would be if an emotional connection was built.


Respect Privacy:

All conversations, even informal conversations need to be kept in confidence. The quickest way to lose a teacher’s trust is to air out their laundry by naming names and passing judgement, especially to their colleagues. If there is something that you talk to a teacher about and think others would benefit from, ask them if you can share it. Teachers are usually pretty willing to share with one another. They also are very grateful for positive recognition. If a teacher doesn’t want something shared, then don’t share it! Show that you are reliable and trustworthy. Do what you say and say what you do. Be transparent by sharing your successes and failures. Share your learnings with others. Just make sure that if you are using an experience as an example to another teacher that you don’t use a name unless that teacher has given you permission! Your job as an instructional coach is not to “spy” on teachers. It is not to “tattle” on teachers. You ARE NOT an administrator. When meeting with your administrator it is important to not name names. This has been the most difficult thing for me as an instructional coach. I really have to stop and think before I speak. I go over what I am going to say in my head and practice not using names. If someone asks me something about another teacher I usually respond using a general statement and keep it positive. Don’t get caught up in or start rumors.

Grade papers

Do The Dirty Work:

In the beginning the best way to get your foot in the door is by sharing the teacher’s workload with them. Teachers want to see that you are willing to help them. Do this by helping them with some of the daunting, time-consuming tasks such as correcting papers, entering data, finding resources, sharing tech tools…… Teachers love anything that will make their lives even a little easier. This actually lends itself to great conversations. I have had organic conversations with teachers about the amount of worksheets/paper work they have. And how we can cut that down and still come out with the same results. The goal of a worksheet is to get students practicing, right? It is also for the teacher to figure out if the student is understanding the skill, right? Well, how can we get the students to practice the same skill without all of this paperwork, and how can we tell if they are learning? This has led into great conversations about formative assessments and bringing the fun back into learning.


5 Fun Formatives For Any Classroom

5 fun formatives for any classroom

5 Fun Formatives For Any Classroom!

Do you sometimes feel that you are creating little robots in the classroom? Are you bored with all your assessments? Do you feel like all you do is test your students? Chances are, if you’re bored, so are your students. Assessments don’t have to be boring. The purpose of formative assessments is for you, the teacher, to know if the students are learning. Formative assessments don’t have to be boring! Below are 5 fun formative assessments to spruce up any classroom and will work with any grade level! It’s time to bring the fun back into learning.

5 fun formatives for any classroom

Bring The Fun Back:

Teachers are feeling the pressure! I have had some Kindergarten teachers make the comment that they feel like they are creating little robots. That there isn’t time for the”fun” stuff that we used to do in Kindergarten as kids. I had to stop and think and took a close look at why they thought that. I found out that Kindergarten is the new 1st grade (according to what I learned in 1st grade). Kids were learning all of their letter sounds and start putting them into cvc words in preschool. The only thing I remember doing in preschool was learning how to tie my shoes and playing Jack In The Box. The Kindergarteners are now working on sight words and reading books. I remember learning the alphabet and playing dress up in Kindergarten when I was little. Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that the rigor has been increased and we now have higher expectations for our students. I am thankful for the new Common Core and State Standards. I am excited to see how the increase in rigor will affect our students in adulthood. I believe in using the Core Standards to ensure that all students across the nation are being taught the same standards. I also believe in autonomy in the classrooms, the freedom of creativity and the art of teaching.

With the art of teaching we can teach those standards in creative, fun ways. I believe that testing and worksheets do have a place in the classrooms, but I also believe that that we should not be stuck to a basal. We need to bring the fun back into teaching and learning! One way we can do that is through using technology programs for formative assessments. All of the following assessments are FREE and 100% customizable. All of these tools are appropriate for Kindergarteners all the way up to adults and both give students immediate feedback. The immediate feedback is great to discuss with students throughout the assessment (Great reteaching conversations!)

Plickers: Teacher Needs One Device, Students Need Plickers Cards

One fun formative assessment is Plickers. Use Plickers for quick checks for understanding to know whether your students are understanding big concepts and mastering key skills. Plickers is great if you have limited tech tools and works with one device such as an iPad or smart phone. Plickers is a powerfully simple tool that lets teachers collect real-time formative assessment data without the need for student devices. To sign up for a free Plickers account just log in to sign up and print out the cards.


Plickers Formative Assessment In A 5th Grade Classroom

Kahoot: Each Student Needs A Device Connected To The Internet

A second fun formative assessment is Kahoot. Kahoots work on any device that connects to the internet (computers, tablets, smart phones). To sign up for a free account log into and sign up. Kahoots are best played in a group setting, like a classroom. Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen to unite the lesson – creating a ‘campfire moment’ – encouraging players to look up. Social learning promotes discussion and pedagogical impact… whether players are in the same room or on the other side of the globe! After a game, encourage players to create and share their own Kahoots to deepen understanding, mastery and purpose.



Kahoot immediate student feedback view in a 3rd Grade classroom

Flip The Bottle:

A third fun formative assessment is bottle flipping. So, this has been the new craze with kids. It’s all the kids are talking about (at least in my school). My 10 year old and 7 year old are obsessed with flipping bottles. They even watch Youtube videos of other kids flipping bottles. Talk about motivation!!!! Why not harness this excitement and turn it into a fun formative? It’s simple yet challenging.

Bottle Flip
All you need to do is find a water bottle (my son says that Gatorade bottles work best because of their hard bottoms) and fill it 1/3 full of water. Just make sure that the lid is on tight so that it won’t leak..Create a giant bullseye with butcher paper. Draw a series of circles within the bullseye. I drew the outside circles larger assigning them less points. I shrunk the circles as I got closer to the bullseye and increased the points. I made the actual bullseye worth 100 points with the circle about the size of a quarter. Once your bullseye is created it’s time to get your questions ready. You can play this as a class or have partners play it together as a review game or even just to practice a skill. I would place my questions on index cards. You could also have  your students create their own questions. To play, take turns flipping over the questions. If a student answers it correctly, they get to flip the bottle on to the bullseye. Keep track of points. Points are only awarded for a bottle that lands upright on a circle. I would count it if any part of the bottle was touching the circle. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins. I have actually used this free download for students to keep track of their points (you could also use the circles for your bullseye) from a blog that I ran across by by

Flip The Bottle

 Download it for free here.


Punch Game:

A forth fun formative assessment is the punch game. All you need are plastic cups, foam core, tissue paper and rubber bands. Hot glue the plastic cups to the foam core. Fill each cup with a review question (I put treats in a few) along with a point card. I use index cards. You could just write the points on the back of the question card. More difficult questions are worth more points. Secure the tissue paper around the top of the cup with the rubber band and you are ready to start! I would start the game by asking a review question. If the student gets it right they get to punch a cup. They will get to collect the point card. That student will then read their question to the class and choose the next student to answer it. If that student gets the answer correct, they get to punch a cup and keep the point card. If they don’t get it right the student who is holding the card will call on another student.


You could also use this as a reward center for students who reach their goals. Place a prize (I like to use free tickets such as 20 minutes of free time or a free recess) in each cup. Once students meet their goal they get to punch a cup and collect their prize. This would also be great for birthdays.

Snowball Fight:

A fifth fun formative is a snowball fight! Who wouldn’t be motivated by a snowball fight? Especially if you are in an area that doesn’t get real snow. How often are kids asked to throw things at each other in school?…..NEVER! Until now. This is great to use as a formative assessment and super motivating. My students always thought I was just kidding at first. Until I asked them to get out a piece of paper. They were instructed to write down a review question on the topic that we were working on and wad up their paper into a snowball. Their challenge was to challenge their classmates with their question. I also turned my own questions into snowballs. I had a bucket full ready to go to ensure that I had all of the questions that I wanted. The only instructions I gave to my 3rd graders was to make sure not to throw their snowball at anyone’s face or eyes. We had to keep throwing snowballs until the timer went off. Once every student had their snowball I counted down from 5. I set a timer for 1 minute and we had a snowball fight until our timer went off. Trust me, a minute is plenty of time. Some of my students were sweating after a minute. At the end of the minute each student had to get with a partner and read their questions. Their partner had to answer them. I then had partner groups share their questions and answers with the class.  Once the first round was finished we repeated the snowball fight a few more times. This game is a HUGE favorite with my students and super easy to play with very little prep!

Paper Snowball Fight

Snowball fights are also GREAT to use at the beginning of the school year as a get to know you game. Students write things about themselves on their snowball but DO NOT put their name on their paper. This way whoever gets that snowball needs to figure out who it belongs to. This was a great ice breaker, get to know you activity:)


This is a great book with TONS of easy formative assessments!
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Showcase Teachers

showcase teachers

 “Steal” Teachers Ideas to Showcase Them

Bathroom Blog:

Are you a new Instructional Coach or are thinking about becoming one? Wondering where to start with the teachers? I would suggest showcasing teachers’ talents. I mean how often do teachers get recognized for the great things they do everyday in their classrooms? Create a blog (both digital and a bathroom blog) and an Instructional Coach Facebook page to post classroom happenings to showcase teachers. Yes, I said bathroom blog:) I bought a foam board that is used for presentations (similar to a poster board) at my local Wal-Mart. I also purchased a yard of fun fabric and some spray glue that I used to attach the fabric to the foam board. I then found some glitter stickers that I used for the title of my blog. I chose to just call it Bathroom Blog! I then bought some silver push pins that I used for the boarder of the blog. They double as pins to use when I place my findings on the blog. I came up with the bathroom blog as I was thinking about blogs in general. Blogs differ from Facebook because they don’t give automatic updates. I was also thinking about those teachers who are not necessarily tech savvy and how BORING our bathrooms were. I thought it would be fun and convenient at the same time. Everyone potties throughout the day, it’s part of our human functions. Why not give those teachers some amazing classroom findings as well as researched based strategies to read while they go?

A “stolen” idea: A 1st Grade Teacher Setting Up Sight Word Candyland


Classroom Visits:

The culture and morale in our elementary building was fairly low. Teachers are overworked, don’t have time to really dig deep into anything and are facing multiple stressors on a daily basis with little to no recognition. So, my second goal was to help build the teachers up. We have really good teachers who really care about the students. They do good things each and every day that go above and beyond their teaching responsibilities, just because they are good teachers. I did this with the intent of conducting a classroom visit (NOT OBSERVATION) with each elementary teacher. Please stay far away from the word OBSERVATION! It gives the assumption that you are there to evaluate, which you are not! Classroom visit is much less threatening to teachers. Conduct classroom visits on a regular basis and eventually it will become a normal thing in the classrooms. Teachers may be nervous with the first few visits, but it will be a culture change so hang in there. If they can see that you are there to support and not judge, trust will be built and the culture will change. In conducting classroom visits I found ssssssooooooo many amazing ideas that I wish I would have known about when I was in the classroom. I just had to share with other teachers.

showcase teachers

This idea was “stolen” from a 4th grade teacher. She had her kids create a visual with each one of the 50 states that they were learning about. This is a visual from the state of Alaska. This eskimo was displayed on the students’ lockers.


Showcase Teachers:

I wanted to showcase the talents in our elementary buildings as well as build trust and build relationships with showcasing our teachers’ talents. I decided to “steal” teaching ideas. When I say “steal” I mean find at least one takeaway (strategy, organizational idea, classroom management strategy….) from each classroom to showcase on my blog and school Facebook page. I came up with that idea from seeing the AMAZING things that were happening in the classrooms. Ok, so I didn’t really steal the ideas. I asked the teachers for permission to use these “stolen ideas”. As a 3rd grade teacher, there were so many times that I walked into one of my colleague’s classrooms at the end of the day to coordinate my pacing and found things that were amazing. At the time I thought to myself, “why didn’t I think of that?” and “why didn’t you share this with me, it’s awesome”?  My goal was to share the AWESOMENESS that I found in each classroom to the other teachers by showcasing their ideas. They were instructed to “steal” the ideas that were shared. However, I wanted to expand on this thinking. I knew that time (or the lack there of) was an issue for most teachers, so, I also created a bathroom blog. I made bulletin boards with the the title Bathroom Blog and placed them in the bathrooms. Our bathrooms were pretty boring, I mean, have you ever been in a bathroom that wasn’t? I placed them directly in front of the toilet in the women’s bathroom and behind the toilet in the men’s bathroom. This way the teachers didn’t have to take extra time to look online to find the strategies. All “stolen” strategies and ideas were right there for all to see. I had a great response to this. The teachers thought it was pretty clever and LOVED it. I try and change the strategies every Friday to keep things fresh. I make sure to add the pictures and descriptions along with the recognition of where the strategy came from along with any graphic organizers they may need to fully implement the strategy on their own.

showcase teachers

I also posted my own ideas on the bathroom blog to share with others. This is a picture of my own child using a glow in the dark reading finger to practice his reading. Simple, but a HUGE motivator. I used these Halloween witches fingers with my 3rd graders as well. They kept one in their reading box to use during read to self time. You can grab 24 fingers for $5.29 here (great price).

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Getting Started As An Instructional Coach

Instructional Coaching Books To Start With

Just starting out as an Instructional Coach? Wondering where to start?

In The Beginning: Getting Started As An Instructional Coach

To break down the isolation that many teachers experience in their classrooms,  schools are using instructional coaches as a key tool to help teachers adapt their instruction to implement the Common Core standards in Math and English Language Arts.

In starting out as an instructional coach I was VERY nervous. I didn’t know where to start. My school, and most schools in our state had never had Instructional Coaches. This was a new concept for me. So, I started my research. I had no idea really of what an Instructional Coach did on a daily basis. I just knew that an Instructional Coach helped teachers and students. Instructional Coaching is fairly new in our state. In leaving a classroom that I had been in for a few years where I knew what I was going to be doing every hour to not knowing what I will be doing at 10:00 am on a daily basis was my biggest anxiety. I was not sure what my role would look like. Boy did I have a lot to learn! Was I just a helper to the teacher? Did I work with individual groups of students? Was I suppose to run interventions and organize data? I didn’t want to be seen as a glorified, highly paid associate. I wanted to make an impact on teachers and students, but didn’t know where or how to start.  I contacted a friend that was an Instructional Coach in another state and shadowed another coach in a larger district that had 7 years of experience.

Good Reads:

My superintendent suggested starting out with the philosophy of an Instructional Coach. I found a few books that I would highly recommend if you are just starting out as an instructional coach, wondering what an instructional coach does or are thinking of becoming an instructional coach. Here are a few of my recommendations that really helped me get started.

Book #1: Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction: By Jim Knight

This is a GREAT book to start with. Together, myself along with the 2 other new coaches in my district completed a book study of a Jim Knight book called Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. I would highly recommend starting with this book. It describes the “nuts and bolts” of instructional coaching and explains the essential skills that instructional coaches need, including getting teachers on board, providing model lessons, and engaging in reflective conversations.

Book #2: High-Impact Instruction: A Framework For Great Teaching: By Jim Knight

If you like the first book by Jim Knight I would also suggest another one of his books called High-Impact Instruction: A Framework For Great Teaching. In this book, Jim Knight presents the high-leverage strategies that make the biggest difference in student learning. Featuring checklists, numerous observation tools, and online videos of teachers implementing the practices, this revolutionary book focuses on the three areas of high-impact instruction:

  • Content planning, including using guiding questions, learning maps, and formative assessment
  • Instructional practices such as the use of thinking prompts, effective questions, challenging assignments, and experiential learning
  • Community building, in which you shape a classroom culture that promotes well-being, creativity, learning, and high expectations

Book #3: Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom: By Robyn R. Jackson

In this book for school leaders, Jackson presents a new model for understanding teaching as a combination of “skill” and “will” and explains the best ways to support individual teachers ongoing professional development. To move your school forward, you must move the people in it. If you want a master teacher every classroom, you must commit to helping every teacher be a master teacher. That work begins here. This book describes understanding the possible reasoning behind the resistant teacher. This book is a MUST read!!!!  The skill vs. will method will help you answer two simple yet important questions:

  1. How much can that person rely on his or her skills to complete the task?
  2. How much does that person really want to complete the task?


Book #4: Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K–8 Coaches and Principals by Diane Sweeney

I used this in my 2nd year, but it would be good to read in your 1st year. I have both versions. This is my ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK!!! This book really focused me in on the “what” I should be doing and the “how” to do it. I LOVE the concept of focusing on student data to take the pressure off of the teacher. In focusing on student data and what the students can do will eventually lead to a change in practice.

Student-Centered Coaching is grounded on the premise that school-based coaching can be designed to directly impact student learning. Shifting the focus from “fixing” teachers to collaborating with them in designing instruction that targets for student achievement makes coaching more respectful and results-based. The book also underscores the critical role of the principal in fostering a culture of learning. Each chapter includes:

  • A model for designing and implementing student-centered coaching
  • Data-driven coaching tools and techniques focused on student learning
  • Specific practices for leading a student-centered coaching effort

Elementary Version: K-5

Secondary Version: 6-12

What good books have you read that have helped get you started as an Instructional Coach? I would LOVE suggestions!

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