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Making Coaching Inclusive

by Julia Dennis ( and Rachel Jenner (, @rachelajenner)

Pan American School of Porto Alegre, Brazil

Diane Sweeney, creator of Student-Centered Coaching, states that instructional coaching should be “inclusive” (2017). In her book Educational Coaching: A Partnership for Problem Solving, Cathy A. Toll reemphasizes that “coaches and teachers are partners, and each brings knowledge and insights to the work. Coaches don’t have to know it all (2018).” While some may find it difficult to imagine partnering with a coach who lacks background in their specific subject area, the specialists at the Pan American School of Porto Alegre (PAS POA) have not viewed this as a hindrance to collaboration. Specialist teachers from physical education, Portuguese, music, art, and design have collaborated through coaching, and the stories of some of these teachers reflect the profound impact that a coaching partnership can have on student learning in the classroom.

Critical Thinking Promoted by Collaboration

MYP art teacher Philip Parham immediately jumped at the opportunity to work with a coach during the first unit of the year with his grade 6 artists. His goal was for students to critically evaluate the work of artists using descriptive vocabulary, and he was keen to collaborate with a coach to this end. Working in a small school, Philip does not have another art colleague teaching at the same level with whom to collaborate. He therefore found it gratifying to have another point of view while planning, as well as another pair of eyes in the classroom to reflect on student progress towards the learning targets. He felt that co-planning conversations helped clarify expectations for students, therefore supporting their success in the classroom. In describing the coach-teacher partnership, Philip stated: “When working with a coach, you’re looking at generic elements of classroom teaching. You don’t need to be an expert to do that.” Professional collaboration both inside and outside the classroom provided the structure and process through which his artists could demonstrate their critical thinking.

Risk-Taking Leading to Differentiation

At the beginning of the year, Portuguese teacher Izelda Freitas and Portuguese as an Additional Language teacher Mariana Moreira were wrestling with how to promote Portuguese language acquisition for a recently arrived grade 1 student. They were interested in the idea of co-teaching as a method of differentiation, but couldn’t envision how it might work in reality. After eight successful months of collaboration, they credit coaching for the “push” they needed to get started. Regular coaching meetings helped them create their initial plan, identify how they might use data to create differentiated groupings, and research instructional strategies to address student needs. These conversations helped them consider decisions from various perspectives and explore methodologies they had previously abandoned – or not considered at all. Both Izelda and Mariana felt like coaching became their safety net and provided them with the security they needed to take risks. They see a noticeable difference in student achievement because of their co-teaching model (especially their targeted student, who keeps up with all the students in the class).

Data-Driven Design Decisions

The overheard comment, “What does data look like in a design class?” initiated the beginning of a coaching cycle with MYP design teacher Marta Voelcker. Marta was excited to enter into a partnership with a coach and recounted that “our strengths complemented each other” and lent themselves to the successful collaboration. Developing explicit learning targets was a critical foundation for determining what data to collect in order to monitor student progress. During class, both teachers utilized a data collection tool that then was used for reflection and planning subsequent instructional moves. As a result of the coaching cycle, Marta continues to plan with learning targets in mind and identify what she wants to observe her students doing during class in order to know how they have performed in relation to the targets. She has experimented with a variety of ways to collect and record this data, which is no longer a question plaguing her professional practice. 

Reflection for Intentionality

Preschool art teacher Marcos Sari believes education should be a collaborative venture among professionals to meet the needs of the students. This mindset carried over to his coaching cycle, as he was unconcerned about his coach being an artist (or not). For him, coaching was a partnership where both he and the coach learned from one another’s knowledge and experiences. The element of dialogue throughout the cycle helped him reflect on his own practice, and allowed him to more intentionally plan for utilizing art exemplars and techniques in his classes. He feels students could feel the change in his practice and felt more important, more planned for. Likewise, he said coaching made him feel “important” and attended to as a professional, because it honored him as an artist and encouraged his professional choices.

As Toll reminds us, “the most effective educational coaches are those who connect with their teacher partners by listening carefully and drawing out teachers’ knowledge, as well as their beliefs and perspectives” (2018). The greatest connection coaches and teachers have is that of being educators; regardless of subject area, experience, and personal philosophy. Utilizing this connection, trust, and mutual respect as the basis for a collaborative relationship, coaches can partner with any teacher around a common goal for student success.


Sweeney, Diane. “A Series for Principals: Leading Student-Centered Coaching.” YouTube, YouTube, 31

Toll, Cathy A. Educational Coaching: A Partnership for Problem Solving. ASCD, 2018.


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