All Articles Education Voice of the Educator 7 innovative ways to start next school year beyond a traditional coaching menu

7 innovative ways to start next school year beyond a traditional coaching menu

Instructional coaching expert Donna Spangler shares a different approach to a coaching menu revolving around competence, autonomy and relatedness. 

5 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

Young man working in school wearing lanyard listening to woman gesturing with her hand, teachers having conversation

(10'000 Hours/Getty Images)

Over the summer, as instructional coaches gear up for the new school year, it’s important to explore innovative ways to support teachers’ growth to foster a thriving teaching and learning environment. After all, a coach’s role and services are pivotal in empowering teachers to excel and fostering a culture of continuous growth in the school. While traditional coaching methods hold value, incorporating innovative approaches can elevate the coaching experience and amplify its impact. Many coaches, for instance, use a coaching menu at the beginning of the school year to provide clarity, communication and personalization in their coaching services to outline how coaches can assist teachers in their professional learning and growth.

While a coaching menu is valuable for outlining available coaching services, the following seven ideas can elevate the coaching experience beyond the coaching menu and better meet educators’ diverse needs and motivations by drawing inspiration from E.L. Deci and R.M. Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory’s core principles: competence, autonomy and relatedness. 

SDT states that individuals are inherently motivated to grow and develop when their basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness are satisfied. By aligning coaching practices with these needs, instructional coaches can foster a sense of intrinsic motivation and engagement among teachers. 

When instructional coaches plan coaching interactions with SDT in mind, if teachers feel competent in their abilities, have autonomy in their decision-making and experience a sense of belonging within the school community, they are more likely to be motivated to actively participate in coaching processes and implement new strategies in their teaching practice and their students’ learning.

So, rather than simply offering predefined options through a coaching menu, these seven activities prioritize individualized support, flexibility and active engagement for teachers. Adding one or two of these ideas to a traditional coaching menu creates a different level of partnership and innovation between coaches and teachers rather than just delivering pre-determined services from coaches.

Competence: 2 ideas to establish personalized connections and foster ownership for professional learning

Personalized goal-setting sessions

Schedule virtual or in-person one-on-one meetings with teachers to discuss aspirations, challenges and specific focus areas to establish personalized professional growth goals for the year. Through thoughtful dialogue and active listening, we honor each teacher’s unique journey and foster a sense of ownership and investment in their professional development and coaching process. Through collaborative goal-setting, we lay the groundwork for a coaching partnership grounded in trust and shared purpose.

Micro PD subscription services

Create a micro-professional development subscription service that regularly delivers bite-size, on-demand PD resources to your teachers’ fingertips. Micro PD encourages continuous learning tailored to your teachers’ needs and interests, providing teachers with convenient access to relevant resources that fit seamlessly into their busy schedules. Coaches can deliver this PD in a variety of formats.

Autonomy: 3 ideas to empower teachers to tailor learning pathways and self-directed growth

Virtual meet-and-greet or professional learning sessions

Organize virtual online gatherings using a variety of online spaces where teachers can connect, collaborate, share ideas and interact with the instructional coach and their peers, building expertise and relationships. These sessions foster connections and establish a supportive community and valuable conversations around a shared commitment to growth and learning, even in remote settings. These sessions can also deliver virtual professional learning.

Instructional coaching choice boards

Develop an interactive digital choice board featuring various resources and strategies for teachers to explore independently, personalizing their learning pathways and promoting self-directed growth in a world where one-size-fits-none choice for teachers matters, as does variety in choice boards. An instructional coaching choice board empowers educators to take control of their learning journey by selecting pathways that resonate with their unique teaching styles, interests and goals.

Virtual classroom observations with feedback

Conduct virtual classroom observations and provide timely feedback independently or using a structured platform to support teachers’ instructional practices, either live or recorded, and subsequent feedback sessions. Virtual observations followed by feedback sessions accelerate teacher growth, ensure coaching remains accessible, regardless of the location of the learning environment, and guide teachers’ development and student outcomes.

Relatedness: 2 ideas to create collaborative spaces for idea-sharing, peer support, collective learning

Teacher innovation showcases and problem-solving protocols

Establish virtual collaborative communities of practice based on teachers’ interests or grade levels to provide a safe space for peer support, collaboration, idea-sharing and problem-solving protocols.  Create these communities using virtual or in-person meetings to share expertise or solve problems through a Solution Summit.

PD breakout rooms

Utilize breakout rooms or a variety of breakout events during PD sessions to foster small group discussions and collaborative activities, enhancing engagement and enabling meaningful interactions among participants. These sessions can employ video conferencing tools with built-in breakout sessions or involve in-person breakout sessions to facilitate group interactions and learning.

By implementing innovative approaches at the start of the year or pairing them with a traditional coaching menu, instructional coaches can set a positive and supportive tone, establish meaningful connections with teachers and start the year creating an engaging and effective coaching experience that fosters professional growth with personalized and impactful support while considering the teachers’ motivational needs from SDT for competence, autonomy and relatedness. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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