Distributive Coaching - A Collaborative Endeavor to Build Capacity

A few years ago, a friend and I had decided that we needed to get active and what better way than engaging in a game of golf while walking and enjoying the great outdoors. Neither of us, at that time, had ever golfed (nothing more than driving the cart for those who were actually golfing). So we endeavored to find a golf coach and to schedule some lessons. We had imagined that we would learn from the coach each swing, stance, best clubs to use and when and of course all the terminology that goes along with the game. The coach would skillfully turn us both into avid golfers with skill and precision so we could join any invitation to golf. Needless to say, this vision did not come to fruition and with no blame to the coach. There are many more factors to consider than merely hiring a coach to teach the skill and there are many ways to achieve your desired result than through the knowledge and expertise of one person.

Distributive coaching is a term that we coined to describe the unique collaborative nature of collegial sharing and support integral to Collaborative Response. The foundations of this principle come from leadership research in which Harris (2014) explains distributed leadership as “mobilising leadership expertise at all levels in the school in order to generate more opportunities for change and to build the capacity for improvement. The emphasis is upon interdependent interaction and practice rather than individual and independent actions associated with those with formal leadership roles or responsibilities.” Similarly, we rally every team member from new teachers to teachers with decades of experience to share their experiences and expertise in order to meet the needs of all students, thus moving away from those isolated islands of excellence to common, shared practice across a school or district.

With a focus on defined structures and processes, we can set up the professional environment to be conducive to each team member contributing their expertise in a coaching manner while at the same time learning new ideas from their colleagues. This supports capacity building, shared understanding and provides multiple opportunities for improvement in an non-threatening, non-judgemental fashion. It facilitates and honors the expertise that exists in each of our team members and provides a venue for sharing that expertise. The interdependent learning that occurs builds a strong collaborative culture which is not dependent on any one person in the building. We often describe this scenario as every team member coming together to engage as both an expert and a learner.

There are two explicit areas within Collaborative Response that sets the stage for distributive coaching:

  1. Celebrations

When we engage in celebrations to begin our team meetings, it provides a positive and uplifting start to a meeting but with a deeper purpose of identifying practices that have led to the celebration. As team members share a celebration, they are encouraged to describe why that has occurred for that particular student and in response, an effective strategy or support is surfaced allowing the team to benefit from that sharing. This simple process allows us to coach each other and share ideas in an innocuous manner.

2. Key Issues

Through the process of identifying students based on a key issue for discussion provides an ideal opportunity for all members of the team (leaders, teachers, educational assistants, learning support, etc.) to find value in learning new strategies as they engage as a learner as well as share their tried and true practices as an expert. This process provides the foundation for distributive coaching.

We identify a student for whom we have concerns and share the key issue facing that is concerning the teacher in a collaborative team meeting. This is followed by other team members identifying students with a similar issue. We then engage in a beautiful brainstorm of support which provides the opportunity to engage in distributive coaching. Anyone on the team can offer suggestions that are recognized as valuable and recorded for longevity. We then examine the list and determine what strategies are most appropriate for the students identified. This opens the door to the question “I’m not sure how to do that - could you show me what that looks like in your classroom?” and an opportunity for each and every individual to assume that coaching role with a colleague. There is no expert in the room providing all the answers for our concerns but rather a collective commitment to generating as many ideas as possible to serve these students and the potential for many more. Here is a poster that visually represents the key issues process.

Distributive coaching in Collaborative Response is not merely a nice byproduct but an essential component of the collaborative principles that drive Collaborative Response to the forefront of practice in every school.

Over the years, I have learned to golf (although not well). Thanks to Kurtis, his family and our friends, I have come to enjoy the game and have learned the basics through tips and tricks that they’ve taught me as we’ve engaged in each golf game. Each person that I’ve golfed with has taught me something new as they have shared their skill and expertise. Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to engage the distributive coaching concept to my golfing and offer up ideas to support others as well.

For more information email questions(at)jigsawlearning.ca or lorna.hewson(at)jigsawlearning.ca


Harris, D. A. (2014, September 29). Distributed leadership. Teacher Magazine. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.teachermagazine.com/au_en/articles/dis...
Author: Lorna Hewson