Leaning stack of books about coaching

Interview: Coaching and Resources for Educators (CARES) Creator Deborah Luckett

This March, ASSET launches its Coaching and Resources for Educators (CARES) initiative -- a no-cost, non-evaluative remote coaching program designed to support educators during COVID-19 and beyond. We caught up with the creator and lead coach of the CARES program, ASSET Associate Executive Director Deborah Luckett, to learn more.

Portrait of educator Deborah Luckett
CARES creator and lead coach Deborah Luckett

Can you share a little about your background?

I have classroom experience in urban, rural and suburban areas. I have taught in Center City Philadelphia, Camden NJ, Green Lane, PA and Cary, NC. My work has earned me recognition by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as a State Teacher of the Year and as a Milken Family Foundation National Educator.

Professional learning for educators has been a long-time passion and effort, and is what drew me to ASSET. I have been with the organization since 2006, and presently serve as the Associate Executive Director. I’ve worked with educators across the US and beyond to support learning in coaching, inquiry, formative assessment, three-dimensional learning, standards alignment, and curriculum development. I am also trained in both cognitive and Kata Improvement coaching, and am the creator and lead coach of ASSET’s CARES program – Coaching and Resources for Educators.

What’s the difference between the coaching in CARES and the coaching educators might be used to?

A lot of times, when we start talking about this program with administrators, they are quick to identify educators that they feel need improvement, who are somehow operating from a deficit. That corrective deficit model of coaching is not what we offer.

Our coaching is a non-evaluative model aimed towards educators who are trying to make some sort of change in their practice. It doesn’t have to be a change made because something is wrong. It can be a change hoped for because an educator says to themselves, I know I'm already good at this. I want to be better. This is a coaching model for educators who want to move forward, look at their practice reflectively. This work is designed for educators who want to engage in thinking about their craft. I don't want anybody in a coaching conversation that doesn't want to be there.

How does that look during COVID, on top of everything educators are already dealing with?

A lot of the work this past year has been focused on helping educators navigate and manage teaching and learning during the pandemic. For example, I’m coaching a group of rural teachers who are working together as a Professional Learning Community. Through collaborative discourse in our coaching sessions, they uncovered the question they want to focus on during the program: How do we re-engage our kids when they come back next week, which will be their sixth “first day of school” this year?

The key idea here is that the focus of the coaching has been identified by the educators. And right now, a lot of this work is naturally related to the pandemic. The coach assists in identifying this focus by engaging in a directive process of intentional inquiry in practice. Administrators have been involved in the work as listeners, not as top-down managers of the efforts.

What does the coaching experience look like?

There is an initial discovery conversation that can last from one to three hours. The range in time depends greatly on the dynamics of the group or the pre-existing individual reflective practices of an educator. This initial conversation is intended to grasp a sense of current situations, trends, or understandings. Some teachers may already have a desired area of focus, so the discovery conversations may not take much time at all. Other people and groups may take a little bit of time and digging to figure out what it is they really want to work on.

From that “virtual walk through of current conditions,” coaching can then focus on intentional discourse that homes in on what the overall goals or expectations of the coaching work should be. We are now able to set some goals and plan for the work.

This coaching program utilizes improvement science principles. Setting goals and identifying small, incremental steps is essential. This approach is very reflective of a disciplined inquiry into practice, mindset, systems, or innovation. It is an iterative cycle of small “experiments”, the collection of measurable evidence, and intentional reflection to create change.

What is improvement science?

Improvement science is an approach grounded in change processes used in industry and healthcare. Rather than top-down mandates for improvement for change, this approach rests squarely with the ones who know the work most intimately—in our case, the educators. The day to day efforts of learning are familiar to them.

Improvement science uses this principle of making the problem work-specific and user centered. An example of this in industry is in the early processes for assembling automobiles. If you think back to the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford had an idea that his cars could be built very, very quickly if there were defined processes in place that are monitored by a management structure. Changes to those processes came from those not actually engaged in the work. The workers had to accept the changes and continue to build the cars. The problem with this scenario was that the change didn't live with the workers, things were decided without them. There was no ownership for improvement. This way of doing things may sound familiar to many educators! We want to break that cycle.

So how does the improvement process translate to a coaching situation?

The coaching approach that I'm using has been put together from this kind of lean approach to change that you see manufacturing and industry, along with the idea of collaborative inquiry. I'm not going to tell you the answers. I am not going to tell you what you should be doing. You are the expert, and my role as coach is to help you uncover the answers.

So how do you, as an educator, identify what's happening in your space—the space that you own, that you know more intimately than anybody else? How do you identify what is happening there, why is it happening, and what do you need to do to implement change?

How can I, as a coach, facilitate that thinking, past the emotion in the environment, so that you can get to that place of change yourself? For me, it's very much an exercise where I try very hard to be conscious of my roles in this conversation for change. Am I just listening? Am I advising? Am I consulting? Am I planning? What is it that you need from me, so that when we're done, you will feel like this has been fruitful?

What drew you to this kind of work?

Teaching is a craft and the nature of any form of artistry is continual reflection and improvement. For me, at the end of the day, I have the chance to have a conversation with an educator or group of educators about their practice, the way they work within a system, and how they want to change that relationship. Helping my colleagues. That is my passion. That is what makes me tick. I would rather do that than anything else.