Lessons Learned in my Years as an Instructional Coach
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am transitioning back to the classroom after serving my school for two years as an instructional coach. While I missed the classroom immensely, I enjoyed so many things about my time as a coach.
Collegial Learning One of the greatest frustrations I had while in the classroom was the lack of time to talk, process and reflect with other educators. We are SO busy, yet there is so much we can learn from one another. In my role as a coach I met with individuals, but also had the freedom to create opportunities for small group learning through book studies, PLCs, etc that were rich learning experiences for me (and I hope them as well). I always walk away from time spent with my colleagues learning something new–about their role, classrooms, practice or students. I would say I learned the most this year from Special Educators about the pivotal role they play in our building.
Relationship Building When I was in the classroom, my sphere was small and intimate. In coaching I served the whole school and I built relationships all over the building. In fact, I went to classrooms to meet teachers in places I didn’t know existed in our building. This left me with one reflection: We have amazing people committed to serving our students. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to expand my relationships to include several colleagues, whom I now consider friends.
Learning. Period. I spent the last two years in focused learning about NGSS, the Social Emotional Learning Standards, standards based grading, best practices in co-teaching, PLC development, formative assessment, rubrics and proficiency scales, interpersonal communication, literacy strategies (both content and disciplinary)…need I go on? My head is hurting just thinking about it! We did all this to better equip ourselves as resources to teachers grappling with their application. In the classroom, I never would have had the time to spend diving deep into these content areas.
Big Picture Thinking Coaches are not administration. Coaches are not teachers. But, they have their feet in both camps. This gave me new insight into how decisions are made at both the macro and micro level. Coaches play an important role in communicating the intent and heart of administration regarding new mandates. Likewise, at least in our building, coaches can share teacher concerns, which inevitably occur when the rubber meets the road of universal mandates. This communication role is key. Without coaches playing this role, the intent behind much of what we’re asked to do is misconstrued and reassigned. I can honestly say that our administration is highly flexible, innovative, encourages teacher independence and autonomy much more than our teachers realize. On the rare occasion that a mandate is given, it is designed with the best for students and teachers in mind.
Teachers need Coaches (EVERYONE does) While I love presenting PD (it reminds me of planning the party for students–see previous post), the one to one coaching sessions have convinced me most about the power of instructional coaching. Where else can teachers find a safe place to voice concerns about student behavior, school policy or difficulties within their team? Where else can teachers problem solve while someone carefully listens and asks reflective questions to help them process? Coaching is that safe place and it is a powerful tool for improving instruction and building a positive climate and culture for learning. I was grateful to play a small role in the personal reflection for a select group of teachers.
Culture Building Speaking of climate and culture…I love celebrating teachers and students. This is part of the job that I LOVED and will miss a great deal. Whether it be tweeting students in action during engaging activities, sending encouraging emails or plotting fun schemes for faculty meetings, I was in! While I still intend to do that from my new seat on the bus, I enjoyed playing that role for the whole building.
MY TEAM I saved the best for last. 3 of my favorite educators and I formed the instructional coaching team at my school. This team, in partnership with one of my favorite APs ever, started the program from the ground up. While we haven’t done everything perfectly, as innovation comes with recalibration, it has gone very well. Most of our 200 staff have engaged in instructional coaching in some way and this is a HUGE victory for a novice team. But, we’ve also earned a “Those Who Excel” state nomination from our district and presented at local and national conferences about our program. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done. On a personal note, I’ve come to love and respect all of them as both educators and people.
This is a short list. There is undoubtedly much more I can say about my two years as a coach. But, these are the highlights. It’s an amazing role for anyone willing to take on the task. If you are interested in coaching, let me suggest you ask yourself these three key questions:
- Can you sell yourself? Part of instructional coaching is marketing; finding opportunities to share responsibility and partner with people. A great teacher without these skills, is a coach in an office by his/herself.
- Are you a self starter? In our building, coaches are given great freedom to innovate. During my time in this role, we developed courses, book clubs, lunch and learns, attended PLCs, generated clientele with whom we worked one on one, worked with department chairs to develop differentiated PD by department, developed co-teaching PD, designed SIP days, attended and presented at conferences…we were given parameters, but then told to go… and we did!
- Do you enjoy partnering with people? Most of the work in the coaching world is collaborative. You own very little of your own work. This, I’ve learned, is amazing. After all, two heads working together always yields a better product than one.
If you answered “Yes!” to all three, then I’d say go for it! Let me know how it goes! 🙂