Collaborating, learning, and supporting the coaching process in underserved districts.

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Using Core Competencies in Your Curriculum Planning Process

Using Core Competencies in Your Curriculum Planning Process

Core competencies in business are typically “soft skills.” Core competencies in academics have potential too. This year, I have the opportunity to facilitate curriculum writing through the lens of core competencies. I define core competencies as the 10-15 essential skills a student can expect to […]

Tracking Professional Development Hours with Certify’em

Tracking Professional Development Hours with Certify’em

Tracking professional development can be a huge headache. It doesn’t have to be. A simple add-in for Google Forms can save hours of work. It is called Certify’em. Other bloggers such as Alice Keeler and Free Technology for Teachers have written about this awesome little […]

[Instructional Coach Chronicles] Working With a Teacher You Don’t Like

[Instructional Coach Chronicles] Working With a Teacher You Don’t Like

Have you ever worked with a teacher who didn’t want to work with you -at all? I did and I promise it almost broke me mentally and professionally. All of our disagreements came to a head as we set in the office ready to have a meeting with the principal.

Before I get to that, let me start at the beginning of the story.

I was hired to work as an Instructional Coach halfway through the first month of school. So when I arrived, I was nervous, scared and hopeful that I could bring my previous work as a teacher into working with other teachers. Two days into the job, I had to run my first Professional Learning Community and go over the principal’s expectations for the team. Everything was going well and teachers were asking good questions until we came up to the line-When are lesson plans due?

I started, “So Mr. Cunningham* wants all lesson plans turned in by Thursday evening so that we- the coaches- could have feedback ready to you by the time you leave on Fri-”

Before I could get the last of the word out Mr. Fox* interrupted me.

“Why Thursday? I like to sit down on Friday after the students leave, go to an early dinner and write my lesson plans well into the evening.”

Taken aback, I explained again what the principal wanted, but with that came 20 more questions about why Mr. Fox thought this was unfair. Obviously exasperated, he left the meeting vowing to meet with Mr. Cunningham to plead his case. I could tell by the look on all of the teacher’s faces that they were not amused by Mr. Fox and I immediately knew that he would be quite different to work with.

Now, based on that interaction, you’d think that Mr. Fox was a veteran teacher, but no, he actually a second-year teacher who had decided that he knew everything there was about teaching history to high school age children. Upon observing his class, it was clear that there were issues- specifically around classroom management and instructional strategies, specifically, he lectured the entire class period and if a student didn’t do what he said at that moment, he put them “out” of the classroom. However, Fox decided he didn’t need anyone’s help.

That belief posed a major problem with the vision of our principal Mr. Cunningham who had a clear instructional vision about the school that directly in contrast to how Mr. Fox operated his class. So for the next couple of months, I attempted to build a relationship with him, but to no avail. Despite his reluctance to work with me, I still had to visit his class several times per week and offer feedback and try to get him to embrace a more student-centered classroom. Nothing worked. He relied strongly on his summer training of teaching and recoiled if anyone suggested that he use anything other than the textbook.

All of this came to head, after a visit from the state where they witnessed Mr. Fox demean a student because they didn’t have the right type of paper and lectured the entire class period. Immediately after the observation, I was called into the office and there was Mr. Fox waiting.

Not knowing what was going on, I knocked on my principal’s door and he quietly opened the door and pointed for me to sit since he was on the phone. After about five minutes, he hung up and before I could ask him what was going on, he called for Mr. Fox to sit down.

The next fifteen minutes were interesting- to say the least. There was a lot of tense moments with the principal laying out his concerns one-by-one and Mr. Fox sticking to his guns that everything he was doing was right. The entire time, I just sat in my chair and listened- this was not my meeting and despite what I personally felt about him, this entire exchange was awkward and unwarranted. In the end, the principal gave Fox and ultimatum- make your teaching more center-focused or his evaluation would show that. Begrudgingly, Mr. Fox agreed he’d work with me and we’d meet again in two weeks to reassess his progress.

We all left that meeting feeling pretty ‘beat up’ but I couldn’t just go back to my office- I needed to have a follow-up conversation with Mr. Fox- not to beat him up, but to let him know I was really there to help him. During our quick meeting, I reiterated that as a second-year teacher it was normal for him to struggle and that if he needed help with what he had to do let me know.

I left feeling better and I apparently he did also because later that night I received an email asking if he could meet with me during his planning to see how he could organize his planning better. Our work relationship got better once he realized I could help him and I did.  He ended the year feeling much less like he had a target on his back and he even sent me a nice note thanking me for working with him despite his ‘bad’ attitude.

5 Instructional Coach Books You Should Read This Summer

5 Instructional Coach Books You Should Read This Summer

In March of every year, the whispers start about if available Instructional Coach positions will be available the following school and year and in attempt to be “ready” many aspiring (and current) coaches begin to look for reading that can give them a “leg up” […]

The Anxieties of Coaching Displaced Teachers

The Anxieties of Coaching Displaced Teachers

by Shawnta S. Barnes It takes hard work to build up teachers and improve their practice, but the work is even harder when teachers are displaced.  This school year is my third year as an instructional coach and this year has been the most challenging. […]

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

You clear your throat. “Today we’re going to learn how to monitor data in our classrooms..” You look around the room and 20 pairs of eyes are looking at you waiting for you to finish your sentence. “..and how to increase student achievement at our school.” As you turn around to grab your handouts you can feel the collective sigh from your co-workers.

They HATE to discuss data.

As you turn around to pass out your handouts, the first question comes up.

Teacher A: “Didn’t we just look at data at our last meeting?”

Teacher B: “I couldn’t give my diagnostic exam because the computer lab was being worked on.”

Teacher C: “Can we make this short? I have papers to grade!”

As you struggle through the professional development you literally feel yourself failing as a coach. After training you just sit in your office and replay the events in your head. How in the hell did you even get to this point?

That right there ladies and gentlemen is the typical day in the life of an Instructional Coach. I experienced it and many times these types of experiences literally put you through the Instructional Coach Ring of Fire. By the time you are finished with your presentation, you have sweated out all your deodorant and your throat is dry and scratchy and you are counting the hours until you can go home and crawl in a fetal position on your couch.

The Instructional Coach Ring of Fire is an experience (or set of collective experiences) that every coach goes through despite your years and experience in education and as a result, makes you question your role and/or effectiveness of being a coach. These experiences are usually had at either the beginning of the year or as a result of a professional learning gone rogue. During this experience, many Instructional Coaches just want to go home and not come back for several days. When (and if) they do get over this initiation and make it to the other side, almost nothing else can harm them.

However, the result of this proverbial “ring of fire” is to make coaches question their position within a school. For many first-year coaches, they continue to question their purpose at the school level well into the school year. Are you there to check lesson plans and give feedback? Are you there to work with new teachers and support them? Or has your principal pulled you for more menial tasks to complete around the school? Quite simply the purpose and role of an Instructional Coach is to support teachers. Sometimes that support involves modeling classroom lessons while other times it may mean working with a struggling teacher one on one.

Finding your purpose as an Instructional Coach is a process that’s both complex and (at times) political. There may be teachers in your building who are resentful of one of them giving them feedback and seeing them at their most vulnerable moments.  However, there are some things Instructional Coaches can do that establish their presence in the building as help not more eyes for administration such as:

  • Conducting a professional learning survey for all teachers in the school. Tools such as Survey Monkey and Google Drive make it easy for you to create a simple 10 question survey about what areas teachers feel they are experts in and what are their areas of growth. Any survey given out should be specific enough so that you can gain insightful data, but it shouldn’t take the teachers 30 minutes to complete. A good “rule of thumb” is to make the survey less than ten minutes.
  • Have a discussion with your administration team of their expectations for your job. Being an Instructional Coach is not the same as an Assistant Principal or Principal, instead your role is all about support of teachers. At the beginning of the year, sit down and ask of the expectations the administrative team will have for you. When I was an Instructional Coach I was required to observe one teacher a day and offer feedback to that teacher. In addition, I was expected to deliver professional learning once a week in collaborative planning. However, after speaking to other Instructional Coaches their duties differed greatly. Some were being used as Assistant Principals while others covered classes all day. In order to see improvement in struggling teachers, it’s critical for the administrative team realize that you are there for support.
  • Meeting with teachers 1:1 about the results of their survey. Once you have data from the survey, make a face to face to all teachers you support and just let them know your role in the school. This is a great time to reinforce the data you have already had and a great way to meet each teacher and determine the teachers who may be most resistant to your role.
  • Offer genuine help to struggling teachers. During these 1:1 meetings with teachers, it will become clear who needs help and who doesn’t. Sometimes the teachers who are struggling will come to you, but many times you will find them during your routine visits. Listen to them when they tell you the areas they are struggling in and give them real help. So many times, principals suggest for teachers to read and article and expect for the teachers to become better just by reading. In reality, these teachers may need some modeling and some explicit help in overcoming their areas of growth.
  • Stay out of all administrative decisions- you are not an assistant principal. I remember when one of my principals asked me to sit in a meeting he was having with a struggling as he was about to put them on a professional development plan. I politely declined. Instead, I suggested for him to send the teacher to me afterward so I could console her and give her a plan to get off of the plan. Instructional Coaches should not take place in anything punitive (or viewed as punitive from teachers) directed toward their teachers. Instructional Coaches should be impartial and should focus on what the best for instruction at their school sites.
  • Make professional development timely and job-embedded. No one likes professional development that is a “sit and get”.  If you don’t believe go to any session at an education conference where a  PowerPoint is the center of learning. Instead, we love learning that’s relevant, timely and job-embedded.  So during every professional learning I created an activity that allowed teachers to learn through the activity.

Coaching is one of the hardest jobs in the building, but with careful planning you can help teachers tremendously  and find your purpose in your building. Now tell us how you defined your role as an Instructional Coach in the building!

 

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How soon is too soon to visit classrooms? Maybe that is the wrong question. How soon is too soon to start observing teachers and providing feedback? This is my struggle. Of course, as a coach, I want to get into classrooms as soon as possible. […]

Steps to Becoming an Instructional Coach

Steps to Becoming an Instructional Coach

A typical response when I tell other educators that I am an Instructional Coach is, “Wow! That sounds awesome. How do you become a coach?” The response that I give them is usually the abbreviated version of steps I had taken to become a coach, […]

Creating Partnerships in Uncomfortable Situations as an Instructional Coach

Creating Partnerships in Uncomfortable Situations as an Instructional Coach

As a coach, there comes a time when you are asked to work with a teacher who has not been one of the ones banging down your office door. This situation can cause feelings of discomfort for you and the teacher. Sometimes it is not that the teacher does not want to work with you as a coach. However, there could be some feelings of inadequacy, reluctance, and resistance to change. These feelings most likely have nothing to do with you. The idea here is to not take it personally.  You are not there to have hurt feelings because you are not at the top of this particular teacher’s “friends” list. Being an Instructional Coach is not about any of that. It is about fostering a relationship with teachers to foster their growth in order to produce adequate growth in students.

Being an Instructional Coach is not about any of that. It is about fostering a relationship with teachers to foster their growth in order to produce adequate growth in students. Click To Tweet

According to the article produced by the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching, it states, “while building your relationships with teachers in your school find out what they need, what their teaching insecurities are, and how you can support their growth.” In order to reach this plateau of growth, there must be a partnership that is built for it to occur. The teacher has to make the decision to be open and willing to grow and change. You, as the coach, have to be willing to facilitate the process, be open and leave judgment at the door. Here are some researched based strategies that you can help with the feelings that the teacher may have.

Feeling of Inadequacy: There will be teachers that you work with that feel inadequate in their teaching practices. One thing that helps before I even walk in the door is allowing myself to think back to a time when I felt the same exact way. No teacher has “arrived.” Every teacher can think of a time when they have had these feelings. Remember and hold on to your past feelings of inadequacy in the field of education because you are going to need to mentally refer to that while facilitating conversations with the teacher. Another way to begin to lessen the teacher’s feelings of inadequacy is reassurance that you are there to help and to build a partnership. Reiterate the fact that you are not there to judge them or to ridicule them with your note-taking, observing, modeling, co-planning, etc. You are there to facilitate and aid in the teacher’s growth so that ultimately their students will make strides.

Feeling of Reluctance: There will always be teachers who are a little reluctant, especially in uncomfortable situations such as involuntarily working with the Instructional Coach. However, there are ways to help with this. One way is to have open communication with the teacher and let them know that what you discuss is confidential. Remember, as the coach, you are in their room without invitation. However, I would state that working together can be an experience of both growth, exploration, and celebration. But be honest that there will also be constructive feedback that will be given in the process. In order for that growth to occur, there has to be openness, willingness, and honesty. The teacher will have to let down some walls and for you to help them do that, they have to see you as a support system that they can trust and with whom they can be open.

Resistance to Change: “I’ve always done it this way,” or, “This is the way it’s always been done,” are comments you often hear from teachers who are not ready and sometimes unwilling to alter their instructional practices and are reluctant to change. However, with a solid relationship established, a supportive environment and building trust, you will be amazed as to how much teachers are willing to change and expand their instructional horizons. One way for this to happen is through other teachers that you have coached. Once the “word” begins to spread about the work you are doing in other rooms, along with student growth, more teachers will begin to open up and allow small significant changes to their instruction.

Sometimes as a coach when we are putting in the authentic work of building relationships, building trust and supporting teachers, we can become discouraged when there are teachers who are not as receptive to our work. The key is, to begin with the end in mind and remember, ultimately you are there to support teachers to aid in student growth. When we keep that at the forefront of our minds, we will be able to keep pushing forward in doing what is best for students.

Evaluating Instructional Materials: An Integral Part of Being an Instructional Coach

Evaluating Instructional Materials: An Integral Part of Being an Instructional Coach

Evaluating materials is often a part of the coaching gig, even though it isn’t in the typical coaching job description. We are often called on as experts to evaluate a variety of instructional materials, books, and programs. There are so many things to consider when […]

Gossip and Gripes: The Instructional Coach Chronicles

Gossip and Gripes: The Instructional Coach Chronicles

People talk. They gossip. They gripe about their colleagues. As a coach, I feel like I hear it all. To be successful, though, I can’t participate, no matter how tempting. It isn’t because I don’t enjoy gossip. And certainly, it isn’t because I have no […]

Coaching a Dysfunctional Team

Coaching a Dysfunctional Team

Remember your college days, where you were assigned to a group of peers who did not always have your work ethic or attention to detail?  Did you carry that group to an “A” or mourn when they brought your grade down?  The outcomes were important then to your GPA.  The teams you lead now as an Instructional Coach have greater implications than those college cohorts, despite how important the GPA felt then.

As an Instructional Coach in Literacy, my job is to bring all of the teachers from the place where they present on day one, to a place of successful outcomes for students. Click To Tweet

This is a new role for me, and the challenges of a dysfunctional team require deliberate practice and reflection. We know all too well that not every teacher shows up ready to teach, fully understanding solid pedagogy, with a bag of engagement tips and tricks, and with the fervor needed to deeply understand the curriculum and its correlation to how developmental psychology says that students learn.

As an Instructional Coach, our emphasis must be to impact the teaching in the classrooms.  When our teams are not working together, it is our job to help fix it.  We know that collaboration in planning is important because it benefits those teachers who lack the ability to instill rigor into lessons, struggle with building engagement, or generally need that little extra.  We must bring our dysfunctional teams to a place of understanding of the RIGHT work.  Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, describes the hierarchy of issues that teams face when trying to accomplish a goal.

Trust

In a grade level team, the teachers have often worked together for some time, possibly even years.  As a new coach, I am an outsider.  I am also seen as the administration which means I could be evaluative, and possibly dangerous.  Establishing trust is the first step in truly joining the team to hold sway and make an impact.  Time together can help to ease these concerns.  Reaching out to individuals and meeting with subsets of the team are also strategies that can lead to a more cohesive team.  Ultimately it goes back to the old adage:  People don’t care what you know until they know that you care!  Establishing a safe environment where the growth mindset can truly exist is crucial.

However, teams have a history together which can lead to a lack of trust.  The more you know about each person’s style of communication, the better you can facilitate productive conflict.  Conflict is inevitable, and if you are not comfortable with handling it rationally, you can build those skills through practice and professional development.  Productive conflict can be healing because it involves changing perspectives and focuses on solutions.  Teams can express their emotions as well as their viewpoints.  This struggle creates equilibrium within the team if it is properly facilitated.  It is imperative that after a productive conflict, the team debriefs and reflects on the issue as well as the process, becoming metacognitive of the way they worked through the issue together.  This builds capacity in the team towards future communication.

Commitment

When dealing with teachers, it is not often that you run across someone who lacks commitment to their students.  However, for many reasons, you will find teachers who lack a commitment to their team, administration, or school in general.  Once the teacher loses commitment from the top-down, though, it can translate into a loss of commitment to students.  Then you have the teachers who are committed to their own performance over the actual performance of the students.  These are the teachers who give a little too much information before an assessment, putting their proverbial finger on the scale so that students perform better than they should or would.  These teachers may enter data towards growth that may not be solid or even true.  But since the culture shifts failure back to the teacher instead of diagnosing and remediating the problems of the students, it is no wonder that teachers feel the need to tip the scale so their performance appears highly effective.  Sadly, this cheats the students out of access to RTI, small group instruction, and thus leaving them stranded in their deficit.

A lack of commitment damages so many aspects of the school culture and performance. Click To Tweet

In collaborative planning, those teachers who are busy doing the work begin to resent those who are disengaged.  In order to re-engage a staff member who has lost commitment, understanding why the disengagement occurred, developing a personal relationship, and rebuilding trust in the team is crucial.  There have been times in my 25 years of teaching that I have lost commitment.  While it’s disheartening to admit it, it is true.  Why this happened varied with the situation, but it has happened more than once.  For me, I’ve always been aware of the level of my commitment and exactly when it is lost.  I have found that many people are not, however, aware of when or where they lost that commitment, engagement, and focus.  Sometimes all it takes is bringing it to the attention of the team member for it to be corrected.  You may need to rebuild the team from the ground up, though.  It will be worth the work if it benefits students, and, as coaches, we are not afraid of hard work!

Accountability

Everyone resents accountability to some degree.  Don’t believe me?  I can prove it.  How do you feel when you are getting pulled over while driving?  Are you easy going, relaxed?  Do you say to the officer, “Yes, I was speeding, and I welcome the chance to pay for this ticket!”  Our administrators, district office, state laws all place requirements on us.  Our curriculum has guidelines.  Parents of students have expectations that are often seem unrealistic.  How we respond to accountability depends on our personality and life experiences.  It is often a strong trigger for some people.  Reflection on our own level of accountability is useful in creating change, but calling out an individual or even a team related to a lack of accountability will backfire. Ensure that clear expectations are established and communicated clearly and in advance.  The lack of clear communication of expectations can lead to administrative dissatisfaction of the teacher’s job performance and to the teacher’s dissatisfaction with the work environment and culture.

Creating change in others begins with a self reflection.  Hypocrisy in this area can create further dysfunction in communication and teamwork if the coach is not viewed as persistent and has a history of not following through.  Negative emotions related to accountability can be changed, however, when people understand the ‘why.’  It is not enough to say that district requires that data to be entered or that administration wants it done.  What does this task lead to?  How will it assist the teacher in being more productive? What impact will this have on student achievement?  When people are treated professionally and provided with a ‘why’ that they can buy into, the resentment of accountability can be lessened.  You will run into people who hate being accountable no matter what.  Continue to build relationships with these teachers.  Continue to hold them accountable in a respectful or professional way.

An interesting subset of teachers lack accountability because of their own lack of executive functioning skills.  Teachers who are persistently late to work or meetings, disorganized, unfocused, or generally flustered often suffer from their own need to strengthen their brain in the area of executive functioning.  The brain is malleable, even if it is a slower process as we age.  Communicating the the employee that improvement in a specific, focused area is critical and why, can lead to that teacher improving.  With adults, we know that they learn more slowly, but also more deeply and in a transformational way.  If a teacher sees the need and commits to a small change, a coach can encourage and be a cheerleader to solidify the change.

Acting on Results

In teaching, we consistently  make data-driven decisions.  We plan instruction based on the results of our data.  We engineer CFAs and exit tickets to ensure that learning occurs.  This is a behavior that should be a habit for educators.  However, do we always act on the results of our knowledge of other team members?  Are we sensitive to the fact that Mrs. A is pregnant, Mr. Y’s wife is in the hospital, and Ms. Z’s test results are not back yet?  We, as coaches, must be sensitive to the changing needs of the team.  We must acknowledge the little steps of growth more than we attempt to remediate other behaviors.  We must be the guide, the facilitator, the mediator, and the cheerleader, all rolled into one.  Deliberate planning for your teams will make your life tremendously easier.  Your coaching plans for individuals may need to be expanded to coaching cycles for teams.  Just like in a classroom, you may not reach every child, remember that we may not reach every teacher.  Those educators with issues beyond your and your administration’s abilities to reach and teach will probably move on next year.  That doesn’t mean stop trying, but keep a realistic goal so that your own sense of success is reasonable.  At the end of the day, if you have given your all to the teams, you are making a difference.

[September] Teacher Self-Care Calendar For Teachers

[September] Teacher Self-Care Calendar For Teachers

It’s September and whether you’re starting school after Labor Day or you’ve been in school for a month, there’s no wrong time for helping your teachers take care of themselves. Use this printable to build relationships with your teachers. To download this in a PDF, […]

12 Reasons to use a Web-Based Assessment Platform

12 Reasons to use a Web-Based Assessment Platform

Moving to a web-based assessment platform can be daunting. The hype is real. Here are twelve reasons it is totally worth it (and a couple of reasons to be cautious). Collaboration- It is possible to collaborate with teachers from all over the world with a web-based […]

Learning your Teachers

Learning your Teachers

Learning your teachers you coach is hard work. What do you need to know? What do you want to know? How can you establish a positive, productive working relationship? Where is the balance between coach and friendship? Coaching is inherently relational. Taking the time to learn the teachers, just as you might your students, is an important component of effective coaching.

As the new year starts, working with a new group of teachers can be challenging. There are a number of things I find helpful to learn about my teachers.

  1. Personality-Whether it is True Colors, Strength Finders, or any other personality “test,” these exercises can be really revealing and helpful. Both the results and the way teachers approach and respond to the results provide valuable information.
  2. Processing style-Observing how each teacher processes information is incredibly important. Some teachers think out loud, others need time to contemplate information. Certain teachers are linear, while others have thought patterns that resemble a bird’s nest. Some teachers prefer to write before speaking. Paying attention to how teachers process can increase your effectiveness as you adjust your coaching moves to the style of each teacher.
  3. Learning style-Teachers learn in different ways, just as students do. Do first, see first, read first? What works for each teacher as a learner? Not only does this help the coach support teacher learning, it helps the coach fully grasp why each teacher makes certain instructional choices.
  4. Communication style-Are you working with any teachers who are conflict-averse? Who goes along to get along? Are you working with teachers who are natural contrarians? Who loves to debate? Are some teachers naturally blunt, introspective and reserved, outgoing and social? Communication style is like learning style-identifying how your teachers communicate can help you both understand certain instructional choices and increase your effectiveness. If you are working with PLCs, learning your teachers can also help you facilitate and mediate group meetings.
  5. Love language-What makes your teachers feel appreciated? This one is easy to overlook; however, it can be the key to establishing positive, productive relationships. Who needs words of affirmation? Maybe that teacher isn’t ‘needy;’ maybe she needs words to feel validated, not just reassured. Who appreciates acts of service? The teacher who melts when you make his copies probably isn’t totally overwhelmed–he just takes your help as a sign of genuine caring. Who gains strength from simple touch? That teacher who feels supported by a shoulder squeeze isn’t more or less difficult to coach-just different. Who responds best to your undivided attention? A teacher who appreciates your extended observation isn’t being selfish-she feels cared about when you gift her your time. Love languages are not a typical teacher kind of tool. On the other hand, when teachers feel that you care and appreciate them, they are likely to be more receptive to your coaching.
  6. Professional boundaries-Which teachers keep their personal lives strictly private? Who hosts their teacher friends for regular social gatherings? Do some teachers have few friends outside their teaching circle? Are some teachers reluctant to socialize with those they see as “administration?” Learning how teachers view the line between professional and personal relationships can help you avoid potentially awkward situations. It can also increase your awareness of perceived bias. Some teachers will see bias towards teachers with whom you socialize more even if they desire no such relationship. Some teachers will see bias against teachers as a group if you elect not to join in social activities. As a coach, you can plan to negotiate the social balance more effectively when you recognize how your teachers view professional boundaries.

I create a spreadsheet (that I absolutely keep 100% private) where I can note these things about each teacher. Doing so improves my individual coaching. It also helps me design professional development and group activities that meet the needs of all my teachers.

Learning your teachers can be time-consuming, but it is worth the effort. Even the lens of learning your teachers can help you start the year in a positive way. In the long run, learning your teachers, in whatever ways work for you, will pay dividends later.


The Intimates of Being a Coach

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

You clear your throat. “Today we’re going to learn how to monitor data in our classrooms..” You look around the room and 20 pairs of eyes are looking at you waiting for you to finish your sentence. “..and how to increase student achievement at our school.” As you turn around to grab your handouts you can feel the collective sigh from your co-workers.

They HATE to discuss data.

As you turn around to pass out your handouts, the first question comes up.

Teacher A: “Didn’t we just look at data at our last meeting?”

Teacher B: “I couldn’t give my diagnostic exam because the computer lab was being worked on.”

Teacher C: “Can we make this short? I have papers to grade!”

As you struggle through the professional development you literally feel yourself failing as a coach. After training you just sit in your office and replay the events in your head. How in the hell did you even get to this point?

That right there ladies and gentlemen is the typical day in the life of an Instructional Coach. I experienced it and many times these types of experiences literally put you through the Instructional Coach Ring of Fire. By the time you are finished with your presentation, you have sweated out all your deodorant and your throat is dry and scratchy and you are counting the hours until you can go home and crawl in a fetal position on your couch.

The Instructional Coach Ring of Fire is an experience (or set of collective experiences) that every coach goes through despite your years and experience in education and as a result, makes you question your role and/or effectiveness of being a coach. These experiences are usually had at either the beginning of the year or as a result of a professional learning gone rogue. During this experience, many Instructional Coaches just want to go home and not come back for several days. When (and if) they do get over this initiation and make it to the other side, almost nothing else can harm them.

However, the result of this proverbial “ring of fire” is to make coaches question their position within a school. For many first-year coaches, they continue to question their purpose at the school level well into the school year. Are you there to check lesson plans and give feedback? Are you there to work with new teachers and support them? Or has your principal pulled you for more menial tasks to complete around the school? Quite simply the purpose and role of an Instructional Coach is to support teachers. Sometimes that support involves modeling classroom lessons while other times it may mean working with a struggling teacher one on one.

Finding your purpose as an Instructional Coach is a process that’s both complex and (at times) political. There may be teachers in your building who are resentful of one of them giving them feedback and seeing them at their most vulnerable moments.  However, there are some things Instructional Coaches can do that establish their presence in the building as help not more eyes for administration such as:

  • Conducting a professional learning survey for all teachers in the school. Tools such as Survey Monkey and Google Drive make it easy for you to create a simple 10 question survey about what areas teachers feel they are experts in and what are their areas of growth. Any survey given out should be specific enough so that you can gain insightful data, but it shouldn’t take the teachers 30 minutes to complete. A good “rule of thumb” is to make the survey less than ten minutes.
  • Have a discussion with your administration team of their expectations for your job. Being an Instructional Coach is not the same as an Assistant Principal or Principal, instead your role is all about support of teachers. At the beginning of the year, sit down and ask of the expectations the administrative team will have for you. When I was an Instructional Coach I was required to observe one teacher a day and offer feedback to that teacher. In addition, I was expected to deliver professional learning once a week in collaborative planning. However, after speaking to other Instructional Coaches their duties differed greatly. Some were being used as Assistant Principals while others covered classes all day. In order to see improvement in struggling teachers, it’s critical for the administrative team realize that you are there for support.
  • Meeting with teachers 1:1 about the results of their survey. Once you have data from the survey, make a face to face to all teachers you support and just let them know your role in the school. This is a great time to reinforce the data you have already had and a great way to meet each teacher and determine the teachers who may be most resistant to your role.
  • Offer genuine help to struggling teachers. During these 1:1 meetings with teachers, it will become clear who needs help and who doesn’t. Sometimes the teachers who are struggling will come to you, but many times you will find them during your routine visits. Listen to them when they tell you the areas they are struggling in and give them real help. So many times, principals suggest for teachers to read and article and expect for the teachers to become better just by reading. In reality, these teachers may need some modeling and some explicit help in overcoming their areas of growth.
  • Stay out of all administrative decisions- you are not an assistant principal. I remember when one of my principals asked me to sit in a meeting he was having with a struggling as he was about to put them on a professional development plan. I politely declined. Instead, I suggested for him to send the teacher to me afterward so I could console her and give her a plan to get off of the plan. Instructional Coaches should not take place in anything punitive (or viewed as punitive from teachers) directed toward their teachers. Instructional Coaches should be impartial and should focus on what the best for instruction at their school sites.
  • Make professional development timely and job-embedded. No one likes professional development that is a “sit and get”.  If you don’t believe go to any session at an education conference where a  PowerPoint is the center of learning. Instead, we love learning that’s relevant, timely and job-embedded.  So during every professional learning I created an activity that allowed teachers to learn through the activity.

Coaching is one of the hardest jobs in the building, but with careful planning you can help teachers tremendously  and find your purpose in your building. Now tell us how you defined your role as an Instructional Coach in the building!

 


From Behind the Lines

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