We’ve all heard it before. “I left the classroom in May and in the Fall, I’ll be operating as a Behavior Specialist/Instructional Coach.” Or “Hey, I’m actually an Assistant Principal, but I function as an Instructional Coach”. Or the real “doozy”- My principal took away half of my classes so I can be the part-time Instructional Coach for the rest of the semester.”
While all of these situations are different, the one thing constant is the misunderstanding of the role of an Instructional Coach in a school building. In many schools, Instructional Coaches serve as part-time behavior specialists, assistant principals, substitute teacher, or worse the resident tattle tell. To make matters worse, due to budget and staffing concerns, many principals will make ANY teacher who’s not in the classroom their pseudo Instructional Coach.
So despite a principal’s best intention to support their teachers, labeling a teacher an Instructional Coach because they don’t have a dedicated class is not only wrong but can be the perfect storm to cause a mutiny on staff. Think about the daily tasks that a coach has to complete- they not only observe teachers, but they’re responsible for delivering model lessons, following up with teachers who are struggling to deliver content, and ensuring that student achievement is moving forward.
That’s a hard job that can’t be done haphazardly and just by anyone so when choosing your coach it’s important to pick teachers who exhibit the following:
- the ability to form relationships with teachers and students
- the knowledge to go into any classroom and deliver a lesson that would “catch your hair on fire”
- the desire to stay abreast of educational trends
- the ability to deliver in action professional learning
I’ll never forget when I was working with a school who’s achievement level was continually lagging. During one of my first trips observing the school, I noticed that the Instructional Coach was totally disengaged from teaching and learning. She focused her time on monitoring lunch duty, handling behavior issues, writing teachers up for being tardy, and a litany of tasks assigned by her principal. It wasn’t that we pulled the data on student achievement and compared it to his goals for the school that reality hit him- he wasn’t utilizing his coach to be effective.
To help him turn his situation around and to support his coach with actually coaching, we had to start at “ground zero” with help in him understanding the coaching role and his coach understanding her role. We started by explicitly outlining the role of the coach in regards to teaching and learning. We then moved into just rebuilding relationships around the building and using areas that teachers identified, working 1:1 with teachers to help them define their practice. That semester was hard for everyone involved and at the end of the year, the original IC moved back into the classroom and we were able to work with the principal to hire a coach who understood the role.
So what was the lesson learned for all involved? All because you leave the classroom into another role doesn’t make you an Instructional Coach.