Instructional coaching is consistently variable. That makes time management tricky. It also makes effective time management absolutely essential.
Here are a few important reminders:
- Relationship building is NEVER a waste of time. Sometimes I get to the end of a day and feel like I got nothing accomplished. I spent the day talking with teachers. If those conversations build trust, enhance respect, validate feelings, or otherwise make coaching easier later, that is a valuable use of time.
- No two days are ever the same. Every day is different and trying to plan around a ‘normal’ day probably won’t work. I find it easier to think a week or two at a time. Flexibility can more easily be built into your schedule that way.
- No one expects you to be perfect (or know everything). It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to need time to learn. It is okay to want to research or be proven wrong. Model a growth mindset for yourself and your teachers, just as we want to do for our students. Apologize, own your errors, and learn from them.
Specific Time Management Strategies
- Protect your classroom time. As an instructional coach, we spend at least half our time doing all kinds of things that are not coaching. It is easy for all those other tasks to overwhelm our time and leave us unable to visit classrooms often enough. One strategy to avoid this is to set two half days per week aside for classroom visits. Typically, I would select one morning and one afternoon. As I plan my schedule in one to two week chunks, I blackout my schedule for those half days. I might not get to visit classrooms the same days every week. Occasionally, I will still need to reschedule. Once I established this habit for myself and with my school team, I was able to visit classrooms much more consistently.
- Multi-task. I know there is a lot of research about the myth of multi-tasking and I am not here to challenge that idea. I don’t mean try and do several things at one time. I mean visibility matters. Being visible in classrooms matters. Spending casual time in classrooms improves my understanding of the classroom culture and each teacher’s style. To accomplish this, I avoid my desk using a strategy I learned from a brilliant administrator I worked with years ago. My laptop and I relocate regularly. I sit down in a random classroom and answer five emails. It might take 5 minutes…or 50. Once I have answered 5 emails, I move to another room. This strategy works well with any segmented task that doesn’t involve sensitive student or teacher information. For example, I can review a stack of texts by carrying a stack and looking at one in each room.
- Establish expectations and boundaries. The best way to avoid being re-purposed is to establish expectations and boundaries with your administrators and teachers. It helps to sit down with an administrator and review the expectations and tasks they have for me before the school year. I present boundaries that are important to me, like protecting time to visit classrooms and not sharing coaching conversations with administration. I try to brainstorm the non-coaching tasks expected of me and make sure the expectations are manageable without compromising my work with teachers. The same is true for teachers. While I always want to be helpful, it is also important to clarify what that means. It might mean that I will watch your class for an emergency bathroom break. It does not mean I will cover your class so you can leave early or attend a non-essential meeting. I’ll happily make emergency copies that one time. I am not making your class set of 30 page booklets for your next unit. Strong time management means I can’t do everything for everyone.
- Create streamlined systems and structures. I maximize my time by streamlining routine tasks as much as possible. My format for collecting notes while visiting classrooms is a Google Form. I use an add-on that auto-generates a PDF of my notes I can forward to the teacher with a request for a coaching conversation. To track PD hours, I have teachers complete a Google Form. Another add-on auto-generates a completion certificate and sends it to teachers for their records. Spreadsheets and forms that can be used and reused are worth the time to create. When I discover a system doesn’t work because I don’t use it, I tweak or abandon it and try something new. I tried a binder system to track teacher Professional Development Plans. It was as empty at the end of the year as it had been at the start. Updating it was on my to-do list for 6 months. Next year, I am going to shift to an electronic format because those systems seem to work better for me. The more time you spend overseeing strong structures, the better your time management can be.
- Keep a task flow sheet. As an instructional coach, there are a million little things I do intermittently. Keeping track of them is a major challenge and forgetting something can cause a lot of headaches. To prevent losing anything off the back of my plate, I keep a task flow spreadsheet. There are columns for the name of the task, its details, its tools, when it needs to be done (the end of each quarter), and any notes that will help me later. It took me almost a year to build the first time and I am constantly tweaking it. At least once every two weeks, I open it and review it to make sure I am not missing anything. I can’t have strong time management if I can’t keep up with all the tasks that take my time.
- Ask for help. You are not alone. Sometimes, it can feel like you are the only one who can or has to do all kinds of tasks. This is false. When you need assistance, ask for it. Get to know teacher strengths and use that knowledge to facilitate sharing the load when it becomes too heavy. Got an Excel guru on staff? Ask her to build spreadsheets to calculate and present assessment data. Any aspiring school leaders? Those folks will do almost anything they can use as a resume builder. Want to strengthen the position or relationship of a misunderstood staff member? Give them a social task, like planning the school holiday assembly and teacher happy hour (for later). Being efficient and effective doesn’t mean going it alone. You will build rapport, trust, and support from your staff if you judiciously use their strengths to benefit the larger school community.
- Learn the 5 Languages of Love for your staff. This one might sound odd, but it really helps. Technically, I think the work version calls them the 5 language of appreciation. They are the same either way: acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. The value of knowing the love language of each staff member is twofold. It helps me make sure I am demonstrating appreciation efficiently for each individual in a way they can accept. It improves communication immensely. If I know teacher A needs gifts, I can drop off a Starbucks coffee in 30 seconds instead of spending 10 minutes trying to make a connection. I can then spend that 10 minutes chatting with teacher B who needs quality time to feel valued. Nothing has helped me build relationships and communicate effectively more than this.
Remember that coaching is hard work. It is intellectually and emotionally exhausting. Focusing on the things you can control can help make the job more enjoyable. Finding time management strategies that work for you can make it more sustainable.