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

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[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 […]

Adventures in Coaching..Giving Effective Teacher Feedback

Adventures in Coaching..Giving Effective Teacher Feedback

This year I did what many teachers fear the most,  I went over to the dark side of school administration in the form of being an Instructional Coach. As  I transitioned into this role, I thought surely that this would give me more time to […]

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Instructional Coaching: Finding Your Purpose

Instructional Coaching: Finding Your Purpose

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!

Instructional Coaching 101: You’ve Just Been Hired, Now What?

Instructional Coaching 101: You’ve Just Been Hired, Now What?

As I sat at my desk and fumed all I could say to myself was, “I did not sign up for this. This is not how you treat others!” The longer I repeated those words the angrier I became and before long I was hurriedly typing away […]

Coaching the Coaches: the Benefits of Instructional Coaches

Coaching the Coaches: the Benefits of Instructional Coaches

Originally posted on The Educator’s Room By Katie Sluiter Many teachers consider themselves to be coaches rather than just instructors. We are not just imparting knowledge, but we are there to mentor our students and develop them into becoming better thinkers, writers, readers, doers.  We […]

The Hidden Secret to Success With Instructional Coaching

The Hidden Secret to Success With Instructional Coaching

Originally posted on The Educator’s Room

By Terri Froiland

In my six years as an instructional coach, I have been fortunate to have been given a great deal of professional development in a variety of coaching models, from invitational coaching to transformational coaching.  As I have been trained in various models, I have worked hard to adapt and learn the new lingo.  However, regardless of the model, one secret to coaching success never changes: It all starts with building relationships.  In order for educators to truly benefit from working with an instructional coach, they need to trust that they are actually there to support them.

It all starts with building relationship Click To Tweet

Here are some ways to build those relationships:

Find an entry point to help. Once I was coaching in a school that was adding a bilingual program.  Sadly, I am not bilingual but still felt like I had something to offer to those teachers.  I was shocked when I went room to room introducing myself the first day and a teacher told me I was not welcome in her room since I do not speak Spanish.  Rather than arguing with her, I bided my time.  Two weeks later, some new classroom furniture arrived for her and I offered to unpack and assemble it for her.  That investment in her, though far from my coaching job description, got my foot in the door and helped us to develop a great connection.

Be trustworthy. A teacher’s time is so precious.  If you schedule a coaching session with an educator, show up.  If there are extenuating circumstances and you just can’t make it, notify them as soon as possible and offer to make it up to them in some way…reschedule at their preferred time, bring them chocolate, whatever it takes!

Listen all the time. Everyone appreciates feeling listened to, so ask lots of reflective questions and listen carefully to their responses.  Not only will you build rapport, but you will learn so much about how to best support each educator in this manner.

Praise whenever possible. Every conversation you have with a teacher should include some praise.  It’s comparable to teachers conferring with students; starting by sharing something positive you noticed gets everyone off on the right foot and feeling more open to some constructive advice.

Cycle your support. Be aware of the school-year cycle for new teachers, which is also pretty applicable for veteran teachers in my experience.  In addition to listening to your teachers and being responsive, this cycle can help you be proactive with your support when they need it most.California New Teacher Project, published by the California Department of Education (CDE), 1990.

Bring food to all meetings. Treats are the way to every teacher’s heart.  I accidentally forgot to show up for a meeting earlier this year.  I felt so badly about it and knew that the inconvenience it caused required more than a mere apology, so, when I rescheduled, I offered to buy sub sandwiches for our next lunch meeting.  The teachers truly appreciate it and there were no hard feelings because of my gesture.  That was a fairly grand treat…don’t forget the power of a little bit of chocolate!

Have you ever worked with an Instructional Coach? If so, did it help your practice?

10 Interview Questions for A  Potential Instructional Coach

10 Interview Questions for A Potential Instructional Coach

Just like athletes get ready for the big Friday night game, by running, throwing catches, and rehearsing plays, teachers who want to be an Instructional Coach should practice before the big game (i.e. interview) for the position. Sometimes the practice may be sitting in front […]

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. Due to decreasing enrollment, my school district, Indianapolis Public Schools, decided to eliminate three high school campuses, moving from seven to four.  Instead of only teachers at the closing high school campuses being displaced, the school district decided to displace every high school employee, from the principals to the cafeteria workers. The district felt this was best because it would allow teachers to find their best fit school.  

As you might have suspected this has caused anxiety, stress, and depression among some teachers.  Teachers fear they either won’t have a job or will be assigned to a school where a principal did not choose them.  Some teachers have quit mid-year despite being offered a bonus of up to $5,000 to stay until the end of the year. Others have decided quit and stay; they are planning to finish the school year, but they have quit trying to be the best teachers they could be.

In the midst of this all, I have to coach teachers.  I have to improve their practice and through them, I also have to improve our students’ academic achievement.  Although being displaced is not a situation any educator wants to face (and this is also my second displacement), this is a reality in many school districts across many states.

How do you coach teachers when they are part of a reality they do not like?  Below, I have outlined what I am doing to coach teachers who are displaced.

Acknowledge their frustrations and then get to the work.

At first, when I had coaching sessions, I didn’t talk about the situation that was all around us.  It was this elephant sitting in the room during each coaching session. Even though I can’t ease their anxiety, I can acknowledge their frustrations about the situation and tell them I appreciate their hard work and commitment to the coaching process.

Focus on what you can control.

When I taught middle school English, the English department chair would say at every meeting, “We are only going to focus on what we can control.”  I know that statement would burn people up sometimes especially when they were angry about a decision that was made. Being angry about a decision, such as your district displacing you is a valid feeling, but it is not okay to let your anger consume the entire time you should be working to improve your practice as a teacher.  When I’m meeting with a teacher who is derailing our work by focusing on issues he or she can’t control, I’ll say, “Is there anything you can do about this?” If the answer is no, I’ll direct the teacher back to what we were originally discussing.

Remind teachers why they entered the profession.

When teachers are fearful they either won’t have a job next year or get placed in a school they did not choose, they may leave mid-year or put in minimal effort.  Although, I respect the decision of teachers who leave mid-year (because I rather them leave and serve other students well rather than stay and just go through the motions), a teacher leaving or a teacher putting in minimal effort hurts students and puts an extra burden on other colleagues.  When a teacher says, “Mr. Blacksmith is just sitting at his desk and passing out worksheets,” I’ll respond, “Do you want to be like him and is that good for your students?” Always bring it back to the students. I want my teachers to know it says more about their character when they teach well even in the face of uncertainty.

Encourage teachers to take care of themselves.

The foundation of good instructional coaching is trust.  When teachers trust you, they might unload on you as if you are their therapist.  If you are concerned about the mental health of the teachers you coach, refer them to someone who can help them.  Don’t try to provide answers or try to solve their problems.

Consistently offer support and observations.

I frequently tell teachers, “I want you to end this school year knowing you have improved because of your investment in this process.”  Teachers can only invest when you are also invested. When teachers are quitting, it is easy to get caught up in putting out fires and making sure those classes are okay instead of focusing on the teachers that are still there putting in the work.  If I want teachers I coach to bring 100%, I also have to do the same. That means showing up consistently to observe their classrooms and providing the support they need.

Lift up the good.

Last and certainly not least, remind teachers of their progress.  Highlight the improvements they are making. I was speaking to a teacher who was frustrated after I came to observe.  She wanted her lesson to be better. I said, “No one was walking around the classroom, cursing at you, or throwing stuff.  Your transitions were smooth and students could articulate what they were learning. Remember August?” After my feedback, a big smile appeared on her face.  She was so caught up in what she perceived she did wrong that she didn’t she was she was doing right.

At this time, I have no clue what I’m doing next year.  I have not secured a job placement yet, but right now I’m trying to be the best coach I can be so my teachers can serve our students well this year and be prepared to serve students well next year in their new roles.

Just Because You’ve Left the Classroom Doesn’t Mean You’re An Instructional Coach

Just Because You’ve Left the Classroom Doesn’t Mean You’re An Instructional Coach

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 […]