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

Tag: building relationships

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. […]

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 gripes. One of the things I focus on establishing with my teachers is that they can tell me anything without worrying about privacy, judgment, or negative consequences. To preserve the relationships I am building, I must be a vault. The black box. Information goes in raw and comes out not at all.

It is incredibly lonely to only listen. It is exhausting to choose my words carefully with everyone. It is depressing to hear accounts of terrible teacher behavior. It is delicate work to determine what action, if any, to take in response.

Developing appropriate responses to gossip and gripes is an ongoing challenge.

There are times when I gently suggest to someone sharing another teacher’s personal dramas that perhaps spreading rumors isn’t the most supportive course of action. Though nerve-wracking, the direct route usually works best. Questions I’ve asked include “How is sharing this information helping your colleague?,” “What could we do to support this person?,” or “I wonder if this information can help you work with this person?”

Often, gossip is an avoidance tactic. Teachers who gossip about others are generally attempting to avoid focusing on themselves. Those in this category are often unwittingly revealing insecurities about their professional acumen. When I recognize a teacher using gossip to stall, I can more easily put aside any irritation I might feel.

Other times, I simply listen and hold my tongue. There are people who use gossip to build connections with others and establish a personal relationship. Those same individuals are often also testing the trustworthiness of the people in whom they confide.

When teachers complain about each other’s professionalism, I find that trickier to manage. It irritates me when teachers tear each other down. Criticisms that are unjustified are especially irksome. The best I can do in those circumstances is to express surprise and offer counterexamples.

Criticisms based on legitimate concern are tough. Generally, I work with the teacher speaking to try and see things from a different perspective. Then I try to ensure I work with the teacher who is struggling on those areas that are problematic.

For example, two teachers came to me to complain that another teacher in their subject area is neither paying attention or contributing to group efforts. I tried to be tactful and ask them what efforts they have made to give her meaningful tasks or play to her strengths…to no avail. Finally, the tirade ended with a “How can she not sense the almost open hostility?”

I took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, “Maybe she does and it rightly fuels some sense of self-righteous superiority.” Both women paused, looked at each other, and then one said, “Well, that’s counterproductive!” I agreed and asked them what they could try instead. There was some grumbling. I gave them a choice “Put some extra effort into finding ways to work with her, or expend that energy being irritated.” Despite the continued grumbles, they conceded that being irritated wasn’t working well for them.

Being so direct is always risky, but I know my teachers fairly well by now, and I felt confident a more direct approach was an appropriate course of action.

Still, though, I worry. What if I had been wrong? What if this teacher’s behavior becomes even more egregious. How much griping can I take? How do I help this teacher?

Gossip and gripes are inevitable with any group of people. Navigating them as a coach is tough. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the ick people spew about each other go away. I don’t know if I always handle it in the best way possible. All I can say is that I try. I try to be the black box. I try to create and nurture relationships.

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 […]

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 […]

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 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.