The Do’s and Don’ts of Instructional Coaching
By Nicole S. Turner
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Education, as it’s been known for years on end, is ever changing. Most recently, the change has shifted to include instructional coaches as onsite job-embedded professional development for classroom teachers. We are seeing more and more schools adapting to this quickly spreading idea of bringing in an outside brain for one common goal, the one thing that continues to stay the same in education….student achievement. As with any new idea, there are important strategies to useand to NOT use.
As I’m sure most of us can concur, the best way to learn a new trade is to dive in and get some hands-on experience. This isn’t unique to just being a teacher, it’s important for an instructional coach as well. When we went through college, we learned the techniques and strategies to use in our classrooms, but nothing is more effective than actually being IN the classroom. Same goes for an instructional coach. The best way to learn is to actually go INTO the school you will be working in. You will be able to see first hand how the school is run, how the staff collaborates, the styles of teachers, learning styles of students, and the day to day routines. Without making yourself present, you won’t be able to build the relationship you’ll need to be a successful instructional coach.
DO make yourself visible. As mentioned in the paragraph above, get into the school and become a part of the team. Introduce yourself and your role, and most importantly, make sure to be very clear that you are there for one reason, which is to promote student achievement. When the staff learns that you are there not to evaluate them, but to aide in the impact of student learning, you’ll have much better results. Show them that you have been in their shoes! Tell them about your failures, successes, and make them understand that you KNOW what they are going through!
DO make yourself available! In order to build the relationship that you’ll need to have a successful school year, as an instructional coach, you have some work to do! A lot of extra effort and time, in the beginning, will pay off in the end. Again, your job is NOT to walk in and restructure a teacher’s curriculum. You are there to assist and guide in the most personable way possible. Set up a schedule to meet with the administrators and staff at THEIR convenience (within reason). You do not want to be a burden or just another meeting they HAVE to attend. Make it worth their while on THEIR TIME!
DO build a relationship of trust. Listen carefully, maintain confidentiality, find their strengths and interests and questions they have.
DO STAY POSITIVE! DO Follow through! If your goal is improving student achievement, it doesn’t start with the students! It starts with the building a relationship of trust between you as the coach and the teachers you are working with. When they trust that you are not there to undermine them and to tell them what they are doing wrong, you can actually have a team that will shoot scores of achievement through the roof! There is an old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And this holds true in education as well. It takes a village to promote student achievement, and building that relationship of trust with your staff is the first step in making that village!
DO recognize that we all have differences, and learn to appreciate that. As an instructional coach, the teaching styles we have as educators are what makes us unique. Embrace that. Use it to your advantage. In many cases, staff will want a coach to be a resource, other times they will want the coach to be a peer, team teaching in the classroom. Sometimes, teachers even want the coach to serve as an expert, providing information and explicit instruction on what to do differently. Be able to recognize and appreciate those differences and adjust to which is right for each staff you are working with.
In addition to these important do’s, establishing priorities for yourself as a coach, letting the data do the talking, and documenting your work are also important must do’s. Balancing these in your own coaching world with being an actual coach, can be tricky. This is something you’ll have to set aside time to do after you’ve met with your teachers and spent time in the schools. Again, it’s going to take extra time, but if you’re in this profession for the right reasons, you know it’s something you have to do. Make a list of the things you’d like to accomplish after studying the data. Ask the teachers what goals they have and see what matches the data. Document what went well after each visit, lesson, phone call, and what you’d like to improve on next time. Work as a team, but reflect on your own.
After you’ve worked so hard at the positive things to do as an instructional coach, you don’t want to take any steps backward. Don’t fall into the trap of evaluating, being an expert, and expecting immediate change.
Don’t jump into an instructional coach position and begin by evaluating the staff. This is NOT what you were hired to do. You were hired to assist to promote student achievement. By coming into a school, sitting down in a classroom and starting to evaluate teachers, is going to get you nowhere and is probably going to build some animosity, and not build a relationship. The staff needs to view you as an asset, someone who will help. Ask questions, tell them your successes AND failures, make them realize that YOU have been in their shoes and that you are here to work together, not to nitpick at their teaching styles.
Don’t be a “Know it all” expert. Yes, you want to make sure that you are knowledgeable about instructional strategies and classroom management, you did get the job! But the last thing a teacher who is already struggling to get students to improve their achievement is for someone to come in and start throwing out numbers and data and strategies of what is supposed to “work.” Instead, come in humble and with an open mind. Ask them what they are struggling with, what works well, and what goals they want to see. When the staff sees that you are here to help and that you didn’t just carry in a brain-load of statistics, you are opening the door to success.
Don’t expect immediate change. Rome wasn’t built overnight, and student achievement doesn’t happen overnight either. It’s a work in progress. Baby steps are needed to make gains. Work together to see what works well, what change you’d like to see, and make one goal on how to achieve it. When that goal is met, make another. Small steps will pave the way for success, both for you as the coach AND for the success of students.
Keep in mind that staying positive throughout your coaching experience, making yourself available, putting forth extra effort, not expecting immediate change or coming in with loads of “expert” driven data, will provide for the most pleasant coaching experience possible. And remember what you became a coach for in the first place~ to aide in the improvement of student achievement!