Showcase Your Strengths as an Instructional Coach
By Nicole S. Turner
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A few years ago, I coached an art teacher that needed to up the rigor and standards alignment in her assessments, or else she would not be offered a new contract. Now, I am not an artist, but working with teachers of diverse backgrounds – that’s a strength that I can showcase. I am a licensed K-6 teacher that was thrown into high school. Many days I felt nervous to speak about my background in fear of how teachers would take me. But over the years, I have learned to support teachers to implement strategies that were authentic and suited for their strengths. That was the goal with the art teacher, to help her implement strategies that she felt comfortable using while stretching and building her teacher toolkit.
After research, reflection, and trial and error, we discovered that one-on-one student conferences perfectly matched her skill set. She was a great communicator, the students respected her, and above all, she valued giving students creative freedom.
She quickly mastered the art of conferencing and was soon being asked by our Principal to model the strategy for other teachers. Talk about a coaching win! 🥳
I wanted to share my success as a coach in this scenario with everyone. But what was the value of this experience? How could other teachers and coaches learn from it and get something out of it?
One way to share your story and showcase your strengths is to talk at a conference or event. Next year, present at our Simply PD Summit! Once you’ve picked one that you’d like to present at, you’ve got to nail the delivery of your message.
Topic – Pick one of your strengths
Take a look at your end-of-year teacher surveys again. Identify the categories where you earned mostly 4s and 5s. Also, think about your coaching “wins” throughout the year. Narrow this information down to one or two broad strengths.
For me, I knew that the strength I wanted to share was related to my experience with the art teacher, but I couldn’t really put my finger on the “topic”. It helped me to do a brain dump where I listed all the possible topics that this story could satisfy:
“Working with teachers to find authentic solutions”, “Coaching teachers outside of your subject area”, “Conferencing as an assessment strategy”, “Helping teachers add rigor in art classes”.
Refine – Make your strength applicable to others
With these big ideas, I needed to refine. You’ll need to do the same.
To refine, it’s important to think critically about the “why”. Why will people care about this? What makes it so special?
In my experience with the art teacher, I thought about what it was that made me proud to tell the story. It turned out that I cared most about the way that I found a solution that suited her skills.
This led me to the refined topic: “Matching Strength to Strategy: An Philosophy for Teacher Growth.”
Here are a few more questions to help you refine your topic
- What is one specific skill that will resonate with others?
- Is there a story you could tell that would personify that skill?
- Is there research to back it up?
- Will other coaches be inspired by this idea?
- Can you give action steps so that other coaches can try to implement it themselves?
So, you have chosen a strength and refined it into an actionable skill that others will be inspired to try themselves. All of the amazing content you have to share will be lost unless you can hook your audience right from the beginning.
There are two things you want to accomplish in the first few minutes of your presentation.
- Grab the attention of your audience
- Convince them that they will benefit from listening to you
One of my favorite ways to grab the attention of my audience is to tell a story. I might start my presentation by talking about two students – Jerry and Jonathan.
“Jerry’s art work is clean and precise while Jonathan’s mimics the style of a graffiti artist. Before we started working together, their teacher was only grading their effort. The assessment strategies that our Principal wanted her to use simply did not mesh with her teaching style or her curriculum.”
To keep the audience at the edges of their seats, hook them with the problem but not the solution.
I might start my talk by telling everyone about the art teacher. I’d introduce the problem: if she didn’t improve her assessment techniques she would lose her job. But, I wouldn’t give the solution just yet. That will be the meat of my talk.
Once you have grabbed their attention, zoom out and paint a picture of how the information you’ll share will be applicable to to your audience. You just shared a story about your own experience. Convince them that your story is relatable.
There are a number of ways you can do this. You might tell a more general story that the same strategy could be applied to. Research backing up the strategy that you are about to discuss is also really powerful.
In my talk, I would make sure that the audience understood that my story was not specific to me and the teacher I worked with.
I might explicitly say, “You’ve been there before, too. Think of a teacher that you had to coach who was very different from you. What were their unique challenges? What were their unique strengths? Every teacher is different. In every coaching cycle we’ll need to explore that teacher’s unique needs AND unique strengths. This is the only way to find strategies that the teacher will want to implement.”
Build Background Knowledge
As with any good lesson, you’ll need to connect the content you’re sharing with what your audience already knows and understands.
In my presentation, I would say something like, “We all understand why differentiating for students is important. The same is true with the teachers we work with. If we don’t build off of their strengths, the learning won’t stick.”
The goal here is to help your audience make a cognitive connection. That will prime their brains for learning. If there is terminology or necessary background information that you need to share, try to do so in an engaging way.
Keep them engaged by asking questions and making the talk conversational rather than a lecture. You might even embed a quick poll to check their understanding.
Most importantly, continue to tell stories. Nothing is more powerful than your personal experience.
Action Steps – build their strengths!
Give your audience action steps for recreating the magic you told them about. It doesn’t have to be a perfect formula. Your goal is to help them see that this strategy is attainable and that they can use it to improve their coaching, too.
In my talk, I’d give action steps for identifying the teachers’ strengths and then for researching innovative solutions that align with their strengths.
Get them doing something
Do your best to integrate some kind of movement, conversation, or action into your presentation. The best conference talks that I’ve attended have had me writing or talking to other people.
In my presentation, I would ask the audience to return to the teacher that they called to mind at the beginning of the talk. With a partner, I’d have them brainstorm strength-based solutions for addressing that teacher’s challenges. My stories and action steps would serve as a guide as they try the strategy out themselves.
Leave them Inspired
Close out the talk by coming full circle. Explain how the problem was resolved and reemphasize that they can use the strategy too! I like to have teachers make a commitment. I give out index cards or post-its and ask them to write a note to themselves about how they will use what they have learned in their own practice.
The Bottom Line
It can be scary to give a presentation. I still suffer from imposter syndrome! Remember, you are an amazing coach and have experiences that others will benefit from hearing about. By sharing, we can only become stronger as a coaching community.
Resources this post references
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