Why Every Teacher NEEDS an Instructional Coach
By Nicole S. Turner
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I have been actively traveling to instructional coaching conferences, schools, districts, and educational Co-ops for the past three years now and I have come across an alarming observation. The underutilization of instructional coaches! Administrators are assigning coaches to work only with struggling teachers. While this is undoubtedly beneficial, it significantly narrows the vast potential that instructional coaching holds. I am relieved that coaches are doing good work, I worry about all the teachers who are missing out on the opportunity to become even better. Restricting a coach only to the struggling teachers is like shining a flashlight when you could instead light up an entire room. I’m ready to ignite the movement – to Empower Every Classroom™, advocating for a model where every teacher, regardless of their experience or expertise, benefits from the guidance and support of an instructional coach.
Are you with me?
The Universal Impact of Instructional Coaching
Guiding New Teachers
I have spent the last 10 years in various instructional coaching and leadership roles. In my favorite role as an instructional coach, I have encountered numerous new teachers grappling with a wide range of questions. These range from simple operational questions like “How do I use the copy machine?” to more complex educational challenges such as “How can I better support my English language learners?”. My role has been crucial in guiding them through these initial challenges, sharing effective teaching strategies, and easing the complexities of classroom management. I have observed firsthand how new teachers, under the wing of a competent coach, transform their initial uncertainties into strengths, gradually becoming confident and effective educators.
Evolving with Veteran Teachers
Veteran teachers, such as Mrs. T, a twenty-year educator, I recently worked with, also stood to gain significantly from instructional coaching. When we met, she was able to communicate with me that she felt her lessons were no longer engaging her students as effectively as they once did. Through a series of collaborative coaching conversations, content planning meetings, and instructional execution coaching cycles, we were able to experiment with new teaching methods and innovative projects, we witnessed a remarkable transformation in her classroom. This experience has reaffirmed my belief in the lifelong value of instructional coaching, demonstrating its potential to rejuvenate and reinvigorate the teaching practices of even the most experienced educators.
Growing through Collaboration
I am only ONE PERSON! I have had that conversation with my administrators on many many occasions. My last two principals were simply amazing and we were able to chat about my thoughts on coaching only new, uncertified, and struggling teachers. They both heard me out and recognized that we needed to create an environment of coaching where every teacher felt as though coaching was an enhancement to their learning and not another thing or a punishment. I got the privilege of designing our coaching for the buildings. I knew that I was limited on time and I only had so many opportunities to work with teachers on an individual basis, so I created small group coaching opportunities within the current Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).
These types of PLCs offer a collaborative space for shared learning and visioning. My involvement in these communities has not only been a source of personal and professional growth for me but also for the participating teachers. These communities foster a culture of continuous learning and mutual support, proving instrumental in the professional development of many educators.
Balancing Autonomy and Coaching Teachers
Before we jump into talking about tiering teachers, I want to share my experience working with many different teachers with many different skill sets. I’ve found that balancing between structured autonomy and full autonomy is key.
Structured autonomy allows teachers to have the freedom to innovate and make decisions in their teaching but within a supportive framework. This approach is based on the principle that ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ In practice, it means that while I trust teachers as experts, I also provide them with guidance and resources to explore new areas and improve their skills. It’s a collaborative process where I help identify areas they might not be aware of needing development. The Simple Core 4™ helps to aid in that.
Full autonomy, which means letting teachers operate without any external guidance, can sometimes lead to missed opportunities for growth especially when working with newer, uncertified, and struggling teachers. I believe that by fostering structured autonomy, I aim to create a nurturing environment where teachers feel empowered to experiment and grow, while also having the support they need to learn and refine their practice.
Personalizing Support: The Concept of Tiering Teachers
In my approach to instructional coaching, one of the most transformative strategies I’ve implemented is the concept of ‘Tiering Teachers.’ This method is rooted in the understanding that educators come from diverse backgrounds and are at different stages in their professional journey. When I first began coaching I was completely lost and it took a few years to recognize that I needed to develop a tier-based system to personalize support and coaching in a way that resonates with each teacher’s unique needs and challenges. This approach not only ensures that each educator receives the attention and resources they require but also fosters a more inclusive and effective coaching environment. Let’s look into the specifics of how I tier teachers.
Tier 1: The Autonomous Educators
Tier 1 teachers are largely independent and adept in their teaching practices. However, they still benefit from participating in PLCs, coaching conversations, and coaching cycles for specific needs. Providing support in this way offers them opportunities to share their expertise, gain new insights, and continue growing professionally. Even though these teachers have full autonomy, I still choose to pull out the Simply Core 4™ framework with them to share ideas of what they can get coached on. We usually are focused on the areas of Content and Instructional Execution.
Tier 2: The Developing Teachers
Teachers in Tier 2, who have some experience but are still honing their skills, need more direct coaching support. This group often includes educators who are comfortable with the basics of teaching but are looking to deepen their skills in classroom dynamics, student engagement, and advanced pedagogical strategies. Over time, my focus on these teachers shifted from foundational aspects to more nuanced elements of content delivery and teaching strategies. As we translate this into utilizing the Simply Core 4™ framework, we focus on Management and Culture and Content.
Tier 3: Urgent Support Needed
Teachers classified in Tier 3 require immediate and intensive coaching intervention, primarily for classroom management and foundational teaching skills. After establishing stability in their classrooms, I work with them to develop sustainable teaching strategies and integrate them into PLCs for peer learning and support. This tier often includes teachers who are either new to the profession or experiencing significant challenges in their roles. As we translate this into utilizing the Simply Core 4™ framework, we focus on the pillars of Organization and Management and Culture.
The SIMPLE Framework for Instructional Coaching™
Drawing from my experiences and insights, I developed the SIMPLE Framework for Instructional Coaching™. This framework, which forms the foundation of Simply Instructional Coaching Inc., is built upon my firm belief that every teacher, irrespective of their stage in their career, flourishes with the right coaching support.
My Mission: A Transformative Educational Experience
My mission is to revolutionize the educational landscape by providing straightforward, easy-to-implement solutions for Instructional Coaches and school administrators. I firmly believe that by demystifying and simplifying the process of instructional coaching, we can create environments where coaching is not just an intervention, but a pivotal component of progressive learning experiences. This approach leads to enduring transformations in the classroom, impacting both teachers and students alike.
Core Pillars of My SIMPLE Framework
- Streamlining Instructional Coaching: In this pillar, I focus on providing a comprehensive blueprint for coaches. This includes guiding them in setting clear visions, introducing their roles to educational communities, and developing tailored action plans for each teacher’s individual needs. This step-by-step approach ensures that coaches are well-prepared and equipped to handle the diverse challenges they will encounter in their roles.
- Creating Impactful Teaching and Learning: Here, I categorize the essential aspects of teaching, providing a foundational structure upon which coaches can build their strategies. This categorization includes elements like classroom organization, content mastery, instructional strategies, and student engagement. By focusing on these core areas, coaches can effectively target their efforts to improve teaching quality and student outcomes.
- Cultivating a Coaching Culture: This pillar emphasizes the importance of developing a coaching culture within educational institutions. It involves getting buy-in from teachers, coaches, and administrators on the value of coaching. This culture is predicated on the idea that effective coaching leads to better teaching practices, which in turn results in improved student learning experiences.
Conclusion: A Personal Pledge to Every Educator
My SIMPLE Framework is more than just a methodology; it represents my personal commitment to making the coaching process more transparent and manageable in the often challenging and dynamic field of education. This framework is the culmination of my experiences, observations, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I am excited to invite you to join this movement, empowering every teacher with the support and guidance they richly deserve.
In my upcoming blog posts, I will explore each element of the SIMPLE Framework in greater depth, offering insights and practical advice for its implementation. For those who are eager to dive deeper, my forthcoming book on the SIMPLE Blueprint will provide a comprehensive guide to this innovative approach to instructional coaching.