Thursday, August 23, 2018

Instructional Coaching in 5 Words

"So what exactly do you do?"

I get this question a lot from people both in and outside of education. "Instructional Coach" just sounds broad and foreign and nearly always needs further explanation. I struggled for awhile with how to explain what I do. Some of my early responses included:

  • "I support teachers" (again, too broad),  or 
  • "I help teachers with things like integrating technology into their lessons" (too narrow)
  • "I am a teacher of teachers" (not quite accurate), or 
  • I would just absorb the blank stare and change the subject. 
It's not that I wasn't doing important work or that I was unclear on my role. The problem was that I could not articulate my work simply and effectively, and that felt embarrassing. Then, just over a year into the position of instructional coach someone asked me that dreaded question about what I do. In a magical moment, these words came spilling out of my mouth: "I provide job-embedded professional learning for teachers." 

Yes! Finally! In 5 simple words (6 if you won't count a hyphenate), that captures what I do! That is the line I now deliver when people ask me about my job. If people are interested in knowing more, I go on to provide examples of what this has looked like for different teachers. It begins to click for people and most of them follow up with saying how they wish they had resource like me available to them in their own work. And who wouldn't want that, really? After all, the most successful people in the world have coaches.

Here is an excerpt of a post I recently wrote for a different blog that I share with teachers in my building:

"Can you guess what these super successful people all have in common (besides awards, fame, and more money than all of our incomes combined)? Each one has a coach. It's hard to imagine Michael Phelps asking for help with his stroke or BeyoncĂ© getting pointers on how to improve her vocal talents, but as with anyone else at the top of his or her field, they didn't get there without help. It is worth pointing out that the coaches are not the ones whose faces are on the Wheaties boxes, who are delivering Grammy acceptance speeches, or whose business branding can be identified simply with the first letters of their names. The coaches are not the ones performing at those levels. The coaches are the ones pushing others to reach those high achievements."

My job is not to do the job for a teacher. My job is to equip a teacher to do the job they are meant to do. For some teachers, coaching is a one-time event (though I do, of course, follow up with them later), and for others coaching is a scheduled weekly routine. Different people need different levels of coaching at different times. The essence of coaching is to build capacity in a person by encouraging and challenging them at just the right times. That's what it is all about for me. So I'm curious, fellow instructional coaches out there, what is YOUR one-line response to explain the important work you do?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Staying Organized

Shifting from classroom teacher to instructional coach was a little uncomfortable at first. For the first time in my career I was in total control of my days. They were no longer dictated by a bell schedule or lesson plans. Instead, my days revolved around meetings, teacher requests, and projects.

I was using Google Calendar for scheduling, various digital and paper to-do lists, and taking little notepads with me to teacher meetings (since it had been recommended not to use a laptop). That system wasn't working for me. So after trying a couple of options, I landed on and have stuck with using an Erin Condren Life Planner. The video above demonstrates how I set up each month to manage my schedule, track my time, and compile my to-do lists.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

4 Tips for a New Instructional Coach

I met someone at a conference who recently reached out to me because she got hired as a Math Coach for her district. She asked for some advice on how to get started in her first year. I thought others might be interested as well ...

1. Develop a Shared Vision with your Administrator
Get administrators on board with the understanding that research does not support deficit-model coaching and that working with you should be mostly voluntary for teachers. Principals should not expect that you will go in and "fix" teachers. That is not an effective plan and will keep teachers from wanting to work with you. Along this same vein, I would recommend that the coach and the principal develop a Contract of Understanding to address Communication (set meeting dates/times), Expectations, Time & Resources, Confidentiality, and Feedback (between principal, coach, and teachers).

2. Build Relationships with Teachers
Every teacher has a story, and it's your job to learn it. It takes time to know them on a personal level and a professional level, but I'm learning that both are essential in moving teachers. When I began my work, I thought it would be "all business," but one thing I've learned is that coaching is deeply relational. I was new to my building, so I started by asking groups of teachers if I could crash their lunch and eat with them since I didn't have a group of my own. I found teachers were incredibly gracious and it allowed me to get to know them personally. I also started both semesters with drop-in visits (5 minutes each) and leaving positive notes to give teachers a positive first experience with my role. 

3. Be Visible to Teachers
Since I support 150 teachers, many of them will never seek me out so I try and initiate contact with them regularly. I do things like create 2-Minute EdTech Tip videos every few weeks, and my counterpart and I send a monthly newsletter just to try and get resources into their hands. At this point in the tech-age, I believe that people do not expect to have to go looking for resources as much as they prefer to have them arrive at their doorsteps (or inboxes).

Another tip worth noting is that it's definitely easier and more efficient to work on projects or answer emails in my office, but (after reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros) I've been swayed to the belief that it's more important for me to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency so I can be in classrooms. I asked for teacher volunteers who wouldn't mind me sitting in the back of their rooms working on administrative tasks so I could still be part of the school, and several volunteered. I do this as often as I can.

4. Follow-Up is Powerful
Last year I learned the value of following up with teachers. I didn't do it enough at the beginning of the year because I just felt like they asked for help with a problem, we solved the problem, and I would sit back and wait until they had another problem. I have since changed my strategy because I've learned that the majority of the work I do with teachers should fall in line with the Coaching Cycle, so rarely should I have a "one and done" encounter with a teacher. Now, after I work with a teacher, I make a note in my planner for a week or two later to casually check in and see how things are going. That often leads to more work with that teacher, and they appreciate the gesture of me reaching out to follow up.