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.

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