The Intricate Balance of Instructional Coach

This year I begin my second year as an instructional coach. Last year I was a guinea pig being the only one in the district. This year there are not 12 of us dispersed from k-12. It is an amazing structure to help teachers and develop teacher leaders at the ground level.

This year is proving more difficult than last year. Last year was wide open where I sifted through it all to find what worked, what did not work, etc. This year there are more than me and we are working to figure out the best approach to helping teachers.

As we continue to unravel what it means to be an instructional coach we(myself and other two instructional coaches in my building) have had some great discussions. I think the topics are worth sharing because it might be good for others to think about or perhaps people have answers.

1. Instructional Coaching cannot be forced – I really believe in this idea. We cannot come into classrooms and force ourselves into the lives of teachers. Our job is important and we can be a huge resource and help to teachers, but it cannot feel forced. It has to happen naturally with both sides in agreement. This can be difficult. Teachers need to open up to admitting they need help(which we don’t always like to admit) while at the same time instructional coaches cannot act like they know it all or have the answers. This is an organic process that just takes time. When you have a building like ours that has never had these resources before it is not going to be celebrated overnight. However, if forced the whole process can be hated and receive negative tones.

2. We are equals – As we continue to test out ways to help teachers, provide feedback on projects and ideas, possibly observe and help teachers learn from themselves we have to toe that line that we are equal. In no way do any of us feel like we are a step above the teachers, but some of our duties can be perceived that way if we are not careful. Currently, we are reading through all the projects teachers submitted. It is awesome seeing so many great ideas being crafted in the building. Where we struggle right now is how to deliver our feedback in a way that does not come across like we are “right” or we know all the answers. Finding a proper channel to communicate is key. It goes back to the concept of not really giving straight feedback but holding conversations where we ask questions to help teachers find their own answers. Unfortunately, there is not a book or guide that teaches one how to do this so it is a skill that takes time.

3. Defining our roles – This is perhaps the hardest aspect of the job we are tackling. I feel like we have only provided what we are not to do, but nothing in terms of what we are to do. This is not good for educators. I want to be able to spill out what it is that we do. I don’t know what is all part of the job. To do this will require an entire year of feeling things out to determine what the building and staff needs from us. I think each district and school will have different ideas and expectations. Developing dialogue among schools will be critical. We can learn from each other, both what works and what was not so good.

Currently, I would say that our job consists of the following

1. Brainstorming with teachers about ideas for projects and units

2. Developing high quality PBL

3. Finding and curating resources that could benefit their teaching that teachers just don’t have time to do

4. Working to find connections with other schools and classrooms to enhance the learning

5. I hate to say observing, but when a teacher wants to see how a new idea works we could come in and take notes or record video where the teacher can go back and reflect on themselves. We would not be offering any evaluative ideas, but just being a support person in the process

6. Being able to help educators improve their craft

7. Help develop PD

This job is not easy in terms of developing buy in and trust with staff. If we are not careful we can lose the trust of staff in the process and our job duties. We must work to establish relationships before we get into any type of coaching. This is not any different than what we have to do when teaching students. Before students learn we have to earn their trust and develop a relationship. Our classroom is now our building. We don’t have students, but colleagues. Amazing colleagues doing amazing things and we are here to help them along their way.Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 5.40.55 AM

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3 thoughts on “The Intricate Balance of Instructional Coach

  1. Looks like we were chewing over similar thoughts last night; I blogged about a similar topic. I would add to the importance of trust the importance of being seen as being able to help. Another way for instructional coaches to lose credibility is to be seen as useless/not able to help teachers with their needs. So again, the difficult balance of striving to always work on an equal plane while being able to offer ideas/resources to stretch thinking. Tough work!