I’m always super excited to hear from readers who are just getting started with their journey into instructional coaching. I send some email cheers (You rock! Go get em! You’re going to be awesome!) and good vibes, really wishing them all the best in their transition. It’s definitely an exciting time. But it can also be a little nerve-racking and overwhelming. Lots of us move from our classrooms, straight into coaching positions with little formal “training” or guidance to prepare us for our new roles. When I first moved into coaching, I can remember feeling very driven to be successful as a coach, but also wondering, “Where do I even start?!!”… “What can I do to ensure that I am successful?” Such are the feelings of one reader who recently wrote me:
I will be beginning my first year as an instructional coach at our alternative school. I have 16 years teaching experience in SPED. I am beginning to look around for instructional materials for myself, as the school year is nearing the beginning. I came across your blog near the top of my search and was wondering what you would suggest as the top things I should concentrate on, outside of establishing relationships with my fellow teachers. The great thing is that I have been in the same district for 16 years and many of my students have eventually attended our alternative school so I know quite a few of the teachers. Thank you for any guidance you can give me.
So, let’s chat.
Here are a few beginning of the year pieces for you to consider, based on what I’ve learned these past few years.
Clarify Your Role
Instructional coaching can look very different district to district, or school to school. You may have been hired with a broad overview of what you’ll be doing, or maybe none at all. Either way, I think it would definitely be worth your time to write out a clear job description for yourself, really clarifying your roles and responsibilities. One idea is to get online and search “Instructional Coaching Jobs.” This will give you a list of different coaching job descriptions which may help you get some traction.
I wrote up a summary of my role this past week to be shared with staff, since we have several new teachers this year. Here it is in case you need another resource:
As our Instructional Guide, my role involves serving as a facilitator and coach, working and communicating on an ongoing basis with our school designer, the leadership team, and of course teachers! On any given day you might find me doing any of the following:
- Collaborating with teams to develop long term and short term instructional plans and quality assessments
- Observing teachers and providing feedback based on our school work plan and individual teacher goals
- Modeling lessons
- Digging for or reading through resources current with best practice research
- Facilitating groups visiting from other schools
- Planning and facilitating professional development meetings
- Or even designing and decorating the school hallways
This year I’m super excited to add another role to my work, which will be teaching literacy in (another teacher’s) room. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned from visiting so many great classrooms, and continuing to improve my own craft as a teacher.
Share Your Role with Teachers
Some teachers have had great experiences with a coach, others not so much. While others have never been coached at all. If coaching is new to your school, it will be important for you to plan a beginning of the year PD to communicate your role, the purpose of instructional coaching at your school, and how coaching can act as a support structure for the important work teachers do every day. Here’s the agenda we used as an example:
Then, you can send a coaching interest survey to teachers asking if they’d be up for participating in a coaching cycle. It may be helpful to provide some areas of focus for them to consider in case they’re unfamiliar with how coaching can be a support structure.
Set Goals for Yourself
Continuing to learn and sharpening your saw will make you better at everything you do. So as we kick off the year, ask yourself what one or two areas you can really commit to working on and improving in your practice as an instructional coach. Here are some areas for goal setting to consider:
- strategic questioning
- facilitating small or large groups
- planning purposeful and action oriented meetings
- goal setting for coaching cycles
- use of student evidence as data in coaching cycles
- labeling high leverage instruction and assessment practices
Set-Up a Coaching System
Figure out how you’ll collect and file your observation notes. Also how you’ll share and record notes during debriefs. On your computer? Paper? Will you email teachers the notes? You’ll likely be working with several teachers and taking lots of notes, so staying organized and prepared is important.
I use my planner, file folders (on my computer and by my desk), and Google Docs to help me with all of the above.
Plan to visit classrooms the first few weeks back for about 20 minutes x classroom. You can let teachers know you’re coming, or just pop-in. But don’t cling to your clipboard! The last thing you want is to build a reputation of being “the clipboard coach.” You know the coach who sits in the back the whole time, clinging to their clipboard with a serious look on their face, furiously scribbling notes. Help teachers see you as a teaching partner right from the start. So sit down with kids if they’re in a whole group lesson, work alongside them if they’re working independently, smile and show kids and the teacher that you’re a learner too.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again. Building relationships with teachers is really critical to your success. There will be no successful coaching cycles happening if teachers don’t trust you and have no interest in working with you. If you’ve already established trusting relationships with teachers, that’s awesome. But don’t let this area be something you lose focus of. Building and maintaining relationships should always be one of your primary objectives, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
Instructional coaching can be challenging.
But it’s also so great in so many ways. You’ll be pushed outside of your comfort zone, but you’re going to learn so much. Everyday you’ll have the opportunity to positively impact a teacher by what you say, do, and model. And that’s pretty cool.
I believe in you, and you’re going to be great.
Keep me in the loop, and let me know how things are going. I’d love to hear.