Jenny from Midland, Mich., writes:
I have been in the middle school classroom for 20 years and have now accepted a new position as an instructional coach this year. I have three middle schools and maybe 100 teachers plus administrators to work with. Some teachers already know me, but others do not. What would you suggest as far as the best ways to encourage teachers to use me as a resource?
Welcome to the wonderful world of instructional coaching.
I staggered over this phrase a dozen times: “…100 teachers plus administrators to work with.” My first thoughts: Wow! Whose idea was this?! 100 teachers? One hundred! What are you expected to do? How is your job defined? What are your roles and responsibilities?
But back to your questions, which raises a couple things: how do teachers know who you are, how you can support them, and what kind of coaching you’re doing? What are the expectations around taking up your support (is it optional?) and is there a limit to how much coaching they can have with you? First they need to know what you’re offering in order to know when and why they might take you up as a resource. Sometimes teachers don’t take up coaching simply because they don’t know what it is or what coaching can do.
So what are you offering? How do you explain your role? I describe coaching as a form of professional development, a job-embedded way to improve and refine our practice. The most powerful coaching allows the learner to determine her own goals and direct her own path–so sometimes I phrase coaching like this:
“My job as a coach is to hear where you’re at in your teaching career, to learn about when and where you feel effective and help you explore areas you’d like to develop. I’m not bringing my own agenda; I want to help you become the teacher you’re aspiring to be. Can you tell me a little about your vision for yourself as an educator?”
As a coach, I want to pull teachers back to the place from which many of them entered teaching: a deep desire to support children’s academic, social, and emotional growth and cultivate life long learners. Once they reconnect with that desire, I help teachers think through how their classroom practices align to that vision–for example, are there any practices which aren’t leading towards this end? But I need to get permission to join them on this journey and I’ll only get that if teachers are driving their own learning.
Now the reality is that sometimes coaches have to contend with mandates that we coach a certain curriculum, or towards Common Core, or that we work with a teacher on this or that area. So we have to navigate this–how can the teacher still feel like she’s in charge of her learning and directing it? Within a mandate, where are there possibilities for authentic engagement and growth? Helping our teachers find these places is part of our role as a coach.
As coaches we hold a firm belief that teachers can make tremendous growth in their skills and capacity. We believe that with effective support and PD, a teacher can deliver phenomenal instruction, create communities of learners, and student learning will increase. When trying to get teachers to “use us” we have to communicate this belief constantly–in addition to the specifics of what we do. We’re working in a broad context where teachers are vilified and the message around improvement is often a punitive/consequence laden one (“Improve your tests scores, or else!”).
So let your 100 teachers know who you are, what you’re offering, and how you can help them. Communicate your authentic excitement about working with them, your belief that they can make tremendous growth, and your enthusiasm about joining them on a learning journey. And give them some specific details: Here’s when I can meet with you. Here are some activities we can engage in. Here’s how you can contact me. And so on. Communicate this in person, if possible, as well as through email or some kind of written form.
And finally–Imagine yourself some years back: what would you like to have known about a coach? What would have encouraged you to reach out and take up coaching?
Readers: What other suggestions do you have for Jenny? How have you encouraged teachers to take up coaching? What communication methods have you found most effective to do this?