Instructional coaching continues to grow in popularity as more and more districts and schools are buying into the model. Despite common misconceptions, instructional coaching is not easier than being a classroom teacher. However, for those looking to stay in education while moving to a new role, instructional coaching can be a great career move. Instructional coaching also provides educators with opportunities to work either for districts or independently as consultants.
For those considering a transition to instructional coaching, it’s important to be mindful of 5 skills that are absolutely critical to your success as a coach.
As teachers, most of us have an enviable set of organizational skills. However, instructional coaching success hinges heavily on a coach’s ability to organize and follow through. As a coach, you need to be able to schedule observations, meetings, pre and post conferences, and push in times with several teachers. Often times, teachers will pass you in the hallway and say, “Can you stop by Friday at 10?” It’s important to smile and say, “I can’t wait to see you, can you please email me and I will get back to you.” Email is your best friend as it is a form of documentation of all communication. In addition, you will need a system to copy and save all observation forms and meeting notes.
We can all agree that being observed is a fairly stressful event regardless of how long you’ve been a teacher or how confident you feel. A coach’s interpersonal skills are a huge factor in helping teachers decide whether or not to trust their coach. Gaining the trust of teachers will make everyone’s’ lives easier and students more successful in the long run. Take a moment to consider your own body language, pausing, wait time, and phrasing. It’s also significant to give teachers open-ended questions that help them reflect on lessons and classroom practices rather than simply telling them how you felt about the lesson. If our goal is professional growth for teachers, then we must come in as partners and not evaluators.
Working with Adults
Children and adults are different. It makes no sense to approach working with them the same way. However, adults just like children appreciate and respond to specific and genuine praise and positive nonverbal cues. One trick is to leave teachers a note or email immediately after the observation that states positive aspects of the lesson and thanking them for inviting you into their classroom. Adults will value coaching if they feel as if they are equals in the coaching partnership and that their ideas and experience are valued.
As humans, we have a tendency to make judgments and think, “Well, that’s not how I would have done it.” Instructional coaches are not afforded the luxury of judging other teachers. If you are in the classroom to observe a math lesson, you cannot negatively mark a teacher down for a classroom management issue you do not approve of. This is why coaches need to be prepared with their observation forms beforehand. Instructional coaches are not expected to evaluate a teacher nor should they have a say in a teacher’s final observation. This is where confidentiality is a stepping stone to an improved coaching partnership. The role of instructional coaches is to support teachers in their pedagogical practices and to focus on student growth. Unless there is a student safety concern, coaches should refrain from discussing a teacher’s observation with others.
The Growth Mindset
The importance of having a growth mindset has become increasingly popular, and rightfully so! It’s important for coaches to have a growth mindset when it comes to their own practices. With time, you will fine tune your approach and organizational skills. As you transition to coaching, it’s likely that you will witness failures and rejection. These are not signs that you should give up, rather they are opportunities for you to learn and grow. Imagine working with a colleague who has a fixed mindset. It would be pretty frustrating to have to navigate all of that insecurity, doubt, and reluctance to try something new. Now imagine you’re the person with the fixed mindset. Countless studies have found that those with fixed mindsets are stuck on success or failure while those growth mindsets are mindful of growing their understanding.
Instructional coaching is backed by research and data. It’s a great tool to help support teachers and students. If your school does not currently follow the instructional coaching model, it would be beneficial to bring up the possibility and maybe volunteer to do it for a stipend until a decision is made by administration.
About the author
Huda Harajli is a second-grade teacher and ESL/SIOP coach in Michigan. Check out her online resources at The First Grade Flair.