Tag Archives: #educoach

Three Growth Mindset Lessons from My Journey as an Instructional Coach

The following post was my share about growth mindset as an ASCD Leader at ASCD L2L in Arlington, VA on July 23rd, 2015.

I am Kenny McKee, and I am a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. I want to share 3 lessons I’ve learned on my  growth mindset journey from when I shifted from being a classroom teacher to a high school literacy coach in my district. I hope that regardless of your position, that these leadership lessons will resonate with you.

Lesson 1:  You can’t do it alone.

Before the instructional coaching program in my district expanded, little progress in literacy had occurred at the high school level. Although I had success in my classroom, influencing instructional change at such a vast  level intimidated me.  My first “a-ha” was I couldn’t do it alone, which as someone who occasionally suffers from “perfectionism” was very hard. I reached out to others in my position, scoured professional literature, and found an amazing online community of coaches on Twitter.   I learned that I must  truly partner with teachers because the top-down approach our district had used in the past had made little impact. And in that process, I learned from the teachers I worked with as well.  If you are open to learning from everyone you work with, I believe that you’ll find that there are many people who will go on the growth journey with you. And you need them.

Lesson 2. The rhetoric of “best practices” can stifle growth.

The approach to literacy our district had used before emphasized a fixed “right way”  that was actually holding back progress. The content-area teachers had vast, and often untapped, knowledge of how experts read, write, and think in their disciplines. Rather than the prescriptive “one-size-fits-all” approach previously dictated to teachers, we focused on what mattered most, students’ learning, and that led to subtle shifts in culture and instruction. School-based, cross-content literacy teams began to influence both what forms of instruction would impact all disciplines and how literacy looked different in math, English, history, and the other domains.You see, I think that sometimes the phrase “Best Practice” can become the epitome of a fixed mindset, as it implies that things cannot get better. It also implies that what is best is the same for all students, subjects, and classroom contexts is the same which is simply not true. Focus on “better” to continually improve — not “best”.

11800158_10207057608060066_8002370731518309674_n (Photo Credit: Thanks to 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader, Michael Matera (@mrmatera), for the great photo.)

Lesson 3. Change can’t occur without conflict.

Those literacy teams’  ideas  and new district leadership collaborated to create an instructional framework that asked that students read, write, move, speak, and think in each class every day. The framework would empower teachers with the autonomy in how those activities would happen.  This work was not easy. Some teachers did not want to take up the challenge of diversifying their instruction — even if they had control over how they would do it. I had been rather naive, believing that my politeness, professionalism, and a supportive stance would avert all conflict. Because of that anger, I had to personally grow by finding ways to  become more resilient and navigating conflicts that emerged.  I have learned that any time your position yourself as a leader, whether formally or informally, you are inviting conflict, and sometimes that can result in greater solitude. So, it’s important to effectively communicate with all stakeholders, especially the naysayers.  If you do, you’ll find that there are many people willing to take the journey with you.

Establishing Partnerships as an Instructional Coach

So you may be excited to begin your first position as an instructional coach, or you may be an experienced coach moving to a new school. Heck, you may be going back to the same school. Regardless of your situation, many instructional coaches have a similar, persistent, and, often, silent fear: “What if nobody will work with me?”

We’ve all been there. Here are a few tips for how you can build partnerships with educators in your school as the year begins.

1. Understand and Practice Partnership Principles

Before the school year begins familiarize yourself with Jim Knight’s partnership principles: equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, and praxis. These principles communicate that instructional coaching is about two knowledgeable and competent professionals working together to improve student learning. The coach’s role is to leverage partnerships to enhance professional culture, adult learning, and student learning. It is not the coach’s role to “fix” people. When coaching is viewed as something for weaker teachers, it is never successful. Often coaches work with the strongest teachers in the school, the ones who are most driven, open, reflective, and dedicated to students. The impact of the coach’s work with these teacher leaders affects the professional actions of their colleagues as well.  As a literacy coach, I understand that I have skills and knowledge in the areas of literacy, instructional practice, and assessment. However, the classroom teachers I work with are experts in their curriculum, their students, and the disciplinary literacies of their content areas. Partnership brings the best of each professional’s skills and knowledge together to impact student learning. Take every opportunity to show that you deeply respect the work of classroom teachers.

2. Teach People Your Job, or They Will Make it Up for You

I learned this from a professional development I attended a few years ago. As an instructional coach, you may be the only person with your job in the school building (or in several buildings based on the number of schools you serve!). Many misperceptions may exist about your role, so you must proactively describe your role. I often help define my role by explaining what I am not. I am not an evaluator. I am not an administrator. I am not a substitute teacher. What am I then?!?! I am a teacher in a lateral position whose job is to enhance adult learning and professional culture within the school to impact student learning. It is just as important that you explain your role to administrators as it is to teachers. In addition, be clear and precise about what work you do. If your work is not defined, you will be asked to do all sorts of activities that do not ultimately impact culture, professional learning, or student learning. I know this is easier said than done, because I still find myself involved in activities that don’t work toward my goals from time to time.

3. Create an Easy, Expeditious Way for Teachers to Contact You

I have found that contact must be easy and timely for teachers who want to work with a coach. This can be complicated when you are serving multiple schools. I have found one of the most useful tools I have is a coaching menu. This form teaches people my job (see #2), and it provides options for types and areas of collaboration. I find the a digital form created in Google Drive has been really successful. I am able to schedule by earliest responses and teacher availability. In addition, a digital menu sent to teachers at the beginning of the school year often elicits many responses because teachers have reflected over the summer and come into the school year with defined goals. Also, if the school’s culture has not fully embraced coaching, individual teachers who want to participate will more likely respond to an electronic survey in private than turn in a paper form in a room full of colleagues.

4. Begin with the Willing

Seriously, begin with any teacher who has expressed the desire to work with you. These early partnerships establish you as a colleague. If no one in the school has observed you as a teacher, find any opportunity to work with students. Teachers will view you completely differently once they have seen you work with students. Listen carefully and ask reflective questions to determine how you can best support them, and the results will likely be positive for their students. I am amazed at how openly and emphatically teachers will advertise my services once they have seen results from our work with their students. That advertising cannot be bought, and it will steadily increase the number of instructional coaching requests you will receive.

Three Ways #Educoach Has Impacted my Digital Leadership

I just can’t say enough about my experiences with the #educoach Twitter chat.  I stumbled upon it last December, and I am so thankful that I did.  I highly recommend checking it out.  The moderators, Jessica Johnson (@PrincipalJ), Kathy Perret (@KathyPerret), and Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), do a fantastic job of asking questions that solicit productive conversations.  The chat occurs every Wednesday night at 10 pm (EST).

Being an instructional coach can feel isolating at times.  Although I have contact with numerous educators and students each day, no one in the building has the same role as I do.  I am fortunate that my school district provides opportunities for me to collaborate in a literacy coaches’ PLC twice a month; however, there are so many pressing matters that sometimes I am not able to ask for help from my colleagues in our allotted time together.

The #educoach chat participants are solution-oriented, knowledgeable, and resourceful.  Every chat is a professional growth experience.  I am a member of a community of learners/experts who  are phenomenal encouragers and thinking partners.

Currently, the #educoach group is reading Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger.  I have almost finished reading the book, and I like it quite a bit.  Sheninger’s writing style is straightforward with compelling examples of technology’s transformative role in improving student learning, instructional capacity, community relations, and branding.   I have suggested using Sheninger’s work for a district-wide training for administrators on effective technology integration.  As a result of participating in the #educoach chats around Digital Leadership, three things have occurred that have upgraded my own digital leadership.

1. Tweeting in an #Educoach chat with Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal)

I mean, how cool is that? Being able to see Sheninger’s perspective in real-time was awesome.  His very first tweet in the chat definitely confronted one of my “cherished beliefs”: That the change process has to be slow.  It seems that I develop many of my projects at a snail’s pace because I believe that change must always be slow. That’s how we’ve all be trained.  Since the chat, I am beginning to think outside of that lens.  I am jumping into the “quick change” process both personally and professionally.

2.  Learning how to Obtain Google Educator Certification

So, one important aspect of leadership I’ve learned from reading Digital Leadership is modeling your own learning.  During our first Digital Leadership chat, one participant, Nancy Alvarez (@nancyalvarez12), discussed how she and members of her PLN are working through the Google Educator training together and blogging about it.  She even shared one of her colleagues’ blogs.  I always wonder how someone becomes a Google Educator, and I decided to jump in!  Since then, I have been working through the first module on Google Mail.  I have to say that I am not an expert in all that Google has to offer…yet.  But, I have set a goal for myself to complete the training by the end of August.  In the meantime, it’s more important to show myself as learner than as an expert in the process.

3.  Meeting with #Educoach Participants (via Google Hangout) About Blogging

During the last #educoach chat, several of us discussed our desires either to begin blogs or to re-dedicate ourselves to writing our blogs.  I fall somewhere in between (having just enough blogging experience to be dangerous!)  Kathy Perret (@KathyPerret) offered to host us in a Google Hangout last Sunday to discuss blogging.  Kathy, Julie Bauer (@jbteachr), and I met to discuss topics ranging from hosting options to writing topics.  Julie actually hadn’t blogged before, but that evening she completed her first blog entry at her brand new site http://julieebauer.com.  Julie is doing a great job, and I can already hear her voice coming through loud and clear (something I personally struggle to find).  Kathy was so open to share what has helped her too, emphasizing the importance of a blogging schedule, writing ideas in drafts for later development, and tweeting blog posts to those who might be interested in reading them. I took copious notes from our conversation, and I am steadily implementing the strategies.


As I continue growing, I will document my journey (along with other work) here.  Please join me (@kennycmckee), and leave a comment below about where I can follow you on your digital leadership journey too. Communicating our successes, struggles, perspectives, and projects is how we grow!