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.