As the school year begins, Instructional Coaches everywhere are serving teachers in a variety of ways. I was curious as to the coaching moves that my coaching colleagues lean into as the school year begins so I surveyed a handful of coaches from across the country and dug into some of my favorite resources. Here are some of their best ideas for launching a successful year of coaching and mentoring:
Be Friendly: Spend time getting to know the teachers you serve; ask about their families, friends, summer activities, and interests outside of school. There is a lot of exciting work to be done, but great collegial relationships are built on trust and rapport, so don’t feel bad investing time to build relationships with those you serve. Keep an eye out for new staff members who might not have connected with others yet, and curate a few relationships for them. As Brene Brown writes, “we don’t derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.”
Be Present: Spend time with teachers in their classrooms, during their planning periods, and at lunch. In the first weeks of school, Karen Goodman, Instructional Coast at Jeffco Open School, blocks off HUGE chunks of her day to just be with teachers in their classrooms. While they are building community with students, she wants everyone to feel seen by her too. Karen shares feedback via sticky notes with specific gratitude and observations in the first days of school.
Be Curious: Listen deeply. Ask probing questions. Provide spaces for teachers to talk and engage. Listening through the lens of mediation and curiosity rather than problem solving allows teachers to access their internal tools to process issues. If the job was about fixing things, we would be called “fixers” not coaches. Margaret Wheatley reminds us, “Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”
Be Responsive: Remember that each and every teacher and team has different needs at this time. Some teams might want to jump right into examining assessment data and planning their summatives, while others are trying to figure out how to set up their new technology. In September, Jennifer Morandi-Benson, Instructional Coach at Aspen High School, touches base with every teacher she worked with last year as well as teachers that are new to the district. Jen wants them to know that their planning and reflecting conversations were not just isolated incidents in the context of the previous year but ongoing conversations driven by student engagement. Differentiating your support helps ensure that everyone has what they need to be successful.
Be Visionary: Support teachers in setting goals for their students and themselves. Kirsten Myers-Blake, PEBC Staff Developer, likes to ask, “So now that you’ve had some space from last year, what are you carrying forward as you envision this year?” or “So, imagine that we are at the end of May – and we have had so much success – what would that look like? What would be happening?” These sorts of questions support teachers in thinking beyond the moment and invite innovative thinking, while allowing you to create a context for coaching that is rooted in positive outcomes for students and teachers.
Be Positive: Cultivate the culture that you desire for your community. Model care and concern. Presume positive intent. Remain asset based. Practice self care. Laugh. Extend gratitude. Our language and actions help set the tone for collaboration and interaction and go a long way in shaping culture. Positivity is also good for our health, Allison Sherwood highlights how positive thinking is good for the immune system, reduces anxiety, and increases positive emotions such as happiness and creativity. Have fun! Schools should be sources of joy and inspiration.
Be Transparent: Foster trust by creating a schedule or calendar that explicitly illustrates how you spend your time. Solicit feedback from groups and individuals on how you can best support their needs and goals. Keep your scheduled commitments. Take time at a staff meeting to share your role and responsibilities with your colleagues so that everyone understands how your time and energy are allocated. Early in the fall, Eileen Knapp, an Instructional Coach at Aspen High School, communicates with her colleagues about coaching plans and goals for the year via staff meetings, emails, visiting with departments, and meeting with individuals.
Be Intentional: Take some time to reflect on your values and beliefs. What do you stand for? What is your stance on teaching and learning? Getting clear on our beliefs and values allows us all to set intentions. Without intentions it can be easy for Instructional Coaches to be pulled into many directions. Elena Aguilar shares the importance of creating a vision for our work so that we can remain in the service of those we serve, here’s a line from her vision statement, “I coach people to find their own power and to empower others so that we can transform our education system, our society, and our world.” What intentions might you set to help you stay true to your beliefs?
Aguilar, E. The Art of Coaching, San Francisco: JosseyBass, 2013
Brown, B.. Dare to Lead. New York: Random House, 2018
Costa, A. L & Garmstom, R. J. Cognitive Coaching. Massachusetts: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 2002.
Sherwood, A. “What is Positive Thinking?” retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/positive-thinking-overview
Wheatley, M. “Listening as Healing”retrieved from https://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/listeninghealing.html