Literacy Specialist – Uh oh. You have been assigned a new role this year (team lead, literacy lead, FI lead, coach, etc.) and you aren’t sure what this is all about.
Well, that’s quite a natural feeling. These job terminologies imply that you will be working in a coaching capacity with your colleagues and it may feel awkward. A few years ago, I was assigned to be an instructional coach at my school. It took me a few months to feel comfortable with this. I recall hesitating before accepting this new role as I did not see myself as an “expert” in any specific area. Moreso, I did not want my relationships with my colleagues to change because of this new role. After some reflection, I decided to accept the coaching role and focus on the “co” part of the word. I dedicated myself to working alongside teachers to co-teach, co-plan, and collaborate with those who could provide us with support. My role enabled me to serve as an extra set of eyes in classrooms. Together, my colleagues and I could decide how to better meet the needs of learners. After settling into the work, I felt great about myself and fell in love with the role.
Here are a few tips that helped me on my journey as a coach:
- Job clarity – Make sure that you are clear about the expectations of your new role. Make sure that your administration and colleagues are also clear about it. Teachers will not feel comfortable opening their classroom doors if they are not clear on why you are there. Depending on your job assignment, your role might be to coach, co-teach, model, co-plan, find resources, etc.
- Relationships – Relationships are key to success! If you don’t establish relationships of trust, it will be hard to have authentic discussions with teachers. Each teacher is a learner with their own learning style (just like our students). Some may prefer to watch you model a lesson, others may want you to suggest articles on a certain topic, while others may want to try a new practice with you. One size does not fit all. Get to know the teachers you will be working with. Don’t hesitate to ask them how they want you to support them. A coach needs to have strong interpersonal communication skills, be a good listener and be able to question teachers in a non-threatening way. Once a relationship of trust is established, the coach can support the teachers in elevating their instruction to be more impactful on student learning.
- It’s not about “fixing” teachers – Coaching is not about judging the practices of colleagues or “fixing them”. Coaching is collaborative work where together you establish goals, try out new strategies that teachers have in mind, and work to elevate areas in teachers’ practices that they have identified.
- Keep the focus on the students – Diane Sweeney (2010) defines Student-Centered Coaching as being about “setting specific targets for students that are rooted in the standards and curriculum and working collaboratively to ensure that the targets are met.” By keeping the coaching focus on students and practices that impact their learning, it will not be threatening to teachers. It’s not about them – it’s about improving student learning.
- Change is hard – Humans are creatures of habit and change can be uncomfortable. Change often causes anxiety and confusion and it takes time to move from confusion to coherence. Coaches therefore must be patient because each teacher processes information at a different rate. Changes in practice will not happen overnight. “A coach might come to believe that teachers are stubbornly resisting change when in reality they are simply taking time to balance competing demands on their time” (Knight, 2007, p. 72).
- Support for in-school PL implementation – One-shot Professional Learning (PL) is not effective and the best rate of implementation that can be hoped for is 10% (Bush, 1984). The coach can help bridge the learning and assist teachers to add the new PL to existing classroom practices. I view coaches as resources who help teachers connect the dots between the initiatives and various demands of the teaching world. Instead of new initiatives being interpreted as “add-ons”, coaches can show teachers how they should be interpreted as “build-ons” that connect to what is already being done.
Coaching is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth for coaches and teachers. We are all working towards the same goal: supporting our learners to become engaged and successful.
Resources to help support and build capacity around coaching
- Good Coaching Got Me Up a Mountain by Diane Sweeney
- What Should A Coach Do The First Days On The Job? By Jim Knight
- Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
- Sweeney, D. R. (2010). Student-centered coaching: A guide for K-8 coaches and principals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
- Bush, R. (1984). Effective staff development. In making our schools more effective: Proceedings of three state conferences. San Francisco, CA: Far West Laboratories.