Q&A: Allow me to introduce…myself?

The Q&A this month comes from Sheila, a new instructional coach:

I am creating a presentaion to introduce myself as an instructional coach to a small cropped-slice-copy.pngschool system and give a snapshot about what instructional coaching is all about. What are the 3-5 things I should be sure to tell them?

This is a great question that many new coaches have. Coaches are often sent to their first assignment without a lot of guidance, let alone a coherent message of what instructional coaching is all about. Before I offer a few thoughts, I encourage anyone with this question to take some time to reflect on a few quiding questions:

  1. What’s most important to your role? What are your core beliefs about teaching, learning, and coaching?
  2. How will you measure success for the students, the teachers, and your self?
  3. How will you present your message to your colleagues? Consider not only presenting your ideas, but gathering your colleagues hopes and fears.

That being said, here are just a few of my thoughts.

  • Instructional coaching is not about what’s wrong, but what’s next. Coaching should never be based on a deficit model, but on building from teacher strengths.
  • Instructional coaching must be focused on student learning, not on fixing teachers and evaluation.
  • The instructional coaching relationship must be based on trust. Teachers, coaches, and school administrators need to all understand what can and will be shared.

There is so much more to say, but I would like to open the conversation up to my fellow coaches. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Q&A: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a new instructional coach?

Welcome to a new feature here at Your Instructional Coach: Q&A!cropped-slice-copy.png

Our first Question comes from Blaire Conner (@blaireconner): What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a new instructional coach?

To answer Blaire’s question, we turn to a panel of our guest authors. Please welcome our panelists (with their respective Twitter links)…

Stephanie Laird (@lairdlearning):

“The first piece of advice I share with new instructional coaches is to take time to build relationships. Whether you were already in the building serving in another capacity before stepping into the coaching role, or are new to the building, taking time to develop relationships is crucial. Most likely, you chose to move into Instructional Coaching because you recognize the importance coaching plays in teaching and learning, and, although you’re ready to hit the ground running and set up meetings with teachers to set goals, be intentional about setting time to build relationships.  By devoting time up front for relationship building, you will establish rapport, which you will draw upon as you form coaching partnerships with teachers. In the long run, you will benefit from the time you are taking upfront.”

Tonya Moody (@MrsMoodyIC):

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” Dr. James Comer Without forming relationships with the teachers you serve, your impact as an instructional coach will be minimal. One great way of forming relationships is to find teachers’ strengths and to learn from them. Our role as instructional coach is not to be the fixer, but to be the connector, communicator, collaborator, supporter, and learner that will lead us all to success.

Dr. Harison McCoy (@DrHarrisonMcCoy):

“The best advice that I would offer for a new instructional coach would be to be patient in building relationships with the teachers or administrators that he/she might be coaching. There are a lot of variables in the growth of the relationship, but the kind of trust that enables true coaching only comes when the bridge of relationship has been cultivated.”

Elsa Glover (@elsainga):

“New coaches often create a list of projects that they want to do.  It’s always good to have a goal and a direction.  However, it’s important to remember who we are coaching.  The most important thing I have to keep reminding myself is that it’s not about me.   It really isn’t important how I would do something, what tools I would want to use, the language I would use.  When I plan my days, my meetings, or my projects, I have to put my teachers first.  It’s all about them and what they need to help their students learn and grow as individuals.  As a new coach, one must take time to make the relationships with their teachers and students.  One must understand the daily challenges, the amazing strengths, and the culture.  This takes time and effort.  It’s easy to brush off making relationships, to take time to truly understand the teachers and students.  But it is the best thing I did and continue to work at.”

Jennifer Cox (@JenniferHCox):

“The best advice I have for a brand new instructional coach is to familiarize him/herself with coaching models and seek out professional development and training on them. A common mistake I see new coaches who have not received training make is creating their role as one to fix the teacher. Yes, some teachers need to reflect and hone skills, but coaches who consult and advise all the time feel like mini evaluators and the last thing a teacher needs is another evaluator. What teachers need is a trusted, knowledgable thought partner who can offer classroom data for reflection, who can question in a way that promotes reflection, and who can find the right resources for sharpening teaching craft.

My formal training is Cognitive Coaching, but through coaching conferences, professional reading, and webinars, I have learned much about other models which has helped me formulate my own coaching philosophy. Coaches are not teachers who “have arrived” or “have all the right answers.” Coaching, like teaching, is a craft that is continuously evolving. Some of the coaching gurus who have helped me grow over the years are Jim Knight, Elena Aguilar, Peter DeWitt, Michael Bungay Stanier, Dianne Sweeney,  and anything from Thinking Collaborative. Ask your administrator to send you to this year’s Teaching, Learning, and Coaching Conference – this was a great experience for me! Last but not least, seek out an instructional coach professional learning network (PLN) on social media. Have a wonderful school year!”

 

Thank you to Blaire for the great question to start us off and thank you to all our guest authors for providing such great responses. If you are looking to build your PLN, I recommend following all our guest authors on Twitter. You can also find their past guest posts on our Index-O-Posts page. Please use the contact form below or in the main menu (Connect and Contact) to submit your questions for next time.

Thank you!

Eric (@ecsandberg11)

Guest Post: How to Cultivate a Learner Culture in 3 Easy Steps

A school’s growth is a reflection of the culture. You can see, hear, and feel a school’s Captureculture at staff meetings, professional development, daily interactions, the office, the hallways, and so on. As instructional coaches, our goal should be to cultivate a culture in which learning occurs not only for students, but also for teachers.

How can you make a difference in your school’s culture?

 

  • Name and notice the great work already taking place

 

Any great school leader knows that the key to success is a staff that feels valued and appreciated. Amplifying the energy and productivity of a staff requires that teachers are made aware of their worth. Focusing attention on daily behavior that is valued can increase that behavior. Introducing new learning will be less intimidating if teachers know their work is highly valued. Don’t be afraid to make note of the great instruction taking place and then follow up with a question to push a teacher’s thinking even further.

 

  • Make connections between teachers

 

After naming and noticing the great work, figure out a way to get teachers in one another’s classroom. When a teacher asks about a certain strategy, mention another teacher who is also working on that strategy or suggest a classroom that they may want to observe. The best way to grow our practice is by learning from one another. As the instructional coach, we have the unique ability to serve as a bridge in the school. Seize opportunities to increase communication and collaborative experiences.

 

  • Embed professional development in the classroom

 

One of our primary responsibilities as instructional coaches is to provide great professional development. The most powerful professional development for teachers takes place in the classroom. Structures such as learning labs, learning walks, #observeme, and build-a-labs give teachers the opportunity to try new instructional practices in the classroom. This blog by Cult of Pedagogy is a great resource for effective professional development and lays out these structures. By providing teachers with on the spot teaching, learning becomes more transferable to their own classrooms.

As instructional coaches, our role is to be a leader for successful change and improvement efforts. This must begin by creating a culture in which teachers are willing to learn and take risks. Otherwise, we may fall short due to resistance and an unwillingness to grow. Taking these three easy steps to cultivate a learner culture is one way to increase your chances of success!

About our Guest Author: Tonya Moody is an Instructional Coach in Westfield Washington School District in central Indiana and has over ten years of teaching experience. Prior to coaching, she taught Kindergarten, Second Grade, and was a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. She has a passion for encouraging her colleagues and collaborating with fellow educators.  Tonya loves growing her PLN on Twitter (@MrsMoodyIC) and would love to connect with you!

Avengers Assemble!

I am a big fan of superhero movies. There. I said it. When I was young I loved comic books, Marvel Comics in particular. As an adult, my love for comics has transformed into a love for the Marvel movies (X-men, Spider-Man, Avengers, and so on).  As I was watching a preview of an upcoming installment of the Avengers franchise, I started to think of the heroes on the screen as metaphors for the qualities of an instructional coach superhero. So, read on, true believers!

  • Captain America represents the heart of the true believer. Steve Rogers wears his patriotism literally on his sleeves (and his chest, shield, and so on). With little exception, Cap’ always stands up for what is good and right. As a coach, you’ll face similar challenges. Your colleagues will question your beliefs, your dedication, and your resolve. Stay strong in your beliefs!
  • Iron Man represents the use of technology to do amazing things. Tony Stark, an arrogant millionaire, becomes Iron Man out of necessity. Over time, he realizes that the technology that empowers him also comes with a great deal of responsibility. At his core, Stark is a problem-solving genius. You can also leverage technology to supplement your coaching skills. Use technology to collaborate, to reflect, to learn, and grow!
  • Thor represents the constant drive to prove oneself. Although a Norse God, he struggles to live up to the legend of his father, Odin the king of Asgard. As an instructional coach, you must consistently prove yourself. You’ll have your doubters and some low moments, but every day comes with new opportunities to show your colleagues (and your self) that you can help save the day!
  • Hulk represents self control.  Dr. Bruce Banner is brilliant and is accidentally impacted by Gamma radiation.  He becomes the Hulk when he is angered. Bruce struggles to contain the Hulk initially, but over time develops the self control that can keep the Hulk at bay.  You will be frustrated. You will “hit the wall.” Just like the Hulk, no one will like you when you’re angry. Stay calm in the moment. Channel your inner calm into a quiet strength that rivals the brute strength of the Hulk.

So, my fellow instructional coach super heroes, what will happen next?

Will you harness your super powers: The heart of the true believer, technology, the drive to prove your self, and quiet strength?

Will you save the day?

 

Guest Post: Vulnerability: An Instructional Coach’s Key to Growing Outside Her Comfort Zone and Leading Teachers to Do the Same

Are you immediately able to picture the person on your staff that continually models Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 8.21.16 PMbeing a learner? Hopefully you are able to visualize several faces. The more individuals in your building who are leading the learning necessary for teacher growth, the better.  But growth will not take place without taking some risks.

Naturally, people avoid risk because it represents uncertainty. So people generally remain in their comfort zone. Risk by its very nature makes us vulnerable. Without those faces you previously imagined who take risks by modeling vulnerability through identifying and sharing their own strengths and weaknesses, growth will not take place. The Instructional Coach plays a critical role guiding and supporting staff through risk and reward by being the risk-taker-in-chief .

The Instructional Coach has a defining role in leading the charge for creating a risk-taking culture. When trying to define the role of an Instructional Coach, one could describe an Instructional Coach as,

a teacher’s biggest support system.

But being part of that support system means taking risks in front of other teachers and challenging and inspiring your teachers to do the same. By continually modeling what it means to be vulnerable, an Instructional Coach can slowly help move teachers from literally and figuratively closing their doors to welcoming other teachers into their classrooms. There are actionable steps that an Instructional Coach can use to exhibit leadership through vulnerability.

Five ways that Instructional Coaches can cultivate a school culture that encourages taking risks:

  1. Video record yourself teaching and share it with your teachers.

Being reflective in our teaching practice is an essential way of creating a culture that values risk-taking. There are few things more uncomfortable than watching yourself on video. Yet, we and our colleagues have so much to learn from really observing ourselves in action. Video reflection is a powerful way to stimulate conversation about reflective practice.

2. Ask teachers to come and watch you teach.

If we desire collaborative practices where teachers learn from one another, we must be willing to constantly require it of ourselves. If you are modeling in a classroom, invite others teachers to come watch. Ask for feedback on a particular area and thank them for coming and learning alongside you.

3. Encourage the #observeme movement.

Researching and discussing the #observeme movement with staff can be greatly beneficial. Seldom will a teacher observe another teacher without walking away with a great idea that can then be discussed and shared with the larger community of practice. When we are willing to observe one another, it creates a sense of school community as well as builds a community of practice.

4. Talk openly about your successes and failures.

While sharing successes around the building is great, it is just as important to model that you fail at times as well. Then follow up by discussing what you learned from that failure and the path you have mapped forward toward your goal.

5. Say your goals out loud.

Verbalizing your goals is the first step to making them happen. You will now be held accountable by people who heard you express those goals. Most importantly, they will see you modeling vulnerability.

An Instructional Coach has the unique role of helping others become their best selves while ensuring their long term success. Start modeling risk-taking through vulnerability today!

About our Guest Author: Tonya Moody is a first year Instructional Coach in Westfield Washington School District in central Indiana and has over ten years of teaching experience. This is the first year for Instructional Coaching in Westfield Washington Schools and building a strong Instructional Coaching team that supports teachers is her number one priority. Prior to coaching, she taught Kindergarten, Second grade, and was a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. She has a passion for encouraging her colleagues and collaborating with fellow educators.  Tonya loves growing her PLN on Twitter (@MrsMoodyIC) and would love to connect with you!

Dashing through the Snow…

We are currently in the middle of a record-breaking snowstorm in cropped-slice-copy.pngErie, Pennsylvania. While we have had many snowstorms before, driving in the snow is always an adventure. On a recent drive, I thought of some connections to the journey an instructional coach takes with a teacher. Five lessons learned…

  • Drive for a purpose.

When you drive in a severe snowstorm you have to know your destination and the specific directions for your travel. In you instructional coaching journey, you also need to know your goal. You also must know your specific, measureable steps along the way. In either scenario, your success is too important to wander.

  • Have the right equipment.

Your chances of success on your journey are greatly enhanced by having all wheel drive, good tires, windshield wipers, and warm winter gear (of course). Likewise, your instructional coaching success depends on strong curriculum, teaching strategies, formative and summative assessment, and student engagement.

  • Slow down.

Without fail, many drivers drive too fast when winter weather hits. This leads to cars ending up in all sorts of places other than their destination.  The advice to these drivers as well as instructional coaches is to slow down. Small changes and successes over time will lead to change that sticks.

  • Don’t “over-correct.”

When you drive in the snow, no matter how experience you are, you will slide. The key is to not panic, but to make a small adjustment and drive through it. As you work with teachers, resist the temptation to change everything after every misstep. Instructional coaching is a delicate, learning process. When you slide off course, make a minor correction and drive through it.

  • Learn from your mistakes.

I was reminded of this lesson just a few nights ago when, despite traveling up my in-laws driveway hundreds of times over the past twenty years, I forgot to stay on the path side and slid off into the snowbank. Not only was I embarrassed, but ended up ruining a night out with my wife and our friends. This leads me to my final piece of advice to instructional coaches. We need to learn from our mistakes. We are not perfect. It’s okay to not know the answer, to mess up, to apologize and move forward.

Move forward, my friends, move forward.