Guest Post: What Do You Do For a Living?: Defining your role as an Instructional Coach

One of the benefits of being a classroom teacher is the inherent understanding relationshipseveryone has of what you ‘do for a living.’  Unlike the Computer Systems Analyst or the Executive Vice President in Charge of Retail Management (pretty sure those are not real jobs), whensomeone asks you what you do and you respond ‘I’m a teacher’ you immediately get an understanding nod as opposed to a blank stare.  When I transitioned from the classroom into the role of a School Based Instructional Coach I mourned the loss of the ease at which I used to be able to answer the question, “So Cory, what do you do?” And what is true at dinner parties is often true in the very schools in which we work as Instructional Coaches.  The people we work with don’t always know exactly what we do and misconceptions can lead to fear and reluctance, which makes defining and clarifying our role an essential first step in the work of an Instructional Coach.

The term Partnership Agreement (Killion 2006) refers to a document that outlines what a coach does and how they will do that work at a particular site.  Creating a Partnership Agreement is the essential first step when developing a successful coaching model in a school.  Expert coaches are skilled at collaborating with their administrator to write the agreement and sharing that information with the staff.  When developing a Partnership Agreement:

  • Don’t wait for your administrator to hand you an agreement.  Put some thought into your views on the role and what you feel would be the best fit for your site considering the resources and cliental and then create a working draft and send it to your principal to review and revise.  When you send the draft also set up a meeting for a few days down the road where you can discuss it.  Starting this way allows you to share your ideas and still honor your principal as the instructional leader of the school.  Also providing your principal with a draft is efficient and principals are busy people and will appreciate being able to revise and edit versus the time it takes to meet and build a Partnership Agreement from scratch.
  • When writing the agreement be sure to include the foundational beliefs that support your coaching (the role of the coach is non-evaluative, confidentiality, coaching is not a deficit model, growth and professional learning are for all, etc.), but also remember to include the logistical items too (where the coaching will happen, how teacher release time will happen, the coaching cycle that will be followed etc.)
  • Write it down, have a tangible paper copy your principal can hold in their hand.
  • Don’t make it to long or complex. I believe that if it has a staple in it, it doesn’t get read, so my partnership agreements are never more than 1 page.
  • Keep the language clear and simple.

Once you and your principal have an agreed upon Partnership Agreement then you need to share it with staff.  This is tricky because the ultimate goal is for staff to have a clear understanding of your role and simply handing them the agreement and reading out loud point by point at a staff meeting never meets that goal.  When sharing your Partnership Agreement with staff:

  • Be clear and concise.  When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod he told the audience that the iPod is 1,000 songs that fit in your pocket.  With this simple explanation, he clearly and completely explained this never seen before device.  Articulating your partnership agreement in such a way is the goal.  I often use the phrase “An Instructional Coach is a Thinking Partner” followed by a brief animated video that explains the role of a coach (How Coaching Works)
  • After the initial introduction of your role at a staff meeting, the first time you meet with a teacher spend as much time as necessary having a conversation about your role.  Through a conversation, review the points on the agreement.  Be ready to ask and answer open and honest questions about your role
  • Be the Partnership Agreement.  Teachers will learn the Partnership Agreement by you living it and exemplifying it as you coach.  Be what you wrote down.

The concept of ‘starting at the beginning’ is logical but not always easy because we may not know where the beginning is.  When it comes to Instructional Coaching the beginning is the Partnership Agreement.  Coaches who can create a solid partnership agreement and effectively communicate it to staff pave the way for a solid year of coaching… and at the very least they know how to explain what they ‘do for a living’ when they go to their significant other’s Christmas party ☺

Cory Roffey is a school based Instructional Coach in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  He has coached in a variety of educational settings from Kindergarten to Grade Nine. He holds a MEd in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and has a particular interest in supporting teachers as they explore educational technology and constructivist practices.  You can follow Cory on twitter @coryroffey


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