I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine entitled, “Research Shows People Need These 5 Things To Be Happy At Work.” I don’t often agree with happiness gurus because most of it to me comes off as very self centered and non collaborative, which as a coach, is inherently not me at all. But this article caught my attention and while the primary audience is the business community, I saw reflections of an educator in the list. Here I offer 5 tips for using your instructional coach to help you thrive happily in your work.
Discover work that challenges you
“Reach outside your comfort zone” has become a buzz phrase in education. What does it mean – really? It means you are always working on something new. Think about what happens when we reach. We stand taller, become mindful about our balance, we focus on what it is we want to obtain, and when we cannot reach what we want by ourselves, we ask for a boost. Your instructional coach can offer the leg up. It’s hard to keep ourselves working on something new when sometimes, we feel it may be all we can do to keep our heads above water. Coaches can have a unique 30,000 foot view that connects your classroom practice to building and district vision. He can provide you with suggestions that can bring you into alignment with the expectations that push in. She can partner with you as you try a new and exciting strategy. Ask your coach to help with some of the legwork and barrier removal that halts us when we wish to take a risk.
Grow a sense of progress
A coach can be the perfect partner for formative assessment of your instructional progress. Much the same way you monitor your students’ progress and adjust accordingly, an instructional coach can help you capture data that provides a perfect jumping off point for reflection on your craft. Look at student work together and explore celebrations or imagine powerful tweaks. Set up a regular class visit for your coach where he or she can capture what you cannot in the midst of teaching. Ask for a script of your questions or one of student to student conversations. Your coach can use video or live notes over the course of weeks to capture your progress toward an instructional goal in a non evaluative way. What a great way to combat the “hamster on a wheel” feeling that can rear its ugly head in education. Finally, because we do not want to remain in a constant state of experimentation with student learning (that can stop progress too) coaches can help guide you through reflecting conversations in order to identify the right times to try new and hard things.
What if I fail? So what if you do? What did you learn about your students and yourself through the process? How will that impact your instruction going forward? As a coach, it is one of my greatest pleasures to provide a bubble of security around a teacher willing to take a risk. I see it as my job to make sure administrators and fellow teachers keep a judgment free zone while a teacher is growing him or herself. A coach can keep evaluation at bay so teachers can ignore the fear of having the plan not reach expectation. Your instructional coach can help you focus on the learning that can come in spite of outcomes that fall short. In the end, you become more resilient and daring. You may inspire a colleague, reach a student in need, shift the thinking of your administration, or reignite the passion that called you to teaching in the first place, all the while able to celebrate and vent with a thought partner (your coach).
Claim your autonomy
Do you really trust yourself as a capable, expert educator? Teachers too often relinquish the responsibility of their own thriving to others. We tend to think we are unsuccessful if we do not reach every student, do not score “distinguished” on every criteria of our teacher evaluation, do not get a check on every box on the walk through document, do not get recognition from our peers, parents, administrators, or community. We don’t control these things, yet our career self-worth can be wrapped up in them. Your coach can help you claim your autonomy by reminding you to focus on the things you can control. She can help track the impact of those things down to the student level. Once you see the data that tells the story of your decision making and effectiveness, you can trust that your decisions and expertise have impact. This is the road to claiming your autonomy.
Feeling that we belong in the classroom where we spend so much time, energy, and concern can be incredibly empowering. My coaching conversations with teachers often revolve around remaining centered in beliefs about education, helping to connect with like minded educators, and helping identify areas of greatness worth sharing with others in the profession. As a coach, I try to assist teachers who feel isolated with developing connections to a tribe. Developing a professional learning network in person and/or virtually can be a key ingredient to a sense of belonging. Developing this sense takes effort and practice. This can be the role of your coach. Coaching partners can identify, question, validate experiences and feelings as you grow understanding around your practice. They can work with you to identify your own judgment and biases which can pave the way for acceptance of others – the only true path to belonging.
All of the suggestions I offer in this piece rest on the assumption that you first, have a connection to an instructional coach and secondly, that the coach is trained in instructional coaching and can facilitate thinking rather than simply consult with you on improvements. If your school or district has not yet grown a culture of coaching, be certain to connect with instructional coaches by reaching out to me on Twitter @JenniferHCox or through the Connect and Contact page here at yourinstructionalcoach.com
About the author:
Jennifer Cox serves in the role of Goal Clarity Coach at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, KY, working with staff and administration to facilitate the purposeful intersection of data, instruction, professional development, and student success. Prior to this, Jennifer served as Instructional Coach for Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, KY where she assisted in leading building and district professional development and as facilitator for PEBC’s Thinking Strategies Institute in Shelby County. Her work with teachers centers on increasing meaningful literacy instruction across content areas, differentiation, and on increasing the efficacy of discourse between teacher/student as well as among students.
Jennifer’s research focus is growth mindset for teachers and students, workshop model of instruction, and leadership roles precipitating school turnaround. She has taught in the middle and high school settings since 1997. During that time, she served as a PEBC Regional Lab Host Classroom and was Shelby County Public Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ashland Teacher Award Winner and Kentucky Teacher of the Year Finalist.
Her academic background includes undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky in Middle School Education, Master’s work at Bellarmine University in Middle School Education where she was a Nancy Howard Merit Award recipient for Excellence in Graduate Education. Her latest endeavor was at the University of Louisville where she earned her Ed. S. in Educational Leadership and was awarded U of L Ed. S. Outstanding Graduate.