Guest Post: 5 Promises To Make for Effective Instructional Coaching (Put on Those Rose-Colored Glasses!)

Happy instructional coaches wear rose-colored glasses. The education landscape hasglasses become so politically and emotionally charged that is increasingly challenging shut out the din of a thousand competing voices. But, coaches, we must, if we are  to be effective, in addition to happy and the glasses help.

I got an extra-dose of rose the other day as I sat in on interviews for an open teacher position. As I listened to them talk about teaching and learning, gone were politics, gone were mandates, and gone was mistrust. In fact, gone was all lingering negativity from the din of those thousand voices.  

Take a minute to read the words of the candidates. I almost guarantee they’ll make you proud to be an educator.

“If they don’t love a subject or strategy, I always tell myself, they don’t love it yet, but I’ll get them there!”

“Pay attention. Pay attention to what they need and how they need it.”

“Collaborate. Communicate. Learn from each other.”

“Success first. When learners succeed they are prone to more success.”

“Figure out where they are and where they need to go and then help them get there!”

Amazing, right?! Teachers are amazing. As I listened to these teachers talk, my rose-colored glasses deepened by shades.

Later, I realized that the words of these teachers reminded me of five promises I’ve made in order to be a happy and effective instructional coach.

If I had to summarize them, they would be rose-red and read:

Teachers are amazing!

In our work as instructional coaches, we must consciously keep those words in mind. If you don’t believe it, fake it until you make it. See teachers as you know they can be. Hold high expectations for them as you would for the students they teach. Instructional coaches who don’t get that, who don’t really love and respect teachers, cannot be effective.

Below is my list of the five promises I make as an instructional coach. Each comes from a hope-laden, rose-colored place that makes effective coaching possible.

  1.  Remember that Growth-Mindset goes for teachers too! EVERY single teacher can grow, learn, and achieve at high levels.

All teachers want to be successful and guess, what? With some work, patience, and effective coaching, most teachers (if not all) can be!. Spend some time with the research of the brilliant psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck teaches us that our brains are malleable and that humans can actually get smarter. She also reminds us that failure is a part of learning and should be celebrated as part of the process. We have applied the growth-mindset theory to our work with children for a dozen or so years. It’s time to bring this positive way of thinking to our work with teachers too.

  1. “Two, but not two.” It’s NOT us versus them thing. Ever.

I recently read a great book for middle grade students, Pax by Sara Pennypacker. In it, Pennypacker writes about the Buddhist principle of two, but not two. She uses the concept to help two sad and somewhat lonely characters to see themselves as connected to the world. It resonated with me on many levels, but, as a lifelong edu-dork who spends huge chunks of time thinking about teaching and learning, it spoke to me about my role as an instructional coach deeply.

We cannot allow an “us versus them” mentality into any conversation or even our thoughts about the teachers we coach.It is our job to lift teachers’ visions higher, in turn raising their achievement. We do sometimes have to insist that teachers make changes, but we must do it in a way that shows we  support, value, and believe in them. We must be thoughtful rather than frustrated or angry in the face of teacher resistance. In other words, don’t take those rose-colored glasses off. You need them. The teachers you serve (and through them, the students you serve) need you to wear them.

  • Grant Wiggins offers excellent advice on facing resistance
  • Stephanie Laird gives equally valuable advice right here on the Your Instructional Coach blog!
  1. Motivation is key, but it has to be real.

Motivation is not something we give to teachers, it is something we cultivate by helping teachers see their own successes.Daniel Pink has done outstanding work in this area. Pink says that motivation comes from autonomy (teachers want to have some control over their work and growth), mastery (teachers want to get better at their craft), and purpose (teachers want to see how what they do matters in the big-picture.) Motivation comes from feeling good about your work and from feeling supported by instructional coaches. If you only do one thing, watch Pink’s video, if it doesn’t rosify your glasses, I don’t know what will!

  1. Remember, classroom management is absolutely foundational to teaching and learning.

Excellent teachers know how to run a classroom, how to manage children, how to differentiate instructional experiences, and how to proactively ward off poor choices. Building relationship with students is key to effective management. Differentiated instruction is too. If you are working with a teacher who cannot manage a classroom, helping her/him with that, is job-number-one! Look back at the quotes from the interviewees above. Those quotes apply to our work with teachers. Support teachers where they are. Be where they need you to be. Helping with classroom management is a gift we can give teachers who struggle and we should give it freely and without judgement.

  1. NEVER stop learning and model continuous learning for teachers.

Instructional coaches, we cannot allow ourselves to put on know-it-all airs. There is no room for ego in coaching. Reach out to other teachers. Build a professional learning network, tag a mentor or two for yourself, and never be afraid to admit that you have questions or need help. Study, read, write, talk, reach out! Use Twitter, Pinterest, lesson plan wikis, Google Docs (the list is endless) to share ideas and ask questions. Keep learning in low stress ways and show teachers how to do the same.Effective coaches are reflective learners. Reflection leads to questions. Do not be afraid to ask them!

Those are the promises that have served me well in my work coaching fellow educators. As the new school year draws closer, I will continue to shine my rose-colored glasses and wear them with pride. I hope that you put yours on too!

About our Guest Author: Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate student. She currently is a Library Media Specialist for the St. Croix Falls SD in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, consults with local school districts, and writes for We Teach We Learn.

* For a version of this post as it relates to teachers coaching children, click here.

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