Guest post: From teacher to coach (The more things change…)

Most instructional coaches start their journey in the classroom. Many of us are classroom teachers that find themselves either seeking out coaching roles or being asked to move into the role. Having successful experiences in the classroom does translate well into the coaching role, but there are some differences. It’s important to think about what knowledge you already have that you can bring to your role as a coach, but it is also important to think about what new skills you will need to nurture so that you can be just as successful as a coach.

For me, I am currently in a split role. I have four classes of 6th grade math and two release periods to serve as a math coach for teachers in my 6-8th grades middle school building.
Being new to coaching, as well as still having one foot in teaching, gives me an opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences often. Here’s my take:


One of the biggest overlaps between teaching and coaching is the fact that both depend heavily on relationships. To be successful as a classroom teacher, it is important to build relationships with your students. As Rita Pierson says so well, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” This goes for coaching as well. Teachers won’t want to learn from and with you if they don’t like you! Building relationships with teachers is key and you might find many of your “coaching conversations” are actually an informal conversation in the hall. It might start with talking about their weekend, their kids, or just how the day is going and can turn into a thoughtful chat about pedagogy or a new idea to try in the classroom. To help me build my conversations skills, I’m diving into a book by Jim Knight called Better Conversations.

On the flip side of this will be the moments when your relationship with a teacher is strained or difficult in some way. Just like we need to be patient with students, we need to be patient with adults as well. Perhaps the tension is coming from the fact that the teacher is nervous about change or sees working with a coach as signifying a weakness in their teaching. Whatever the source of the tension, be patient but available. Watch for little moments to connect over something outside of school and take advantage of informal conversations to show that you are open and willing to work together professionally.


Perhaps you have heard of moving teaching practice from being a “sage on the stage” to being a “guide on the side.” For me, I think there is a place for a little of both in the classroom. However, I definitely have shifted my teaching practice to being more of a facilitator of learning. I think about how to design a lesson to give students an experience that helps them learn rather a lecture and note-taking lesson.

Many times, as a coach, you are asked to lead professional development (PD). Thinking of how to lead participants through a professional learning experience, as opposed to listening to you “lecture” is important. Think about the most beneficial PD that you have attended. What made it good? Resources shared? Conversations? Something that pushed your thinking forward? Try to design that type of experience for teachers.


We work in a time where you almost can’t go one day without hearing the word “data” mentioned in a school. Data is important but what it is used for is really what matters most. In our classrooms we set goals for ourselves as teachers and for our students. We should have a desired outcome for learning and our work should move us towards that goal.

Goal setting is equally important in coaching. Sitting down with teachers and hearing what they want to accomplish helps frame the work that you do together. While you might have some goals in mind, make sure that you don’t lose sight of the goals that teachers have as well. This also goes back to that relationship that is so important and also building trust.


One thing that is very different for me between my role as a teacher and coach is my experience level. Many of us had quite a few years in the classroom to refine our practice. For me, it’s been twelve. Now, as a new coach, I’m a little outside my comfort zone because I’m trying something new. Sure, there are the overlaps between the roles, and I certainly don’t feel like a first year teacher. However, the inexperience with coaching does lead to the worry: am I doing this right? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle of yes and no. I’m sure there are things that I am doing right and I have gotten some good feedback from teachers and administrators. However, whenever you are trying something new, you are going to make mistakes. I’m learning to be patient with myself as I learn this new role, but also to seek out ways to learn more. I’m reading books, finding other coaches to talk to and observe, watching videos or webinars, and reflecting daily. There is always room to learn and grow, especially when something is so new.


Another difference between the roles of teacher and coach is learning to accommodate the needs of adult learners. An instructional coach’s role should be non-evaluative, which is very different from the role of a teacher where you will be giving a grade. I borrowed the idea of giving teachers feedback in the format of “compliments and considerations” from another coach in my district. I like the structure and even refined it a bit so that I mostly try to give “considerations” in the form of questions. For example, instead of saying “you should have a bellringer,” I say something like “what is something students could do so that learning begins when they first walk into class?” Asking more questions, instead of giving suggestions, has helped me shift from acting like an expert with all the answers (not my goal at all!) to being more collaborative. When I’m working alongside a teacher, the feeling is now more of a peer-to-peer and our ideas are better than what either person would have come up with on their own.


I wrote about the issue of the difference in schedules on my blog a little while ago. It’s important to be aware of the possible tension this can cause so that you can address it as it comes up. Teachers’ schedules are not flexible. You have kiddos in your room at certain times, so good luck if you need to use the restroom! It’s no joke that teachers have bladders of steel. In addition, every part of the day is scheduled with contact time, meetings, and maybe a half hour for lunch. It’s hectic and busy! Coaches are still busy, but tend to have a little more flexibility. This is important so they can meet the needs of the teachers with whom they work, however, it can make some teachers feel like saying, “must be nice to be so flexible.” I can assure you that there is not one coach I know that abuses this flexibility. In fact, many are running themselves ragged going from teacher to teacher (or building to building)!

I think being a successful teacher gives you some great skills that you can translate into your role as coach. Build on those strengths, but be ready to learn some new, different strategies as well. If you have made the transition to coach from teacher, what overlaps have you experienced? Can you think of any differences to add to the list?

About our guest author: Annie Forest has been teaching middle school math for 12 years and is a National Board Certified Teacher. This is her first year working in a split role as a 6th grade math teacher and math instructional coach. Her work as a coach includes working with teachers in a 6-8 middle school building. Annie is passionate about giving all students an equitable mathematics education.

She received the 2014 Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Award for Middle School Teaching and is an Illinois state finalist for the 2015 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She blogs at or you can follow Annie on Twitter @mrsforest.



Guest Post: Growth Mindset- 3 Hard Truths and Some Beautiful Realizations

I remember well the year I felt the reality of growth mindset shift. Operating on the outer growthedge of my comfort zone, I had begun a graduate program to obtain my principalship at the prompting of my own principal and mentor. She had also asked me to lead a “new” model of intervention/enrichment using formative data to personalize learning. At the district level, I was part of a team of incredible educators planning the district rollout of a Thinking Strategies initiative partnership with PEBC/Denver Public Schools. Each of these opportunities was exciting and I was humbled anyone had confidence in my ability to carry out meaningful change for students and teachers. My own self confidence evolved and I grew firm in what I believed about education, became aware of my strengths, and emerged brave in my defense of education best practice. So, why, when I reflect on that time in my life, do I also remember discomfort and friction?

Because, friends, while shifting into the fullness of a growth mindset is- without question – invigorating and empowering (like all the cute social media memes tell us), it’s also hard work. Damn hard.

3 Hard Truths About Growth Mindset

  1. You will become uncomfortable and so might those around you

“Mindset isn’t just about believing. It’s about enacting those beliefs – living them out hour by hour, day by day, plan by plan.” -Carol Tomlinson, VAST Conference, 2014

Here’s the situation- people like predictability. Humans love to know what’s coming next so they can continue to do what they’ve always done and have it work. But when you shift your beliefs about yourself, your students, and your work, actions change. As I learned more, I questioned the status quo. The environment around me became less predictable and that was hard for my colleagues and on a personal level for my family. As I tried new strategies and found better results for students, I challenged my colleagues to do the same; sometimes overtly, but more often by modeling. Many friends celebrated with me and even asked for coaching around new techniques themselves. Others met me with apathy, avoidance, and in some cases indignance (“I’d like to see you try that with my group… It’ll never work…Forget it”).  As I flourished in my learning life, earning an advanced degree, I found myself on the defensive with members of my family who deemed my time and energy toward this end a selfish pursuit.

Know this: As you take a risk to do differently, begin to see different and positive results, and remain steadfast against setbacks, you will grow. As you grow, you are becoming fuller, better, richer for those in your life; students, colleagues, family, and yourself. Keep the faith.

  1. Action required

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, Mrs. Roosevelt.

Growth mindset requires your actions to match your beliefs. The problem for those of us in education is we know what we are “supposed” to say we believe…

  • all children can learn at high levels
  • as a professional, I must develop and learn how to hone my craft
  • data driven instruction is best for students and for school improvement

We also know much of what we must do to make these beliefs part of our everday reality, but we are resistant or unwilling to take action.

Know this: Whether you are a teacher leader, administrator, or instructional coach, you must dance on the line of pressure to action. That pressure begins with modeling, then continues with invitations to join, and becomes a growth mindset culture when these trends emerge:

  • a shift from “these kids/those kids” mentality to a “my practice/our practice” one. By this I mean fewer mentions of what groups of kids can and cannot accomplish to an increased focus on strategies and practices that affect learning on all points of the continuum.
  • thirst for professional knowledge that reaches beyond the dreaded PD hour contractual requirement (ie: book studies, coaching cycles, edcamps, meetups, classroom visits, etc).
  • professional conversations with student data in the center leading to questions, considerations, and agreements to adjust instructional practice…and the fortitude to elevate the consciousness of our colleagues choosing not to contribute to these conversations meaningfully.
  1. Without it, success in our current educational climate is unlikely

“Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning.” -Carol Dweck

A fixed mindset assumes there is a point at which we reach expertise – a feeling of arrival; of having somehow checked all the boxes on the inventory and now we can relax. But if we are to not just survive, but abound in a test focused, impatient initiative-driven educational climate where everyone is looking for the next Balm of Gilead we must, as teacher leader Dave Stuart, Jr. reminds us often, be after “long-term flourishing.”  (Please click on the link and read his article – I simply cannot explain it any better than Stuart does).

Know this: There are “allies in learning” out there if you want this “Growth Mindset” thing for your students and yourself.  Here are a few that inspire me and whose work help me hone my craft:

Dave Stuart, Jr. – teacher leader, author: @davestuartjr

Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset leading researcher,  Professor of Psychology at Stanford University:

Carol Ann Tomlinson – educator, author, speaker

Elena Aguilar – instructional coach, author “The Art of Coaching”, speaker

Jim Knight – research associate in the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project

Jackie Gerstein – educator, author, speaker

About our guest 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.