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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 www.showyourthinkingmath.blogspot.com or you can follow Annie on Twitter @mrsforest.

 

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Guest post: I walk the walk: How I use technology to be a better instructional coach

What kind of hypocrite would I be if, as an instructional coach, I pushed teachers to cropped-slice.pngeffectively use a variety of instructional technologies in their classrooms but I did not use some in my own work?

Certainly, I would not be leading by example. And, personally speaking, I feel like I would be letting everyone down. I would compare that kind of hypocrisy to a sports coach who wants to keep his or her team competitive but does not know the fundamentals of the sport or the current trends and topics that rule it.

One of the philosophies of coaching that I constantly keep in the back of my mind is that I do not need to know everything in order to train someone else, I simply need to have the necessary skills to make them better. That is why I (who holds teaching certifications in English and music) do not shy away from coaching teachers who teach subjects that I am not qualified to teach or consider myself to be an expert in.

So, as it pertains to the effective use of technology, here is how I use a wide variety to be a better instructional coach and to make my job and my life as easy as possible… and, as one of my supervisors defines leadership, help make everyone else’s jobs easier as well.

Google Apps (Note: I work at a “Google Apps For Education” school)

I have been using Google Drive for the better part of a half decade now and it does not disappoint. This cloud-based storage app allows me to keep track of all of my files, documents, data, etc. The most useful feature of Drive is how I can share work and collaborate with my colleagues. If I have a file that I think will benefit them, or if I create a file so that we can share editing rights, I simply share it with another teacher and the file now appears in their Drive as well.

In order to share editing rights on files with teachers as I mentioned in the paragraph above, I find Google Docs to be the easiest way to do it. Sometimes I will assist a teacher with planning a lesson or unit, or I may be asked to look over a lesson plan before I or administrators visit a classroom. When teachers and I can share editing access to a document, we can add, remove or change anything in it, or simply leave comments for each other right in the document itself.

The Google app that has become surprisingly essential to my work as a coach has been Google Forms. I have used this survey-creating app for multiple purposes. For one, I created this form to distribute at the beginning of the school year to help generate some data and establish an early focus for my work with the teachers. I also use Forms to track my interactions with teachers – I use this form when I visit classrooms and this form when I meet with teachers outside of the classroom. The coolest feature of Forms is that you can set each form to have its responses automatically inputted into a spreadsheet to keep track of the data they provide, which gives me a nice segue into my next Google app.

Whether generated automatically from Forms or created independently, the spreadsheets from Google Sheets allow me to keep track of survey responses and data that provides a foundation and vital feedback for my coaching relationships/cycles with teachers. I keep these sheets in my Google Drive of course, and use their data before, during and after I meet with teachers to follow up on a classroom visit or help them tackle a particular area of instruction they are concerned about.

Finally, another amazingly important Google app for me is Google Calendar. I am in no way saying that classroom teachers are not very busy people. However, upon leaving the classroom and trying to be available to all of the teachers in my building, I realized I needed to be on top of my task prioritization and time management games. It was so hard to keep up with where I needed to be and when until I started using Calendar religiously. At the end of each week I set a schedule for the following week. I make sure to start with the highest-priority events, which for me at my school means duties. From there I will schedule time for important meetings and then time spent with individual teachers, either in their classrooms on their duty or prep time. Great features that I use in Calendar are creating and accessing multiple calendars all in one place, adding people to the events I create, and syncing my calendars with Outlook – still being used by the school as the main email client.

Social Media and other forms of community collaboration

My use of these tools is largely for the purpose of bettering myself as an educational leader and coach so that I am more capable of supporting the teachers I work with.

Twitter – Since the fall I have been using Twitter so much that I am now following approximately 1,100 people and have at least tripled my number of followers to nearly 600. Not all of them are fellow educators, but the ones who are probably do not even know how much they have meant to my development and the development of the staff I work with. I have used this platform to expand my personal learning network (PLN), participate in various chats, and even create unique hashtags to connect teachers I work with and other educational and instructional coaches in my area.

Voxer – I began using this push-to-talk, walkie talkie app on both my Android phone and on my work computer to be able to join groups and connect with other educators across the country and across the globe. Educators have taken to Voxer to use it as a way of connecting groups of people with similar interests to continue and enhance Twitter chats, ask and answer education-related questions, share ideas and collaborate on projects, and in general, simply shoot the breeze with others in the same profession. I have yet to introduce it to my colleagues, but I can even see this as a useful tool that we can use as a staff to be able to help each other since everyone always points out that a lack of time is their number one concern.

Slack – This thread-style productivity tool is the one I have used the least but would like to use more. I recently invited all the teachers in my school to join me on slack. On there you can communicate and share with everyone in the group or create multiple channels or individual messages. For example, you can share with only the math teachers or just the teacher whose class you will visit the next day. What I like best about Slack is that it seems very laid back and informal versus annoying company-wide group emails.

I am probably even forgetting some other useful tech tools that I use as an instructional coach, but these are my go-tos, the ones I use the most and the ones that I consider to be most useful for my needs and the needs of the teachers I support. I have always and will always push myself to be skilled in technology and this is no different, except that now I am also using it as a way to lead by example and set a tone for continuing to bring the teaching and learning process into the 21st century…

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey

About our Guest Author: Dan Kreiness serves the Derby (CT) Public Schools as a secondary level Instructional Coach based in the middle school. Before taking over this position in the fall of 2015, Dan helped create the intervention program at Derby Middle School as the Reading Interventionist. Dan began his teaching career spending nearly eight years in the New York City Department of Education at two intermediate schools as an eighth grade English language arts teacher, interventionist and middle level literacy coach. Dan holds Masters in Adolescent Education and Educational Leadership and has specific interests in school administration and leadership, educational technology and student engagement. Connect with Dan on Twitter at @dkreiness or his blog at https://leaderoflearning.wordpress.com/.

Guest Post: Dealing with Resistance

Do you feel like a salesman as you try to get teachers to enroll c&cin a coaching cycle? Have you ever run into barricades put up by teachers uninterested in working with an Instructional Coach? Perhaps you’ve encountered a teacher or administrator who is quite vocal about a change in practice being unnecessary. While the challenges described above can be intimidating for a new or veteran Instructional Coach, there are a few steps I take when dealing with resistance.

First, do not take a teacher’s standoffishness personally. There may be circumstances or personal experiences you aren’t aware of that are prohibiting a teacher from opening up. If the building or district had a coach before you were hired, it could be the previous coach didn’t have good rapport with the teacher or did something to damage the trust that is a vital part of a teacher-coach relationship. No matter the reason, it is important that you do not avoid the teacher. Even if they are not directly reaching out to you, you can still make a point of having an authentic and positive interaction with them each day. If nothing else, they will begin to see you as someone safe to approach, but hopefully they will begin to show signs of being open to collaborate with you.

Second, be persistent. Teaching is a passion and a craft, and you will encounter teachers who are satisfied with their practice, and believe what they are doing is working for their learners. They may be correct, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.  However, even the best athletes have coaches, and you can remind teachers that you are their to support what they’re currently doing and to work with them on their terms. Your persistence does not need to be intimidating or overwhelming, but rather an opportunity to respectfully remind teachers that you are available, the types of supports you can provide, and that you are there to learn alongside them.

Finally, keep your eye out for windows of opportunity. Any chance you have to make a connection, whether to a personal or professional passion, teachers will begin to see you as a peer, colleague, and someone they can relate to. Windows of opportunity can be as simple as a teacher needing someone to bounce around an idea with during lunch, or sending a video clip or activity resource related to what they’re currently teaching. When you are fully present in conversations, both planned and incidental, and know the curriculum and curricular maps, you will be able to identify and make the most of all opportunities that present themselves.  

Being in the Instructional Coaching position, you recognize the power and value working with a coach can have on teaching and learning, but it can take time for others to recognize the benefit. I have encountered resistance, everyone has. But, by having reflected upon and learned from my experiences, I can honestly say that if keep looking for your windows of opportunity, take your time, and don’t give up, good things will happen.  

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About our Guest Blogger:

Stephanie Laird is an Instructional Coach in Iowa, where she works alongside teachers to affect student learning through the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and community building. She holds an MEd in Curriculum and Instructional Technology from Iowa State University. To connect with Stephanie, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.