Wednesday, July 6, 2016

5 Things No One Told Me About Instructional Coaching

No matter how detailed the job description or how many tips you've gotten from insiders, every job has its surprises.  While writing my last post A Baker's Dozen of Essential Skills for Instructional Coaches, I found myself reflecting on those aspects of the work that no one told me about and I wasn't expecting.

Here are the 5 things no one told me about instructional coaching, as well as a few tips for working through these aspects of the craft.

1. Sometimes you'll feel like a Lone Wolf: It's likely you are the only instructional coach in your building, and you may even be traveling to multiple schools.  While hopefully you are a welcomed team member in your school, it's unlikely you have any job-alike team at your site.  This can leave you sometimes feeling like you're on an island for a couple different reasons:
  • There's just nobody that seems to entirely get those unique challenges that come with being an instructional coach.  This is especially challenging on the rough days. 
  • You're constantly feeling like a third wheel during team-based experiences, whether professional or social. 
Remedies for Lone Wolf Syndrome: 
  • Embrace the idea of going stag! When you network among the different teams in your building, rather than sticking with one group, it allows you to build stronger relationships with the staff. This will make your coaching partnerships so much stronger.  Coaches go stag for a reason!
  • Use this networking mentality to be a connector.  There is often little opportunity for teachers to connect with other staff members beyond their own department or grade level.  Teachers will find it incredibly valuable when you can help them make meaningful connections.
  • Build a strong coaching PLN, with coaches in your district, surrounding districts, and online. #Educoach is a great place to start. 
2. Sometimes you'll feel like a Utility Player: Coaches can often be asked to support teachers with many different needs, as well as many different improvement initiatives.  While this can keep your job continually fresh and challenging, you are also subject to feeling scatterbrained and as though you are not making a significant impact in any particular area if you aren't careful.  You may also feel ill-equipped to support the vast variety of needs, and find yourself questioning your own expertise. 

Remedies for Utility Player Syndrome: 
  • Be a willing learner. As long as you are willing to learn new ideas and seek out the resources to understand, you will be successful. 
  • Rely on the expertise of those around you.  Coaches do not, and should not be the experts of all things.  Coaching is about partnering with others, and pairing your expertise to do great things for kids. 
  • Keep your eye on the prize. I learned so much by thinking about Diane Sweeney's ideas of coaches using a 60% rule. This is a helpful way for coaches to make sure they don't get sucked into so many side projects that there isn't any time left for coaching.  Read more about Sweeney's 60% rule in her post Getting to 60%
3. Sometimes you'll feel like a Passenger Seat Driver: Coaching is about partnership and supporting teachers in accomplishing their goals for students.  Allowing teachers to be in the driver's seat is important, but sometimes challenging.  There are times when a coach can feel like the teacher has made a quick exit, pulled over, and kicked you out of the car!  You are left standing on the sidelines wondering what you said or did that caused this coaching partnership to end so abruptly. This has happened to me multiple times, sometimes when I suggested co-teaching or at other times when the teacher said they were just too busy to continue working together. 

Remedies for Passenger Seat Driver Syndrome
  • Make sure to share with staff all the ways you can partner (co-planning, co-teaching, etc.) and allow teachers choice in how they would like to work together.  
  • Give yourself the time to allow trust to build.  No matter how supportive and positive you are, it's vulnerable to work with a coach.  
  • Be reflective of your coaching moves. Did you allow the student goals as established by the teacher to drive the work?  Did you push too hard? Or is there a different timeframe when the teacher might be able to devote more time to working together? 
4. Sometimes you'll feel like the Face of Every Initiative: As schools and districts decide on different improvement initiatives, coaches are likely asked for insight in how to support teachers in embracing the change.  I actually love this work. Partnering with teachers to find what works in the classroom that can help an entire school improve is exciting!  If your district or school has a lot of initiatives, however, this can quickly leaving you feeling like the poster child of change. Coaches must be careful here because teachers may lose sight of the idea that coaches are there to support teachers in reaching their goals for kids, rather than drive initiatives. 

Remedies for the Face of Change Syndrome: 
  • Know the why.  If you understand the need for change, and how the improvement initiative can support student learning, you will be an authentic believer in the work. 
  • Remember that education is an incredibly complex profession, and there are often many areas that need improvement. While it's important to focus improvement efforts, we must also embrace that we can always get better at more than one thing at a time!
  • Again, be protective of your time to do coaching work.  If you don't protect your time to do the actual work of coaching, no one else will.  
5. Sometimes you'll feel like a Catalyst for Change: Coaching is incredibly powerful work because you are working with teachers who want to improve their craft and see students learn. This is so incredibly rewarding!  When you see students reach a goal or have an 'aha' moment, because a teacher was willing to try something with your support, there is no better feeling.  When a teacher overcomes a challenge that has been exhausting them or realizes through reflection a way to meet the needs of kids, you realize that coaching makes a difference!  

Remedies: Savor it!