Instructional Coaching

4 Ways to Maximize the Benefit of Having an Instructional Coach

Coaches can do a lot to help even veteran teachers improve, especially when teachers know what kinds of support they’re looking for.

March 15, 2021
mapodile / iStock

Much has been written about how to be an effective instructional coach. Some of the best advice, in my opinion, comes from Elena Aguilar, Steve Barkley, Kim Cofino, Joellen KillionJim Knight, and Michael Bungay Stanier. As a middle school instructional coach, I consume books, research articles, podcasts, and webinars to be the best coach I can be for my teachers, but, I wonder, do teachers ever get advice on how to work with a coach? What can teachers do on their end to get the most out of the relationship?

If you’re a teacher at a school or district that is lucky enough to have an instructional coach, the following tips might help you get the maximum benefit of having one on your team.

4 Ways to Get More Out of Having a Coach

1. Don’t wait for the coach to reach out to you. If a new coach is hired, reach out and introduce yourself. Offer to give the coach some background on the school and tips on how to build relationships. As a newbie, they’ll definitely appreciate the guidance. If the newly hired coach has been on the faculty for a while, invite them to your grade-level or department meetings. Even a veteran faculty member has so much to learn about other departments and levels in which they may not have worked before. By sitting in on team meetings, the instructional coach learns more about the history and dynamics of a team and is better equipped to offer assistance in the future.

2. No ask is too large or too small. As an instructional coach, I’ve heard well-intentioned teachers say, “Well, I wanted to ask but I didn’t want to bother you.” Please ask! Coaches can help you with small tasks, such as gathering resources for an upcoming lesson, all the way up to long-term tasks, such as planning a cross-curricular project.

Some of the other tasks I have helped with include: scheduling a guest speaker, consulting on school publications, training teachers on the new interactive board, serving as a facilitator in a potentially contentious parent meeting, teaching a study skills class, and rubric building, as well as many, many other seemingly small but important tasks.

3. Invite them to your class (even if you’re nervous). I get it. I taught for 18 years before becoming an instructional coach, and I was still a bit apprehensive about having another adult watch me teach. Often the instructional coaching model is not set up as an evaluative process, but rather a growth process. Plan to meet with the coach before the class visit to request that they look for something specific, such as the following:

  • Do the boys and girls engage equally in my class?
  • Am I spending too much time on a particular concept or example?
  • Am I effective in my facilitation of conversations during group work?

By requesting that the instructional coach look for something specific before the observation, two things will happen: you will naturally be more self-aware of the issue during your teaching and, therefore, improve on your own, and the coach can follow up with concrete tips and ideas on exactly what you want to improve.

Beyond observations, instructional coaches can co-teach lessons, review student data, or help you video-record your lessons for your own self-observation.

4. Share your successes. Heather Wolpert-Gawron wrote for ACSD in 2016, “Instructional coaches work with many teachers, they have a lot of insight into the daily victories that occur in all classrooms.” Instructional coaches are always on the lookout for these daily victories, but they can’t see them all. If you’re teaching an especially interesting lesson or your students are working on a cool project, let the instructional coach know about it.

The instructional coach also serves as a bridge between classes by sharing out these successes with the larger community. If one science teacher is having the students build models of body systems, no one may know about it unless it’s shared outside the walls of the classroom. Let the coach toot the horn for you. These victories inspire other teachers with creative ideas, and before too long, the culture of creativity spreads like wildfire throughout the school.

Strong teachers want to get even better. As Steve Barkley proposed on a podcast episode titled “Everyone Deserves a Coach,” “The more highly skilled and professional an individual becomes, the more coaching they should receive.” As a middle school math teacher with almost two decades of experience, I was pretty good at my craft, but I certainly had a lot of room to grow. I wish I had had an instructional coach over the years to listen to my half-baked ideas, observe my class and offer specific feedback, help me expand my horizons with multidiscipline projects, and provide up-to-date research and resources. I can’t even imagine how much better of a teacher I could have become.

If you have access to an instructional coach on your campus or in your district, reach out now. Invite them in. Be vulnerable. You’ll be amazed at the many ways you can grow as an educator, and you’ll see the benefits in your students’ engagement and performance. If you’re not sure what to say first, start by sharing this article with your coach to get the conversation going.

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