No team ever won the championship without the help and guidance of a good coach. Even the Tom Brady’s and LeBron James’s of the world need a coach, so it should be no different for teachers! There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it: Coaching is a hard job, but it’s often misunderstood and not very well received in many schools.
Being an effective coach requires much more than being an effective teacher. Sure, most education coaches were good teachers and leaders, but there is much more to it than that. Even coaches need coaching in the beginning!
Years ago, I was plucked from the safe and controlled environment of my classroom and placed in a coaching role. There was no formal training, nor was there very much research that I could access on the practice of coaching teachers. Yes, I was a highly effective and successful teacher, but I was working with children. Adults were a whole other story.
I was fortunate enough to have several good mentors to guide me through, but it still took a while for me to figure out how to be successful in this role. Over the last 20 years, as my journey took me into various administrative roles, it is the role of the coach that I still find the most rewarding.
So what does it take to be a successful coach? Here are some of the skills required by a coach to lead their team of teachers to their own championship!
All coaches need to know how to observe instruction. What specific outcomes are expected in a particular lesson? How long should you stay in each classroom? What types of notes or data should be collected? Is it alright to interrupt a lesson? Should you stay stationary or move throughout the room? What should you see or hear?
Measurable goals need to be set for students, and they should be based on observations as the coach supports and assists the teacher with attaining those goals. These goals should reflect what is currently happening in the classroom. Keeping the goals student-based will help you determine whether or a difference is being made; it also keeps the focus off the teacher and on the students. When coaching, is essential to remember that the main focus is the student outcome!
Feedback needs to be provided for every session observed. When is it appropriate to give feedback? Should feedback be written or verbal? Is all the information you gathered shared with the teacher? What about the administration? Do you share teacher feedback with the administration? Are you keeping all feedback student-centered?
As a coach, it is often necessary to model a lesson. A good coach needs to present lessons for teachers to observe. They must have a deep understanding of instructional strategies and content. It is also imperative that the teacher who is observing is actively engaged in collecting written information during the presentation of the lesson. This is not a time for the teacher to take a break or grade papers, so all modeling needs to be highly structured.
Coaches should be leading the charge when it comes to professional development. With more flexibility than teachers, a coach has more time to attend all curriculum-based training and bring that information back to teachers. This is also true for testing and classroom management. One of the biggest obstacles to effective instruction is poor classroom management. Without instructional control, a teacher is just spinning their wheels. It is the job of the coach to assist by making sure that instruction is not being blocked.
Every teacher is unique and diverse in his or her own way—much like the students in a classroom. All personal beliefs and assumptions must be set aside as you develop individual relationships with each teacher. Group dynamics and emotional intelligence need to be factored in, as it is important to respect each teacher and acknowledge that they possess the necessary skills to be successful.
It’s important to recognize that it can be a lonely job at times—especially if you are the only coach in a school or a district. You are in a unique position because it isn’t appropriate to share specific information with fellow teachers over lunch in the lounging area. Just as teachers wouldn’t share private student stories with other students, you shouldn’t share private teacher stories with other teachers. When coaching, the teachers, in a sense, are your students!
Trust is essential for any teacher/coach relationship. Teacher coaches have the unique role of influencing teachers, which impacts students and test results. If a teacher feels threatened or intimidated, then the likelihood of success is drastically reduced. It is important that coaches receive training in building and fostering relationships, especially if they are now responsible for coaching their former colleagues. It is usually best to bring in a coach from another building or utilize an outside agency. This prevents past history, roles, or relationships from hindering a coach’s effectiveness.
Bringing all this together is difficult, and this is why all new coaches need coaching themselves. It is always recommended to bring in outside assistance to work with novice coaches. It is what I call “the residency.” Much like a doctor, a coach needs a period of working side-by-side with a seasoned coach to walk them through the process. It is during this residency that such skills as active listening, guiding a teacher to a solution, and even quick data collection can be demonstrated and facilitated. Coaching teachers have tremendous impacts on schools. It bridges the gap between teachers and administration while keeping the important conversations regarding instruction, student outcome, and classroom management in the forefront. In addition, it keeps the data discussion going, which always provides a transparent picture of what is really happening in a classroom.
Coaching teachers is hard work, and it is most successful when coaches are the ones who have learned their craft from an expert!