I became an instructional coach because I wanted to share my expertise with my colleagues, so that more of our students were reaching higher, and achieving greater. I spent six years in the classroom, perfecting my craft as an early elementary educator. So, I thought my experience plus my graduate degree was all I needed to be an effective coach. Oh, how little I knew.
I never envisioned the challenges I would encounter as an instructional leader: coaching outside of my subject area of expertise, the difficulty of change management, and resistance from teachers - all of which led me to struggle in my first year as a coach. I was not accustomed to failure; but failure is one of life’s best teachers. It pushed me to see how naive I was, and that I had to grow my skills if I was truly going to develop my teachers.
I was very lucky to have a principal that believed in me and provided me with support and advice that helped me to grow as an instructional leader. In fact there were several strategies and supports that I benefitted from as a new coach, ones that I've seen others benefit from too, that will help you strengthen your instructional coaching practice.
What is your coaching persona?
In my case, we first began working on identifying my coaching persona - who was I as a coach. I was trying to emulate what I saw on the instructional videos because those were best practices. But that wasn’t me. I wasn’t being authentic to my true self; my teachers knew that, so my action steps and coaching support fell flat. I had to spend time reflecting on how I wanted to show up as a coach.
As a new coach, spend time fleshing out what your leadership style is. Are you direct and assertive, easily taking charge and making decisions or more analytical and organized, enjoy drafting detailed and strategic coaching plans, or empathetic and facilitative, asking questions to guide teachers to their action step? No one style is better than another. It’s about what aligns to your persona.
How might you structure your own learning & development?
We used my network’s leader rubric to set goals and strategically plan my growth and development. There were numerous, daily opportunities for me to become a better coach. I co-observed teachers with my school principal, discussed and debriefed the observations, and calibrated on the teacher’s coaching support. This enabled me to strengthen my coaching lens to ensure I was appropriately using our teacher development rubric. She would also observe me during my coaching conversations with teachers and provide me with both affirming and adjusting feedback afterwards. She served as a mirror, reflecting how I showed up in conversations with teachers. We practiced and rehearsed difficult conversations.
We also co-developed professional development for my teachers, and she coached me in real-time during the session if conversations were veering off-track. She also provided me with feedback on the weekly professional development I led with teachers. In fact, it is important that you work with your school leader to create a support plan that addresses how you will develop as a coach. There should be multiple opportunities throughout the day for you to strengthen your skillset.
How can you expand your network?
To become a better coach, I also developed my coaching network. Many times as a coach, I felt like I had to always have the answer to every problem teachers brought to me. When you have an expansive coaching circle, it alleviates that pressure to always know. I could easily reach out and ask for resources, materials, exemplars, protocols, etc. If I had a coaching dilemma, my network would serve as thought partners to help me resolve the matter. Whenever there were district meetings or I had the opportunity to visit other schools, I made it a point to connect with their academic/instructional coaches and exchange contact information. I encourage you to cultivate a network of experienced coaches that can serve as mentors and lifelines.
Becoming an effective instructional coach is like learning to ride your bike all over again because you’re applying new skills. You will feel stretched and uncomfortable but learning these new skills isn’t completely unfamiliar. You may require those training wheels in the beginning until you feel acclimated to your new role. You should advocate for what you need, and write a plan that addresses your areas of growth and development. Solicit feedback from your school leader. And, consistently measure your progress and celebrate your success along the way.