Facing the Great Resignation? Support Instructional Coaches
A recent Forbes article said, “If the big challenge of 2021 was to get children back into the classroom, the challenge for 2022 is to keep teachers there.” With statistics showing a 66% rise in school-based departures and schools across the country scrambling to fill teacher and substitute shortages each week — all while working to bounce back from the pandemic — the need to support our teaching staff has never been greater.
Imagine a school day for a less experienced teacher right now. After teaching a full day, upholding COVID policies, working to address unfinished learning, and attempting to build in social-emotional supports for children, your teacher packs up her bag and is ready to go home — where she needs to work on lesson plans and updating her gradebook. An instructional coach stops her and asks if they can meet about what he observed in her classroom. He’d like to have done this meeting earlier in the day, but he was covering classes due to substitute shortages.
The meeting is quick: he outlines what he saw and tells her what she needs to work on.
“When you check for understanding, you need to ensure participation from all students, so that you have an accurate read of the classroom. Do you have any questions? Do you need anything from me?”
The teacher shakes her head "no," exhausted and now, doubting whether or not she’s even good at this.
For education leaders, much of what’s currently causing burnout for the teaching profession is outside of our locus of control. But how we build teachers’ confidence and capacity, how we foster strong relationships among those at our campus, and how we bring in moments of joy — those things are very much within our control, and they play a big part in whether teachers stay or leave.
Why Do Instructional Coaches Need Support? and How Do We Support Them?
This year especially, we saw schools and districts use ESSER funds to hire instructional coaches since coaching has a greater impact on student learning than most school-based interventions. That said, there are several addressable challenges to supporting instructional coaches themselves:
- Time: Without a dedicated course load, many coaches are the first line of defense to cover classes when long-term staffing or substitute shortages leave a campus short-staffed. This gives coaches less time to hone their craft, observe classrooms, and thoughtfully support their team — which can unintentionally lead to rushed or ineffective coaching, like in the story above. When we support instructional coaches, it needs to be with micro-learning that can quickly expand their knowledge and be applied.
- Relationships: For coaching to be effective, teachers need to be open with their coaches about what’s working and what’s not — this takes vulnerability and strong psychological safety.
- Role: Instructional coaches often navigate a role where they don’t have positional authority. As such, teachers may prioritize feedback from their evaluator or administrator first. To alleviate this barrier, great coaches are able to build on the relationships they have with their team — a skill and habit we help coaches build.
- Too Much Change: Asking teachers to shift their practice right now isn’t easy. Everyone knows teachers have been on the front line of navigating changes since 2020, and giving critical feedback when people are already overwhelmed doesn’t feel good. That’s why coaches should focus on helping teachers build small habits that lead to big change. Check out our thoughts on that here.
How Can Great Coaching Reduce Staffing Shortages? What Can You Do?
At Education Elements, we believe instructional coaching is about much more than helping teachers get better at their craft; it starts with truly connecting with your team. Our own virtual courses focus on helping coaches and leaders build strong psychological safety with those they support and intentionally find ways to lift teachers up from their day-to-day with moments of joy and new learning. When your teachers are confident in their skills, connected to their team, and have moments of continual growth, they’re more likely to stay in their role.
We know that instructional coaches can support teachers’ growth; and, we know coaches need support themselves to do their job well.
Here are three actions you can take in the next month to invest in instructional coaches and tackle the great resignation:
- Keep coaching time sacred — While it may be easier to ask coaches to cover classes when teachers are out, do what you can to protect time that coaches have directly with teachers, especially those who need the most support. You might do this by having other administrators cover classes or by scheduling class coverage around these times.
- Provide on-demand professional learning opportunities for coaches or leaders who coach — Everyone is so busy and scheduling time for traditional professional development can be particularly challenging. That's one reason we are excited to offer virtual courses that provide bite-size learning for instructional coaches. Learn more about what this can mean for your school or district in this video.
- Get intentional about your retention and recruitment strategies — Join us for an immersive 2-day institute this spring to learn best practices and work with leaders from across the country to design short- and long-term strategies to strengthen your candidate pipeline and support long-term retention.
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About Courtney Flanders
Courtney Flanders is an Associate Partner, working with districts and their school teams to implement meaningful changes in sustainable ways. She taught high school English in both traditional and projects-based-learning classrooms before moving into school leadership where she co-founded a personalized learning high school. She earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism and Political Science from Syracuse University and an M.Ed in Urban Leadership from Southern Methodist University. Courtney is a native New Yorker and currently lives in Texas with her husband, son, and their two dogs.