Being a classroom teacher is rewarding, fast-paced, and all sorts of crazy (the good kind of crazy)…but teaching is also tiring, maddening, and sometimes unbearably hard to do well. As I transitioned into my new role as an instructional coach this past May, part of me believed I would never find another job that perfectly balanced challenge, change, and contentment like teaching did for me.
Although my audience has shifted, my new role has similar challenges and rewards, and as a result, it feels like I never really stopped teaching at all. As any great teacher knows, though, you’ve got to have some tricks up your sleeve to survive the highs and lows of the school year. My experience as an instructional coach has helped me realize that we need some practical tips to do our job well too! From resistant teachers and administrators, to low morale and a lack of district funding, there’s no shortage of obstacles instructional coaches face as they fulfill their responsibilities. These six suggestions have aided my journey from classroom teacher to instructional coach, and I hope they can help you too!
1. Stay Positive!
Negativity spreads like wildfire. And trust me, a career in education isn’t easy. Teachers are expected to work their magic amidst a variety of imperfect circumstances. That reality breeds discontent, creates low morale, and fosters resentment. Although instructional coaches are empathetic to the plight of classroom teachers, they can’t share in spreading negativity. Rather, instructional coaches possess the power to curate a culture of positivity in the districts they serve. So, view new initiatives with an open mind, focus on what you CAN control, and always let your words and actions promote positive change.
2. Be Over Prepared
Double-check…no, triple-check everything. Are your presentation materials ready? Do you have the correct bell schedule? Who do you have appointments with today? What time do you need to be there? Did you bring everything you need? Does the media center or classroom have display hook-ups? Are you ready to explain any aspect of a certain digital tool or instructional strategy, even if you were planning on focusing elsewhere?
Needless to say, the role of an instructional coach is fluid and ever-adapting. If you’re not overly prepared, you will be consumed by the pace the job demands. Take time to thoroughly examine your presentation materials, your schedule, and your essentials list. Prepare for any and every question. Take the guesswork out of your daily schedule and be reliable.
3. Know Your Role
Walking the line between teachers and administrators can be precarious. You’ve got to meet the demands and expectations of everyone to do your job effectively. But remember, you’re there to be an ally to the great teaching and learning already taking place in the district. Although you’re a “coach” by name, you’re not anyone’s superior. The more time you spend collaborating, co-teaching, and helping teachers the better. Make yourself available, share the amazing work of others, and champion learning.
4. Expect the Unexpected
Well, I’ve only been an instructional coach for several months and I already have a laundry list of “oopsies” or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ to fill a career. Stuff happens. The wifi stops working. Your presentation won’t load. There’s a microphone error. The LMS is glitching. Teachers ask questions you have no answer for. Walk through those scenarios before they happen. Know that it’s okay to crack a joke or say “I don’t know” when things don’t go right. Lastly, stay calm. Remember, it happens to everyone!
5. Build Relationships
Building rapport with your peers is single-best way to make your job easier. Listen to the teachers you work with. Get to know them personally. Understand their strengths and limitations and put in the work to build relationships before you put in the work to build lesson plans. The more you know about your colleagues, the more effective you’ll be as an instructional coach.
6. Bring Snacks (Lots of Them)
I didn’t realize the value of this statement until I completed nine back-to-back sessions of LMS training in a six-hour period of time. I barely had enough time to run out for a quick bathroom break, much less stop and drink some water or nibble on a light snack. By the 7th or 8th session, I was complete toast. You thought teachers had to eat lunch quickly? Depending on the schedule, some coaches are lucky to carve out enough time to wash down a granola bar with a lukewarm bottle of water. The moral of the story is: take care of yourself. Also, bring a lot of snacks.
These tips have helped me grow into my new role as an instructional coach, and I hope they help you too! Remember, just like teaching, coaching is rewarding, ever-changing, and challenging…but it’s totally worth it!