A New Role
This time last year, I was nervously excited after accepting a 6-12 science instructional coach position. It was not an easy decision to step away from my role as a biology teacher in an interdisciplinary PBL program; I had been wonderfully challenged more than ever before in my 16 year teaching career as I worked collaboratively with other Innovation Institute teachers to develop and implement the program, and to design interdisciplinary projects. However, instructional coaching seemed like a great opportunity to grow professionally by further developing interpersonal and leadership skills that I had been using as a collaborative team member, PLC facilitator, and Innovation Institute Program Coordinator. The focus on coaching science teachers was also a perfect fit, as I have been so inspired by recent shifts in education required by CCSS and NGSS.
The Importance of Relationships, Trust and Growth Mindset
I was certainly nervous about being hired as an instructional coach with no prior experience (particularly since the coaching model was also new!), but I also felt that the most important aspect of being a good instructional coach was to focus on building relationships and nurturing trust. I also knew that my focus on encouraging a growth mindset in students would also benefit me in my work with teachers. I have learned so much this year reading dozens of books, listening to podcasts, watching videos, attending the NSTA conference in Atlanta and the Marzano Lab in Denver, working with teachers, and collaborating with the rest of the K-12 coaching team at Shanghai American School. I am much more aware of my strengths – and also very aware of how much more I want to learn! However, I still feel very strongly that relationships, trust, and a growth mindset are the most important aspects of both successful coaching and building effective collaborative teams. I am also even more aware that it takes patience and time to build relationships and trust, as well as encourage growth mindsets.
A New Coaching Model
When I started as an instructional coach at the beginning of this school year, instructional coaches had only existed at our school for two years. This year, our school shifted from having three instructional coaches in the MS and only one instructional coach in the HS to having a team of five subject-specific coaches working across both divisions. In this context, I knew that I would have to be patient while teachers, coaches, and administrators worked to build a shared understanding of the roles that coaches can play and the benefits coaches can bring to individual teachers and collaborative teams in our shared desire to improve student learning. Since instructional coaching is still so new at our school, it was really important for me to reinforce repeatedly that:
- coaches do not evaluate teachers
- coaches work with ALL teachers
- coaches do not need to have all of the answers in order to help facilitate professional learning for individual teachers or teams
How to Build Relationships?
A blog post from Insight Education Group emphasizes that instructional coaching programs are more likely to “yield real improvement in teaching and learning” if they are “grounded in a strong, shared understanding of effective coaching.” Attempting to clarify the role of an instructional coach is one strategy mentioned by @MrsRyder58 in a TeachBoost blog post entitled Strategies for Building Relationships as an Instructional Coach. She also mentions classroom visits as another important strategy, which I hope to do in a more intentional and strategic way next year. I really like Megan’s suggestion to create a newsletter for teachers based upon “lessons in the classroom, teacher collaboration, and resources.” This would help teachers to be more aware of what is happening in the school, provide an opportunity to celebrate successes, and ensure teachers know how coaches can help improve student learning and support professional growth.
The Importance of Empathy
While I understood that it would take time for our new coaching model to be fully implemented, I also had to practice patience with respect to waiting for teachers to ask for support. It is not up to the coach to determine what changes or improvements could be made. Another TeachBoost post by @ShastaLooper entitled Bringing Empathy to Coaching reminds me that it is not only patience that is needed, but also empathy. As a new instructional coach, I have been learning the importance of the following aspects of empathy suggested by @ShastaLooper:
- setting aside assumptions,
- helping teachers to recognize their own strengths and areas in which they want to grow, and
- listening to understand and question.
Areas of Growth
Listening to understand is one area in which I still need more practice and reflection, as there have been many times this year when I acted as a consultant or collaborator in order to help build understanding about pedagogy, instruction or assessment – particularly with respect to the shifts required by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While these roles are appropriate at times, I am very aware that much of the power lies in wearing the coaching ‘hat’. As I think ahead to my second year in this role, I am looking forward to creating and taking advantage of opportunities to coach ‘heavy’ much more often than I am coaching ‘light’ (Are You Coaching Heavy or Light? by Joellen Killion, Learning Forward).
Building a Culture of Collaborative Inquiry & Reflective Practice
I am beyond inspired that our K-12 instructional coaching team has been empowered by the leaders at our school to take our commitment to teachers and collaborative teams to the next level by working to build a culture of collaborative inquiry and reflective practice. While I am definitely looking forward to a restful summer and lots of quality time with my family and friends, I am already feeling optimistic and excited about my second year as an instructional coach. I am beyond grateful for this amazing learning opportunity.
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.
I reflect and I learn.
– Carmen Freisen
(Costa & Garmston, 2012)