The role of instructional coaches is similar to that of what the traditional ideas are on what a “coach” is.
Defined on Top End Sports as someone who is responsible for training athletes in a sport by analyzing their performances, instructing in relevant skills and by providing encouragement. But you are also responsible for the guidance of the athlete in life and their chosen sport.
Just like athletics coaches assist athletes, instructional (reading and math) coaches help teachers recognize successes but identify areas for growth through open-mindedness. They support & help teachers become the best version of themselves. Ideally what athletics coaches are also charged with, assisting those to be the best versions of themselves on the field, course, or pool.
After watching, Episode 9: We’re All on the Same Team: A Teacher’s Perspective with Reid Wilson , it was nice to see how other educators’ lives have been impacted through the use of coaching. One quote that really resonated with me was:
“Sun needs to shine, but the grass needs to grow.”- Reid Wilson
This quote specifically stood out, as to me, it shows how all educators are unique in the approaches and methods with their teaching, bringing their passions into their classroom and establishing rapport with students, but it’s everyone’s job, not only administration and coaches to ensure that there is growth. Not just with the students, but that the teachers are also gaining professional development and having job satisfaction. This is the number one thing for teachers to feel satisfied with their work- a feeling of what they’re doing in their classrooms is effective. John Hattie’s work on “collective teacher efficacy”, having an effect size of 1.57, in other words, one of the greatest effects on student learning is “simply” teachers who feel that they can, and who are given the power and tools to do their job best, do.Photo by Micah Hallahan on Unsplash
I have been lucky throughout my career as an educator to work with a number of different math, reading, and tech. coaches, as well as athletics coaches.
At my prior school in Dubai, I was able to meet regularly with the math teachers and coach. As a Special Education Teacher, we generally aren’t assigned to one specific department subject and generally have the freedom to take part in others’ department meetings as we see fit and have time for. I found this experience- of regularly debriefing our lessons with the Math Coach to be invaluable. Starting units with pre-assessments to determine what prior knowledge our students are entering the unit with, as well as then differentiating the unit lessons to ensure all learners will hit their target growth goals; to ending our units, not just with a final assessment of learning, but with a reflection piece asking our students how they feel the unit went for them as well as which lessons, they found to be particularly engaging and ways to improve or change any of the lessons for the future. The guidance our Math Coach provided us, helped us to ask better questions and really looked into how to use the data we collected in a different way to better serve the needs of our students and guide our next steps.
Now at my current school in Moscow, I have worked more with the reading coach. Helping with the students make the transition from grade 5 into the middle school; we were able to adapt my practices and broaden my knowledge of what the elementary students who were entering the middle school were coming up with. This then later on, led to my Orton-Gillingham training and avid use of the Fontas & Pinnell literacy program. These tools have allowed me yet another avenue for tracking reading data and even taking a step back looking at what types of reading errors a student is making and how to then go about teaching the necessary skills to ensure middle school success and close any reading gaps; helping them be a more confident and fluid reader, who can then establish a life long love of reading.
When looking at the role of coaches, from the athletic standpoint, I’m sure everyone who’s ever played a sport or activity can remember a time where they had a coach who helped mold them towards the decisions they were making to become a better… runner, jumper, swimmer, rugby player as opposed to the ones who just shouted and yelled and didn’t help you grow as an athlete. Each season I coach, Cross Country, Swimming, and Track & Field, I strive to help each of my athletes establish goals for themselves, track their progress through personal bests, and reflect on their techniques and form to help lead them to be better and more efficient in their chosen field. I will always cherish my time while playing on a local Russian rugby team, where the coach, a retired USSR rugby player, couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I spoke very little Russian and couldn’t understand a thing he was saying; yet he felt that if he spoke closer to me and louder at me- that I would magically then be able to understand the constructive feedback he was attempting to give me. He never once gave up trying to coach me. From this experience alone, I have learned to truly value all my English speaking coaches whom I have had the pleasure of learning and growing from.
I think one area I would like to see is more coaching going on is in the field of Special Education. There are many individuals, in the international community, who are hired without a Special Education background: Instructional assistants and 1:1 aides yet do not receive any type of coaching; yet where there is a prevalent amount of math and reading coaches… who are there primarily supporting those with math and reading backgrounds and education. I think the types of questioning skills and leadership skills involved with efficient and effective coaching can stem beyond the core subjects and would be a huge benefit to all. In many situations, our literacy & math coaches helped me grow and fill in my gaps as an educator.
When I don’t have the opportunity to work with a coach, I can easily make appointments with them to help me with a unit or lesson I am on, or even when out (athletic) coaching- and how to use the lastest app. when filming and recording times for my runners or swimmers. In this case, deciding to take the COETAIL course to broaden my own tech. skills has led to my own understanding of what kinds of questions and things that the tech. coaches can help me with. Or learning skilled ways of asking questions, since I fully agree with the saying, “I don’t know what I don’t know” so it can be a difficult task to complete- one that I can see my own students struggle with at times. This is also a great reminder of if we feel that way as educators, how many times does a student, who is receiving special education, feeling that way? Getting to know coaches and teachers is one key component to have rapport and trust established. This is crucial so anyone is able to act on that “chosen vulnerability” when seeking out a coach. Understanding that there is no evaluating or judging taking place.
When working with my admin. team, I often find myself still asking about what is it that I don’t even know, or what knowledge it is that I am missing. Another meaning of this- is just expressing that we have limitations, which isn’t an easy task for most. All these conversations I have had with admin. teams allow for greater student impact as it generally affects student scheduling, class section placement or accommodations use. All of these things are needed from a solid understanding for a student receiving a Specialized Education, serviced through Individualized Learning Plans (similar to IEP’s in the USA). Something I continue to teach my students and model for them is, it’s okay to not have all the answers. Then what kinds of questions this leads us to then finding answers together. Along with questions and topics I can bring to an instructional coach. All of this really boils down to the idea of thriving in positive school culture or the climate that makes up the working conditions of a school. Whether people are listening and synthesizing the information they are presented with, along with having all the creative & innovative thinkers- all feeling the same way; it is vital to understand all the dynamics that make up your team and what each individual brings to the table. Furthermore, when schools or teams hire or recruit, keeping dispositions and mindset in mind in order to help change the culture of any team would be of utmost importance as well.
Who are the change agents within your school…are you?
Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash