Instructional coaching is intended to reinforce teachers’ and administrators’ practices in ways that support schools so that instruction is rigorous, the delivery effective, and the assessment appropriate for student learning to improve. In some cases, instructional coaching helps expand both the teachers and administrators’ knowledge base; sometimes, the coaches help teachers and administrators use what they know and provide support about more effective instructional strategies, techniques, and delivery of instruction. Whatever the reason, instructional coaching influences what students learn, increases student engagement, builds teacher capacity, and helps both students and their teachers become more successful learners.
Instructional coaching should never be a, “What do you want to do today?” type of conversation. Coaches plan, prepare, sometimes “prescribe” and most times, practice, with their teaching colleagues in ways that are non-evaluative, non-threatening, and really not reportable. That’s the good news/bad news story… coaches work with teachers to change practice and because the work and the relationships are non-evaluative, teachers and coaches are in a unique position with each other. Coaches are not supervisors; they are not substitute teachers; sometimes they are not even classroom colleagues. So what are they?
Coaches are experienced teaching professionals who can understand the process of instruction, can recognize effective instructional practices, can assess data, and can engage in ongoing conversations that ebb and flow depending on “where” the participants are at the time of the conversation. They also understand that they are not experts; they are willing participants in a collaborative process that takes much time, consistent relationships, great leadership, and lots of humor!
Receptivity and responsiveness are situational. Not every person is reflective every time and thinks about his/her thinking. Nor is every person willing to engage in thoughtful problem solving. It can be a scary thing to confess that you don’t know something or to admit that you need help. After all, teachers went to college… why do they need help in teaching their students… they have a degree that says they are ready to teach??
As a coach, I think the single most important quality is the ability to build strong, collaborative relationships. No one knows everything about content even in one’s own area of certification; no one knows every strategy or instructional technique that promises to improve student outcomes; no one knows all there is to know about his/her students or school wide community. What a coach knows, however, is the power of collaboration and the tremendous influence collective problem solving has to improve the ongoing teaching and learning that must be present in order for students, the teachers, the administrators, and their schools to be successful and help prepare our students for society. Maybe it’s instinctive or intuitive; maybe it’s just the ability to talk, learn, laugh, and share together. Whatever it is… coaches have “it” and I’m glad they do!