By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Teacher leaders are essential for school change. They are, as Marcie Craig Post (executive director of the International Reading Association) says, “galvanizers for school change, always positive, inspirational role models, getting us to think in new ways, encouraging creative and novel thinking, and challenging us to greater intellectual achievements.” That being said, coaches need broad shoulders and thick skin to be the constant cheerleaders, the nurturer, and the vocal consciousness-raising, non-judgmental voice of reason. All this in a day… that is, every day!

Notice that nowhere did I mention that coaches need to be the experts in everything. This is a topic that surfaces every year… as a coach, shouldn’t I know everything so I can tell the teachers what they need to know?

Coaches are highly skilled, experienced professionals but they are not the experts. They may know more about adult learning because they work with adults but they don’t know more about content than the content specialists in the classroom. They can share many instructional strategies that support effective teaching and provide opportunities for teachers to meet regularly and on common ground. Most important, they work towards helping teachers connect with each other, co-work on shared topics of interest, and collaborate with each other to reach goals that keep students in the center and school-wide improvement up close and personal.

Dennis Sparks agrees. He says, “Leaders who pretend to know everything disempower others. As a result problem-solving abilities atrophy rather than grow.” As a coach, coming across as a “know-it-all” is arrogant and self-serving. In fact, this attitude can create more problems than collaborative solutions. The teachers who are being coached may feel quite uncomfortable and their opinions dismissed because the “expert” coach has spoken.

Coaches, administrators, teachers, mentors, and students are all members in a community of learning. We are all learners and need to help each other co-construct ways to improve student learning, build teacher capacity, and increase student engagement. We can’t do that if we are worried about who knows more or who has the right answer. We help create change by discussing ways that enhance learning and to collectively problem-solve. As coaches, we don’t tell anyone anything; we help our colleagues find their voices and work together to support our individual and school-wide goals.

2 comments:

  1. Administration does a disservice to coaches when they label them as "experts". When coaches are viewed as experts, they are viewed more like administrators (evaluative) than coaches (supportive).

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  2. Hi Terri. I agree. It also implies that coaches do not need to learn anything else, i.e., experts already know everything, which is not our message. Everyone is a learner and a member in a community of practice.

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