I just spent three wonderful days sharing and learning with instructional coaches, mentors, and other school leaders from across Pennsylvania. We worked together and engaged in professional conversations around building teacher capacity, increasing student engagement, and improving student outcomes. A variety of strategies, instructional practices, and a multitude of ideas about teaching and learning were shared and discussed through the lens of instructional coaching. Colleagues collaborated with each other and reflected on, in, and about practice. Each session was facilitated by practitioners: the coaches and mentors. The collective wisdom of the group was awesome!
One of the things that surfaced during this statewide multi-day professional development was that not one coach, mentor, or other school leader called him/herself an expert. Each person defined his/her presence as being a member in a community of learning and practice, sharing expertise, experiences, and examples of working with their teaching colleagues. Every person felt comfortable and confident; each person understood that being in a safe environment, one that was non-evaluative and risk-free, was the way to practice with his/her coaching colleagues. There was no worry about making mistakes. This is the same climate that must exist when coaches work with their teaching colleagues.
One question that arose while working together was how to define an instructional coach. You know, the 30 second elevator speech that explains what coaches do. My answer… instructional coaches are “agents of change”; their role is to change instructional practice in a collaborative environment. If you need a paragraph explaining what coaches do, try this:
“Instructional coaches engage in confidential, non-evaluative conversations with staff members helping them implement effective instructional practices. They work with teachers one-on-one and in small groups to reinforce that what is learned through theory, demonstration, and practice is successfully applied in classrooms. Their work is intentional and deliberate, providing real time support and specific feedback designed to improve practice. They offer differentiated, ongoing job-embedded professional development in a safe environment, focusing on school wide improvement, building teacher capacity, and increasing student engagement.”
How do you describe your role to your colleagues?