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Tips for supporting instructional coaches

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

Have you ever been coached? Coaches can impact form, structure, content and meaning, regardless of the field in which they coach.

I am blessed to work in a school system that values instructional coaches and supports this position at each school site. As a previous literacy coach and site administrator, I know the importance of supporting a coach to allow time for building trusting relationships with teachers and professional growth in support of improving teaching and learning. In my current role as a district leader, I facilitate the professional development for our instructional coaches. Our work this year centered on a professional book study of Elena Aguilar’s book “The Art of Coaching” in addition to our discussions about Common Core State Standards implementation, instructional strategies, digital literacy and authentic opportunities to practice what we learn.

What is important when supporting instructional coaches? What does professional development for coaches look like? Here are my top tips for supporting the learning of coaches:

  • Build in time for reflection: Reflection is a critical element for any professional and one that is often pushed aside due to time constraints. By providing reflection time for coaches that includes independent writing, collaborative discussion and goal setting, you are well on your way to ensuring that coaches make a true impact in their work. I begin and end each of our coach sessions with reflection time.
  • Voice and choice: I strongly believe that all learners, whether students, teachers, coaches or administrators, deserve to have a voice and a choice about their professional growth. In coaching sessions, this has taken the form of coaches choosing their own groups and topics when designing professional development modules.
  • Model lifelong learning: We in education love to say we are lifelong learners. I take this to heart and model that belief when designing the sessions with our coaches. During our sessions we have learned, through authentic practice opportunities:
    • to use Twitter to hold a Twitter chat about coaching
    • to find and save educational blogs in an RSS feed and/or Feedly
    • to write a blog for our district learning blog
    • to design a common core-aligned model lesson using a rich piece of literature
    • to use Google docs for collaboration and communication
    • to use various protocols for discussing professional texts
    • so much more!
  • Learning takes time: Our coaches are often expected to support anywhere from three to eight grade levels, multiple content areas, and to be leaders with strong content and pedagogical knowledge. Indepth learning in these areas and gaining enough knowledge to coach and support colleagues takes time. At each of our coach sessions, I build in time for discussing the professional reading we did — often from “The Art of Coaching.” Not only did we continue to model learning by using a protocol for guiding the discussion, but we also provided enough time for the coaches to truly have an in-depth discussion. We were practicing what the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard 1 asks of our students; to have a collaborative conversation you need to read and prepare ahead of time, and then be ready to build on others’ ideas as part of a rich collaboration.
  • Celebrate successes: It is so important to honor the hard work that coaches do each day, supporting the instructional practices of teachers across their school or district. I love to include celebrations publicly in coaching sessions to spread the word of the good work we are accomplishing towards our district goals and to recognize that successes look differently for each of us. It is also important to highlight successes, no matter how big or small, during times of significant change, such as the full implementation of the common core across your district.

I am passionate about professional development and coaching for all educators. These tips can help facilitate ongoing, job-embedded professional development for instructional coaches within any educational system.

Amy Illingworth currently works as the Director of Educational Services in South Bay Union School District in southern San Diego, Calif. She is finishing her doctoral program in Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, where her research is focused on the structures to support principal professional development and can be found on Twitter @AmyLIllingworth and blogging at Reflections on Leadership and Learning.