10 Tips for School-Based Coaches and Teacher Leaders
As a pre-service teacher at Kansas State University, I recall the dean of education speaking to a group of students before beginning our student teaching experience. He spoke figuratively about a teacher’s toolbox and how as you gain years of experience your toolbox fills up. A decade later I have realized that the toolbox analogy is very real. The power of a teacher’s toolbox is in their ability to reflect.
My wife would say I talk in circles; I like to call it being a self-reflective practitioner. Self-reflection, I believe is the root of learning. I thank my parents for instilling this in me at a very young age. This blog serves as my professional toolbox. I share it because I hope those that read it can use it to reflect on their professional practice.
As the first semester of my third year as a school-based instructional math coach comes to a close, I find it fitting to take a look back at what I have learned. I have served four school communities, five principals, roughly 100 teachers, and 1,000 students and their families.
Highlighted below are ten things I consider to be essential in the first years of coaching.
1. RELATIONSHIPS: Never underestimate the power of a trusting relationship. When people trust you, they are willing to take risks. When people take risks, they learn. When they learn, they become better at what they do.
2. VISION: As a a school-based coach you write the playbook of how to do your job. Being able to envision what the future could look like and figuring out how to get there is hard work but a whole lot of fun.
3. PATIENCE: Rome was not built in a day, nor will the impact of coaching be evident for days, months or even a year or two. Maintaining focus, celebrating short-term wins, and immersing yourself in the school culture will pay dividends later.
4. HUMBLE: Sure, those that become coaching were rock-star teachers. The job of the coach is not about being the best - it is about surrounding yourself with brilliant people, fostering the collective capacity in these people and empowering them to empower others.
5. LEARN: When you step out of the trenches of the classroom you realize how fast things change in education. Read, listen to podcasts, watch instruction, ask questions and seek out every single professional learning opportunity you can. Remember - your professional learning is your responsibility. Whatever you do don't stop studying the art of teaching, coaching, and leadership.
6. BALANCE: Being a coach is like being the ham in a ham sandwich. The principal is one slice of bread, and the teachers are the other slice. Sometimes it can feel like you are stuck in the middle. When these relationships are in harmony, the result empowers a culture of learning in the school.
7. LISTEN: We are teachers, we like to hear ourselves talk. When we listen more, we enable ourselves to help others be problem solvers, thus making the teachers we serve even better at what they do.
8. VIEWPOINT: Ever play Sim City? The view of the coach is similar to that of the game. Imagine standing over the school and peeling back the roof. As a coach, you get to see all the inter-workings of the school. How people interact with one another and how this manifests itself in the school culture is is quite fascinating. Use this viewpoint to your advantage to empower teachers to learn from one another.
9. CHANGE-AGENT: Believe it or not, you are a strong agent of change in the building. While at times the coaching role feels quite powerless, you hold a pretty powerful hand especially when the nine other points in this post are in place. It is up to you as the coach to take the bull by the horns and make great things happen.
10. KIDS: I save the most important lesson for last - the kids. The one constant in education is that it is and always will be all about the kids. Never, ever lose sight of that.