Editor’s note: ALP guest blogger David Sladkey is a trailblazing math teacher in Naperville School District 203 (IL). The original publication of this post can be found at Corwin Connect.
First and foremost, I’m not an instructional coach. The reason for this post is because I believe so strongly in instructional coaching and have benefited so much from it that I want to encourage you to look into it.
From my very first coaching session with Tony Borash (see my list of coaches below), I was put at ease and understood that I was going to be more effective as a teacher. One way that I’ve have grown as a teacher from instructional coaching is in communication with my students. My current coach Rachel Fruin has encouraged me to dialogue with my students regarding my hopes, goals, and concerns before, during, and after activities—and especially ones that are experimental or out of the blue. I used to think that students should just know what we are doing and for what purpose.
So why should you get an Instructional Coach? Read on.
1. Coaches meet you where you are.
Coaches listen to where you are and they meet you there. Contrast that with most professional development sessions, in which you must adapt to where the speaker/leader is. A coach is meeting you at your area of need. This is a huge shift that is amazingly comfortable. Instead of constantly catching up to someone else, you can look forward to where you want to go. I believe the ability of a coach to meet you where you are at is the biggest benefit of coaching. I’ve been lucky to have a number of coaches the past four years because our district has been trying some new digital initiatives. I’ve also had the opportunity to have outside-the-building coaches as well as inside-the-building coaches.
2. Coaches inspire you to get better as a teacher.
Coaches want you to succeed. They want you to thrive as a teacher. They have been there in the classroom or are still there. They know what it takes to reach students. As a teacher with 31 years of experience, I can honestly say that I have been nudged, pushed, held accountable, and inspired greatly in these four years compared to the previous years. All of my coaches have helped me to get better as a teacher.
3. A coach encourages you when you doubt yourself.
This is the beauty of a coach. You bring your doubts to the meeting and they will talk you through every single one. They will give you their honest opinion (if asked). They will talk you off the cliff and reassure you. When the “lows” of teaching hit you, your coach will be there to encourage you.
4. A coach will bring you back to reality when you are too full of yourself.
REALITY CHECK. Your coach will gently level you out if you are too over-the-top with something. They are there to help you see clearly the whole situation. A coach is WITH you through your ups and downs.
5. Teaching is lonely, and a coach is there for you to talk things through.
When there are 28 students and one teacher, things get lonely sometimes. We need to talk through situations that occur in class. We need a caring ear for our challenges. When you have a coach, you don’t have to feel bad about taking their time. This is the role of the coach.
6. A coach will help you focus and reach your goals.
Do you have goals for your students? Ask your coach to keep you accountable for the goals you have set. If you don’t have particular goals for your class, ask your coach to work with you to establish those goals. I love the question my coaches routinely give me: “How does this activity support your goal to _________?” A coach will help direct your thinking to things that matter.
If you don’t already have a coach assigned to you, or you’re not sure where to start with a coach, here’s what I recommend:
- Ask a coach to work with you every other week for a total of four sessions. If your school doesn’t offer instructional coaches, then try to find a trusted colleague to start talking with you about your classroom. Dialoguing about our profession is so important because it opens our eyes to best practices in the classroom.
- Meet for 1/2 hour sessions. Be ready to decide together if you want to continue more sessions after that.
- Decide what kind of feedback you want. Do you want a minimal range of feedback, or a full range of feedback? Feedback is scary, so be sure to be up front with your coach as to whether you want to start gently or go full steam ahead.
- Communicate your goals, or establish your goals together.
- Have fun, and try to stay committed to the time.
Thank you to my coaches:
Tony Borash (2015) – Digital Learning Initiative from Advanced Learning Partnerships. Thank you for your passion for the art of teaching. You inspire me continually to risk, to try, to fail, and to get better! I loved co-teaching with you.
Nicki Weiss and Megan Plackett (2016) – Naperville Central High School Coaches. Thank you for your tireless support of teachers. Your enthusiasm for teaching is amazing and contagious. Any time I meet with you I get a recharge emotionally. Thank you for your gift of support.
James Dunseith (2017) – Blended Learning Coach from Better Lesson. Thank you for continuously redirecting me to my goals. My mind is continually asking if this is helping me attain my goal. Also, I loved brainstorming ideas with you.
Chris DeWald (2018) – Blended Learning Coach from Better Lesson. Thank you for the question that you continually ask (and now I ask this of myself)… “How does this improve student learning?”
Rachel Fruin (2017-present) – Naperville Central High School Coach. Thank you for helping me communicate my thoughts to my students. You have told me repeatedly, “Tell them what you want and why you want it.” This year has been refreshing because I have communicated with my students in a more direct way than ever. I appreciate your new ideas and your willingness to share.