Time is critical in almost everything we do. It is no different for a coach, teacher, administrator, or anyone in education for that matter. For someone not in a regular classroom, he or she usually asks, “What do you spend most of your time doing?” Sometimes the assumption can be made that some people, like a coach, has more time than others. One thought that this leads to is whether the coach is seen or unseen on a regular basis.
One morning, I was hurriedly traveling from one classroom to another. I needed to head to my office about 5 minutes out of the way in another wing of the building. On the way, I was passing by a teacher who had a question for me. It was hard to stop and answer the teacher without sounding rushed or harsh. Before I had a chance to explain where I was headed, the teacher asked, “I haven’t seen you in awhile. Where have you been hiding these days?” I was at a loss of how to answer and to top it off, she then said, “You have time to figure this data, so I can make some copies.” I immediately stopped her and apologized for interrupting, saying how I was needing to get to a classroom for cycle work. I then told her to please email me her questions, so I would not forget to find the answer.
Many thoughts raced through my head as I headed to the classroom, but I kept coming back to the fact that I was perceived differently and definitely was not visible in the right settings.
Why should an instructional coach be visible?
It is important for a coach to be visible in order to build relationships with teachers and students, as well as for coaching to be effective. Positive relationships are necessary to provide opportunities for engaging teachers in coaching cycles. The perception of the coach should also be that of a partner and collaborator, like that of their grade level or department teammates.
A survey conducted amongst educators at the elementary and secondary level in a Georgia school district reported that the instructional coaches with their schools spent 80% of their time meeting with principals, unit planning and other duties as assigned. 34 out of 45 teachers expressed that they rarely received the assistance they needed and hoped for a change in the upcoming school year.
When asked what they believe is the root cause of the lack of support from the instructional coach, teachers shared the following:
- Lack of instructional knowledge
- Lack of coaching skills and abilities
- Lack of time
- District initiative
These four key factors were ranked the highest by teachers who participated In the survey. Therefore, the perception of the coach is not that of a partner and collaborator. It was shared that the visibility was low of the coach as well. So, the factors ranked highest are related to the trust and perception of the coach due to visibility.
How can an instructional coach remain visible?
Visibility means not only being seen, but also what actions we are being observed doing in relation to our role. When we think of how much time should be spent in coaching cycles versus other activities as a coach, it is recommended to divide up your week in an approximation of 60% cycles. This goal of 60% cycles means a coach needs to be strategic with how they spend their remaining time. It helps support how the coach can remain visible to their entire building.
Sweeney, D., 2018
One idea in relation to the informal coaching could be a needs assessment. A needs assessment consists of questions geared towards teacher’s learning styles, specific content, grade levels, instructional knowledge and needs. A sample question and response from a needs assessment could consist of the following:
“What areas of instructional practices would you welcome additional assistance with?” Please select your answer choice(s).
- Data Driven Instruction
- Formative/Summative Assessments
- Student-Centered Professional Goal Setting
- Collaborative Lesson Planning
- Professional Self Reflection
- Providing feedback/commentary to students or student work.
Results from a needs assessment provides the coach with baseline data to assess the needs of the teachers and develop an action plan of how to provide the best support. One idea for the coach is to partner with teachers in reviewing the results and formulating groups to begin the process of coaching cycles or coaching labs.
Another component of the 40% time can be used in PLCs and meetings with teams. Collaboration time can be used as a way to make contact with teachers and build potential relationships. Not only can this time be used to kick-start interest in coaching cycles, but also promote the positive perception of the coach. Some tips for coaches based on the Student-Centered Coaching Rubric are to:
- Use facilitation strategies and protocols.
- Use student work to guide conversations.
- Encourage teacher choice and ownership.
- Listen and respond respectfully to promote positive interactions.
- Use the Seven Norms of Collaborative Work to support all participants.
Once coaching is in full swing, maintaining the effectiveness throughout cycles can be impacted by the visibility of the coach. Effective coaching consists of some of these key characteristics:
- Planning at least one time a week.
- Reflective dialogue
- Being viewed as a learner alongside teachers.
- Co-teaching 2-3 times a week.
Since it is a goal to try for at least 60% of your time being in coaching cycles, think of the possibility of how to use that time effectively in an effort to support perception and visibility. During weekly planning sessions, the coach and teacher meet to discuss student work and next steps for co-teaching. An idea could be to incorporate the question, “How will we share the ideas with teammates and colleagues?”
Collaborating, planning, and meeting with other stakeholders are important tasks in a coaching role. However, it is equally important for the coach to maintain a centralized location that is accessible to all teachers and staff. If options are available, consider also how the location could be a tool to support teachers. A central location of the coach’s could be structured as:
- Resource library
- Classroom Learning Lab
- A room conducive to professional development
- Collaborative meeting space
Maintaining a centralized location outside the main office for the coach’s meeting space negates the perception of the coach being viewed as administrator or evaluator. This is another way to establish trust between teacher and coaches.
Now the hope is that when passing a teacher in the hall, different questions will be asked. Instead of, “What do you spend most of your time doing?” Maybe the question will be more student-centered, such as, “Could we have a Student-Centered Coaching Cycle focused on an informational research unit?” Then, it will be obvious of being a visible coach and you will have the feedback of positive perception.
Sweeney, D. and Mausbach, A. (2018). Leading Student-Centered Coaching. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.