Must-Do #1: Define what the position is and what it does
Put thirty instructional coaches in a room and ask them to define their roles based on their current duties. In all likelihood, there will be loose agreement with weak patterns of responsibilities, along with many, many differences.
The only common theme might be their title, and even that is debatable. Is the position instructional coach or curriculum coach? Are they to work with teachers at-will? Or are staff required to meet with their IC?
Whether you are building a coaching program or you are part of an established one, there is good cause to nail down what an instructional coach is and what they should do to serve students and teachers.
Too often administrators, board members, and committees of teachers that select the role of a coach don’t really know what a good coaching system is or looks like. It sounds great in theory but how to formulate the job description is difficult.
Because of this, the coaching program becomes a panacea to gather up all of those loose ends that need to be tied up and tucked away, and quickly as that, the role loses any potential sense of identity. So what’s a coach to do?
Sadly, the answer isn’t a quick Google search away.
Most coaches, unfortunately, end up serving too many needs for too many people and this lack of a clear mission causes a significant impediment to success. If success - without a goal - can even be defined in the first place.
Words matter, titles matter, and if the title of instructional coach doesn’t have meaning to you and your administration, it surely will not have meaning to the staff you seek to serve. To allow the definition of an instructional coach to be muddied is a sure way to build frustration for all parties involved, and create burnout within your coaching team.
Imagine the definition of your role as the destination you type into your GPS. It keeps you on track and helps you know when you have arrived. A driver without an endpoint is doomed to wander endlessly through hill and dale, and while they might see some points of interest and even make some valuable stops, at the end of the day there was no culminating goal, no point of arrival.
Imagine the definition of your role as the destination you type into your GPS.
It keeps you on track and helps you know when you have arrived.
To be candid, most coaches I know end up serving administrators who use them to plug holes in a system that is already fatally wounded. Spend a bit of time in the coaching trenches and you will find your name on the lips of administrators more frequently than you may have expected - “Oh, the coach can do that!”
But this doesn’t have to be. Seriously, it doesn’t, and you have more power than you realize to help define your job description if you arm yourself with an understanding of what actually works, boots on the ground.
So how do we change this?
A simple first step: be more intentional in defining the role.
Now you might be thinking, “I don’t make such decisions, shouldn’t the boss be providing the job description to me?" Well, maybe they should, but I bet they haven’t - especially if this is a budding program - so you are uniquely positioned to craft the role in a way that answers the most important, essential question: Does what I am doing improve the lives, teaching skills, and engagement of teachers so that it improves the lives, learning, and engagement of students? If not, a conversation needs to be had.
Spend time debating the responsibilities with the powers that be. If the tasks assigned are not student and teacher-centered, take them off the table.
Does what I am doing improve the lives,
teaching skills, and engagement of teachers
so that it improves the lives, learning, and
engagement of students? If not, a
conversation needs to be had.
For a starting point, find theorists who have made a big footprint in the world of instructional coaching, such as Jim Knight and Elena Aguilar. Knight will provide a framework for the philosophy of the partnership approach, and Aguilar will help you understand the psychology behind deep coaching and the social-emotional skills required to meet people where they are.
They are great for building a framework of what to shoot for.
The thing you will quickly find is that there are a lot of people talking about the reasons for having a coaching program, thinking about methods of conversation that are effective, and even providing templates for documents you can use to track your work. Yet, few start with: “So it’s the first month of having coaches, here’s what you should do …”
Add to your network coaches already in the trenches and see what they have to say. And listen. Really listen. The theory doesn’t translate to practice perfectly. It never has. These people will speak truth. Biased? Yes. But you need to hear it. An effective program will triangulate with theory, clientele needs, and boots-on-the-ground-here’s-what-you-should-do-first messaging.
So join the Instructional Coaching social media pages, network with coaches from neighboring districts, and seek out specialized instructional coaching training. It truly is a unique position.
The next article in this five-part series will focus on what to do once you have determined who you are: "Defining How to Serve.”
Elena Aguilar: Coaching Educators’ Strong Emotions
You do not have to walk alone. Feel free to message Agile Ideas Leadership for any questions or thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ross Herdina, Co-Founder, Agile Ideas Leadership