Cross-posted on the Eduro Learning Blog

Remember when you were a kid and you played a team sport? Or maybe you were like me and played an instrument, or took fine arts lessons? Or maybe you just had a hobby or a class where you had some guidance for how to improve your skills?

All of those experiences were times in our lives when we were willing to be coached. We had someone looking out for us, helping us improve, wanting the best for us, so that we would be successful in our chosen sport, activity or interest.

Recently, I’ve decided I want to learn to do something new: lift heavy weights (I really want to be able to squat 1.5x my bodyweight and deadlift 2x my body weight, but maybe that’s too specific for this post!). And the very first thing I did when I decided I wanted to learn was to seek out a coach (and then I moved and found another one, and then again, and so on). I am so appreciative of the relationship I can build with my coaches, and I realize that they are successful for three main reasons:

  • The coach has expertise in the area and knows how to help the learner improve.
  • The learner is willing to be coached and can share their goals with the coach.
  • Both parties understand the dynamics of the coaching relationship.

Considering that most, if not all of us, have had experience with a coach as children, and many as adults, I am consistently surprised to discover that instructional coaching, in a K-12 setting, is often confusing for teachers (and admin). For some reason, when schools employ coaches (yay!) and teachers have the opportunity to be coached, it doesn’t always happen (boo!).

In many schools, I see:

  • coaches struggling to find teachers to work with…
  • teachers struggling to understand the purpose of coaching…
  • admin looking for a vision of what the role can be, but don’t know what to ask or how to support the instructional coaching staff they have hired once they’re on site…

If so many of us have this common experience as children, why do we struggle so much to relate to it as adults in a professional setting?

  1. Is it because we’re already successful (which, for international school teachers, could be defined as any of the following: working in a good school, continue to get hired at good schools when we go recruiting, parents of our students are happy, get positive feedback from admin), and we suddenly think we have nothing to learn?
  2. Is it because we genuinely don’t understand what the role of an instructional coach means in a K12 environment?
  3. Is it because we don’t want to be seen as needing support? And are therefore vulnerable?
  4. Is it because we just don’t like either the coaches or the subject area they are supporting?

I’m guessing it’s a bit of all of them, and probably much more…

The thing is, students and adults I know who have had lots of coaching are:

  • open minded
  • willing to listen to different opinions
  • willing to hear about their mistakes and work towards improving them in a positive light
  • confident in their ability to learn and continually improve

To me, all of these qualities are very valuable, and ones that we would like to see in all of our teachers. So, regarding the four potential barriers listed above, here are my thoughts:

1.No matter how good we are at our jobs we always have something to learn. All of us.

If we expect our students to be risk takers and try new things, we should be modeling that behavior ourselves. I don’t know a single teacher that would be proud to say they teach the same thing the same way year after year, but many of us do it. We do it because we don’t have the energy or the time or even sometimes the interest.

How can your instructional coach help?

Most coaches I work with love to solve problems, it’s often one of the reasons we become coaches. We love to look at a unit, project, assessment, lesson, and see how we can effectively and efficiently use technology to enhance student learning. We want to start with your goals for what students should know and be able to do at the end of the unit, and develop (with the teacher) the best way to get there.

2. Instructional coaches are just like regular coaches. Our job is to help you be even more awesome than you already are.

In most schools (all of the ones I’ve worked in or consulted with), coaches are not evaluators. They do not come into a classroom looking for problems, or even worse, with plans to tell your administrator what you’re doing wrong. A coach’s job is to build relationships with teachers so that we can help them meet their goals. In fact an instructional coach’s job is exactly like the coaches you learned from as a kid! We want you to do your best and we have lots of strategies for how you can get there.

How can your instructional coach help?

Just like my current situation of wanting to learn how to lift heavy things, your coach can help in the following ways:

  • ask for, and understand, your goals – whether they be for you personally or for your students,
  • observe and review your current skills, strategies and techniques to see where there is room for growth,
  • model (in front of your students) effective teaching or technology techniques so that you know how to do it on your own next time,
  • identify and suggest other growth areas that will support you in reaching your goals – these might even be things you had never considered, or seem a little bit separate from your goals, but your coach will be able to see (and explain) how the “assistance” skills can support your main goals,
  • connect you with others who are working along the same path, and share resources that will help deepen your understanding,
  • and ideally, push you just a little bit out of your comfort zone, to encourage you to take risks that you might not do on your own.

3. Schools are learning environments. Being vulnerable is the first step to learning.

As a consultant myself, although I don’t necessarily like this reality of my job, I can see that teachers are more willing to be vulnerable to an outsider (me) because it’s less risky. It’s easier to be honest, and vulnerable, with someone who is not one of your peers. It’s also easier to let that someone be an “expert” and give advice, because they have specifically been hired and flown in for that very thing – even if there are people on staff who know (and would say) exactly the same thing. The problem is that consultants come and go, and only so much can be done in any one visit.

How can your instructional coach help?

As you might remember from your childhood experiences, coaching always works best if the person being coached wants to improve, and is willing to learn from mistakes as they do so. If your mom put you in swimming lessons but you hated it and did everything you could to avoid training, you probably didn’t get much better. The same goes for coaching.

Even though it might be scary to expose your insecurities to a peer, who you see day in and day out, coaches are not judging you. One of the big challenges for technology coaches in particular is that technology is always changing, and we don’t know all of the things you think we know. We have to be willing to say “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to Google that” because we can’t possibly know the answer to every tech question.

If anyone can understand the feeling of being vulnerable in front of others, it’s your technology coach. One of our best skills is knowing what we don’t know and how to find the answer – and that’s exactly what we can offer teachers. And of course, this means that teachers could be consistently learning and growing with their on site coaching peers throughout the year, if they let them.

4. Working with a technology coach is like planning an interdisciplinary project.

We all create interdisciplinary projects at some point, and we all know how challenging it can be to work with that other teacher from another subject area who appears to be looking at the world through a completely different lens. It can be a struggle to work with this person because we don’t see eye to eye, or we don’t value the same things in terms of content. Sometimes technology coaching can feel just like this. Why trust someone who doesn’t know my subject or understand my subjects’s point of view on the world? Why work (voluntarily, in most schools) with someone I don’t get along with?

How can your instructional coach help?

It’s your coach’s job to work with everyone. They might also have personal issues with a specific teacher, or a dislike for a specific subject area. But they should not let that get in the way of a successful collaboration and neither should you! Particularly for technology coaching, your coach doesn’t actually need to have a deep understanding of your subject, because you will be working as partners. The classroom teacher is the expert in the content and the technology coach is the expert in the technology. When you work together, you’re creating a kind of interdisciplinary project. As long as you can see your partnership as a professional team with the goal of improving student learning, any other personal issues should fade into the background.

Final Thoughts

I really do believe that everyone can benefit from having a coach. Even though your first coaching experience (especially with a new-to-you coach) can be scary, aren’t the outcomes worth the risk?

We all remember learning from coaches as kids, and usually being forced to do so by our parents. Now that we’re adults, we can’t wait for our administrators to force us into the coaching process. We must make that leap and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, in order to grow professionally. We don’t want to stay in the shallow end of the pool, do we?

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5 thoughts on “Everybody Needs a Coach

  1. Hi Kim,

    I really enjoyed your thoughts, so much so that I wanted to extend them a little further in my own blog post. You can check it out here: https://educationcogitation.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/on-coaching-and-growth/

    I think the idea of pushing ourselves into the coaching process is crucial. However, I also think that schools can sometimes think more carefully about how they create systems and structures to ‘nudge’ people in the right direction. Employing coaches in the first place is a great step. Creating the time and space for the growth that can result from coaching is the other.

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