Many school districts use instructional coaches to coach teachers, provide PD, and work to improve student achievement. Coaches might be content specific (math or literacy) or they might be general pedagogy or technology. However, when budgets are tight and it's time to make some tough decisions about where to trim spending, it might be tempting to think about cutting coaching. Or maybe a district hasn't implemented coaching, yet, and is trying to make the case for using precious and scarce resources for this purpose.
I can understand the perspective: "we haven't always had coaches, we survived before, we can again." I've even heard the argument, "well, they don't actually work with kids... and what do they do all day?"
So, why can instructional coaching have this public relations problem? Why does something, that can have such an impact, feel like a luxury to be first on the chopping block? I've taught for 12 years. During that time, I've been coached, both formally and informally. This year, I split my time between teaching and coaching. I love seeing coaching from both sides. Here is my attempt to explain why coaching is not a luxury and why it is so important:
Why Instructional Coaching Is (Sometimes) a Tough Sell
1. Coaching can be very private, between a coach and a teacher.
Teachers need to know that coaches are there to help. They are non-evaluative and on the teacher's side. This means conversations are confidential. The coach will publicly sing the praises of a teacher they are working with, but not take credit themselves. The growth made by the teacher is work done by the teacher and will reflect well on them, as it should. An effective coach is there encouraging, suggesting, co-planning, giving feedback, and fading into the background. It's tough to quantify the effect because while it might be the coaches influence that helps a teacher move forward, it really is the teacher making the change and growing.
2. Coaches are (hopefully gently) pushing for change.
Not everyone likes or is comfortable with change. Coaches are there to help teachers see a need for change and design a path to get there. If a teacher doesn't want to change, they could be resistant to the idea of coaches in the building.
3. Coaches tend to have flexible schedules.
Teachers' schedules are not flexible. You have kiddos in your room at certain times, so good luck if you need to use the restroom! It's no joke that teachers have bladders of steel. In addition, every part of the day is scheduled with contact time, meetings, and maybe a half hour for lunch. It's hectic and busy! Coaches are still busy, but tend to have a little more flexibility. This is important so they can meet the needs of the teachers with whom they work, however, it can make some teachers feel like saying, "must be nice to be so flexible." I can assure you that there is not one coach I know that abuses this flexibility. In fact, many are running themselves ragged going from teacher to teacher (or building to building)!
Why Instructional Coaching Important
1. Teachers don't have enough time in the day to do it all!
There is not enough time in the day to plan thoughtful lessons, look at student work, reflect, give feedback, find resources, look at curriculum, address IEPs, think about differentiation, make thoughtful seating arrangements, get better at questioning, scaffold (but not too much), reflect again, etc, etc. Coaches can help teachers focus on what they want to improve upon in their classroom. Coaches can find resources that teachers don't have time to find. Coaches can provide feedback to teachers to help them be more efficient, use their time better, and reflect on best practice. Having a coach to just bounce an idea off of can save so much time rather than having to do all the reflecting on your own.
2. Coaching has the biggest impact when focused on the coaching cycle.
While planning PD or working on district initiatives might be more visible work that coaches do, the private work they are doing with individual teachers is really the important work. Check out this post for more on this topic. Basically it draws on research to show that, "...structured coaching cycles yield a significant impact on student learning." And isn't that what this is all about. We want to impact the students. We want students learning and making sense of their world. Coaches can help teachers get better at what they are doing in their classroom with kids.
3. Coaching has a big impact on students
Did you know that, "Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling." Wow. Not test prep, class size, technology, interventions, leadership, student background, learning gaps, or anything else. It's teachers.