|Today’s guest author, Casey Landry, is an Instructional Coach for The Woodlands College Park High School in Conroe Independent School District and has over 19 years experience in education, including teaching all levels of English grades 6-12, World History and US History, and college-level writing courses for the Lone Star College System. She has professionally edited doctoral dissertations in the fields of Education and Philosophy, and her credentials also include the creation and development of unit plans, writing curricula, and professional development seminars.|
“It is essential for campus administrators to think about the perspective of the teachers when hiring instructional coaches.”
The hiring season is upon us! As campuses and districts attempt to predict the number of students who will grace our doorsteps at the beginning of next year and how many units each campus will require in order to meet their needs, it is exciting to think about adding campus-based instructional coaches. These coaches will help to meet the growing academic needs of students by impacting the growth of teachers, who most directly impact students throughout the school year. It is essential, however, for campus administrators to think about the perspective of the teachers when hiring instructional coaches. If the instructional coach does not possess a credibility factor, then the hiring of the coach may not be in the best interest of the campus. Principals often find themselves being pulled farther away from the classroom perspective. The instructional coach is that bridge, thus hiring a credible coach is the most important thing an administrator can do.
In my opinion, the five credibility factors teachers look for in a coach are:
- Years in the classroom
- Deep understanding of the content
- Global perspective of vertical alignment
- Autonomous approach to classroom instruction
- Adult approach to professional development and teacher management
Years in the classroom
The first criteria in deciphering teachers’ needs from an instructional coach perspective is years in the classroom. Although young and excited teachers are sometimes the choice of the administrator when thinking about adding an instructional coach, the Journeyman teachers tend to discredit the coach – rightly or wrongly – based on whether the coach has “taught what I have taught”, or whether the coach has “seen what I have seen”. In a recent conversation, one of my colleagues expressed this basic principle when explaining how a coach had never taught his level of Calculus. As soon as the coach revealed that she taught “upper-level math” for a few years, the teacher began to ask questions like, “How long were you in the classroom?”; “What did you teach?”; “Why did you leave the classroom?”
While the coach may be more versed in instructional practices and student engagement activities, the credibility factor of the coach fell short because, in the teacher’s eyes, the instructional coach had not fulfilled some unspoken “Code of Quantity” in the eyes of the teacher. Sometimes the Journeyman Teacher’s thought process is biased and jaded, but the bottom line is that their opinion matters; the Journeyman Teacher matters. They are the teachers who will be in the classroom the longest and will impact the most students overall.
Deep Understanding of Content
The next criteria in the process should be to consider the potential coach’s deep understanding of the content. A coach does not have to have taught all levels of the courses and/or classes he or she will be working with, but the coach does have to have a clear understanding of how all levels work together and build upon one another. That type of understanding comes from a collaborative background in working with other levels or groups of educators. I call this the “Code of Maps”.
Understanding that each level of math builds upon one another, even though each level is not the same, is crucial to mapping out a clear plan and focus for the teachers. Understanding that Algebraic functions vertically support upper level mathematics adds to the credibility of the coach. Yes, the instruction is important and how the skills are transferred is important, but not being able to discuss the content at a higher level will be detrimental to the instructional coach’s credibility with all teachers of different courses within one area of study.
A Broad Perspective
Often, teachers become experts in their fields, and they become experts in one grade level or content area. This is not a bad thing; in fact, it may be extremely successful because both the teacher and the department may benefit from an expert leading the team. The issue comes when the teacher becomes too isolated in thought and needs the help of a global perspective to grow themselves or to grow a team. This is the “Code of Global Thought” that is needed as a coach.
This credibility factor may not be as clearly deciphered as an administrator. It may be brought up in conversation with teachers under the guise of summer reading questions, spiraling skills, test formats, or common academic vocabulary. The credibility of the coach comes into play when he or she can help the department or area of study with seeing a global perspective and addressing the immediate and long-term needs of the group based on that perspective.
Seeing Through the Teachers’ Lenses
In the autonomous approach to classroom instruction, or the “Code of Autonomy”, the instructional coach needs to see things as each teacher sees them. Instructional coaches need to move instruction forward for campus improvement, but it is also the responsibility of the coach to help the teacher use their strengths to become the best teacher they want to become. Teachers want a coach that will help them become the best version of themselves, not a model for the new, most recent fad in instructional practices. A coach should be well-versed in all forms of instructional practices, but a teacher coach – a coach that teachers will find credible – will be one that takes what the teacher does best and find a way to bring that side out with an authentic air and not a contrived, prescribed air of inauthenticity.
I found this to be true in a recent conversation with a team leader I work with. She asked me if I found it difficult to coach their team. I said, “Absolutely,” because this young, energetic team does things very differently than I would, but I must meet them on their terms and help them become autonomous teachers in their own right, utilizing their own best practices. This solidifies my credibility with them. I am not trying to change their teaching style; I am not trying to push my agenda or my way of teaching on them. I am supporting their own growth and helping them to develop their own instructional practices.
Value Teachers’ Opinions and Contributions
Much like students appreciate being treated like young adults in a classroom, the same is true for teachers. When hiring a coach, administrators need to see the coach as a contemporary of the teachers he or she is being asked to work alongside. The teachers do not need an expert who speaks at them and teaches them like a group of children. Instead, the coach needs to be a true contemporary – one who values the adults in the room and their opinions and contributions. I recently had the pleasure of teaching a group of 9th grade students. Although they were “on-level” students, I brought informational texts that challenged their reading levels and intellect. The students thanked me at the end of the class period and expressed their appreciation for the fact that I treated them “like adults” and taught them as if they were “honor students.” The same is true for teachers.
The “Code of Adult” expected by professionals to be treated as adults does not always resonate with individuals who are teacher-trainers. The philosophy that teachers should attend professional development that reflects a classroom setting and be “taught the way students should be taught” is a turnoff for most professional educators. When looking for a credible instructional coach, administrators should keep this in mind. How would the coach approach professional development sessions with the department? Would the coach teach the teachers as if they are the students, or would the instructional coach provide development geared for the intellectual stimulation of the group of professionals in front of them? I know this sounds like a “duh” moment and an unspoken truth; however, teachers find themselves in this situation often and appreciate it when an administrator takes on a credible, adult tone when working with them.
While these codes are sometimes unspoken, they are incredibly important when choosing a campus-based instructional coach. Teachers need to be heard in this process, and their voices are sometimes stifled because of necessary campus decisions and leadership responsibilities. When hiring an instructional coach, who is their most trusted asset and their instructional support, this is the credibility factor; this is “The Way”!