Lessons from my First Year as an Instructional Coach

This year I had the amazing opportunity–thanks to an extremely supportive administration team–to be a part-time instructional coach in the high school where I’ve taught for 9 of my 12 years. It was an exciting and enlightening year, to be sure. As much as I struggled, I feel so lucky to have been given this chance. I truly had no idea what I was doing. I read books and blogs and connected with instructional coaches locally and all over the country, but there was a lot to learn.

As the year wraps up, I can’t help but reflect on what I learned over the course of the year.

1. Don’t make assumptions

I tend to surround myself with people who are like me: ambitious, passionate, and gung-ho about trying new things! I hang out with other teachers who have these traits and/or appreciate these traits in me. I am always reading blog posts, writing posts, reading PD books, connecting on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, starting Voxer chats and book studies. I often (mistakenly) assume everyone is as enthusiastic as me!

But, as I’m sure you’re aware, that is not the case.

What I’ve realized though, is that I can’t assume that just because another teachers isn’t as “involved” as I am, it doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t a good teacher. I can’t assume that because a teacher doesn’t have Twitter or hasn’t read a book by Kelly Gallagher, he or she is not interested in improving their craft.

Instead, I need to appreciate those teachers who do come to me to help them grow. I proposed and got this job because of my passion (obsession?) for education, so it makes sense to use that to help other teachers.

Don’t assume you know teachers, how they teach, what motivates them, or how passionate they are. Don’t judge. Instead, listen. Learn. And then help.

2. Communication is super important

I learned this year that I need to better communicate with the staff as a whole and with individual teachers as I work with them.

First, I need to better define my role for the entire staff right away and reiterate it throughout the year. It was hard last year because I didn’t really know how to define my role. I was creating it as the year went on, so it was hard to shape in the beginning. I think I sent the wrong message from the start which set the wrong tone and expectations for the rest of the year.

I found that people thought of me as a “fixer”: Kristy, I have this problem. I’m going to leave it here with you for you to fix and then you can give it back! That worked for us, but what I realized is that it’s not coaching. I was helping people solve their problems, but I wasn’t partnering with them to foster long-term growth.

So better explaining my role is extremely important.

Second, I realized the need to explain expectations with each teacher when we work together. Here is what I will do, here is what you will do, and this is how we will work together. I had a few situations where I hadn’t properly explained expectations and those experiences were not good. (Or at least not as good as they could have been.)

Be sure to explain your role, remind teachers throughout the year of how you can help them, and explain expectations with each individual teacher.

3. I need tougher skin

We all know teachers. We know that whenever a teacher has a new opportunity, some of the other teachers feel left out, jealous, etc. I encountered a lot of (said with a sneer) “what is that you’re doing, again?” or “how is that coaching thing going?” this year.  I also encountered people who don’t believe I am worthy, capable or deserving of this position.

I get it, I really do. I’ve been in that spot of being a teacher in the classroom watching others moving to new opportunities and I’ve felt those feelings: “that’s not fair”, “why does he/she get to do that?”, etc., etc.

I have suffered from imposter syndrome all year, but I have to remind myself that I am worthy. My administration team believes in me and believes in my ability to use this role to improve our school. I have to use that to keep going.

Basically, you need to have a thick skin. Be prepared for the nay-sayers and the negative Nellys, but don’t let them stop you. Stay passionate and driven to make your school a better place.

4. Find a support system (bonus if you can find a mentor!)

Teaching can be lonely, but coaching is even lonelier! Seriously. And, by the way, it’s really hard to find other coaches at the secondary level, especially near me. It has taken me all year to build my support system, and it’s mostly been done through the magical interwebs. Thank goodness for Twitter, Instagram, and some awesome Facebook groups, I now have a coaching book study on FB and Voxer, the #educoach hashtag on Twitter and #educoachloop on IG, and I feel much less alone. I love that I can post a question and get back a ton of answers, feedback, and–maybe most importantly–encouragement.

I am also lucky to have a great support system at school including my teacher friends and an awesome AP mentor: Jennifer Hogan. (You follow her on Twitter right? If not, go do that right now @jennifer_hogan). Without my friends and mentor, making it through this year would have been completely impossible.

Find your tribe! Online and in person so you can stay sane as a coach! (Find me on IG, Twitter and FB at @loudenclearblog! I’d love to grow my tribe!)

5. Create systems for organization and time management

I struggled with this all. year. long. Heck, let’s face it, I’m still struggling! I had a great system as a teacher, but getting organized as a coach was tougher for some reason. One of my goals this summer is to figure out how I’m going to get organized next year. I did find a few things that work for me.

  • Google Calendar- I had to put every meeting on my calendar, as well as classroom visits. This year I’m trying Assistant.to which is an add-on (I think) for Gmail. It allows me to send an email with potential meeting times that the recipient can click on. It will then add the time to both of our calendars. Hopefully, it works well!
  • Google Keep- To-do lists are my best friend. When I open my first window of the morning in Chrome, my calendar and keep tabs open automatically. And they stay open all day because I have to keep track of the to-dos!
  • Google Drive- I keep a running list of who I am working with and what follow up steps I need to take with each person in a Doc. I have color coded and organized my folders so it’s easy to find everything I need.
  • Notability on iPad- I use this app to take notes when I meet with teachers. I love it because I can write, type, add pictures, and even voice comments. So it’s a great way to collect artifacts, observations, and notes in one place. I can also send information from the app as PDFs to my teachers so they know what’s going on as well. I have color coded and organized the notebooks in the app so I can (usually) find everything pretty easily.

Find a system! There are a lot of ideas on Pinterest (you can follow my IC board here), but ultimately, you have to do what works for you!

Do you have any other lessons you could add to this list? What do new coaches need to know?

What I’m Reading

I’ve moved my book list to the “Books” tab at the very top of my site. Go there to see the books I recommend (I won’t post any crappy books there!). You can also see my picks and recs on Instagram in my highlights. 🙂

10 thoughts on “Lessons from my First Year as an Instructional Coach

  1. Amen to all of this! A book that I found to be helpful in informing me on when to take on a consulting, coaching, or collaborative role was Mentoring Matters. It’s a very practical read. And some organizational platforms that I found to be effective were calendly and youcanbookme. Both sync with your Google calendar 😊.


  2. These are great takeaways!! Sounds like you did an awesome job your first year as an IC and I’m sure your second will go even better! 🙂 I agree about needing tough skin – whenever you try something new or are different from everyone else, there will be those who think you’ve lost your marbles!! 🙂


  3. This is great! I would love to be an instructional coach but I just moved to a pretty small district with very few coaching positions.


  4. So much yes. This year was my first as 1/2 time HS sci teacher, 1/2 time 7-12 coach. Ditto to the isolation and loneliness. Thank you for writing this and sharing it! I wish you much success in the year ahead!


  5. Thanks so much for this! This was our first year with instructional coaches in the building (I am not one), and reading this post gave me a better sense of what that means and how I can use the coaching process to improve my own teaching! Thanks!


  6. Hi Kristy,
    I have just become an instructional coach (mid-year) and could use some advice, mostly on your organizational system.


  7. Pingback: How Instructional Coaches Can Help Teachers Focus: A Review of Stuart’s These 6 Things | Louden Clear Blog

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