Should an Administrator Invest in an Instructional Coach?
After a year of finding my way as an instructional coach, learning by trial and error, and educating myself about strategies for guiding my colleagues, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about my experience. Administrators who are seeking to improve student achievement by improving teacher effectiveness might want to consider the value of having such a teacher on a building staff.
When my principal called me with the idea of becoming a part-time teacher and part-time instructional coach, I had recently completed my National Board Certification in adolescent and young adult English language arts, and was eager to serve as a teacher leader. Our district pays the entire fee for the certification process and expects, in return, a good-faith willingness on the part of the certified teacher to serve in whatever leadership capacity that fits his or her particular strengths and serves the needs of the district.
Our building principal saw a need for an educationally proactive position, rather than a reactive one, but there was no job description—I was on uncharted waters. I brought with me over thirty years of teaching experience, depth of knowledge in educational pedagogy, and a willingness to take risks. I would still teach three classes in our A/B six period schedule, but two periods would be devoted to coaching, and my planning period would “float” over three periods so that I could reach more teachers. I was charged with helping teachers teach more effectively so that students learn more effectively. I had no restrictions and no guidelines, just her confidence in my ability as an instructional leader and the expectation that her investment would pay dividends—a daunting charge, one that both excited and terrified me.
I began with a newsletter, The Sea Change, that awaited teachers on their first day back last fall, and continued to publish it monthly for the remainder of the year. I optimistically titled it on the kind of “second-order” (Fouts, 2003) changes that I hoped I could begin to effect at our high school. In it I introduced myself as an instructional coach, and suggested ways my colleagues could use my services to improve student learning by becoming more proficient at their practice. I made it clear that I was not an evaluator of any kind, but rather a “personal trainer” whose only desire was to help them improve their effectiveness as teachers. I included in it practical strategies for getting the year off to an effective start, inspiring quotes from educational writers, and articles about strategies for implementing our school’s goals of integrating reading and writing in all classes. I printed it on hot pink paper, so that it stood out from all other papers in teacher mailboxes. Later in the year my principal would refer to something I’d written in a newsletter, such as the importance of eye contact for teachers in classrooms, at her...