Not a Disaster. Day One as an Instructional Coach

IMG_2282 (1)Day one as an instructional coach has come and gone. The prospect of doing this job is pretty overwhelming, maybe like all educational jobs…I mean, really, is there an easy job in ed? I can’t think of one — nature of the beast, I guess. If you’re ranking overwhelming things, first days rank at the top, and of course, first days never go as the little video loop in your imagination plays them out before hand, but all things considered, it was a pretty decent day. Tiring, but I wasn’t a disaster, and in my book, not-a-disaster is a good start!.

The day started with our countywide meeting. Yes, you read that correctly, countywide. I live and teach in a rural district on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – think crabs, corn, and country – so we are small enough that we can fit our teaching staff, principals, supervisors, and board of education members in one of the high school auditoriums. So, we all get to sit together on the first day back, as one, and hear from our teacher of the year, the leaders of various associations, our board president, our assistant superintendents, and, of course, our superintendent. We have a new one this year, so it was refreshing to hear his introductory speech, which was an enjoyable blend of personal history, professional Captobviphilosophy, with a sprinkling of county goals thrown in but nothing too heavy-handed out of the Tony Robbins Course for Unleashing the Giants of Unlimited Educational Power (pleasant surprise!). But the highlight came at the end when our Assistant Superintendent, who served as interim superintendent (superbly) last year during our superintendent search, donned a Captain Obvious cape and mask… and let’s face it… my imagination would just never conjure up that image for the first day back.

After lunch and a heart-swelling-with-pride visit to my former student teacher’s very own first classroom, it was back to the school to kick off things there. My principal started off with introductions of new personnel. Since time is always at a premium during teacher work days, I had asked if I could sneak in my presentation on my new position during this time, and that brings me to the heart of this post. Since finding out at the end of last year I would be in a coaching role, I have scoured the Internet for articles, websites, and blogs on “How to Be an Instructional Coach.” This, along with getting married, is how I spent my summer.

And I have to say, I have found loads of really helpful information from the blogs of Elena Aguilar, Ms. Houser, and Jim What Coaching Is and Isn't jpegKnight. I am so thankful for these folks taking the time to share their expertise and resources so openly! Good ‘ole Twitter has been a lifesaver as my PLN.   Too many articles on leadership, best practices, and emerging tech trends to mention. But the piece of advice I was most inspired to put into action was to clarify for staff what my position is and what it isn’t. So, I put together a little PowerPoint ( Guide to Instructional Coaching at LMS 20) doing just that and explaining a few goals I have, who I’m aiming to work with (mainly ELA, but everyone who’s open to growing), and how to get in line for coaching – namely fill out a Google form.

The presentation was brief; I probably spoke too fast because I was feeling nervous about taking up too much of people’s time when I know they have so many other things to do, but I think I hit all the highlights and got my message across. Later, after dealing with scheduling issues, trying to help a couple of new teachers get a handle on their curriculum, and trying to figure out why there was no record of a site license we had purchased, I got back to my classroom, ahem, I mean, office (that’s going to take some getting used to), and I checked my Google form and sure enough, I had a response from someone seeking some guidance with planning. Day one. Not a disaster.


Alchemy: A Magical Transformation of (Gray) Matter

coaching imageIf you’re reading this, you need to know this is my first blog post — ever. As I write, I am rapidly approaching the start date of my new position as an instructional coach/reading specialist in the school where I’ve been teaching for nearly fifteen years (a position not really carried out in the coaching sense prior to me, so I’m charged with blazing that particular trail on my own). In looking around the Internet for how to be an instructional coach, I’ve found a ton of help and yet still felt there was a little gap I could possibly fill. So here I am trying to begin. A daunting prospect in any endeavor — and even more so knowing where to begin. So, for me, what made sense was to really distill for both of us, writer and reader, why I’m taking up cloud space.

Following the Science is Imperative.

The foundational reason why I’m here in the cloud is because I believe in keeping up with the latest and greatest in the science of teaching and learning. We know so much more than we ever have about how people learn and ways to maximize learning through the research and the best practices that come out of it. Specifically, my focus will be to help teachers implement the formative assessment process and UDL principles in their classrooms. UDL is a focus of my district and formative assessment –through Formative Assessment for Maryland Educators (FAME) is a focus in my school. (More to come on my take on the intersection of both of these in upcoming posts.) And these are just two initiatives of many that teachers must grapple with. What’s really clear to me is that teachers don’t have time to digest, apply, reflect-on, adjust, and become skilled at all the latest research that gets thrown at them. And yet, it’s imperative that they do, so partly I’m here to share how I’m trying to support teachers in doing just that.

So let’s talk alchemy for a minute. Since the last couple of decades have given us some of the highest-quality, definitive research on teaching and learning — neuroscience, efficacy meta-analyses, psychometrics, leadership, school culture, and the list goes on. I am left wondering how can I help amalgamate this essential knowledge into usable practices that help the learners in my school? Sure lots of companies are out there creating stuff to sell, but let’s face it — in my experience it’s usually focused on a particular initiative, rushed to publication without enough focus on quality or efficacy, and not tailored to the students in front of you. Rather than focus on how to make a purchased product fit, I’d rather focus on building the capacity of teachers to harness the power of the most effective practices to best help the learner learn. After all — that’s the goal –learning. And it does seem like alchemy a magical transformation of matter — gray matter.

No Flair, No Transfer.

And that brings me to teachers and students-where the art and magic happens. Many folks have described a great lesson or great teaching as art– teachers are, like any artist, creators. For us, there’s no feeling better than to create something that works, that is engaging, effective, and flows. Art is an undeniable aspect of teaching that must be balanced with science. Focus too much on the technicalities and teaching has no flair. And in my opinion: no flair, no transfer.

Humans are Magical Creatures.

But neither are art and science alone enough, because we are humans. And humans are magical creatures. Nowhere is this magic unleashed more than when we collaborate. If you’ve ever been caught up in a conversation with other educators and become excited by the upward-spiraling that happens when you start bouncing ideas off one another, you have experienced magic. Better yet, if you’ve seen the collaboration of students result in their own ‘aha’ moments, you have also experienced human magic. Human collaboration is an enchantment. This is why I’ve never believed in a “business model” approach to education. Kids are not products, nor are teachers/school systems producers — we are, at best, revealers of what lies dormant within, waiting to be unleashed in the world. When we reduce ourselves to focusing only on the “bottom-line” (high-stakes testing data), we miss the mark completely, as Texas principal, Todd Nelsoney, so poignantly revealed in his recent blog post.

And to my realist readers: yes, I know, some kids end up in prison, or on meth, or in some other sad, sad circumstance we didn’t want for them…but if we focus on that, we’ll get more of it…we have to focus on what we want to see in the world, not what discourages us, so my tone here is driven by that. If collaboration supports the magic, then I want to be about supporting the collaboration-teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-student, student-to-student.

So, there you have it. Follow the science. Cultivate art over technicality. Support the magic of collaboration.