Working Proactively With an Instructional Coach

These collaborative strategies center teachers’ voices in instructional coaching relationships.

As an educational consultant who provides instructional coaching to teachers, I am often brought into schools to assist with professional development (PD). I’ve noticed that, whether a school hires an external consultant or relies on a staff member to facilitate PD, teachers don’t always realize that they can play an equal role in guiding these coaching relationships.

To ensure that you receive the types of instructional support that you need, in ways that feel most helpful to you, I suggest that you practice “managing up” in your coaching relationships by using the following strategies.

Establish Open Communication

When I start a new coaching assignment, I gather those I’m coaching and discuss their hopes and fears about our work. If coaches don’t initiate this opportunity, you can. Having an initial conversation around any anxieties, as well as desired outcomes, helps coaches to know what has and hasn’t worked in the past and to tailor their approach accordingly. When you and your coach visualize future success together, you positively distinguish the coaching relationship from those that came before.

Instructional coaching is often a non-evaluative process, which provides you with agency in the relationship. You can discuss with your coach how often you would like feedback on your practice and how you would like to receive it (e.g., email or text, documentation on shared drives, in person). Ask your coach how often they will be meeting with you outside of class to discuss progress on jointly determined success criteria, and share the cadence that would feel most helpful to you.

Collaborative Goal-Setting

You can work in partnership with your coach to set professional development goals that align with your teaching objectives and the overall goals of your school or district. Be honest with your coach about whether these goals are realistic and/or obtainable during the length of the coaching relationship.

At Brooklyn College, as a student teaching adviser, I observe my students three times each semester. Each cycle includes a pre-conference, observation, and a post-conference. During the pre-conference, teachers have already completed a student pre-assessment for the lesson and/or unit they’re about to teach. We discuss how this assessment data informed their lesson plans, and the differentiation embedded in those plans, for the lesson I will observe.

When teachers come to me having a clear understanding of their students’ needs, based on assessment data, it helps me suggest teaching and learning strategies that can target immediate student needs. Then, in post-dialogue, we measure the impact on students’ academic growth.

Not every teacher-coach relationship needs to implement this process. However, teachers who provide their coach with specific, timely student data can help facilitate student achievement through more targeted coaching support.

Choose How You Participate in the Coaching Process

At the beginning of each coaching relationship, I offer teachers a range of coaching strategies through which we can actively engage. The strategies are varied but include my modeling best practices, co-teaching, offering live redirections to the teacher during instruction, observing and providing feedback on lessons (including videotaping for later reflection), and facilitating professional learning community activities like lesson studies and/or protocols for looking at student work.

As a teacher, you are likely open to trying new coaching strategies, but you should also feel free to suggest some and to state how you would like to learn. Doing so allows you to work with your instructional coach to identify and advocate for additional resources needed to implement those chosen coaching practices effectively.

Determine How You Want Feedback

Feedback can sometimes feel like judgment. If your coach is providing warm and/or cool feedback on instruction, and this is causing you some anxiety, you might reframe the conversation. For example, ask the coach to cast their comments as wonderings or as things that they noticed. Or ask your coach if you, rather than the coach, can lead the conversation on what you personally like and/or would change about your practice.

The coach can then provide suggestions on how to improve in those self-identified, targeted areas. And you don’t need to wait for tension to take the lead. Have a conversation about how feedback is delivered when establishing open communication protocols at the beginning of the coaching relationship.

Share Success

During collaborative planning meetings, share how coaching is improving your instruction. This will build a culture of continuous improvement and success. Sharing assessment data during post-observation conferences is one way my student teachers and I measure success at Brooklyn College.

Within my school-based coaching work, the teachers I support will often compare or contrast student work at different points throughout the coaching cycle. Teachers who are being coached are also in a good position to discuss their work at department or school meetings, which might then facilitate best instructional practices being replicated elsewhere in the school or district.

Continuous improvement in a coaching relationship is a two-way street. Instructional coaches come with a lot of knowledge, but so do classroom teachers—especially regarding their students and what those students need to succeed. You deserve to be treated as the self-reflective practitioners that you are.