4 Tips for a New Instructional Coach


I met someone at a conference who recently reached out to me because she got hired as a Math Coach for her district. She asked for some advice on how to get started in her first year. I thought others might be interested as well ...

1. Develop a Shared Vision with your Administrator
Get administrators on board with the understanding that research does not support deficit-model coaching and that working with you should be mostly voluntary for teachers. Principals should not expect that you will go in and "fix" teachers. That is not an effective plan and will keep teachers from wanting to work with you. Along this same vein, I would recommend that the coach and the principal develop a Contract of Understanding to address Communication (set meeting dates/times), Expectations, Time & Resources, Confidentiality, and Feedback (between principal, coach, and teachers).

2. Build Relationships with Teachers
Every teacher has a story, and it's your job to learn it. It takes time to know them on a personal level and a professional level, but I'm learning that both are essential in moving teachers. When I began my work, I thought it would be "all business," but one thing I've learned is that coaching is deeply relational. I was new to my building, so I started by asking groups of teachers if I could crash their lunch and eat with them since I didn't have a group of my own. I found teachers were incredibly gracious and it allowed me to get to know them personally. I also started both semesters with drop-in visits (5 minutes each) and leaving positive notes to give teachers a positive first experience with my role. 

3. Be Visible to Teachers
Since I support 150 teachers, many of them will never seek me out so I try and initiate contact with them regularly. I do things like create 2-Minute EdTech Tip videos every few weeks, and my counterpart and I send a monthly newsletter just to try and get resources into their hands. At this point in the tech-age, I believe that people do not expect to have to go looking for resources as much as they prefer to have them arrive at their doorsteps (or inboxes).

Another tip worth noting is that it's definitely easier and more efficient to work on projects or answer emails in my office, but (after reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros) I've been swayed to the belief that it's more important for me to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency so I can be in classrooms. I asked for teacher volunteers who wouldn't mind me sitting in the back of their rooms working on administrative tasks so I could still be part of the school, and several volunteered. I do this as often as I can.

4. Follow-Up is Powerful
Last year I learned the value of following up with teachers. I didn't do it enough at the beginning of the year because I just felt like they asked for help with a problem, we solved the problem, and I would sit back and wait until they had another problem. I have since changed my strategy because I've learned that the majority of the work I do with teachers should fall in line with the Coaching Cycle, so rarely should I have a "one and done" encounter with a teacher. Now, after I work with a teacher, I make a note in my planner for a week or two later to casually check in and see how things are going. That often leads to more work with that teacher, and they appreciate the gesture of me reaching out to follow up.

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  1. I enjoyed the suggestion of working in the classrooms instead of your office. If you can share how you create the edtech videos that would be great as well. I would love to create a few to share with the teachers.

  2. I am so glad you found the idea of working in a classroom helpful!

    To create my EdTech videos, I start by recording the audio only (using QuickTime on my Mac) of me reading a script I've written. Then, I use screencastomatic.com to record a screencast of me going through the motions as I listen to the audio recording. I quickly decided I was not talented enough to speak, click, and keep it to two minutes. Lastly, I drop those files in iMovie (you could use Movie Maker on a PC) and add an intro slide and background music. Here is a link to my YouTube channel in case you'd like to check them out or share them.


    It's a good problem to have, but my schedule has been so full with coaching teachers and teams that I haven't been able to turn out new videos as regularly as I would like!

  3. Thank you for the tip to do the audio recording first ... brilliant! I am going to try that. :-)

  4. I am a 4th grade teacher and have been in the classroom for 13 years. I would love to be a literacy coach. I’m just not sure how to get started. Any suggestions? I have a masters degree in elementary education.

    1. I know that different districts handle these roles and hiring for them differently, but here are a few thoughts ...

      It took several years of trying before I ended up in an instructional coaching role. So FIRST, be patient. I can say that while I was discouraged at times and felt passed over for a couple of positions, every year I was in the classroom made me a better teacher and therefore a better coach. I think there's something to be said for teaching multiple grades/subjects to broaden your resume and gain the respect of teachers across grade bands.

      My SECOND suggestion is that although you are not currently in a coaching position, begin building your skills as a teacher leader. I recommend Jim Knight's book, Better Conversations, and Elena Aguilar's book, The Art of Coaching, to read about coaching skills and then put them into practice by helping fellow teachers. Gaining knowledge and experience in coaching even as classroom teacher goes a long way in helping answer interview questions, too. I hope this helps, and best of luck in getting a coaching position!!!