Instructional Coaching in 5 Words

"So what exactly do you do?"

I get this question a lot from people both in and outside of education. "Instructional Coach" just sounds broad and foreign and nearly always needs further explanation. I struggled for awhile with how to explain what I do. Some of my early responses included:

  • "I support teachers" (again, too broad),  or 
  • "I help teachers with things like integrating technology into their lessons" (too narrow)
  • "I am a teacher of teachers" (not quite accurate), or 
  • I would just absorb the blank stare and change the subject. 
It's not that I wasn't doing important work or that I was unclear on my role. The problem was that I could not articulate my work simply and effectively, and that felt embarrassing. Then, just over a year into the position of instructional coach someone asked me that dreaded question about what I do. In a magical moment, these words came spilling out of my mouth: "I provide job-embedded professional learning for teachers." 

Yes! Finally! In 5 simple words (6 if you won't count a hyphenate), that captures what I do! That is the line I now deliver when people ask me about my job. If people are interested in knowing more, I go on to provide examples of what this has looked like for different teachers. It begins to click for people and most of them follow up with saying how they wish they had resource like me available to them in their own work. And who wouldn't want that, really? After all, the most successful people in the world have coaches.

Here is an excerpt of a post I recently wrote for a different blog that I share with teachers in my building:

"Can you guess what these super successful people all have in common (besides awards, fame, and more money than all of our incomes combined)? Each one has a coach. It's hard to imagine Michael Phelps asking for help with his stroke or Beyoncé getting pointers on how to improve her vocal talents, but as with anyone else at the top of his or her field, they didn't get there without help. It is worth pointing out that the coaches are not the ones whose faces are on the Wheaties boxes, who are delivering Grammy acceptance speeches, or whose business branding can be identified simply with the first letters of their names. The coaches are not the ones performing at those levels. The coaches are the ones pushing others to reach those high achievements."

My job is not to do the job for a teacher. My job is to equip a teacher to do the job they are meant to do. For some teachers, coaching is a one-time event (though I do, of course, follow up with them later), and for others coaching is a scheduled weekly routine. Different people need different levels of coaching at different times. The essence of coaching is to build capacity in a person by encouraging and challenging them at just the right times. That's what it is all about for me. So I'm curious, fellow instructional coaches out there, what is YOUR one-line response to explain the important work you do?

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