No matter if you are an Instructional Coach starting out in a new position, or a school district seeking to create and develop an Instructional Coaching Department, one of the first things that should be mapped out is the various relationships that each member of your school district will have with your coaches.
In this post, we will be discussing these essential coaching relationships:
- Coach / Teacher Relationship
- Coach / Library Media Specialist Relationship
- Coach / Building Administrator Relationship
- Coach / Central Office Relationship
- Coach / IT Department Relationship
- Coach / Student Relationship
It is All About Relationships
Why are relationships so crucial to the success of an Instructional Coaching program?
The Instructional Coach and the responsibilities that are required upon the position are unlike none other in the school district. For some school districts, the Coach is a core member of a school building serving by the side (and being evaluated by) the building principal. For other coaches, they serve at the side of Central Office and are assigned to one or more school buildings.
For each of these types of organization systems, the Coach will need to create key relationships with a variety of district employees as well as members of the student population.
In this post, we will look at the relationships that a Coach will form with the following groups and describe how each of these relationships could or should be outlined or thought of from both the coach and the staff members' point of view.:
- Building Administrators
- Central Office Administrators
- IT Department
- Other Instructional Coaches
One of the key skills that a Coach will need to develop as they and the position evolve in the school district is the ability to work with and within each of the levels of a school district. The ability to speak at a variety of altitudes is a vital skill that will set the tone not only for the coach, but for how the school district will be able to utilize the Instructional Coaching position both in and out of the classroom.
The Teacher / Coach Relationship
Of all the relationships that an Instructional Coach has is the one between the Coach and the Teacher. The primary responsibility for Instructional Coaches is to work with and be a team member of the classroom teacher in and out of the classroom. The teacher needs to be able to trust their Instructional Coach and at times become vulnerable with them to allow the coaching process to naturally happen.
In return, the Coach needs to be able to work with teachers of all ability levels, background specialties, and grade levels to make sure that each teacher has a plan to take their instructional abilities to the next level. The Coach needs to be not just a “guide on the side,” but also a “sage on the stage.”
In reality, a Coach and a Teacher have the same job description, but from different points of view. A Teachers job is to work with and improve their students. A Coaches job is to work with and improve their adult learners.
How can the Coach Support the Teachers?
Throughout the school year, a Coach has the opportunity to work with classroom teachers in a variety of ways. The Coach usually starts building their teacher relationships by having conversations, sometimes in the hallways, and sometimes in the classrooms. Often these conversations turn into classroom visits and eventually a series of co-teaching opportunities begin to happen.
The Coaches job in these situations is to support the curricular needs of the teacher. They are there to learn how the teacher teaches, how the classroom runs, and what their goals are in working with their students.
From this point, the Coach and Teacher can formulate a plan of action for the Teacher to learn how to create new and dynamic lessons for their students. This relationship is all about the numerous ways that a Coach can provide 1:1 professional development to the teacher in a safe and mutually respectable environment.
How can the Teachers Support the Coach?
If the Coaches role in the Teacher/Coach relationship is to be supportive and provide guidance when needed, then in return the Teachers role is to allow the process to happen. When a teacher (new or experienced) first meets an Instructional Coach, it is natural for them to feel a bit taken back by the concept of having someone else in their room “coaching” or helping them out. They may look at this as an opportunity to allow the coach to instruct their students. Teachers may also feel the need to push back at the concept of having a coach due to their many years of teaching experience.
In these situations, the best thing for the teacher is to allow themselves the opportunity to meet with and work with their coaches little bit by little bit to gain the trust needed to accept that the coach is there to support them and to help them grow as educators.
The Library Media Specialist / Coach Relationship
In the world of Instructional Coaching, the one relationship that is mostly the strongest in a school building is the one between the Instructional Coach and the Library Media Specialist (LMS). Often, it is found that the Coach and LMS are the two most “techy” people in the building, and they are also the ones that teachers will reach out to the most when something is broken or in need of fixing in their classrooms.
When working as a team, it is important that both the Coach and LMS understand and know their role in the building.
- The LMS’s position is to support students by teaching them Digital Literacy skills.
- The Instructional Coach’s position is to support the teachers by helping them learn how to bring digital literacy skills into their lessons.
I mention this because quite often both roles can easily become a two-headed “technology teacher” if the situation is left unchecked.
How can the Coach Support the LMS?
In most school districts, the coach is the team member most closely in contact with central office and the IT department. For this reason, it is important for the Coach to keep the LMS up to date on district projects and initiatives.
The Coach can also support the LMS by keeping them up to date on what is happening in the classrooms. Quite often, a teacher might bring their students to the library and on short notice request that the LMS support a certain curricular topic (last minute). In working with teachers, the Coach can keep an eye out for any current or future classroom projects and help support student activities both in the classroom and in the library.
How can the LMS Support the Coach?
The relationship between the LMS and the Coach can be thought of as both symbiotic and cooperative. If a Coach finds themselves in a school where there is a long-standing tradition of asking the LMS for digital learning support, the LMS can support the Coach by directing any of these types of questions over to the Coach. This will not only help the Coach become familiar with what is happening in the classrooms but also allow the coach to get into the classrooms and begin building relationships.
Additionally, the LMS is usually the best person for a Coach to practice their coaching skills. In many cases, the Coach/LMS relationship is extremely close and concepts such as “coaching” and “co-teaching” are out the window and in exchange, the two team members simply lock into one of total and complete support for each other’s goals and objectives in the building.
The Building Administrator / Coach Relationship
The relationship between the building administrator(s) and the Instructional Coach is one of the most crucial of all noted in this article. For some Coaches, the Building Administrator is the immediate supervisor of the Coach and for others, the Building Administrator serves not as an evaluative figure, but the leader of the building and the one that controls the success of the coaching program.
As noted in the book Coaching Matters, the Building Administrator must first be a “Coaches Champion.” This means that they must be in favor of having the Coach in their building and have a clearly defined idea of how the Coach is going to be used in the classroom.
No matter if the Building Administrator is a primary evaluator of the coach or not, the success of the coaching program lies directly at their desk.
How can the Coach Support the Building Administrator?
When we look at defining the various relationships that a Coach could/should have with their building administrator, one of the most important ones would be as a resource provider. A building principal is the one that has a clearly defined plan for how they would like to see learning happen in classrooms. The coach is simply the vehicle from which their plan should be implemented.
As a resource provider, the coach plays a key role in helping the teachers understand what it is they should be doing in their classrooms by working with and demonstrating key concepts and aspects of digital learning skills to both students and teachers.
How can the Building Administrator Support the Coach?
When a coach first arrives in a building, they are often looked at as an outsider. They are members of the school building community, but they do not follow the same schedule or have the same rules as teachers. This often puts the responsibility of creating meaningful relationships to start “the job” on the shoulders of the coach.
The process of building relationships and starting an actual coaching program is in reality, less on the coach and more on the way that the position (and person) is introduced by the building administrator. As we learned during our Coaching Matters podcasts, the coaching position needs to be set up by the building administration. Teachers need to understand what the expectations are of the coach just as much as they need to know the expectations they have in the relationship.
The building administrator can support the coaching process by working with a coach as both a leader and mentor to share building and district goals. They can also go on classroom walkthroughs with the coach to point out what they see as positive and what they would like to see addressed in the building so the coach can begin to formulate a plan for improvement when working with teachers.
Above all, the building administrator needs to be the #1 advocate for the coach and the coaching program. After all, the coaching program is voluntary but when set up correctly, a vital program designed to provide teachers with 1:1 professional development during instructional periods.
The Central Office / Coach Relationship
If the building administrator is responsible for setting the direction of an individual building, central office administrators are responsible for setting the direction for groups of buildings, entire grade levels, or individual curricular departments.
For this reason, to create a unified and supportive coaching program, central office administration should have a strong relationship with their coaching staff to alert them (first) of new district initiates, critical changes to technology applications, and adjustments to the curriculum so that they can be ready to train staff and field first-level questions when they come up in conversation.
How can the Central Office Support the Coach?
Often, during coaching sessions, or professional development sessions a question such as “why are we doing this” comes up from the teaching staff. When central office takes the time not just to share updates but also explains the theory and philosophy behind changes in policy it gives the coaching staff to stand up on the front line and provide important context for the decisions, they often become the face of in the classroom.
Central office administration should also allow coaches to have behind the scenes access to key technologies that they will be teaching. As an example, coaches should be given higher level access to applications that have district resource libraries so they can help manage classroom technologies. This not only takes the burden of doing this off the plate of central office staff, but also trains coaches to think at a higher altitude than they previously needed to when they were in the classrooms.
The IT Department / Coach Relationship
If you look at a school district the way you look at a football team, the Coaching and IT departments can be thought of as both your offense and your defense. As we discussed in a recent Ask the Tech Coach Podcast, the coaching department represents your offense. They are responsible for moving instruction forward. Coaches have a game plan that is set up by central office and adopted by building administrators who are charged with supporting in classrooms.
The IT Department on the other side is your defense. They are responsible for making sure that bad things do not happen to the network and digital infrastructure. When devices break down, it is the IT Departments' responsibility to repair and put back into action.
How can the Coach Support the IT Department?
When working as a unit, the Coach should be assisting teachers with the creation of support tickets so that damaged technology gets cataloged quickly and put back into the hands of students for future use. Coaches should have a strong working relationship with their building technicians and meet with them often to alert them of what is happening in individual classrooms so that they are able to come out to the buildings with any additional cables or equipment needed to keep classrooms up and running smoothly.
How can the IT Department Support the Coach?
In a traditional school district, the Technician position is one that rotates between multiple school buildings. They need to be able to quickly enter a school building, identify what needs to be addressed and can take care of a building as efficiently as possible.
They usually are entering a building with previous knowledge of a certain number of issues in mind due to what support tickets have been submitted but are also aware that at any moment they might be faced with several secondary challenges or requests for additional services.
Much like the relationship with building and central office personnel, the Technician should enter a building and before leaving, seek conversation with the building coach. This traditionally is the best way for a technician to learn about both major and minor issues happening in classrooms.
The Technician, who often is in technical meetings that the coach is not invited to, knows, and understands not just about their buildings, but about any issues happening across the district such as application issues, or Wi-Fi outages.
The Student / Coach Relationship
So far, we have looked at several relationships that a coach must form during a school year. The one thing that all these relationships have in common is that they are between two adults. However, there is one more important relationship that a coach must form and that is with the student population.
Traditionally, a coach is focused on and dedicated to supporting teachers. They meet teachers outside of the traditional classroom and spend time planning and preparing lessons. The next phase of the coaching program is when students come into play.
There is a fine line between a coach being a co-teacher or a mentor in the classroom and being the building's technology teacher. This is where it is important for a coach to clearly define their relationships with students.
How can the Coach Support the Students?
Understanding that their role in the school district is to teach teachers and not students, the coach has the responsibility of supporting the students both during the times they are in the classrooms and the times they are in non-instructional meetings.
The coach is a believer in both Future Ready and ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) standards and keeping them in mind strives to support the needs of the students when planning lessons and discussing instructional strategy with building and district administrators.
In many ways, the coach is the ultimate advocate for what the student needs to learn both on the micro and macro level, and thus why the coaching position exists in the first place.
How can the Students Support the Coach?
Simply put, the students play a significant role in the success of any coaching program. They are the ones that show (directly or indirectly) a teacher how important it is to include digital learning skills in traditional lessons.
When students are working on a video project and they say, “this is awesome, can we try this again?” The teacher is going to then be encouraged to turn to the coach and ask for them to come back for additional lesson planning.
When building successful Instructional Coaching programs, several important decisions must be made. Decisions that allow coaches to be successful in the classroom, successful in setting up their schedule, and successful in being productive and equal members of the leadership team.
To do this, it is vital for proper relationships to form for the coach at all levels of the greater district organizational chart. Having strong relationships at both the central and district level administrative levels allows the coach to speak not only to, but for the district as they are usually the ones who are tasked with implementing new initiatives and programs. The ability to know not only what is happening in the curriculum world but also in the greater technology world is also important and thus, it is important for coaches to be in constant communication with their district and building IT staff.
When these relationships are set up and communication channels are put in place it is not the coach that is successful, but ultimately the students who are put in the best position to succeed.