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An Instructional Coach's First Week

Carmen, who is beginning her first year as a coach, wrote me asking, "What does the first week for a coach look like? And how does a schedule play an important role for the coach and her principal in terms of what they're expecting?" These are great questions and timely to the start of a new year.

Listen, Listen, Listen

Let's start with a coach's first week. If you're new to the school, you'll want to spend the first few weeks learning about your new site. You'll want to listen to everyone you come into contact with--students, parents, staff members, teachers and administrators--so that you can gain a deep understanding of this school and hear different perspectives. Ask: What's going well here? What do you appreciate about this school? What concerns do you have? What changes would you like to see?

Even if, for example, you're just coaching reading teachers, you'll want a thorough and wide understanding of your context. This information is essential in order for you to apply a systems thinking approach to your coaching--which is a key framework in order for you to affect transformational change. (There's a lot more about how to be a systems thinker and transformational leader in my book).

So during your first week, reach out to everyone you can, ask if they could meet with you for half an hour, explain that you want to hear about their experience and perspective, and listen, listen, listen. Ask a few clarifying or probing questions and let everything you hear sink in. Be cautious about forming judgments or opinions as you start this "data gathering" mission--remember that one person's perspective is one person's perspective. After you've spoken to many people, you'll recognize themes and patterns.

During your first week, you'll want to have more extended conversations with the teachers you'll be coaching and the site administrators. You'll want to hear about their expectations, hopes and fears, previous experiences with coaching, and personal-professional histories. Again, focus on listening and taking it all in.

Communicate Your Role, Purpose, and Intentions

Another thing you'll want to plan for and be intentional about is explaining who you are and what you're going to do as a coach. How will you communicate what you think coaching is? What you think your role as a coach is? Some teachers have had experiences with coaches where they've felt like the coach wanted to "fix" them. In some places coaches have been perceived as working with the most struggling teachers or this is indeed how they've been used. I don't believe coaching should be used this way. I believe that coaching is a form of professional development, it's one structure through which we reflect on our practice, improve our skills, and learn new things. Given this definition, I think coaching is useful for all educators at any stage in their career--we're all, always striving to improve and learn new things.

What's really important is that you communicate your beliefs about your role to your new clients--as well as to the principal. If you're not direct and clear, then people form their own ideas which can sometimes be erroneous. I strongly encourage you to write your introductory spiel down so that you can revise it, practice it, and make sure it's exactly what you want to say. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of fear about coaches (Is she a spy for the principal? Is she only there to tell us what to do? And so on). Anticipate this and show up from the beginning as someone who is upfront with her agenda and clear about her purpose.

Given the possibility of misunderstandings, it's really, really important that expectations about your work are clearly articulated with the principal. Expectations should include what your weekly schedule looks like, but perhaps more important, they include what your role is, what your goals are, how your work will be understood and assessed, and how your work is a part of, or aligned to, the school's goals, plans, mission and vision. Get this stuff really clear with your supervisor as soon as possible.

Resources

There's a lot more in my book about how to begin coaching relationships (including questions to ask during a first conversation with a client, questions to raise with a principal, how to articulate your role as a coach) and you can also download many of these tools from my website. Good luck, Carmen!


This blog, The Art of Coaching Teachers, originally began as a place for coaches to raise questions about their work. What other questions do you have? You're welcome to email me and I'll respond on this blog.

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