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Five Pitfalls to Avoid as a New Instructional Coach

Instructional coaches get very little training before stepping into the role--as least I wasn't prepared when I started. What follows are the five biggest pitfalls to avoid as a new coach--the five pitfalls that can be the hardest to scramble out of.

1. Don't overlook people. At first, don't focus on content, instructional strategies, or curriculum. Focus on people and building relationships with people. You might be there to coach around English Language Development or Common Core Math, and you'll get there, but to start with you need to build relationships with the people you'll coach.

2. Don't feel like you need to prove yourself. Don't hang your credentials and certificates on the wall or brag about the test scores your kids got last year. You do need to demonstrate competence, but demonstrate your competence in listening, facilitating reflection, understanding kids, and being curious. Sprinkle in what you know, carefully. To be a great coach, you need to be excellent at guiding adult learners.

3. Don't talk a lot about what you did as a teacher. Maybe don't talk about it at all. Unless you're asked. Your coachee is not you and can't be you. Saying what you did can create distance and distrust. Get to know your client. And don't think everyone else should just be you or do what you did. It's not possible. And talking that way makes other people feel insecure.

4. Avoid ambiguity and vagueness. Know what your job entails or find out. Distrust comes from wondering: What does she do all day? What is coaching all about? Does she evaluate us? Does she tell our principal everything we talk about? You may need to ask your administrator for support here--perhaps offer them this blog to read, 10 Ways Administrators Can Support Coaches--in preparation for a meeting with you to discuss coaching. You need to be very clear with the people you're coaching about what your role entails, what they can expect of you, and what the purpose of the coaching is. Transparency builds trust.

5. Don't underestimate what you do know (but make sure to stay humble). It's likely that you're in this position because you do know something about teaching and learning, and with that knowledge it's likely that you can help teachers. But a coach needs to guide adult learners--not push them or force them into places they don't want to go. (Although sometimes you do need to be directive).

Here is a video in which I add texture and personal stories to describe these pitfalls. Coaching is so much fun and so rewarding and I hope you can experience those moments, as well as the normal steep learning curve, as you enter this field!


Here are some additional resources for new coaches:

First Steps for a New Coach

An Instructional Coach's First Week

New Coaches: Technical Tips for Getting Started

How to Structure a Coaching Conversation

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