Why Coaches Deserve More Appreciation, and How to Get It
While educators as a whole are terribly underappreciated, coaches might be the least appreciated group of all. Perhaps this is because the work of a coach is often behind the scenes in schools, quiet and subtle, hard to see. But perhaps this is also because there's less clarity about what coaches do, or should do, in comparison with our understanding of the responsibilities of teachers and administrators.
How Do You Define Coaching?
Let's back up. I've found very few organizations, districts, or schools that have a clear and shared definition of coaching. This gets to the core of the problem of why coaches are underappreciated, and why the potential for coaching isn't reached. Here's the basic definition of coaching that I use:
Coaching is a form of professional development with someone who willingly engages in reflection and learning; coaching results in reflective practitioners who make decisions that further the learning and achievement of all students, every day.
Coaching is one form of PD, and ideally is a part of a robust approach to adult learning, but it's a particularly effective form of PD because it's ongoing, job embedded, and differentiated.
What Is the Primary Role of a Coach?
Given the above definition, coaches should be the leaders of adult learning in their school, district, or organization. They should guide teachers and even administrators to reflect on and refine their teaching and leading. Coaches should support educators to look inward at their practice, to see what we sometimes don't want to see, and to identify a course of improvement.
Many educators proclaim to value "lifelong learning." But far too often, this value is projected onto children, but somehow not pertinent to the adults who work with them. Coaches can, and should, be experts in learning, and should help everyone in the school system be lifelong learners.
A few things make this potential for coaching inaccessible. These include the lack of a shared definition of coaching, the lack of agreement that all adults working in schools need to continue developing their skills, and the fact that most coaches receive insubstantial preparation for their jobs and little ongoing PD.
In order to be effective, a coach needs extensive training and ongoing support. In my fantasy world, an aspiring coach would spend three years in a rigorous, master's level program before stepping into a position as a coach. This program would include training in communication skills, understanding group dynamics, organizational development, cultivating emotional resilience, and coaching for equity, and would include a yearlong apprenticeship under the guidance of a master coach.
Then, once in the role, the coach would have weekly professional development with a community of coaches, and the coach would have their own coach. And there'd be coaching standards and rubrics to evaluate coaching and continued reflection on what it means to be a coach in schools. Imagine what might be possible for teachers if they had coaches who had so much training and support, and therefore, what might be possible for children.
Without an appreciation of what coaching is or could be, coaching is often talked about as a step toward something else—a step on the path to administration, a step out of the classroom. Thinking about coaching in this way seriously undermines the potential of the position, and the unique skill sets that are required to coach become undervalued and misunderstood. It takes years (maybe five to seven years) to become a master coach. And yet, far too often, coaching is seen as something that a teacher might step into for a couple of years on their path to administration. This mindset needs to shift in order for the potential of coaching to be realized and in order for resources to be devoted to coach professional development.
A First Step Toward Valuing Coaching
Appreciating coaches is a first step in elevating the coaching profession. In 2013, I declared Nov. 4 to be Coach Appreciation Day. Since then, I've encouraged those who supervise or support coaches to do something special for coaches on that day. This year, Nov. 4 falls on a Sunday—so let's celebrate Coach Appreciation Day on Monday, Nov. 5. And on that day, if you capture images of whatever celebrations you engage in, use #coachappreciationday on social media to share!
Coaches: If you yearn for more appreciation, I challenge you, I encourage you, I urge you to forward this blog to your principal or supervisor, and include a note like, "I love dark chocolate! (smiley face)" Advocate to be recognized and appreciated.
Coach Appreciation Day is a symbolic recognition of the unique contributions of coaches as experts in adult learning, and a first step toward gaining more understanding of what the role is and could be. Ultimately, if coaching were acknowledged for what it should be, and if coaches were prepared and supported, children would benefit. Let's keep our eyes on that prize, and celebrate those who help us get there.