5 Things All Good Academic Coaches Should Know…

We all have our wheelhouses so to speak – that desire zone where you feel really comfortable.  For me, one of those areas is coaching. As instructional coaching is becoming a more widely accepted and needed practice in public education, we have to make sure that coaches know how to coach! Working with students is very different than working with adults, and it’s helpful to keep a few things in mind!

Here are a few truths that I believe constitute a good coach:

  1. A good coach can verbalize whatever it is that they are trying to coach in manageable steps.
  2. A good coach asks good questions, often knowing the answer they are looking for.
  3. A good coach has aligned goals with the person they are coaching.
  4. A good coach can genuinely build the other person up no matter how much help the person needs.
  5. A good coach can connect quickly.

So to be clear, I’ve been coaching for almost 10 years, and this is simply what my experience and dive into research has shown. So let’s go through each one of these…

1. A good coach can verbalize whatever it is that they are trying to coach in manageable steps. I can’t tell you how many people, specifically teachers, are AMAZING in the classroom – but when I ask them to tell me what it is they are doing to plan or run their classroom in a certain way, they can’t put it into words. A lot of times, an administrator will connect a new teacher with a stellar teacher because of the way the classroom runs, but if the veteran teacher can’t verbalize what and how they do what they do, they are going to be of very little help to the new teacher – and often times I’ve seen the new teacher leave feeling more overwhelmed than they were when they walked in. 

If you are thinking about moving into coaching, I encourage you to really be able to verbalize what it is you are going to help with, and creating a course or writing a book is a great way to not only add value and a resource, but also to get your thoughts in order. As an instructional coach, you want to be able to help teachers verbalize what they are doing well! This will help them be more intentional about continuing those things!

2. A good coach asks good questions, often times knowing the answer they are looking for. Once you have your thoughts organized and in a way that you can verbalize them, DON’T TALK!  I’ve seen so many coaches sit down with a teacher and just start throwing up a bunch of ideas and action steps – and while the content may all be good, that is not how the majority of people learn and respond best.  So a good coach needs to be able to ask questions that lead the person they are coaching to a realization – sure, you can give suggestions if the person is open to it and if they have come to a realization that they need a little help, but at that point, they have realized where the problem lies, and they will either come up with the solution, or be open to you helping them.

Let me give you an example – 

When I’m working with a teacher, one thing we do is a reflection sheet on the lesson that I observed or the last lesson they taught.  Now, one of my main goals when working with teachers, whether is be through culturally responsive teaching or working with emergent bilinguals – is to help them incorporate more student talk within their lessons (less teacher talk, more student engagement). I can’t just go in and give them a bunch of strategies for doing this though (unless they have specifically asked for that, and then they’re ready for it). So, 2 of the questions on my reflection sheet ask “How many opportunities did each student have to process through the new learning?” and “How many opportunities did each student have to talk about the new learning?” Now, if I was in the classroom, I already know the answer to this, but it is much more effective for the teacher to say, “Oh, ya know, I didn’t really give many opportunities…I asked a few questions whole group, but only a few kids answered those questions.”  So then my next question will be along the lines of – “if more talking and processing opportunities would be helpful, how could strategies be incorporated moving forward?

So, now, the teacher is either going to throw out some strategies he or she already knows and I’m going to totally affirm them, or if they ask for some, I’ve got them in my back pocket because I knew that was the direction I was going with this coaching session anyways. If he or she doesn’t need my strategies and only needed me to help them get there intentionally, then it’s so much better for them to use their own ideas, because they’re going to be more apt to actually do them.

3. A good coach has aligned goals with the person they are coaching. This can be trickier than it seems – when I sit down to coach a teacher or a group of teachers, I always have them talk about their goals for our time together – because here’s the deal – maybe I’m there to help them with writing, but if they don’t know how get their kids to sit in their desks, and that is their goal, I’m going to need to tackle that first- and they are going to be super open to suggestions and putting in the work here because they’ve already identified that as a problem. This is a tough place to be as an instructional coach, and I’ve played around with this quite a bit – sometimes I dictate what we’re going to be working on, sometimes I let the person I’m coaching decide – but the bottom line is when we can agree on a common goal at the beginning, it makes everything else so much easier.

4. A good coach can genuinely build the other person up no matter how much help the person needs. There is a stigma in the education world with relying on, depending on, or going to someone else to be coached or supported.  We can be very individualistic as a society, and sometimes we have the need to feel like “I did it all by myself and I don’t need anyone else” – but this is just false. While I think the mindset is starting to shift in education, when someone needs coaching, and there is the underlying event or idea that “I’m not doing something right and I need help and you know more than I do”, people can walk into a coaching session already defeated.  It’s incredibly important that a coach is listening for and watching for the positive actions and ideas of the person they are coaching – in education we call this the affective filter – when the affective filter is up and the person feels overwhelmed or defensive, very little learning will occur.  But if we can lower the affective filter and make the person feel competent and confident, their brains will be more open to learning.

#3 and #4 lead to #5 – A good coach can connect quickly. When you set common goals and you speak positively to the teacher, you are going to connect more quickly.  I think a relationship is certainly beneficial, but I’m going to be honest, with my coaching business, I may only have 3-4 45-minute sessions with a teacher- so I don’t have the luxury of spending one of those sessions just shooting the breeze, but the person does need to leave your time together trusting you and feeling competent that they can do the work you both have agreed on.

I also want to mention this – an instructional coach is there to support, but also to push. If I am a teacher and I am working with an instructional coach, and I don’t grow in my time with them, I’m going to look at it as a waste of time, honestly. And we know how precious a teacher’s time can be.  Think about a sports team. If the coach has a record of 5 and 5 for 10 years, he or she isn’t doing much to improve the team, so I’d be hard pressed to think of that person as a good coach. If none of the athletes improve in their skills and they just maintain, they can probably do that without the coach. The conversations we’re having with teachers need to be targeted and with a goal in mind. There is definitely a balance to coaching, and good coaches can walk that line!

I’m here to help. I love working with coaches. If I can help in any way, please reach out! 

Also, we know that sometimes coaching and professional development can seem like “one more thing to do” instead of showing a more effective way to do what they are already doing!  We can help with that!

We’ve recently created a coaching package to go with our Virtual Courses, The What, Why and How of Culturally Responsive Teaching and our Planning for Teacher Clarity membership! We equip Coaches will receive sample scripts, Look-For lists, debriefing questions, and support from me! I’m so excited about this- about the fidelity and implementation that is coming from having in-district or on-campus support, and about providing support as opposed to “one more thing to do”, so for information, go to www.pressing-onward.org for more information!

And lastly, please share this blog with other coaches. You can also find it in our Teaching By Reaching podcast episode: Tips For Academic Coaches (on Apple and Spotify). So please share that as well!

Reach out if we can support you in any way! Thank you for loving kids! 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: