Beginning as a coach can be just the opposite. Instructional coaching is a relative new position in many districts, so a coach may need to completely establish their position and role with the teachers, the administration, and even themselves. They may be figuring out their role along with everyone else. Schedules and responsibilities are less defined. This can lead to second guessing and self-doubt in an area where you have normally felt very confident.
I am in the process of experiencing this exact transition. I’ve recently gone from being a 7th grade math teacher to the math coach at our middle school. I am completely new to coaching, so I’m learning about the role as I go. The position, in its current form, is rather new to my district, so they are figuring out how coaching works as we go, as well. In my short time, I’ve had many ups and downs. Through this, I’ve found a few strategies have served me well. I hope my reflections here can help, or just give reassurance, to other teachers/coaches going through the same transition.
I was at a workshop with a bunch of my math teachers, and the person running the workshop asked everyone to raise their hand for what their role was. He went through every grade level of teaching, then asked who were “administrators”.
One of my teachers turned to me and said, “Raise your hand.”
“I’m not an administrator,” I replied.
“Whatever, you’ve moved to the dark side.”
Luckily I know this teacher well and he was just kidding, but this sentiment is often felt towards and by new coaches. Overcoming this perception can be an ongoing struggle. In this case, having just come from the classroom can be your strength. If you stay in the same building as you used to teach, you easily make the case for the teachers you coach that you understand their concerns and needs. I mean, it was just recently you were one of them having those same concerns! Even if you're in a new school, make that connection. Remind them you are on their side. Tell them you understand, you know how they feel, you want to advocate for them. Show them you have their best interest at heart. This will help build trust in your new position, and make them feel they can come to you as a resource.
It was our fourth week of grade level meetings. The previous three meetings had turned into vent sessions against the lack of structure for RtI time. Their concerns were valid, but we weren’t making any progress. I had to find a way to move the conversation forward and make this time productive.
Teachers like to complain. If colleagues are used to complaining with you around, they may continue to do so, even with your change in position. Sometimes you need to allow them to vent, and tell them you hear what they are saying. However, it is important not to engage in the complaining yourself. As a coach, you are focusing on solutions and improving instruction. While complaining can sometimes provide valuable feedback on what isn’t working, it can also quickly spin into vent cycles which are not productive. Have some ways to redirect the conversation when it starts to head down that path. And always keep your part of the conversation positive.
I had begun the coaching cycle with a teacher I worked with. She expressed her goal was to improve students mathematical discourse. I told her this was a great goal, and after some conversation I suggested that maybe our next steps would be to go back and do some research on strategies to improve students' mathematical conversation. I immediately felt self-conscious. She thinks I’m a terrible math coach because I don’t have the suggestions ready to go, I’ve lost all credibility, oh my gosh what is she going to tell the other teachers...
You didn’t become the expert in teaching over the summer between when you left the classroom and when you became a coach. Make sure your colleagues know that. This may mean taking some hits to your pride. This means being confident in yourself as a coach, even if you think other people might be doubting you. Remember that the role of coach is not to have all the answers, but to help people find strategies and apply those strategies to improve student learning. Think long-term and remember that once that teacher realizes how much you’ve helped them, it won’t matter that you didn’t have all the answers right off the bat. And often, people don’t even like those people who (think they) have all the answers.
I walked into the room and the conversation stopped. I could feel the daggers from their eyes piercing me. They did not want me there. These were two teachers I had such a great relationship with last year, and now I could tell they didn’t want me around.
Your relationships with people are going to change. They may not be as eager to invite you to lunches, or you may get the feeling they are talking about you when you leave the room. Stay focused on why you took the role in the first place, and your long term goals. You took this position for a reason, always remember that. You are only trying to help. Good people will support you, others will come around, and some relationships may change (and accept that).
Find other coaches to share with
One of the most helpful things I’ve found is to talk with other coaches in a safe place. Hearing their struggles helps me feel less alone, and I can see first-hand that these issues can be overcome. Any other coaches out there, how have you overcome a difficult transition?