10 Things I Learned from Coaching

Next year, I will be teaching all subjects to a sixth grade ELL class. I’m really excited about it, but I thought I would also reflect on what it has been like to be in a coaching position this year.

So, being a coach isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I didn’t get to have the “very important talk” about hydration and sunscreen. I didn’t get to blow a whistle and yell at people. Instead, I observed and I asked and I taught. The upside? When teachers succeeded, they didn’t dump Gatorade on my head.

  1. Teachers need to know what a coach is and how coaching works. I sort-of expected the teachers I worked with to know about the coaching cycle. I figured that someone had talked to them about it. Turns out that someone was supposed to be me. I think it’s critical that teachers know why someone is often in their classrooms.
  2. Coaching works, but it needs to be a part of a larger, balanced professional development model. In other words, collaborating on lessons, learning new strategies in multi-week classes, meeting with a small group, doing a book study, or attending conferences all have a place alongside coaching.
  3. Everyone could use a coach. The term “coach” might be better than other words out there, but it carries a tone of shame. People don’t want to here that they are being coached – especially when they are great teachers. Next year, when they assign a coach to my classroom, I’m going to jump at the opportunity to dialogue with someone. It’s a good thing.
  4. It is way too easy to be pulled away from coaching, because it is important, but rarely urgent. If districts want the coaching model to work, they have to guard their coaches’ time. 
  5. Coaching works best in a community. There is a real power in a small group of teachers working together, sharing what they are doing and all the while not being “held accountable” as a group. Ideally, a coach should work individually and within that group, building trust and letting teachers be vulnerable.
  6. Coaching really is about self-reflection. It’s hard, as a coach, to recognize that paradigm shifts have to come from the teachers rather than the coach. Here’s where the blow-the-whistle part fails completely. I was never entirely comfortable asking: How are you feeling about that? What do you plan to do? How do you plan to get there? What did you see? What might success look like for you? It felt private, intimate almost. However, that’s how teachers grow. 
  7. Coaches need their own peer group. I loved working with my team this year. Although we didn’t talk about the coaching process in a formalized way, we shared ideas and spoke honestly about how things were going. I needed that. 
  8. I should have pushed the PLN concept a little more. The truth is that the community I know through blogging, Twitter and Facebook have been a great place for pushing ideas, trying new strategies, being authentic and self-reflection. I always treated it as some hobby I was into on the side. I wish I had pushed this idea with teachers.
  9. Coaching needs to be customized to the context. In the beginning, it was much more about the technology. I was in more of a consulting role. I taught more example lessons. 
  10. It’s not about motivation so much as self-efficacy. The biggest barriers have to do with self-concept and the question of whether one can meet a particular goal. Here’s where realistic goal-setting, modeling and visualization become powerful. And yet, that’s where I failed as a coach. I know that goal-setting, measuring success and data collection are all a part of the coaching process. However, because data always felt both too private and too impersonal, I avoided talking about it. I rarely asked teachers about their progress toward goals. 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

3 responses

  1. For setting and getting goals, you may want to check out a goal setting app called GoalsOnTrack, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It's clear, focused, easy to navigate.

  2. This is a great read. For me, it was one of those: "My God… this person and I have truly walked some of the same paths," moments. My four years as a generalist instructional coach in a high school were crucial to who I am as a professional today. I'm a better instructional specialist in the area of technology, specifically. I'm a better teacher.

    I'm with you on all of these. It's pretty clear that the coaching philosophy here and there are pretty well aligned. That's really interesting. What were your influences/models? Who did you read/study/bring in to consult?

    1. I was influenced by Gusky, by Cognitive Coaching and, honestly, by people who mentored me.

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