I have been involved on some excellent chats on Twitter and one of them has been the #educoach chats on Wednesday evenings. While I like to fancy myself a instructional "coach", I am not. I recently left a district that was finally creating a Reading and Math coach position in the district. I was so excited when they decided to move in this direction, many of the building principals were. The chance to have someone that is not an administrator (the person who does your evaluation) come in and observe teaching, for the sole purpose of working with the teacher to make instructional strategy improvements, was wonderful. No more judgments about whether this was going to be on an evaluation, or the teacher immediately going into self-defense mode, or my favorite, the distrustful comment of "you have never been a classroom teacher, what would you know about teaching reading or math!" It didn't usually get that heated, but it has come up and sometimes you can just read it in their eyes. Of course after many reading and instructional practice conversations, most of my staff has pretty good faith that I do know what the heck I am talking about, but I am still seen as an administrator. It is for this reason that I have such high hopes for the instructional coach movement. It's not new, but in many districts it has been cut and seen as a luxury that can not be afforded. There has also been a movement to have teachers coach themselves. My concern with that approach is that this creates a time problem for staff again. Not that it can't be done this way, but rather viewed as just another thing added to the plate of a teacher.
But, I also have a concern as to why can't we find a way for the principal
to be viewed as a "coach." It took me some time in my last district to build up this rapport with staff. We did quite a few book reads together and many informal philosophical discussions about what my beliefs were about teaching, evaluation, where education was headed, and our need to become a focused and cohesive Professional Learning Community. I let them know that when we could sit down and have serious critique of our practices, strategies and effectiveness, that none of it needed to be personal. They had a low trust environment when I first entered their building and they felt like their views, and expertise were ignored prior to my arrival. Through time, conversation, learning and just experiencing my mode of operation, they came to accept me as a leader they could trust. A couple of them even commented that "you seem more like a coach than my boss." That gave me shivers....not the word coach, the word boss. While I realize I am "the boss" to many people, in that I am the person in the authoritative role, or the person they must report to, I hate to see myself viewed in that manner. At that point, I knew that I wanted to be viewed as, the "Coach." A person that is respected, but listened to as well as someone you can go to with questions. Someone who listens, sees, and guides you on a path.
A video clip I came across on You Tube recently made me again think about the importance of that role and how more administrators should try to assume that identity with their staff. I have met a great many that due, through my connections on Twitter. While not all of them participate on the #educoach chats on Wednesday nights, many of the people I follow share their practices and strategies and you can just tell that they "get it" and take the coaching approach with their staff. Yet, I am still aware of so many that do not utilize this approach and would benefit from it greatly. They would build more trust with staff and less fear, and there is a lot of fear in education right now. Many teachers feel like things are being done "to them" instead of for them or with them. Be the inspiration they need to cross the finish line.