Water the Flowers, Not the Rocks: Tips from 10 Years of Instructional Coaching

This June I wrapped up ten years of instructional technology coaching. Soon (tomorrow, in fact) I will begin a new journey in my career where I will still utilize my coaching skills but in a different capacity. This new opportunity has caused me to reflect on lessons learned throughout my time as a school-based coach. If you are a coach or aspire to be one following are ten tips I've learned during my ten years in the role.

  1. Be a model. Practice what you preach! If you want your teachers to join Twitter make sure you are already there. If they would like to try a new tool or lesson familiarize yourself with it first in order to lend additional support.
  2. Be honest. If you don't know something, say so. As a coach your faculty will look to you as an expert. There have been several times throughout my career that I've said, "I don't know that tool/concept/strategy but let me see what I can find out about it."
  3. If you are a former classroom teacher, remind people. Many educators have the mindset of "you just don't understand" to those not in front of students all day. If this is the case and you never were a classroom teacher that is fine- admit that you may not understand and look for an example of a time when you have related to a similar situation. If you have spent extensive time with kids draw from those experiences and share them (I spent 15 years as a fourth grade teacher in the inner city before becoming a coach). Not all teachers respect those of us that have chosen to impact education outside of the classroom so it helps to share that you, too, have been where they are.
  4. Know your audience. As a coach you deal with many different personalities. Some folks do better meeting in the morning before students arrive. Others may prefer you send an email instead of dropping by. Ask. When I first began coaching (and later when I transferred schools) I tried to meet with as many teachers as I could to complete a personalized technology plan for teachers (a form I created). On this form was an area that asked how teachers wanted to be supported (one-on-one, group PD, drop in, email, etc.). Knowing which teachers wanted to see me in person and which didn't helped me establish respect. 
  5. Be varied. Along with knowing your audience, be varied in the ways in which you present information. For a time I opened up a Remind account to share ed tech tips with only those that were interested. Later I created newsletters that I emailed to all faculty members. And one summer I created an entire website devoted to summer PD. You can recreate your approaches anytime!
  6. Promote your colleagues. Coaching is not just about teaching and assisting but also nurturing and building relationships. In my last school there was a teacher that had taken off with Twitter in his classroom. I approached him about presenting at a district PD event. To my surprise he had never presented PD- anywhere. Knowing this I was able to help him by preparing much of the presentation and co-presenting with him. After, we went on to present together at a state conference only this time with him taking the lead. Whenever colleagues have presented I would try to attend to lend support and tweet a shout out to them. If I walked in a room and saw something that I thought would help another teacher I would talk it up. This is one of the great perks of coaching- knowing what everyone is doing!
  7. Water the flowers, not the rocks. You read that right. It's one of the few truths about coaching that folks don't like to talk about. Believe it or not, not everyone will be interested in working with a coach. While you should never fully give up on those people respect their wishes- for now- and focus on those that want your help. Believe it or not after the positive results and praise they see their colleagues getting some eventually come around. For those that don't, continue to remind them that you are available if they change their mind.
  8. Introduce and continue to push initiatives. As a coach you should be looking to bring opportunities to your faculty that they may not have been aware of before. Be on the lookout for these and try to avoid "one and done" sessions. An example of this is the Global Read Aloud project. When I first introduced it to my faculty I did large quantities of the work to get the ball rolling (and promoted those involved in the project). The following year I would go back to those that were involved the year before and hook them in, dragging some newbies along the way. The third year I repeated the process but was happy that several of the teachers involved had taken the lead and started without me. Last year? Several teachers were involved without me even knowing! In the life of a coach, that's success.
  9. Be reflective. Coaching is a tough gig. Some days you will feel on top of the world, useful and a respected member of your faculty. Other times you will feel that the value of your position is not seen. Reflect on this. Is it true? Is there something more you can be doing? Be honest with yourself. Some of our greatest successes come from our failures. If coaching isn't going the way you would like it to, change it.
  10. Stay true to your beliefs, continue to learn and push yourself. There are so many groups out there that support coaching! Find your tribe. Share your joys and frustrations and before you know it you'll be blogging about your role after ten years too.