One of the best professional development opportunities offered at my school has been the regular and frequent observations and debrief conversations with my instructional coach. I believe these observations and follow up conversations are the single biggest contributor to my development as a teacher.
Once a cutting-edge idea, instructional coaches are now common place in many schools across America. The role of instructional coach has shown varying degrees of effectiveness. I’ve spoken with many teachers across our country who see the role of instructional coach as just an added layer of bureaucracy to their already overloaded plates. So what’s different about the role of instructional coach in my school that makes me see it as a powerful part of my development?
Consistent and frequent observations
First, my coach does what she says she will do. She observes my classroom for about 30-45 minutes two times per week. She also provides feedback on my lesson plans weekly. We meet each week for 30 minutes to brainstorm solutions to problems, debrief her observations, and decide on a key lever to focus on for the coming week. She does not miss observations; she does not reschedule our meetings; and she delivers on the resources she promises to provide. For my part, I turn in lesson plans on time, and I meet deadlines she sets. We don’t do these things because we are perfect. We do these things because we prioritize them and believe in the benefits of this process.
Make a commitment to listen to feedback
Second, I make a conscious choice to listen to feedback, think about it, and thoughtfully insert recommendations from others into my teaching practice. Even though getting better every day is one of my core beliefs as a teacher, I still have to make a conscious effort to be open to feedback. In some ways, feedback was easier when I was a novice teacher. I was ready to listen to anyone, and everyone who could tell me how to keep my head above water. These days I’m feeling more and more like an expert in upper elementary literacy. To balance my own expertise with advice from others, I make a weekly commitment to open my ears and truly listen. My teaching, and most importantly the kids’ learning, is much better off because of that.
Focus on what you can control
And what about my coach? She’s a wealth of knowledge in my content area, a compassionate and thoughtful colleague, and an all-around cool person. This is obviously a huge factor in the success of the role, but I’m not dedicating much discussion to that in this blog because I can’t control those things. Hopefully principals are making smart hiring decisions but that isn’t currently within my locus of control as a teacher (I do think teachers should play a role in hiring new staff but that’s a discussion for another blog post). What I can do as a teacher is prioritize getting the most from my relationship with my instructional coach, and commit to push my ego aside and listen.