By Mannu Sikka
As an instructional coach, I am able to collaborate, plan, and learn from other teachers while supporting student learning. While my goal is to work with every teacher in my building, that’s not always the case. Teachers often assume that an instructional coach’s sole responsibility is to work with new and inexperienced teachers and think “What can a coach do for me?”
However, every teacher can use instructional coaching in their day-to-day in some capacity, whether it be through planning, collaborating, or even just seeking support. I like to think of myself not as a coach, but as just another colleague who is learning alongside my peers. With that in mind, here are a couple of ways instructional coaches can help support teachers.
1. I act as a thought partner.
As we all know, teaching is complex. It “requires independent decision making and self-directed growth (Knight, 2019).” With that being said, in order to navigate the complexity of teaching, teachers need the opportunity to collaborate and talk with someone about their ideas. This allows for new perspectives and insights to be shared. While PLC and common plan meetings are ideal for this, sometimes that is not enough for teachers, and they need something more personal and consistent. This is where a coach can act as a thought partner: someone who listens and collaborates with you on an idea, and may offer you new ways of thinking or approaching a situation.
One way I like to create opportunities for these kind of rich conversations with teachers is by visiting the teachers’ lounge. The teachers’ lounge is an ideal area for informal conversations because many teachers are already there, whether they’re making copies or taking a break. Frequently, I like to pop in to get work done or grab a snack. This allows me to strike up a conversation with a teacher or be approached by a teacher with a question or concern. These conversations aren’t formal, but allow me to be a listening ear. Moreover, the casual setting allows teachers to feel relaxed and comfortable in sharing something they are thinking over.
Whether the conversation take place at the lounge, in the hallway or in a classroom, being a thought partner for teachers is powerful. It dispels the myth that coaches are only there to improve instruction, and creates opportunities for authentic collaboration and sharing. The possibilities are endless.
2. I am a system of continued support.
Trying to navigate the complexity of teaching can be scary, and it often forces teachers out of their comfort zone. It can also feel lonely and frustrating. When that happens, it is important that teachers have a support system; a community of colleagues they can rely on when the going gets tough. Instructional coaches can be that support system. They can offer a needed sense of community, and be a shoulder to lean on. More importantly, coaches can offer their own insight so teachers do not feel isolated.
I try to act as much of a support system as possible for my teachers. Whether it means joining a conversation in the hallway during arrival time, or casually checking in, I make myself available as much as possible. It may not seem like much, but many of my teachers appreciate me being present and willing to offer support. It gives them a sense of community and camaraderie in a profession that’s rewarding, but difficult. Finally, having an unbiased perspective is comforting. Teachers feel they have someone who values their work, and is willing to see them through their challenges. Support like that is priceless.
3. Everyone Can Use a Coach
As I have pointed out, a coach’s role is more than just supporting instruction. Coaches can serve as thought partners, or as strong support systems. While these roles are just a snapshot of their work, they reflect how powerful working with a coach can be. A coach can offer insight and guidance. So while many teachers may think, “What can a coach do for me?,” I challenge us to change the narrative to, “What can’t a coach do for me?”
Moreover, if we really think about it, a coach’s sole responsibility is the same as every other educator: to support student learning. What better way to support student learning then to work together and support each other? So while the term “instructional coach” seems intimidating, at the end of the day we are all here for the same reason. Working with a coach can only enhance the amazing work we already do as educators.
About the author
Mannu Sikka is an Instructional Coach at Berkeley School District 87 in Illinois and a 2019 ASCD Emerging Leader. Follow her on Twitter at @MannuKSikka.