In as much time as it takes you to snap your fingers, you have become a student again. It’s odd…you could have sworn that only a moment ago you were the teacher—leading discussion, imparting wisdom, guiding, correcting. But now, you’ve just dismissed your kids and you’re sitting down for a meeting with your coach. You have a to-do list as long as your arm, so a meeting about abstract-sounding strategies might not be your top priority at the moment—we’ve all been there. Aristotle always said the best way to become a strong teacher is to scribble a few notes while your coach makes suggestions…passing time until you can move on to that to-do list, right?
Of course not.
Taking a passive approach to the coaching process is side-stepping an opportunity to take advantage of the individualized development and support that coaching provides. This year, as I began my first year of teaching, I didn’t know what to expect when I was assigned a “teacher coach.” From that point, early in the year through now I’ve gathered a few insights that I hope will prove useful to new and seasoned teachers alike.
1. Ask questions.
Continually improving your practice is tough—thankfully you have a coach who is there to help. It’s easy to focus on internalizing “what” your coach is advising you to do and “how” your coach is advising you to do it. It’s easy to become preoccupied with the strategies and resources provided to us, looking for a quick fix for what we are trying to accomplish in the classroom. However, this approach neglects what I consider to be the most important, yet underrated part—the “why.”
“Why,” might you ask? Investment. We all know that in order to motivate students, a teacher should be prepared to give them a reason to care. In the same way, you can increase your own investment by asking your coach why he/she suggests certain approaches or how a professional development will translate to your specific classroom. Maintaining an open dialogue with your coach sets a strong foundation for reflection, improvement, and investment in the future.
2. Be open to feedback. But stay true to your own vision.
Unlike the hoards of materials and resources teachers love sharing with each other, there is one very important part of your classroom that isn’t as easy to share—your vision. When gathering feedback from your coach (or whomever, for that matter), I’ve found that it’s most helpful when you consider it within the context of your vision for your classroom.
For a given piece of feedback, you may ask yourself, “How can I adapt this so it will have the greatest impact given my classroom culture, the differing learning goals of my students, etc.?” As you know, there is an endless list of new approaches to virtually anything in the classroom. So it’s important to keep it in context.
Even with more direct feedback, have a conversation about how it aligns with your classroom vision with your coach. This is a great opportunity to thought partner with your coach (see #4) and an opportunity to exercise your intellectual vitality, a key characteristic of a true lifelong learner.
3. Reflect on your practice regularly.
Alright—you’ve thought through the investment and impact of your lessons, and you’ve integrated feedback with your vision. Glad that’s over with…is it time for happy hour yet?
Not so fast. Accepting and integrating feedback is only part of the process. In order to learn and grow from both shortcomings and successes, it is crucial to build a habit of engaging in a reflective, evaluative practice of some kind. Reflecting on feedback from my coach, data, or past lessons allows me to make informed decisions when building my next plan of action.
This may take the form of modifying next week’s plans, setting new goals for my students, or myself, or altering the sequence of content presented in class. Using reflection to generate measurable outcomes (either for yourself or for your students) is a tangible, powerful way of furthering your development; also, your coach will appreciate your thoughtfulness and initiative!
4. Work together.
One of the most valuable aspects of working closely with my coach (shout-out to Cristina Callagy!) has also been the most simple: Two heads are better than one. By sharing ideas and thinking through possibilities collaboratively, we can improve approaches to instruction or reflect and set next steps.
In fact – ready for a plot twist? In many ways, coaches are students too! The way I see it, a coach that will have the most meaningful impact is the coach that operates as a lifelong learner as well. Your coach should welcome, implement, and reflect upon feedback in a similar way as you do. The underlying premise here is one that we, as teachers, are all too familiar with—no matter who you are or what you do, you should never be “done” learning.
Keep raising the bar and keep growing.
5. Park your high horse.
Underlying every aspect of the teacher-coach relationship is the element of humility. All of the above—investment, integrating feedback, reflection, collaboration—are impossible to achieve if you don’t acknowledge the fact that you have room for improvement. This process is undoubtedly more challenging for some than others. But to those that allow themselves to be vulnerable for the sake of improving and developing as a professional – the skills you develop through the coaching process will benefit both yourself and all the children whose lives you touch. Every single day.
Rhandy Siordia teaches second grade on the founding team at Spark Academy in San Jose, CA. He graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara with a BA of Psychology. Rhandy was born in San Jose and spent his first few years in the neighborhood where Spark Academy is now located.