Instructional coaching for any leader can be challenging especially when working with educators who have never been coached, whether they are novice or experienced. It may be hard for educators to realize and admit to areas they need to improve due to the stigma in society that everyone wants to focus on what’s going well. However, through effective coaching by educational leaders, teachers can reflect and grow through a coaching process.
When not strategically implemented, the instructional coaching process can be stressful for educators who may already feel overwhelmed, especially after the post-pandemic effects on education due to COVID. According to Benevene, Florilli, Amelio, & Pozzi (2014), “Mental health is an important occupational health issue in school teachers as work stress is a major risk factor for anxiety and depression.” Additionally, teachers are at high risk for depressive disorders due to stressful work environments (Gluschkoff, Elovainio, Jarvinen, Hintsanen, & Hintsa, 2016). Instructional coaches keep the social emotional needs of teachers in mind and must have the confidence, drive, and purpose to coach educators from a standpoint of transparency and genuine care. Instructional coaches must also provide safe meeting spaces for vulnerable and honest experiences to flourish since the goal of coaching is to positively improve instruction to impact student achievement while decreasing stress for educators.
Tips for Coaches to Support and Interact with Educators
Instructional coaches should be equipped with a variety of soft skills to be able to interact with educators from a genuine place. Educators use the phrase “relationships before rigor” quite frequently during professional development about students and the same is true when working with adults. Educators want safe spaces for sharing ideas, and instructional coaches must build trusting relationships with teachers to allow them to operate to their fullest capacity. Additional strategies include:
● Embracing errors and mistakes with understanding so that educators can take risks without feeling like they will be penalized or judged for not meeting goals.
● Listen more than you speak and use questioning strategies to help educators identify their strengths, weaknesses, and action steps to improve instructional practices.
● Balance general personal and professional questions. Simply asking educators about their day, families, or even hobbies opens up the atmosphere for a genuine, safe space to share and discuss, which opens communication up for the task at hand related to instruction. Then more structured conversations could take place about improving a teacher’s craft.
Instructional coaches can further support educators by effectively utilizing listening skills and video coaching through platforms such as Sibme and others. It is very important for instructional coaches to think before they speak and to take notes when meeting with teachers. Taking notes allows the instructional coach the opportunity to review statements of the conversation, repeat what was heard, and ask for clarity as needed. Additionally, video coaching is also beneficial as it allows the instructional coach and teacher to collectively self-reflect and process current instructional practices. Specifics to look for could be predetermined before watching the video to ensure there is a common goal and/or focus. Video coaching also provides evidence that can be used to create collaborative action plans for improving instructional practices without educators feeling like they are being judged and instead the focus is shifted to continuous improvement.
It is essential for Instructional coaches to be trustworthy, as teachers may frequently share confidential information during the coaching process. Sharing confidential information can breach trust and become a roadblock to prevent teachers from becoming truly successful. Work relationships can be quite complex but remembering to take care of people and their needs can build long-lasting trusting relationships, which is the bridge to focusing on work that will positively impact students for years to come.
Establishing Lines of Communication and Trust
Educators also trust instructional coaches who continuously work to keep the lines of communication open, which can happen in a variety of ways. Predetermined office hours shows that instructional coaches are committed to serve consistently and sends the signal to educators that coaches are available to meet their specific needs. Instructional coaches can also send out weekly or monthly newsletters, host follow-up conversations during coaching cycles, and send email reminders to keep everyone in the loop of deadlines and important tasks. Instructional coaches must also grace when educators are overwhelmed and effectively communicate their needs and wants to administrators and supervisors. Extensions on deadlines, providing extra resources, and giving additional time may be needed when the workload and expectations become overwhelming. The act of open communication allows educators to know that they are valued and always have a human resource that’s dedicated to their success.
To continue to successfully support educators and decrease the stress-related work of education, instructional coaches must know their curriculum, state standards, have strong knowledge of state assessments, and utilize approaching coaching tools. Protocols allow for structured conversations centered around a common goal and videos are helpful for self-reflecting and setting personal goals. Utilizing appropriate resources and tools during the coaching process provides educators with a platform that feels like support rather than judgment or an evaluation. The role of an instructional coach should not be taken lightly as the actions of the instructional coach can significantly impact the mental health of educators in the workplace.
Support Teacher and Student Success
Supporting the mental health of educators should always be top priority as there is already a teacher shortage across the United States. Educators are leaving the field in droves and many students are left to be educated with long-term substitutes and classrooms that are over capacity. District leaders must ensure that instructional coaches are purposeful and intentional in ensuring teachers feel supported, nurtured, and trusted to do their jobs of educating students wholeheartedly, and be willing to go the extra mile to ensure everyone feels successful in educating all students. Overall, instructional coaches must be well versed in a variety of skills, resources, and tools to ensure teacher and student success.
About the author
Dr. Bolden has 23 years of experience in education as a teacher, specialist, and administrator. Her degrees are in elementary education 1-8, administration, supervision, and teacher leadership. She served most of her years as a 3rd/4th grade math and science teacher. She is currently an elementary school principal. She absolutely loves technology and encourages BYOD, flipped classrooms, blended learning, project-based learning, and computer-based instruction. She also has a certificate in instructional computer literacy. She is from South Louisiana, but currently live in South Texas and is married with two children. Her hobbies are higher education learning and instruction, reading leadership books, shopping, dining, and studying family history.