by Peg Grafwallner
Like many of us who have made career shifts, the road to occupational contentment is occasionally paved with potholes – some enormous, others mere bumps. As an English teacher for nearly 23 years, the move from teacher to Coach wasn’t that far off. But, in my case, I began a new position in a new school with an ambiguous job description. A little intimidating? Perhaps. But, also an opportunity to make my own mark and create my own destiny.
When I began my Coaching position, my office was a small, cramped room that housed the industrial copier. Even though the room was warm and loud, I realized quickly how the location, albeit uncomfortable, was actually a benefit. One at a time, teachers came in the room to make copies. As they did, I introduced myself and asked if I could observe their classroom and get to know their unit of study.
Every teacher gave me an enthusiastic yes and quickly I was putting dates on my calendar.
As I began observing classes, I took copious notes and asked a lot of questions. After every observation, I sent a thank you email along with a graphic organizer that I thought could enhance the lesson; or an article focusing on the topic in class that day or a scholarly research article that supported the teacher’s pedagogy.
While I had a cache of strategies from my years as an English teacher and alternative education teacher, I began to quickly add to them from various websites: Scholastic, Edutopia and Cult of Pedagogy. I utilized informational text from Newsela, Science Daily and EngageNY and gave them to teachers. And finally, I shared pedagogy from NCTE, ASCD and ILA as a way to enhance one’s practice.
But, the single most important thing I remembered throughout these first several weeks was the critical importance of selling myself and my product. I was not in classrooms to tell teachers what to do; on the contrary, I was observing to learn how to support them and the important work they did. I needed to be still; to learn what they needed without maybe having the ability to exactly define it. In addition, I had to sell the product of literacy to clients who might not necessarily envision how that product “fit” into their content area.
As a Coach, you need to be prepared for anything. By certification, I am an English teacher. Yet, there I was in a freshmen Biology classroom, co-teaching a class on viruses, modeling how to use a concept map. It’s important to remember you are not a “content” area teacher; rather, you are a pedagogical instructor. Begin with the art and science of teaching, not the content. In that way, you will focus on skill-building, while the classroom teacher conveys the content.
In addition, your attitude should always express your willingness and desire to assist and support your teachers. You are an equal, a peer. You are not in an evaluative position and you are not reporting back to anyone if the lesson didn’t go as planned. Be mindful that your expertise is what got you this position in the first place. Don’t be afraid to show teachers what you know; but, always be mindful to do it in a collaborative, professional way.
As you continually refine your practice, it is critical to your growth and development as a coach to gather feedback from your teachers. You want to create a sense of community where they feel comfortable to tell you how you can improve and grow. To that end, I created a Coaches’ Feedback Form specifically designed for their thoughts and reflections. While you’ll notice the form is decisively positive, it encourages teachers to ruminate on the lesson and perhaps contradict the statement; giving them the opportunity to share their thoughts in a safe, professional way. I always complete the top of the form for them and write down the skills we focused on (Number 4) using the ACT College and Career Reading/Writing Readiness Standards.
Nearly five years later, I continue to support and assist teachers in creating what they need for their students to be successful. I learned very quickly none of this – what I do – was and is about me. This is about the teachers and how to make their planning and teaching lives easier so they can provide comprehensive literacy lessons for the ultimate success of their students.
Coaches’ Feedback Form
Teacher: _________________________ Course: ______________ Date: _________________
- It was easy to schedule time with the coach (she/he worked around my schedule).
- The coach listened to my ideas/suggestions about the lesson.
- The coach understood what the lesson was about and gathered pertinent resources for the lesson.
- The skill(s) we focused on were:
- The coach met with me prior to the lesson as often as I needed to meet with her/him.
- The coach was prepared and ready for class.
- The coach had a good rapport with the students.
- The coach was respectful toward student needs/diversity/learning styles.
- The coach’s timing was right for my students, i.e., the lesson was set at a good pace.
- The coach’s activities/handouts/resources were respectful of student needs, i.e., the coach was willing to modify activities/handouts/resources for to accommodate student needs.
- The coach offered/created a formative assessment of the lesson for authentic student feedback.
- I enjoyed working with this coach and would seek her/him out for her/his expertise.
Peg Grafwallner is an instructional coach, author, blogger, national presenter, and a really good listener. Find her at http://www.peggrafwallner.com.