March 2020

March 3, 2020 - 6 minutes read

Coaching Tip of the Month

Many similarities have been made between athletic coaching and instructional coaching. In fact, if you look up the dictionary definition of a coach, you’ll likely see: coach n 1: a person who is responsible for managing and training a person or team: a basketball coach; 2: a coach is also an expert who trains someone learning or improving a skill, esp. one related to performing: an acting coach; 3: someone whose job is to teach people to improve at a sport, skill, or school subject ( And, if ten people in a room are asked for their definitions of an instructional coach, the answers would be just as varied as the number of people asked!

In our lexicon, an instructional coach engages in confidential, non-evaluative conversations with staff members, helping them implement effective instructional practices. They work one-on-one and in small groups to reinforce that what is learned through theory, demonstration, and practice is effectively applied in classrooms. Coaches don’t tell teachers what to do; they ask critical questions that elicit responses that are thought-provoking, problem-solving, and oftentimes, disruptive to the status quo. Many of these questions are open-ended asking for the “coachee” to question his/her own performance and making adjustments that are self- driven rather than coach mandated. On the other hand, sometimes an instructional coach needs to nag and nurture or pat and push to open the lines of communication and help teachers become more reflective practitioners. They engage in dialogues that dig deeper into practice and reveal multiple ways to approach diverse learners. And, while some athletic coaches jump around on the sidelines, instructional coaches need to maintain a distance and rely on the before and after conversations that both project and reflect action.

Athletic coaches coach team sports and instructional coaching is a team sport! When the “team” wins, everyone wins. In the world of instructional coaching, the team members are the students and teachers. When the teachers implement highly effective, evidence-based instructional practices, their students will most likely perform well. And, when the teachers can talk about practice, plan with a trusted colleague how to “deliver” that practice, and then meet after that delivery to discuss the practice and its delivery, that’s a win-win for the team members, including the students who are at the center of all discussions. To “win” in instructional coaching means that coaches are able to provide multiple opportunities for teachers to collaborate and change the culture of the school so that the collaboration becomes the norm for instructional practice. The “win” is when teachers implement those effective practices, identify which practices need to be strengthened, and then consistently meet to refine all practices.

So, yes, instructional coaching and athletic coaching share some commonalities. Athletic coaches work with team members; they share a “playbook”; they encourage team members to talk to each other on the field or on the court; they have intentional team time rather than just pick-up playground game play; they review the “plays” and game afterwards to see the strengths and areas of weakness. However, the differences are just as numerous: instructional coaches do not pick and choose the teachers they support nor do they determine who will “play” in the next game or sit on the bench; they do not “scout” out which “players” are more skillful than others and create a plan of “attack.” Instructional coaches do not ask other teachers to sit on the sidelines and watch their peers “perform” in real time or shout advice as if they can be heard! The instructional coaches do not watch teachers with an evaluative lens or performance rating chart or work with only those who are more proficient than others. In fact, none of the teachers have that luxury either… they work with the students they have – ALL of them!

So, I encourage all instructional coaches to read “The Blueberry Story” by Jamie Robert Vollmer and remember why you are a teacher, leader, and instructional coach. Remember that this is mid-year and inspiration, motivation, persistence, and consistence are incredibly important as you work with your teaching colleagues. Continue to establish and build relationships – that’s #1 on the hit parade… without those trusting relationships, nothing happens. Be transparent and sensitive to needs but don’t let that drive your work… you need to create that collaborative tension. You need to disrupt the status quo and remind your teaching colleagues that growth can be painful and rewarding at the same time. Remind yourself that you have two ears and one mouth – listen more than you talk; hone your questioning skills as they are the currency of coaching. Provide time to share multiple perspectives; sharing creates effective problem-solving experiences. Continue to promote and support, even when the “blueberries” are not as sweet.