In this post, I’m going to show you 6 powerful tools that will help you to be more productive, effective, and organized in your role as an instructional coach.
I probably don’t need to tell you that everyone needs a coach. Coaching is commonly thought about in terms of sports, but coaching in the education setting has become increasingly popular. Instructional coaches possess the ability to inspire teachers, affect change, support student growth, push thinking forward, and be the cheerleader everyone needs in this demanding, and often emotionally exhausting, career field. It can sometimes be difficult for teachers to recognize a personal need for an instructional coach, but the right person, with the right tools, can have a significant impact on helping teachers grow and develop their craft.
Every professional possesses a set of tools that help them perform their job duties at an optimal level – instructional coaching is no different. These tools, when implemented with fidelity over time, can help optimize your coaching potential and thusly have a greater impact on the teachers you are working with. Here are six powerful instructional coaching tools you will want to utilize on a daily basis:
Tool #1: Mobile Technology
The first, and arguably the most obvious, tool for instructional coaches is some sort of mobile technology. This can be a laptop computer, a chromebook, an iPad, or even just your cell phone (though something more conducive to complex work is encouraged). It is important for coaches to have technology that is mobile, because your role as an instructional coach is mobile. While you may have an office or a classroom that serves as your “home base,” there is a good chance you won’t be spending a ton of time there. Depending on how many teachers you are coaching, your days may be full of meetings and classroom visits which typically take place in a coachee’s classroom. It is not uncommon for instructional coaches to find the nearest bench, table or random hallway desk to complete 15-20 minutes of work on their way from one meeting or visit to the next. This also allows you to remain visible to your staff and illicit impromptu coaching via casual hallway encounters, something that cannot be done if you are stuck in an office or classroom away from the teachers. As an instructional coach, you will want to be able to take all of your notes and research with you wherever you go, a mobile device will allow you to do that.
Conversely, there are many coaches that may prefer an old-school pen and paper method. While this is not a bad way to begin your coaching journey, you will find that this becomes tedious to keep track of and does not allow for collaboration with the teachers you are coaching. If you are a pen and paper coach, consider a hybrid approach. Use your pen and paper during your coaching meetings, but then set aside some time in between to transfer that information to your device. My favorite way to keep track of everything and easily collaborate with teachers is through a Google Doc. This will help you keep better track of your notes, and makes your notes easier to share with the teachers you are coaching.
A word of caution about coaching mobility. While you, as a coach, want to be visible to your staff, that does not mean that you cannot spend time in your office or classroom. As an instructional coach, you also need time to debrief and plan for the next meeting or classroom visit, as well as perform research or other work on behalf of your teachers. Coaching requires a balance between these tasks, but having mobile technology allows for that balance. You are able to take your work with you wherever you go, whether that be a teacher meeting, a classroom visit, or you are just working in your own space.
Tool #2: A Calendar
The second most powerful coaching tool, behind having a mobile device, is going to be your calendar. As an instructional coach, you will have many meetings, classroom visits and other school duties to keep track of. Your calendar will be one of the most essential tools in keeping you, and your teachers, organized. It does not matter if you are using an Outlook calendar or a Google calendar, but it needs to be compatible with your mobile device so you have access to it at all times. Again, some coaches may prefer paper calendars, but there are several benefits to using a digital calendar that paper cannot provide.
One benefit to using a digital calendar is the ease at which meetings and classroom visits can be rescheduled. It is not uncommon to find that a teacher you are coaching is out sick, or forgot to tell you about a field trip, or had an unexpected meeting with the principal pop up. Every time you schedule a meeting or classroom visit with a teacher, you should send them a calendar invite so that both of you have it on your schedule. That way if one of you needs to reschedule, that information can be communicated immediately and you don’t show up to a classroom that has a substitute or wait outside their door for 15 minutes before you conclude they aren’t going to be at the meeting. This is a waste of your valuable time as a coach and can be easily avoided with digital calendars.
Another benefit to a digital calendar is event reminders. There are times you will be working on a project and lose track of time, before you know it you’re late for your next meeting. You can set up your digital calendar to send you meeting reminders, to ensure that you are always on time and never miss a meeting. Just as we want teachers to respect the coach’s time, the coach needs to respect the precious time teachers sacrifice to work with them. Being late and missing meetings is a sure-fire way to lose the trust of your teachers, which would be detrimental to your work as their coach. These meeting reminders come in handy for working within the constraints of crazy campus bell schedules. You will never remember that your meeting is supposed to start at 12:53, but your calendar can remind you.
As an instructional coach, your calendar will be your lifeline. You will want to schedule every meeting and classroom visit, but also use your calendar to schedule work time for yourself, or even your lunch. Often times instructional coaches are considered to be “on call” for the entirety of the school day which can get overwhelming. While it is important to consider what meeting times are convenient for our teachers, you must also make time for yourself. Your calendar will show you when you have to say no to ‘that extra thing’ or when you need to schedule some time for yourself.
Tool #3: Coaching Work-Plan Tools
Your mobile device and calendar are tools to set you up to work as an instructional coach, but you will also need some tools to help you through your meetings and classroom visits, these will be your work-plan tools. If you are coaching in conjunction with the Dynamic Learning Project, you know that many of these tools have been developed for you via the Coaching Dashboard. However, if you are not coaching as a partner of this program, these tools can be emulated using your favorite digital tools.
The Dynamic Learning Project Coaching Dashboard is a place for instructional coaches to keep a log of every teacher meeting and classroom visit completed. Coaches are able to note the date, time, and keep brief notes about the meeting or classroom visit. These notes can then be shared with the teacher via email to increase accountability and collaboration between the teacher and coach. Classroom visit tools are also included in the Dynamic Learning Project Coaching Dashboard. These tools are different forms that allow the coach to collect data on student engagement and teacher moves, as well as conduct student interviews or events and collect video evidence from a lesson. Again, each of these tools could be recreated using Google Forms or another digital tool, but the Dynamic Learning Project Dashboard houses all this information in one convenient place.
Another essential work plan tool for instructional coaches, also included in the Dynamic Learning Project Coaching Dashboard, is a collaborative Google Doc shared between you and each individual teacher you are coaching. This document becomes an essential collaboration and communication tool between you and the teacher. This document populates all the meeting and visit notes the coach takes, but it also allows the teacher and coach to communicate outside those meetings and visits. The collaborative nature of the document allows the teacher to ask questions about the meeting and visit notes, and the coach can send the teacher any work completed on the teacher’s behalf in preparation for their next meeting with the instructional coach. Because most coaches only get to meet with their teachers once a week, this collaborative document is essential for keeping in touch with your teacher in between meetings. This document is something you will want to set up during your first coaching meeting with a teacher, and you may even need to train them on how to collaborate in this space. Once a teacher understands how this tool can be used, it becomes a powerful space for collaborating and sharing resources.
Tool #4: Data and Feedback Tools
Coaching work-plan tools will help you prepare for and work through your coaching meetings and classroom visits, but instructional coaches also need to periodically collect data and feedback from their teachers. Again, the Dynamic Learning Project has already developed these tools for their coaches, but these tools can be recreated.
At the beginning and end of each coaching cycle, teachers receiving coaching should fill out a quick snapshot survey related to their current level of technology use and its impactfulness. This survey will provide the instructional coach with data about the teachers they are coaching to help inform their approach to working with each of them individually. This data can be used to help the coach and teacher set realistic and measurable goals, as well as keep the focus on growth and developing a growth mindset.
The most important of these surveys for the instructional coach, however, is the one at the end of the coaching cycle. This survey should include feedback for the coach themselves, provided directly by the teachers they have just worked with. This feedback can cover data about the coach as a professional as well as their approach to coaching their teachers. Just as a coach encourages their teachers to have a growth mindset and improve their craft, it is essential that instructional coaches also have a growth mindset. It is imperative that instructional coaches collect feedback from their teachers on their work and use that data to inform their coaching approaches in subsequent coaching cycles.
Tool #5: Quality Question Stems
While it may not be intuitive, quality question stems are one of the most powerful instructional coaching tools coaches can posses. As an instructional coach, you are constantly helping teachers set goals and reflect on their professional growth. Much of your meeting time will be spent listening to teachers process their own thinking and learning, as well as collaborating with the teacher to help deepen that thinking. These crucial conversations often require quality question stems in order to elicit the depth of thinking required for growth. If the instructional coach isn’t asking the right questions, the teacher may not be pushing their thinking as far as possible.
As an instructional coach, there is no shame in having question stems written down to reference during meetings, especially as you get started. Questioning becomes more intuitive and natural the longer you coach and the more you work with teachers, but you may consider developing a guide for yourself to have on hand. Elena Aguilar has developed a set of general coaching sentence stems that can help new coaches understand what types of questions to ask. The key is to remember that instructional coaches want to probe the teacher to think deeply, critically and reflectively without being judgmental of the teacher’s responses.
Tool #6: A Professional Learning Network
The last, and arguably most powerful, instructional coaching tool is a professional learning network. As an instructional coach, you need a vast and varied professional learning network. If you have not started developing your network, you need to ASAP! This network can be made up of teachers, other instructional coaches, peers, principals, content specialists, and even strangers. Twitter has been an essential tool for developing professional learning networks for educators, along with other social media platforms. These tools are so essential because they connect you with educators from around the world.
As an instructional coach, you will work with a variety of teachers with varying levels of experience and expertise. You will likely work with teachers in every department who teach every subject offered to students. You likely have a background as a classroom teacher, but may have only specialized in one subject area and it can be daunting for an English Language Arts experienced coach to work with a math teacher – this is where your Professional Learning Network can come to the rescue. As an instructional coach, you will constantly collaborate with content experts and other coaches looking for ideas or best practices to bring back to your teachers. If the teachers you are working with have a question you don’t know the answer to, or want to explore a tool you’re not familiar with, there is a high likelihood that someone in your network has the information or the expertise you need. You can search the depths of social media, reach out to contacts via email or text message, or even search various educational blogs to find the information you need.
Another reason a Professional Learning Network is so essential to an instructional coach is for support and cheerleading. It is the instructional coach’s job to be a cheerleader for their teacher, but who is cheering for the coach? Your Professional Learning Network is a great support system when you are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Your network will be there to cheer you on and remind you why you’re doing this powerful work as an instructional coach. Build your network with content experts, but fill it with empathizers as well. There is a strong likelihood you will be the sole instructional coach on your campus, or even within your district, so it is essential to connect with other coaches and supporters.
These six tools are the most powerful tools to keep on hand as an instructional coach. Each tool is designed for a specific purpose, but combined will help your work run smoothly as a coach. Though you may choose to use tools of different brands or varieties, each one of these was selected because of the frequency at which they are utilized, and the results they offer. As an instructional coach, you will be constantly adding more tools and strategies to your repertoire, but these six will lay a solid foundation upon which you may begin your coaching.
Heather Dowd is the Senior Director of the Dynamic Learning Project for EdTechTeam. She enjoys helping instructional coaches inspire their teachers to use technology in meaningful ways for student learning. Teaching English in Japan inspired her to become a teacher and the adventure hasn’t stopped. Heather is a Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer, Apple Distinguished Educator, and author of “Classroom Management in the Digital Age” where she encourages teachers to set the learning free with a solid classroom management plan. She is a former physics teacher, instructional designer, and education technology coach who loves talking about physics, digital citizenship, coaching, spreadsheets, and design. She believes that students should have access to current technology in order to connect to the world and be creative in ways that weren’t possible when she was in school.