Welcome to a new decade! As the saying goes, ‘New Year, New Me,’ right? I’m sure you have heard this phrase uttered everywhere or have seen it plastered all over social media, but there is some validity to a fresh start.
Many people use the new year as an opportunity to make resolutions and set both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year. Many teachers often use the new year as an opportunity to evaluate the success of their first semester, and make plans or adjustments for the next semester. As an instructional coach, you should be very familiar with helping teachers establish and reach a particular goal, but it is equally – if not more – important for you to set goals for yourself as an instructional coach as well.
If you have never set a goal for yourself as an instructional coach, I encourage you to start now. The teachers you work with have their own personal and professional goals – often tied to their annual evaluations. While it may be easy for you to help your teachers identify and set goals for themselves, it may be more challenging to set a goal for yourself as an instructional coach. Your role is often fluid, unique and not easily quantifiable. Luckily, setting goals will not be as difficult as you may think.
Here are 5 easy ways to get started on setting intentional coaching goals in 2020.
Tip #1: Choose a Set of Standards
The first step in setting any kind of goal is to know by what rules or standards you want to adhere. In other words, you need to establish the rules of the game. This first step helps you as an individual more easily quantify your goal, and will let you know when you have either reached it or strayed too far from it.
Standards help make goals manageable and ensure there is a better chance of successful achievement of said goal. Think about all the people that vowed to get healthy after the new year – some will simply say “I want to be healthy” and some will say “I need to lose 30lbs to be in a healthy BMI range.” Both of these statements are goals, but only one has a standard attached to it. Which do you think is more likely to be successful? For the person that “just wants to be healthy” there is no standard or measure against which they can check their progress. What does healthy mean? How will they know when they are healthy? This goal is too vague and it will be easy for the goal setter to abandon. The other person, however, knows what standard they are using – BMI index – and they know what they must do to achieve success in alignment with that standard – lose 30lbs to be in the healthy range of their BMI index. Now, before you get all technical on me and explain that BMI is not the be all, end all to measuring health, this is simply an illustration for why standards are important in goal setting.
Similar to philosophies of health, there are many different philosophies of education you can abide by that help inform your approaches to students and learning. One of the main jobs of an instructional coach is to help teachers identify and work toward instructional growth goals, but it is equally important for the instructional coach to set professional goals for themselves as well. As an instructional coach, and especially as an instructional coach working with the Dynamic Learning Project, you should be familiar with the Impactful Technology Use Rubric, as well as the DLP Coach Success Standards. These are two examples of standards around which intentional coaching goals can be set. As you work with teachers, they may be using their own set of standards to achieve their goals, perhaps a SAMR rubric, the TPACK model or some other educational philosophy standards. Students adhere to standards in their learning as well. In the state of Texas, these standards are known as TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and are used to inform students of their progress and achievement. Ultimately, the set of standards you choose for setting your goal does not matter, what matters is that you have some sort of standard or framework to work with.
This framework will be essential in setting intentional goals for yourself as an instructional coach because they will help quantify your goals and keep you on track.
Tip #2: Be Realistic
Another important element to intentional goal setting is to be realistic. It is easy to ‘dream big’ and want to achieve these ‘pie in the sky’ goals, but if we are not being realistic, we are just setting ourselves up for immediate failure. Go back to the health illustration. To say you’d like to lose 30lbs in a span of a year would seemingly be a pretty realistic and achievable goal for most people. However, if you were to say you’d like to lose 30lbs in the next 2 weeks before your birthday, well that’s highly unlikely to happen. You can drink as many skinny teas and work out as much as you want, but 30lbs in 14 days just isn’t reasonable for the average person. If you were to set this goal for yourself, there is a good chance you will not achieve the goal and will end up disappointed.
Disappointment is the fastest, easiest and most efficient way to kill a dreamer’s spirit. Being disappointed, or failing to achieve a goal makes it significantly more difficult to set and achieve new goals in the future. If you set out to lose 30lbs in 2 weeks and you work really hard but only lose 10lbs, you are likely to throw away that progress and only see failure. As teachers and instructional coaches, we know that progress takes time. You want to make sure your goals are realistic so you are not disappointed when growth does not occur at the rate in which we would prefer.
As an instructional coach, you need to think about what is realistic for you to achieve. Would I like for all my campuses to be high tech and innovative? Yes. Would I like all my teachers to be inquisitive, self-starters hungry to improve their practice? Yes. Are these things realistic? No. When I first started as an instructional coach, I wanted my campuses to be seamlessly 1:1 and for all teachers to be using the Chromebooks the district had provided for their classrooms. Even that goal, as I would learn, was unreasonable. My mentor at the time told me that seamless 1:1 integration was a lofty goal for year 3, and most certainly not a goal for my first semester in year one. At that time I had to scale back my expectations and realize that if I could get 50% of my staff using devices 2-3 times per week, that would be a huge success.
It is likely that you are the only instructional coach on your campus, or maybe even in your district. You are working with 6-8 teachers during a coaching cycle and there are 4 coaching cycles each school year. That means that you are working with 24-32 teachers per year. I would venture to guess that, depending on the size of your campus, those 24-32 teachers are no more than 50% of your staff at best. How do you expect to affect campus-wide or even district-wide change when you only have the opportunity to directly work with half the campus and a miniscule amount of the district? Be realistic.
I know each of us has gotten into this role because we want to affect change and we want to help better the educational environment for teachers and students, but it is important to be realistic about our impact and our ability to affect change. Goals are intended to be set and then achieved or exceeded. Don’t let your idealism or your desire for systematic overhaul derail your opportunity for success.
Tip #3: Make it Measurable
Once you have decided what kinds of goals are realistic for you to achieve, the next step in setting the goal is to make sure it is measurable. You might be thinking to yourself at this point that what I’m telling you is reminiscent of the SMART model for goal setting, truth be told it is because it works. To be intentional about setting a goal you need to find something you can use to measure progress and ultimately success.
For this illustration, I’ll use a marathon. In a marathon race, there is a starting line and a finish line. The goal of the runner is to get from the starting line to the finish line because that is how they will know they are finished and have achieved their goal. If there were no finish line – or in some cases no specified distance – the runner would not know when to stop. The runner would not know when they have achieved their goal for that race. I know that your work as an instructional coach is never really finished, and that can make it difficult to establish a ‘finish line’ for your work. Consider this – just because the runner finishes one race, does that mean they are done running? No, it just means they are done with that race. Think of each of your teachers and each of your coaching cycles like their own individual race. It is okay to have a finish line and start again, this does not diminish the importance of your goal. As former teachers, many of us have a mindset that the finish line is the state test, the final exam or the end of the year. These are marathons and we aren’t ready for that yet. As an instructional coach we are often working on a “Couch to 5K”. Our races are shorter, they require us to move outside our comfort zones and do things we may not have done before. We can’t set out to run a marathon in our first race.
Therefore, it is important for each goal we set for ourselves as instructional coaches to have a finish line or an end point. I know it is easier to leave goals open ended, but it makes them much harder to achieve. Go back to my example about wanting all my campuses to be seamlessly 1:1 with all teaching using the district provided technology. Considering all the turnover each year and changes in district initiatives, that goal really has no finish line – if it does, it’s way too far in the distance for me to see. The other issue with a goal like that is it’s difficult to measure. What does “seamlessly 1:1” mean? How will I observe that? How will I know when I’ve gotten there? A better goal would be to get all my coachees using 1:1 technology twice a week. I will know I’ve achieved this goal through classroom observations and meetings with my teachers. I can visually and tangibly see technology being used in the classroom and I will know if I have accomplished what I set out to do.
Tip #4: Micro > Macro
The best way to ensure that your goals as an instructional coach are intentional, realistic, and measurable is to approach your goals on a micro scale as opposed to a macro one. Often times people want you to ‘look at the bigger picture’ and not get so caught up in small details. In this case, those small details are exactly what you need to focus on.
Remember, as an instructional coach, you are in a position to help teachers grow and advance their practice, but systemic change will be a slow process. If you are only focused on the big picture, it is easy to miss all the small changes that occur everyday. Visualize a forest. If every day you are focused on seeing the forest as a whole grow, you are unlikely to see any changes day to day. Over the span of many years, decades or centuries you may notice how much taller the trees have gotten or how much longer the grass has grown, but at what cost? Imagine the disappointment and frustration you’d feel every day if you went to the same place and never saw any change. Instead, look at the forest on a micro level. Each day, there is a new blade of grass on the ground. Each day the trees get a centimeter taller and have just a few more leaves. If you look at things on a micro level, you can see all the small changes that occur, which will eventually lead to changes in the bigger picture.
As an instructional coach, we want to affect change on a grand scale. Many of us left our classrooms because we realized that we were limited in our influence and that this new role could help expand our sphere of influence. While this is true, the reality is that we are only one person and our abilities are still outmatched by the bigger picture. The good news, is we as instructional coaches can cause a ripple effect of change. The work we do with one teacher can be transferred to another and so on until the ripple widens enough to make a wave. It is important that when setting goals, we keep this ripple in mind. Don’t look for the waves, look for the ripple. Maybe you show one teacher a new tool or instructional strategy and then a teacher happens to walk by their room and asks them about what they saw. You won’t see this effect immediately, but over time you may come upon these teachers who have adopted something you once suggested.
Instructional coaching is a difficult job and it can take a lot of time to see any changes or growth occur on your campus, so it is important to make sure your goals are set at the micro level, so that when you step back you can see how they work together in the bigger picture.
Tip #5: Celebrate the Small Victories
My last tip is not necessarily going to help you set an intentional instructional coaching goal, but it is just as important to the goal-setting process – you need to celebrate. As a follow up from setting goals on a micro level, it is important to celebrate small victories. Go back to the marathon illustration – the finish line, or 26.2 miles is the ultimate goal, but in marathons, and many other races, there are checkpoints. Runners are notified when they hit 5 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles and so on. Why? These small achievements help keep you motivated to reach the finish line.
I know many of my instructional coaches are probably very organized, type-A personalities so consider this: how satisfying is it to cross items off a list? For me, it is incredibly gratifying. Why do we do it? To show ourselves that progress is being made toward the larger goal of ultimately getting all your tasks accomplished.
Just as it is essential for us to celebrate the successes of our teachers, we must celebrate our own successes. Maybe a teacher has used a new tool for the first time or has implemented a new strategy. Celebrate it. Maybe you were able to connect with a teacher you had never met before or someone new has asked you to work with them. Celebrate it. It is important to celebrate the little victories in our journey to the goal for they will help keep you motivated and moving forward.
One of the greatest blessings of a new year and a new semester is the ability to start fresh with a clean slate. To maximize this reboot, it is important that you approach the next semester not only with good intentions for your teachers, but with good intentions for yourself. Take some time to reflect on your progress thus far and set some intentional goals for yourself moving forward. I know many of my examples have focused on setting goals for the ways in which you work with teachers, but goals can be pseudo-professional as well. Maybe one of your goals is to connect with other coaches on social media, to read more educational blogs or to participate in a book study. Other goals could be connecting with two new teachers, getting three teachers to try a new tool or strategy or even just meeting with your principal twice a month. If you need some ideas, I encourage you to look at the DLP Coach Success Standards to help you find a place to start. Whatever your goals may be, having goals is important in keeping you grounded, optimistic and – to be quite frank – happy in your role as an instructional coach.
Megan Purcell is a Digital Learning Specialist and Certified Dynamic Learning Project coach in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD located in Carrollton, TX. She enjoys working with teachers to help them elevate their teaching through the use of impactful technology tools and strategies. Megan holds a masters degree in Educational Technology, which she earned overseas at the National University of Ireland in Galway, in addition to being a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator and Apple Teacher. She is a former high school English teacher who loves learning, technology, and helping make life easier for her teachers. She believes that every student should have access to current technology in order to develop 21st century skills necessary for participating in a global society.