Instructional coaching can be chaotic. You have weekly teacher meetings, classroom visits, required paperwork and some of you may also have “other duties as assigned” on your campuses. We know that time management is a crucial skill for being a successful instructional coach. Keeping an up-to-date calendar will be essential in helping to manage your time effectively. Though scheduling meetings and classroom visit times seems simple enough, there are other factors you should consider when developing your schedule or routine.
Keeping a coaching calendar is often like a puzzle. Each piece has very few places where it will fit, and finding that best fit can often be difficult. It is easy to over-schedule yourself as an instructional coach, which is why maintaining an effective calendar is so essential. Here are a few additional considerations you should make when developing your personal coaching calendar.
Tip #1: Write Things Down
Though this may sound silly, writing things down is an important first step to creating an effective coaching calendar. Each week, typically Fridays, I make a list of all the meetings and visits I will need to schedule for the following week. On my list, I’m careful to write down the teacher’s name, their conference period – since that’s usually when I meet with them – and a list of what periods they have all their classes. I then add to my list any other campus responsibilities for that week – PD sessions, principal meetings, faculty meetings, etc. By having all this information in one place, I am able to see exactly what responsibilities I have in the upcoming week, and how easy or difficult it may be to schedule all those responsibilities in the most harmonious way. Think of it like doing an actual puzzle – you always separate the edge pieces first, because those will help create your parameters. Making a list of all your weekly tasks is collecting the edge pieces for your week as an instructional coach.
Once I have my list of tasks, I can begin assembling the puzzle of my schedule. I look for places where meetings or visits could conflict and I try to schedule those larger items that have no wiggle room first. Things like faculty meetings or meetings with the principal take priority because I know that these events are only offered once at a very specific time. I also look to see if there are any teachers that have requested more support, may not have received adequate support the week before, or could have a potential conflict in the coming week like an athletic event or field trip. These teachers take priority in scheduling at this time so ensure that I am adequately and fairly supporting all the teachers on my caseload. After I have these events scheduled, I can begin to fill in the rest of my calendar with other teacher meetings and lastly classroom visits.
Tip #2: Schedule shorter, More Frequent Meetings and Classroom Visits
When I first started working as an instructional coach, I had an expectation that I would meet with my teachers for their entire conference period, and visit their classrooms for an entire class period each week. What I found, however, is that this was not the best use of my time strategically.
If I had 8 teachers on my caseload, that means I need to schedule 16 meetings/visits per week – minimum. My school operated on a modified block schedule, which meant that I had 32 class periods throughout the week to schedule all 16 of my needed meetings or visits. While that may not sound like a challenge based on the numbers, there are additional factors to consider. If I had teachers that shared the same conference period or had an athletics period, that further eliminated the number of opportunities I had to meet with teachers. If I took away all the athletic class periods and PD periods on the campus schedule, I really only had 24 opportunities to see teachers each week. If a teacher was gone for a day or there was an unexpected assembly, fire drill, or pep rally that popped up on the calendar, it would wreak havoc on even the best laid plans.
What I later learned is that I didn’t need to have 50 minute long meetings or sit in a class for 50-90 minutes at a time. If a teacher is able to work through their challenges from that week in 15 minutes or 20 minutes, the rest of that time could be spent on something else. If a teacher is only implementing a strategy you’ve discussed during the first part of the class period, there is no critical need to stay for the second half – you can use that time to visit other classrooms. These short meetings and visits can double your opportunities to see and work with teachers, which makes it easier to accommodate everyone’s schedule. That doesn’t mean that I’ve never had a coaching meeting last the whole conference period, or sit in a class from bell to bell, but that is up to your discretion. Use the time you have as it is needed, but don’t feel like quick check-ins are any less effective.
Another benefit to scheduling shorter, more frequent meetings and visits, is it increases your ability to support teachers. You can provide quick check-ins where teachers can ask immediate questions and not have to wait a week until the next meeting. You can also get a more accurate measure of what’s happening in classrooms across your campus because you will have a larger sample size to consider.
Tip #3: Leverage Group Training Opportunities
Another tip for creating an effective coaching calendar is to leverage group training opportunities when available. As an instructional coach, you participate in more focused work with those on your caseload, but you also shouldn’t neglect the rest of the staff. There are many times I’ll spend a day facilitating staff-wide PD sessions about various instructional tools or strategies that are a benefit to everyone, not just those I’m coaching. There may also be opportunities to work with small groups of teachers or departments on a particular challenge, depending on the needs of your staff.
By leveraging group training opportunities, you are able to widen your sphere of influence as an instructional coach. With the ability to only coach 6-8 teachers per cycle, group training opportunities are a good way to get a little bit of coaching to more teachers on campus. These group training opportunities also help you build relationships with teachers who haven’t yet been coached one-on-one, and might inspire them to be coached during a subsequent cycle.
Tip #4: Don’t cancel – reschedule
Because you may only get one opportunity to meet with teachers each week, it is imperative that when conflicts arise you do your best to reschedule coaching meetings in lieu of canceling them. A canceled meeting or classroom visit means that teachers must wait an additional week to receive coaching or support, which can be a detriment to progress currently being made.
While I understand that it may not always be feasible to reschedule meetings, there are some alternatives to face-to-face meetings that may help you provide support to your teachers. One option is a good old fashioned email. If you, or a teacher, cannot accommodate rescheduling a meeting, I typically offer an email meeting. In this case, I send the teacher an email with some of the same questions I would ask in a face-to-face meeting – glows and grows, current challenges and wishes – and the teacher has a day or two to respond to me. I then take some time to review their responses, provide some recommendations or insight and let them know that we will review these concerns during our next face-to-face meeting.
Another way you can connect with teachers when rescheduling a face-to-face meeting is not an option, is to conduct a virtual meeting via Google Hangouts or Skype. This strategy helps maintain the integrity of a face-to-face meeting, without requiring the same rigid schedule boundaries.
Tip #5: Use tools
When in doubt, use whatever calendar or scheduling tools work best for you. If you prefer to schedule all meetings and visits yourself, be sure to set aside a specific time each week to prepare your calendar. If you would like to place some of that responsibility in the hands of the teachers, you can use a scheduling app such as Google Appointment Slots or You Can Book Me. These tools allow you to set up the parameters of your calendar, and teachers can select when they would like to meet with you or have you visit their class based on your availability.
As an instructional coach, your day will revolve around the events scheduled on your calendar. It is important that you are intentional about the time you schedule with teachers, but also be intentional about scheduling time for yourself. Just because you have a free moment, doesn’t mean you need to schedule something. Be sure to take time for yourself to complete paperwork, do some research or reflection, and work on behalf of your teachers. An effective coaching calendar is not just about finding the time to fit everything in, it’s also about creating a balance and learning how to manage your time 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.