A Day in the Life of a Student Learning Coach

Header - Nelson - Student Learning Coach

Ever wonder what a typical day looks like for an instructional coach? Well look no further! Julie Nelson, student learning coach at Westgate Elementary School near Chicago, Illinois, walks through a day's work in her ever-changing role and the many hats she wears. 🎩


o one wants to be coached or "fixed," however, pandemic life is bananas, and coaching is more important than ever. Teachers truly need support, and coaching can help inspire, retain, and grow teachers. That's where I come in as a student learning coach for my district.

Student learning coaching is not about the instruction or the teacher, it's about the student and the learning. As a student learning coach, I can be the extra set of eyes for a teacher by making observations and collecting data. I can be the resource provider that offers options of strategies to increase teacher and student feedback, or questioning strategies that might lead to improved student learning. I can model a strategy or co-teach with the teachers I work with. Together, the teacher and I can reflect on current practice and plan instructional activities to move the learning forward.

My team of student learning coaches embraced Diane Sweeney's Student Centered Coaching and Jim Knight's Impact Cycle. Blending the principles together, we work with teachers when they are willing and ready. Our mission is to increase teacher capacity, to provide challenge for all, and to impact student learning.

The roles of my day

Throughout the day, I'm meeting with teachers, my team, administrators, and even parents of advanced learners. Other times, I'm researching, reading, organizing, and creating materials. In addition, part of my day is observing and reflecting with teachers informally, co-teaching, or modeling lessons; while other parts of my day are spent communicating via email, newsletters, and social media to highlight the good teaching practices that are happening in our school. Regardless, I'm in the trenches working side-by-side with teachers all day!

Household superhero (5:30-9am)

I kickstart my day with a coffee and a workout before getting my three kids ready to learn in different locations. My 2nd grader is e-learning in a pod, my 6th grader has in-person learning, and my freshman is learning at home. After dropping off the kids, I drive myself to work, check in with colleagues, and greet students at the door for in-person hybrid instruction, giving air high-fives and fist bumps. Then, I hustle on with my work, which is different every single day. I love it!

Co-planner (9-10am)

I support a third grade classroom teacher implementing a co-planned personalized learning experience we put together. After Zooming with a few students to explain the structure and expectations, the teacher Zooms with small groups, and works with in-person learners. We reflect together on self-directed learning, define the learning targets and success criteria. Then the kids are off to work! They do the heavy lifting of asking questions, finding resources, researching, and documenting and reflecting on their learning.

This year, connecting hybrid at-home learners with our in person-learners has been a challenge. Modeling community-building activities and getting to know you activities continuously through the year helps build connections, without which motivation will be lost.

Personalized learning champion (10-10:45am)

I then switch roles, focusing on personalized learning in math with a 5th grade teacher. I start our conversation by asking "How can students show their understanding, and move along to more challenging tasks?" From there, we look at pre-test data, CogAT and MAP scores, and talk about possibilities for this unit. Together, we land on finding a way to do faster formative assessments using Whiteboard.fi.

This kind of work is where I get the best buy in from teachers, plus the children love to see when their teachers are excited to share something new with them.

Resource provider (10:45-11:40am)

Before lunch, I put on my resource provider hat—a huge part of my job. Today, the 3rd grade team want to incorporate the 3 Reads Math Strategy to strengthen problem solving. While prepping for this, we keep a student in mind that needs an individualized engagement board to stay motivated to complete at home work. From there, I gather materials, share them with the teachers, ask questions, set goals, and made a plan.

As always, I share resources in a weekly newsletter and on my Twitter and Instagram accounts. I also use my social media accounts toI highlight good ideas, encourage and motivate teachers to work with me, and expand their practice.

Lunch supervisor (11:40am-12:10pm)

Lunch duty calls! I supervise for 2nd grade hybrid students in the commons, which is a little challenging because even lunch has extra steps to complete—it's 2021 after all. 

After duty, I run out for a coffee and a change of scenery, sunshine, and take a few moments to check in with my family and friends. This resets me for the afternoon!

Growth facilitator (12:40pm-2:45pm)

After lunch I set about creating some mini professional learning opportunities for teachers, guided math groups for hybrid instruction, or brain camp online math tools.

While preparing these resources, teachers sometimes ask how they can grow an area of their practice like teacher feedback or questioning skills. Others may want to learn more about a strategy they've heard, and to partner with me to customize it for their classroom situation. This work is very personalized, and I have to be efficient to turn it around quickly.

Lead learner (2:45pm-3:45pm)

I end the day reading, researching, and preparing for tomorrow's math training the other district student learning coaches will attend. Whether I'm on Twitter, looking for ideas, attending PD, or participating in chats, symposiums, or team meetings, I'm perpetually growing and learning so that I’m ready to guide teachers that come to me.

Some of my favorites are Inquiry Mindset by Trevor Mackenzie, Visible Thinking Routines, John Spencer's Empowered learning, Jo Boaler's Youcubed Math Mindsets are all rooted in the believe that all students can drive their learning when strong connections and growth mindsets are cultivated.

Final note

Every day is busy, and it's often a challenge to stay organized. However, each day is also very rewarding as I help teachers reach their goals with students and build teacher capacity. I go to bed content knowing that all of my work encourages student and teacher growth—which makes me excited to hit the repeat button the next day!

About our Guest Blogger

Julie Nelson is a Student Learning Coach who leads with her heart to positively impact student learning at Westgate Elementary School in Arlington Heights School District 25. Over the years, she has served as a 4th and 5th grade classroom teacher, K-5 gifted specialist, advanced math teacher, advanced learning facilitator, and student learning coach. Julie holds a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and Master of Arts in Educational Leadership.

Outside of work, Julie enjoys spending time with her husband, three children, and new Havanese puppy. In her free time, you can find Julie hiking, cooking, and appreciating the arts—especially music.

If Student learning Coaching is something you’d like to learn more about, be sure to connect with Julie on Twitter @julienelsonedu or via email jnelson@sd25.org!

Illustration by Aleksey Chizhikov from Icons8.

Continue reading more great posts!