Trusting yourself is critical in a coaching role filled with victories, roadblocks, and everything in-between. Monica Carpenter, Curriculum Support Teacher in Atlanta, GA, reflects on nine lessons she learned to build confidence during her first year on the job.
o you landed a job as an instructional coach, huh? First off, congratulations! This is a huge accomplishment that you should be very proud of. But, where do you begin?! Whether you were promoted within your current school building, or you are starting in your new role at an unfamiliar campus, the most important item in your teacher bag is not the flair pens or the binder—it's your confidence!
Being an instructional coach can be amazing, challenging, fulfilling, exciting, scary, and everywhere in between. As you embark on this new journey, here are a few tips that I've learned along the way and hopefully can help set the foundation for your successful transition.
9 lessons I learned my first year coaching
1) It's okay to miss teaching
You may experience a period of sadness. I questioned my decision to leave the classroom for at least a year, and thoughts still sneak up on me from time to time. No longer being celebrated for Teacher Appreciation Week, nor receiving birthday hugs from my class are two realizations that hit home for me. And while no one ever challenged your position as a teacher, it often takes time to be fully accepted by other educators as an instructional coach.
That's okay. It's normal. Most importantly—it gets better. Build your team, build relationships, and your impact will be far greater than ever before. Know that you are not alone and that better days are coming.
2) Be authentically you
When I started my coaching career, I was a young, fresh out-of-the-classroom instructional leader who would not let anyone know my age because I thought people would discredit me. Little did I know that the way I handled my insecurity brought more attention to it, and it is now arguably my biggest regret. I know now that it takes showing up authentically to permit others to do the same.
Being authentic and vulnerable gains you the respect and trust of those teachers you are working with. Whether you are young or old, experienced or inexperienced, you were hired for this role for a reason. Your organization read your resume, knew your experience, and believed you have the ability to bring something unique to their school. So bring all of you to the table: walk in that confidence, take up space, and be you!
3) Find your niche (or let it find you)
At first, I had a vision that I would use my strengths in classroom management, creating engaging lessons, and incorporating music into the classroom to spread across the school. That vision did not come to fruition exactly how I had imagined. Ironically, my age (and biggest insecurity, as mentioned above) became my niche.
As March 2020 forever changed education, the need for technology became critical. We have a majority demographic of veteran teachers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. These seasoned teachers looked to the "young whippersnapper" to help them with technological support. Many times it was something as simple as, "Your HDMI cord isn't plugged in." Regardless, it got my foot in the door—literally and figuratively—and created the foundation for the relationships with my teachers. This opened the door to further conversations about technology platforms, instructional strategies, and so much more.
You might not be able to start out with elaborate coaching cycles and modeling in classrooms, but you may instead find a simple skill or talent that can break the ice.
4) Start with willing teachers
Not every teacher is going to want to work with you, and that's okay. You will experience willing and enthusiastic teachers, educators that are simply compliant and want to get it over with, and others who are straight-up resistant. Start with the willing ones, because the more you can work with teachers, the more you can slowly start to build up your reputation for coaching.
Teachers are going to talk—at lunch, at the copier, and after school. It comes with the territory. Give them something good to talk about. It's going to take time to build relationships and grow in your experience as an IC. It may begin with offering to help staple a bulletin board or move student desks into the correct seating arrangement. Whatever you decide to do, start with the willing and go from there.
5) Know your role and play it well
This may be one of the most important tips you'll read all day, so I suggest re-reading it: know the expectations of your role! What does this mean?
- Set up a meeting to talk to your principal or direct supervisor.
- Read the job description on the school or district website and know your duties and responsibilities well.
- Ask questions to ensure you have a clear understanding that aligns with your principal's vision for your role.
- Ensure your role is communicated to teachers.
- Find out the logistics: are there a certain number of teachers you should be working with per quarter? How will you document your impact? If a teacher is not making progress, what are the next steps?
Most coaches are non-evaluative, but make sure you are aware of everything that is expected of you upfront. You can't be successful if you don't know what the measure of success is. And once you are clear about your role, perform it to the best of your ability. Aspire to be the best coach that you can be.
6) Be visible
This one may seem obvious, but visibility is key. When teachers can see you working, it builds trust and respect. I'll share a quick story:
It was late January, and I was in my office analyzing the recent iReady diagnostic data. I had colorful data sheets taped to the wall, on the table, and any open space. I was proud of this deep dive into the data and excited to share it with my teachers.
Then a teacher who I believed I had built a positive relationship with passed by, and I overheard her say something along the lines of, "Oh, I wish I had a job where I can chill in my office all day." That comment was like a dagger to the heart! I was shocked and, if I’m being honest, hurt. After getting over the initial shock, I had to humble myself and figure out how to do better. Although I knew the work I was doing was important, this teacher had the perception that I wasn't working.
I made a decision that day to be intentional about being visible. I made an effort to ensure teachers could see me working. I do "morning sweeps," where I simply pop into the doorways and say good morning. I will offer to transition a class to lunch so that the teacher can start their lunch a little early. I try to consolidate my administrative work for after school or during quiet times of the day (i.e., not during lunch or high-traffic times).
Now, I've built a positive, transparent relationship with the teacher who commented and I appreciate her brutally honest feedback because it has made me a better leader.
7) Set boundaries
Work-life balance is a myth. I'm kidding! (Or am I?) I've not yet attained that perfect balance, but I have learned strategies to make it more manageable. One strategy is to avoid giving your personal cell phone number out. Try using a Google phone number instead to create a boundary and keep work at work.
As a coach, you have to understand the scale of people that you now serve—teachers, students, paraprofessionals, parents, support staff! This makes setting and enforcing boundaries so much more important. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people you interact with daily. Create and stick to a schedule. Plan for time to plan, research, analyze data, and role-play a coaching conversation. Before you can lead a PLC or a coaching cycle, you must first have time to prepare. Take time to fill yourself up so that you can pour into others.
8) Be open to growth
The fact that you are reading this blog already shows your commitment to continued growth. Don't stop! Attend professional developments and educational trainings, read books, and listen to podcasts. When you sit down at the same training or professional development as your teachers, you should see them not as your coachees but as your colleagues. Don't ever stop learning.
9) Establish a community
Finally, build your network of other coaches and leaders. Talk to other coaches at various stages of their experience.
New coaches can truly empathize with what you're going through, and veteran coaches can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It helps to have people who you can say, "I'm struggling. Is this normal?" or "Do you have resources for this?" Get a mentor! My mentors have been invaluable because they provide different perspectives and challenge me.
One tip that I tell anyone who asks: milk being a first-year coach. Everyone sympathizes with the first-year teacher because we have all been there. This goes for a first-year coach. People are more willing to offer help and support for your first years. Surround yourself with people outside of the school who will celebrate you, cheerlead for you, and drag you to the finish line when you feel like you can't reach it yourself. Remember, you're not alone in this journey—don't be afraid to ask for help.
I truly hope some of the lessons I've learned along the way can help you on this crazy ride to becoming the dynamic, amazing coach that you are going to be. Regardless of the dynamics of the staff, you all have a common goal that involves educating students.
Show up fully, every day. Even when it’s hard, when you feel that a PLC went horribly, or you make a mistake, come back the next day and try again. No matter what, just show up!
About our Guest Blogger
Monica Carpenter is a Curriculum Support Teacher at an elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia, who obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Child Development from Spelman College and her Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from UCLA.
Monica's a passionate and enthusiastic instructional leader who has a hunger for continuously learning and growing education. She supports instructional coaches and teachers by providing professional development, observation, feedback, and managing instructional materials and resources. Monica believes every educator should always position themselves as a learner because our babies deserve the best.
Be sure to follow her on Twitter @misscarpenter28!