My Journey From Coach Back to Teacher Specialist

Collaboration Montage

Jason MacDonald, elementary school teacher and former instructional coach, reflects on how his experience as an IC paved his transition back into the classroom as not just a teacher, but a teacher specialist.


hile I loved my time as an instructional coach, the transition back to the classroom has been nothing short of extraordinary as well. I'm not just talking the talk anymore, I'm walking the walk and I needed to prove to myself that my suggestions as a coach could be effective by incorporating them into my own teaching skill set.

This opportunity has allowed me to pull the skills that I've learned as a coach and apply them to the classroom and in doing so, I've found a number of interesting challenges. Some of the biggest so far have been the countless decisions I have to make each day and re-positioning myself as a trusted resource—the later of which has been one of my chief goals in this process. Even things like remembering to take attendance have been tough! It's a busy job, but it's been a solid reminder that we're in a business that changes the lives of children!

Easing the Transition by Becoming a Trusted Resource

It's been a fresh start at my new school where the culture is one of professional growth and collaboration. My colleagues don't recognize me as a teacher with only four years of experience who they can't learn from. Instead, they view me as a numeracy specialist and a handy resource who they can use for their professional improvement.

As a former coach, I've decided that I'll never deny a visit to my classroom from a colleague; instead, my mandate is to be open, transparent, and reflective with my peers. I've decided that if a colleague notices something I can do better, I want to know about it. In turn, I'll let them know their areas for improvement since we're in this together and it's about the kids.

As a result of my stance, I've found my niche as a resident expert with my colleagues, a group of people who are highly skilled and committed to the success of children and who I'm incredibly fortunate to work with. On collaboration days, I am able to share research-based practices that help validate my work and struggles as a coach for the last four years—something my peers appreciate and value.

A Message to Teachers, Coaches, and Admins

When I reflect on my experiences as being both a former coach and a teacher I've compiled three messages—one for teachers, coaches, and district/school admins—that I believe can help them each specifically in this process.

To Teachers:

We need to remember that an extra set of eyes—whether it's an "expert" or not—in the classroom is beneficial for professional growth and development. If you feel that you have more expertise than a coach in your room, you have an opportunity to collaborate with someone for the betterment of the students you serve.

Set your professional ego aside; it's not about you, it's about the kids. Make an effort to build a relationship with your coach and understand their disposition. Just because you may have more experience than an observer doesn't mean you can't learn something from them!

To Coaches:

Try not to worry about the teachers who you can't seem to get through to. Focus on the teachers who want to collaborate with you and are in the classroom for the right reasons. Run with the teacher leaders, set an example for the ones who get left behind, and promote teacher-leaders to be mentors for their colleagues. Sooner or later, they should be able to see the wonderful things that are happening and will make the move to jump onboard.

Most importantly: take a breath, you'll never get to everybody as you may expect.

To Admins:

Introducing a coaching program is like getting married: make your decision wisely and do it right the first time! Launching an instructional coaching initiative without careful consideration of who will hold these positions is a mistake. Unfortunately, this is a mistake that will continue to haunt a coaching program forever, no matter who is in the position.

Instructional coaches should not be chosen only by central office executives but should be nominated by the teaching staff. In return, staff buy-in will be higher because teachers have a voice. Lucky enough for me, I'm in a unique position where I'm a former instructional coach who has unanimously been adopted into a position as an unofficial teacher-leader for my staff.

About our Guest Blogger

Jason MacDonald is from Marshfield, Prince Edward Island. He is an elementary school teacher and former instructional coach. Currently, Jason resides in High River, Alberta, Canada with his wife, Heather, and their dog, Axle.

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