Supporting Coaches Through the Ups and Downs

Collaboration Montage

As a coach, do you ever feel like sometimes you're extremely busy and other times you're twiddling your thumbs? Shannon Hamm reflects on the yearly rollercoaster that coaches face and how each hurdle plays a vital role in the coach's journey.


ave you noticed that at certain times of the year you're very busy, while other times you feel like you have nothing to do? Is it possible that you've felt really great about your work with a teacher, only to find that after a few weeks you reached a plateau? If you can relate to any of these scenarios, then you (like many coaches) have struggled with the ups and downs of coaching!

The Yearly Wave of Work

Coaches, like teachers, have ebbs and flows throughout the school year. If you're in a district where coaching is voluntary, there are going to be times when you have an influx of teachers seeking support and you may need to turn people away because your schedule doesn't allow for it. Then, there will be times when you are practically begging people to let you coach them.

While I've only been coaching for a few years, I've been able to see a pattern emerge and optimize the different types of work I do throughout the year.

Build relationships at the start of the school year

In August, I'm busy building relationships with teachers. The support of coaching is focused on establishing routines, data collection, co-planning new curriculum, inter-rater reliability among teams, and unpacking standards. While my schedule isn't extremely full in August, I'm likely to use the time to set the stage for the heavy work that comes in the months ahead.

Help teachers and teams set goals in the Fall and Winter

September to March is an exponentially busy time of the year. In my district, for example, this time of the year coincides with the student growth component of teacher evaluations. This is when teachers choose a standard, undergo a district assessment, set growth targets for particular groups of students, and then instruct and collect data throughout the interval to track student progress towards those goals.

Many teams choose to do this work together and ask for team coaching to support them with the interval; this leaves me spread thin, and often without a break in the day. Also, I find myself staying before and after school most days to meet with teachers to reflect on their progress and set goals for the following week.

Debrief and follow-up in the Spring

From April to May, I follow up on previous coaching cycles with "pop in" coaching. "Pop In" coaching is when I go into a teacher's classroom for approximately 20-30 minutes. While there, I collect data on a previous teaching practice I had been coaching him or her on, or look for small areas the teacher could tweak in their daily instruction. This is followed up by an email with "glows" and "grows" or an in-person conversation just after the observation. Additionally, I continue coaching cycles with individual teachers from teams who wanted to receive support and have a specific goal in mind.

During these months, I've found that tenured staff want someone to coach them over a two week period prior to their formal evaluation so they can get feedback on specific areas. I've also discovered that April and May is the best time to coach classroom management and engagement strategies.

Just like our students are feeling done, our teachers are also counting the days to summer. This is also a great time to coach on a teaching practice that they would like to "try out" before they jump in the following year. For example, I've coached teachers on math workshop at the end of the year because their students are independent and know and understand the curriculum and routines. Teachers feel more confident in experimenting with something new when they know their students so well.

Lend a hand at the end of the school year

During the last month of school, I've found it begins to feel like August once again. This is the time when people don't want someone in their rooms giving them feedback, rather, they want an extra hand for their fun projects or end of year assessments. While this is not part of my job description, it helps build relationships for future cycles in the following school year and fills the empty time slots in my school day, so I don't mind!

A Real-Life Example

Another time I've noticed ebbs and flows is when my school has events or circumstances come up throughout the week. For instance, I was working with a team and had just been bragging about the progress they made in their math block. I was feeling so good about this and could see the impact it was having on students. Then, all in one school week, we had a lockdown drill during their math block, an in-school field trip, and the teacher group had a special project they were doing for science. Each time I went in at my regularly scheduled time, they said their schedules were off and they were trying to get back on track. It took about two weeks before they were back on track and we were off and running again!

While I completely understood why this happened, during those two weeks I felt ineffective as a coach. I felt as if I was placing myself in their rooms to be an extra pair of hands and wasn't giving any constructive feedback. However, after some internal struggle, I came to the conclusion that this is something I have to accept and it is going to be a part of my coaching experience. I had to be flexible as a teacher to meet my students' needs and I needed to be just as flexible and respond to my adult learners' needs. So, I encouraged them to do their best to get on track, but didn't push them. Everything worked out great in the end and students had remarkable growth on their math scores!

Wrapping Up

As the year is coming to a close and I reflect on the ups and downs of the school year, I wanted to share with my fellow coaches that these ups and downs of coaching are normal. In those moments when you're not as busy, think creatively of ways you can increase participation: reach out to teachers personally and through email, plan ahead on professional development you'll be presenting, go out and visit classrooms!

Most importantly, don't think you aren't a good coach or you're failing as a coach during your down times. In fact, that is a great sign that your coaching support has helped your teachers feel confident in their teaching abilities!

About Our Guest Blogger

Shannon Hamm is a mother of five and has been an educator for over 17 years. Her experiences include teaching first grade, second grade, and self-contained gifted; serving as assistant principal, director of an early childhood education program, principal of a pre-k through 8th-grade building, and instructional coach; and volunteering as a homeschool mom.

She earned her B.S. in Elementary Education and Special Education at Lewis University in Romeoville, IL in 2001, an M.S. in Teaching and Leadership from St. Xavier University in Chicago, IL in 2004, and a C.A.S in Administration in 2006 from Lewis University. Currently, she's working towards her Educational Doctorate in Teaching and Leadership with an emphasis on social justice. Shannon advocated for instructional coaches within her district and there are now 23 coaches at the elementary level. Her current position is the principal of Circle Center Grade School in Yorkville Community Unit School District 115.

Follow Shannon's reflections and tips at her personal blog!

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