Prep Like the Best: A Coach’s Guide for School Year Preparations

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As a coach, how do you prep for a successful year? Robyn Hartzell, K-12 educational consultant, provides some of her techniques that not only help organize a coach's work but promote effective communication throughout the coaching process as well.


ach school year presents new opportunities to refine our craft as coaches. While that craft certainly consists of effective communication and content knowledge, it also involves having systems to organize and focus our work.

Coaches may work with multiple districts, campuses, and teachers over the course of a school year, and each one may have different goals and objectives. Finding ways to reach the goals, have meaningful coaching visits, and keep administrators in the loop can be a monumental task. Here are some tips and ideas to think about as you prepare for your best year ever!

Setting and meeting goals

Sometimes, when meeting with a teacher or an administrator, the results they want to produce are clear. It may be higher scores or elevated reading levels, but they may not know what it'll take to achieve that result. In fact, achieving those results often requires many factors working together, like curriculum, instructional practices, team dynamics, professional development, intervention, and more.

Since it's almost impossible to conquer everything at once, we have to target our coaching for the best results. I've found that narrowing my attention to three basic areas and creating some standard questions to guide my observations and conversations helps tremendously. The areas I focus my attention on are curriculum and planning, instructional practices and routines, and professional development and resources.

For each of these areas, I came up with a list of 5-10 guiding questions that I try to answer before I determine the best focus for my coaching. For example, with curriculum and planning, a few of the guiding questions I use are:

  • What curriculum is used?
  • What process do teachers use to plan?
  • What do their lesson plans look like?
  • What requirements are there for the curriculum?

Some of these questions I'll be able to answer after I observe or talk to teachers, others I may ask directly. The answers help me determine whether the teacher needs help with aligning instruction to standards, creating a more effective lesson design, or holding more efficient team meetings. From there, I can help them set goals that'll be action-based and specific.

Guiding questions prod me to discover as much information as possible about all of the connecting elements—which results in a much better coaching plan.

Focusing visits

When it comes to coaching, there's nothing more important (in my book) than having a plan. While each teacher and campus may have different goals, the roads to meeting those goals are often remarkably similar. There tend to be some common best practices—effective lesson design, small group instruction, differentiation—that play a role in meeting many of the goals that educators have for their students.

Prior to the school year, it's worth taking the time to think about some of these recurring patterns of practice and to develop generic coaching plans that can be tweaked and customized when working with different groups of teachers.

For example, when I work on lesson design with teachers, I know that we'll need to address some core areas: (1) writing objectives based on standards and aligning objectives to evidence of learning, (2) developing lessons using the gradual release of responsibility, and (3) incorporating student reflection and feedback. With these three main areas in mind, I can create a coaching plan of approximately 5-6 cycles, with each cycle focusing on a different element.

For each cycle, think about the following:

  • Learning actions: what will the teachers read, watch, or do to learn about this area of focus? What can you provide to help them learn?
  • Coaching actions: what will you do when you see the teachers? Will you conduct a PLC, do a demonstration, look at student work?
  • Application: what will the teachers do to apply the learning? How will they use this learning and coaching between visits?


Through the course of any given school day, teachers and administrators are pulled in thousands of different directions. Having ways to help them stay informed and focused on their goals can be the difference between a wasted visit or a productive one.

Below are two tools that I've found to be effective for ongoing communication throughout the year:

Reminder emails

About a week before a visit (face-to-face or virtual), it's helpful to send a reminder email to teachers and administrators. These emails contain:

  • The date of the visit
  • A focus
  • Materials or preparations they need to provide, bring, or do
  • A schedule, if applicable

If a teacher is going to be out that day or an assembly is going to interfere with some of your time, it's helpful to know prior to the visit so you can readjust or reschedule if needed. Teachers have a million obligations, so sending a reminder email is a courtesy that helps them to prepare and can ensure that your time is productive.

Administrator summary

Because administrators may not be on campus or a part of virtual visits when coaching takes place, it's important to have a way to keep them in the loop. One way to do that is to send a summary of visits. The summary should simply outline what coaching actions took place and any resources that teachers were given. These are not evaluative in nature and don't have information about individual teachers, but they keep administrators aware of ways they can support teachers in-between visits or coaching cycles.

A typical summary might sound like:

"The focus of this coaching cycle was to . During my visit(s) I focused on helping teachers with by doing demonstrations in several classes and meeting with grade levels to discuss . After looking at student work, we determined that student still need to work on making inferences about theme, so I shared the resources below with teachers. My next visit will be on [date], and I will focus on . I have asked the teachers to prior to the visit. Thank you, and please feel free to contact me if you have questions or need further support."

Wrapping up

Summer presents us with a perfect time to reflect on the nuts and bolts of how to organize our coaching work. I encourage you to go beyond thinking about schedules and resources and take time to think about processes, routines, and create tools that will help you implement them with ease. Good luck and happy coaching!

About our Guest Blogger

Robyn Hartzell has served in education since 1998 and has experience in a variety of roles: teacher, instructional coach, reading interventionist, trainer, consultant, and program coordinator at the campus and regional levels.

Currently, she works as an independent consultant promoting effective instructional practices and championing the need for quality professional learning. Robyn takes privilege in coaching teachers in their craft and is passionate about creating opportunities for every student to succeed.

Be sure to follow Robyn on Twitter @robynhartzellpd and check out her website!

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Topics: Guest Blogger, Your Coaching Toolbox, Email, Questioning Techniques, Goal Setting, Communication, Coaching Plan, Administrator summary

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