Reflecting on My First Year Coaching

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Allison Kieffner, instructional coach outside Boston, Massachusetts, reflects on the tools, learnings, and support she needed to make her first year coaching a successful one. Afterwards, read more perspectives like hers in our First Year as a Coach series!


ow! As I sit down to write this blog post, it's nearly May and I've almost completed my first year as an instructional coach. It's hard to believe that just eight months ago I began this journey, not having a clue where I'd land, nor how to chart the course. It has certainly been a whirlwind of a school year and some days I feel like I don't have a second to pause or catch my breath, let alone reflect on the work that I'm doing each day. But now, I can finally take a moment to stop and think about how far I've come since that scary and uncertain first month of school.

Kicking Off My Coaching Career

After teaching in an elementary classroom setting for ten years and serving as a reading specialist in my building for two, I had no idea what to expect when I was plunked into the role of instructional coach for my building. Not to mention, this position was brand new to my school and district. As a very regimented and scheduled person—as most teachers are—looking at my open schedule that first month of September filled me with worry and uncertainty: When will teachers start inviting me into their classrooms? What if no one signs up to work with me? What will I do each day? The list of questions went on and on and I started reminding myself of Wemberly, the worried mouse from the beloved picture book by Kevin Henkes that I often read to my students on the first day of school.

Rest assured, I did eventually figure out what I was doing, but it took a while and I am still learning every day. Being a former classroom teacher has helped me tremendously in this role—for working with adults often mirrors working with children. No two people are the same—each person has different strengths, talents, and a unique personality to get to know, but each individual has amazing gifts to offer. It's my job as a coach to establish a trusting relationship with each of them, then, through our work together, help them reach their goals.

Tips for Getting Started

If you're new to the field of instructional coaching, or looking for a spark, I'd like to share a few tips that I've discovered along the way. These ideas have been compiled through trial and error, learnings, and a variety of resources that've made my life easier—hopefully for you too after reading!

1) Relationships Matter

I was lucky in the sense that I already had established relationships with many people in my school, as I had worked within the building previously. However, even if you're brand new to a school, spending time working on building those relationships will be time well spent. If people trust and like you, they'll be more willing to open their door and invite you in.

Sending out staff surveys to find out more about the people in your building is a helpful way to generate some quick talking points to get the ball rolling. One quick tip I heard from someone on Twitter once was to "find out what everyone's favorite candy is, and provide a few favorites at monthly staff meetings." You'd be surprised how a glass bowl spilling over with chocolate at the end of a long work day can bring a smile to anyone's face!

2) Get Organized

This took me a long time to figure out, but I truly believe that a successful coach is an organized coach. Before meeting with a teacher, I create a folder for that person in Google Drive and share our notes each time we meet. Within the notes, I embed links to various documents, resources, and other items that might be helpful in our work together. We can leave comments for one another on the doc and each of us is free to add or change items at any time. It's also a wonderful way for me to document all of the work that we accomplished at the end of a coaching cycle.

3) Clipboards!

You may be wondering why something so simple deserves its own number, but clipboards have truly been a game changer for me. When you're going into so many different classrooms on any given day, you need a quick and easy way to keep your notes together. Clipboards have been the perfect solution for me.

One weekend at Target, I noticed a crate filled with colorful clipboards of different designs and styles. I decided to buy one for each classroom that I would be working in for my next coaching cycle. Because each clipboard is different, I can quickly and easily grab the one I need for a particular class. What do I keep on the clipboard? Standards for that grade level, conferring notes, record keeping forms, lesson plans, and of course a pack of post-it notes for jotting down observations about student learning. When I leave a classroom, I always leave those post-it notes with the teacher.

4) Calendars Promote Reliability

Like most instructional coaches, I have a variety of meetings and trainings that I'm attending during any given week. At the start of a 6-week coaching cycle—after the teacher and I flesh out a schedule—I immediately print and send out a personalized calendar to that teacher covering the weeks I'll be in his/her classroom. I block off any dates that I'll not be in, due to meetings or other obligations, and also indicate exactly when I will be in. For me, the goal is to be in the classroom at least three times a week—preferably four. I don't ever want it to be a surprise to a teacher when I'm not there. Creating a personalized calendar for each teacher I work with has made a big difference in my coaching. Teachers like knowing exactly when they can expect me and appreciate the organizational tool.

5) Channel Your Inner Teacher

As a former classroom teacher, I sometimes found myself thinking, "This person just doesn't get it. They're not in the classroom." If teachers are to truly open up and work side-by-side with instructional coaches, they need to feel like you're in it together.

This year, I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone by teaching classes of fourth and fifth graders in a variety of subjects and have benefitted immensely from it. First of all, I always want to stay connected with kids. This is the reason I went into education in the first place. Second, if I want to talk teaching and learning with teachers, then I have to be out there, myself, teaching and learning with students. You have a whole new respect and appreciation for what teachers do day in and day out when you put yourself in their shoes even for a thirty minute lesson. It's vital to always stay connected in this way. Finally, I want teachers to see me as someone who is always learning, making mistakes, willing to take risks, but pushing on nevertheless.

6) Networking and Collaboration

Having an amazing support team of other instructional coaches and leaders has truly made the difference for me this year. Finding a trusted group of people that you can share your worries, successes and failures with is so important. These people are there to offer you a Kleenex on a tough day and a high five and fist bump on a good one. We can't do this job alone, and we certainly don’t have to. If you don't have that team of people in your physical space, you can absolutely find it in a virtual space. Twitter has been an AMAZING resource to me this year and has allowed me to connect with some of most talented and helpful coaches and leaders around the world.

Final Note

Has this year been perfect? Far from it. Do I still have a ton to learn? Absolutely! But, I think this year more than ever, I've had to demonstrate something that we try so hard to instill in our students: grit. And for that, I am so grateful. It has made me a better person and a stronger coach and I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

About our Guest Blogger

Allison Kieffner is a first year instructional coach in an elementary school just south of Boston, Massachusetts. She works with teachers and students in grades 1-5 and has previously worked as a classroom teacher and literacy specialist. When she is not working, she is busy chasing around her three active sons—ages 9, 7, and 2.

Follow Allison on Twitter @akieffner

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Topics: Tips and Tricks, Guest Blogger, First Year as a Coach, Relationships, Collaboration, Networking

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