Sunday, August 2, 2015

4 Tips for New Literacy Coaches and Instructional Coaches

New instructional coaches, are you totally freaked out? These four tips will help you identify what's important about your coaching work when you're just getting started. Figure out your responsibilities and get organized! #instructionalcoach #newinstructionalcoachI am about to start my fourth year as a literacy coach at my elementary school. This has been an exciting journey and I love my job. Like any teacher who knows how important what they do is, at the beginning of each year I am plagued with doubt about my ability to perform this important role on my campus. My thoughts include:
* Surely someone is better qualified to do this.

* Am I prepared to support my teachers in their new learning?

* Do I have the energy to give all of myself another year?

* How do I best help all teachers; new and experienced?

* Where will I get new ideas instead of just using my boring old ones?

* Where do we go next?

I decided it might make me feel better to prepare a list of tips for new coaches. This would actually be evidence that I have learned something in the last three years; figured something out that I can turn around to you. And maybe it will convince me that I'm better prepared than I thought.

Tip # 1 Listen

When I was in the classroom, I was often wary of people "coming in to my room," to "tell me how to do stuff." I wasn't the only one - this is a pretty common feeling. Don't be one of those people who barge into classrooms to tell everyone how to do the job they're doing. Instead, start off listening. When teachers say, "That's not going to work," or "I don't like that idea," instead of getting defensive or upset, say, "What is it that you're worried about?" in an honest way. They can explain their concerns and maybe it'll help you solve the problem together.

It's not about what you want to do. It's about how you can all figure out what the best thing to do is. If you really come to the school with the attitude that it's a team challenge, and everyone has a voice, you will make a lot more of an impact than if it's the Ms. Chrissy Show. Chrissy can think reader's notebooks are the best thing ever, but nobody cares what you have to say if all you do is talk. Helpful things to say include:
  • Can you explain what you're worried about?
  • Tell me a little more about that.
  • Have you tried that before?
  • What could we do to make a difference?
  • How can I help you with this?
  • Here, have some candy. (Candy is a very effective planning tool)

Big Idea: You gotta listen to the people. 

Tip #2 Be organized

New instructional coaches, are you totally freaked out? These four tips will help you identify what's important about your coaching work when you're just getting started. Figure out your responsibilities and get organized! #instructionalcoach #newinstructionalcoach
The two most important things I own: my calendar and my notebook.
Get a system, and get it fast. These are the kinds of things that happen (regularly) that make me thankful that I figured out an organizational system.
  • A teacher stops me in the hallway and says, "Oh, I know we're meeting on Thursday at 10:00, but I have an ARD at that time, so how about Friday at 2:30?"
  • I get an email in March that reads, "I can't seem to find that BOY data I sent you in August. Do you have a copy?"
  • My principal says, "What date did we provide that training about levels of rigor last year?"
  • Central office sends an email that says, "Instructional coaches, please ensure that all of your teachers entered in their MOY data online."
  • At a grade level meeting, teachers ask for their students' performance data on a test from three weeks ago.
  • At the end of the year, everyone has to turn in everything. This means you could potentially have to provide copies to teachers again of everything they've ever handed to you. (And occasionally they'll request things they never handed to you at all, in the hopes that you might have it :)
New instructional coaches, are you totally freaked out? These four tips will help you identify what's important about your coaching work when you're just getting started. Figure out your responsibilities and get organized! #instructionalcoach #newinstructionalcoach
They're not beautiful, but they are organized.
So get a system. My system involves one notebook (for the entire year - I don't write anywhere else), a calendar (paper and pencil; not electronic) a four-drawer filing cabinet, a hierarchy of folders on my laptop, and my literacy coaching binder. I carry my notebook, calendar, and a pen everywhere I go, no matter if I'm just heading to the bathroom. The one time I don't have it is the one time a teacher will stop me to schedule something really important, and I need to make a note that says, "Find parent conference letter for Ms. SoandSo".

This system helps me to know where everything is, and in the everyday occurrence off-chance that someone needs another copy of something from seven months ago, I can usually find it. And it doesn't even bother me that much, because the truth is that teachers are busy, sometimes frazzled, and I probably lost lots of stuff when I was in the classroom. So the big idea here is: Save everything and write everything down, and figure out a way to remember where you put it. 

Tip #3 Budget your time

This is tough. Everyone will want a piece of you.

On the first day of school in my first year as a coach, I was so lonely. I sat at my empty guided reading table in my empty room and thought, "Nobody needs me. I miss my kids."

That has never happened again. Now I sometimes wish I could turn out the lights, lock the door, and hide so I can go to the bathroom.

Honestly, now I schedule everything on my calendar. Even things that don't need to be done at an exact time. I schedule all of these kinds of things that would normally require scheduling:
  • PLC
  • Grade level meetings
  • Meetings with leadership and central office
  • Trainings
  • Due dates
  • Planning with individual teachers
  • School events
  • Scheduled observations
  • Working with students
  • Observing students in the classroom for RtI
And I schedule these kinds of things that usually don't really require scheduling:
  • Classroom visits: "Visit second grade writing" in the time frame I want to visit them, or if I'm visiting some teachers one day and some another day, I'll write in the teachers' names. 
  • Time to work on documentation: "Finish Reading At-Risk BOY"
  • Time to work on assessments: "Third Grade Reading Fiction/Poetry Test"
  • Time to work on materials for teachers: "Fourth Grade Point of View Materials"
It's like a to-do list with a time frame. 

New instructional coaches, are you totally freaked out? These four tips will help you identify what's important about your coaching work when you're just getting started. Figure out your responsibilities and get organized! #instructionalcoach #newinstructionalcoach
Tuesdays look fairly blank because we have PLC all day - meetings, meetings, meetings!

And this year, I'm considering adding these elements to my schedule:
  • Go to the bathroom.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Walk from one meeting to the next (rather than scheduling them all back to back!)
  • Breathe.
Big tip for budgeting your time: If it has to be done while students are in the classroom, schedule it first. For example, if I want to observe third grade reading to see how our character study lesson plans are going, I need to schedule that at the time third grade is teaching reading. I shouldn't work on documentation at that time, because I can do that after school. To quote my mother: "You always have time for the things you do first." It's true. Try it out. You'll see.

Tip #4: Know Your Job Description
This one is pretty important. Your principal (or possibly your district) has an idea of what your job is. If you have a different idea of what your job is, and you continue doing that job for any length of time, one of you will end up being pretty unhappy. When you apply for any instructional coaching position, it's necessary to ask the principal, "What are the three most important things I need to spend my time on? Where will most of my time be spent?"

New instructional coaches, are you totally freaked out? These four tips will help you identify what's important about your coaching work when you're just getting started. Figure out your responsibilities and get organized! #instructionalcoach #newinstructionalcoach

My principal (God bless her, like for reals) knows that the only way a school grows is through time spent with teachers. Most (by which I mean more than half) of my responsibilities revolve around supporting teachers in some direct or indirect way:
  • Planning with teachers
  • Training teachers
  • Meeting with teachers to debrief data
  • Modeling lessons for teachers
  • Observing classroom lessons
  • Providing feedback to teachers
  • Writing assessments so teachers don't have to
But of course, there's a whole list of other stuff that I do that, although it does support teachers in some way, isn't directly working with teachers:
  • Monitoring awards assemblies or special campus events
  • Having a walkie-talkie (I hate walkie-talkies!) for use in fire drills and lockdowns
  • Making copies of DRA so teachers don't have to
  • Sitting in leadership meetings, weekly
  • Training at the district level, whatever they want me to train on
  • Attending district and other level trainings
  • Planning and running school events like Family Literacy Nights
  • I'm sure there's more, but I'm getting a little a little overwhelmed thinking about some of it.
So make sure you and your principal or admin are on the same page. It will make a huge difference in how both of you see your purpose and productivity!
Literacy Coaching is incredibly rewarding and interesting; each day is a new challenge to figure out with my colleagues. I love love love it, even when I feel like I'm underwater. Hopefully these tips will help you feel like you are underwater less often.

Looking for more resources to help you get started as an instructional coach? Check out my ebook, The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching.
 Want more than four tips? Join my free Start-Up Course for Instructional Coaches! It includes videos, tips, and tools to help you coach with confidence!


  1. That's a great post, Chrissy. I'm sure it will be a lot of help to all literacy coaches.

    Krazy Town

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! I'm finally getting around to writing about what I spent 90% of my time doing ha!

  2. This is a wonderful list! I am going into my first year as a reading coach in my district and I am nervous and excited all at once. I even started a blog about my experiences!

    1. Good luck Rebecca! Coaching is so exciting and interesting, and every day is different. I hope you love it!

  3. Thanks so much! I'm beginning my journey as an instructional coach, and am feeling a little lost! I'm happy to have found your blog. You are welcome to just pretend you're writing all of your posts DIRECTLY to me! :)

    1. I may do that, Mandy! It's helpful to have an audience :) Thank you so much for visiting my blog, and good luck this year as an instructional coach!

  4. I am also a brand new literacy coach (grades 2-4). As I'm seeing classrooms being set-up and listening to teachers discuss class lists, I'm feeling a bit sad and lonely. Oh, and scared to death!! This was a great post! I look forward to exploring your blog further. Thank you so much!

    1. It's scary at first, but it's great! I hope your year has started happily!

  5. I think this was a wonderful description although I am well aware that all learning environments are not the same Thank You

  6. This literally made me lol and woosah at the same time! Thank you for this post!

  7. Yes, I am entirely agreed with this article, and I just want say that this article is very helpful and enlightening. I also have some precious piece of concerned info !!!!!!Thanks. Best 4 Drawer File Cabinets in 2018

  8. Thank you for this! I am one week away from my school start date and I am a mess! This gives me a lot of great information to add to my to-do list!


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