Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Do Instructional Coaches Do?

About three years ago, I made the move from teaching third grade (previously, fourth grade) to being a Literacy Coach. It was a big one. I accepted the position in July, and then I cried about it every day for over a month. Then school started and I had no time to cry. (Except for the first day, when I sat in my new Literacy Coach room, devoid of students and new school supplies, and pathetically thought, "No one needs me. I'm useless. I've made a huge mistake."

That was the last time I ever felt that way, by the way. Now I feel like, "How many places can I be at once? If I can only be in three places at once today, maybe I can accomplish what I wrote on my schedule."

Because now I know the answer to the big question: What do literacy coaches do all day?

I've been asked that question by many people from online teaching land. They're teachers who are interested in becoming literacy coaches, for the most part. And a few of them have been teachers who just accepted the role as an instructional coach at a school and are really nervous. I understand. So here's my best attempt at describing what we do all day. Keep in mind, this totally depends on your district, principal, and job description. Every school has its own needs. These are just the things I do the most.

1. We support teachers.

This is, by far, where I spend most of my time and it's the most important thing! We have to build our teachers up!  Supporting teachers can take on a lot of vestiges. It can include...
     * Modeling lessons or strategies in the teachers' classrooms.
     * Setting up teachers to observe each other.
     * Planning with teachers using our curriculum from the district, state standards, our resources, and our ideas!
     *Meeting with teachers about specific concerns or questions they are having. Teachers may have me come in and observe students and meet with them afterwards to discuss what they can do to help them. They may have concerns about how their kids did on a recent assessment, so we sit down and look at the tests together and figure out next steps. Or they may even just want to discuss scheduling issues or worries, or advice
     *Doing tasks that will help teachers out. Of course, this has to happen within reason. For example, I couldn't take a day to make all the copies the teachers need for their upcoming lessons. But if it would help an entire grade level for me to lay out a rubric they brainstormed and have it made into posters, I'll do it. Or maybe they're trying to build an assessment that tests certain standards. I'll write it for them and save a copy for next year. I make the copies of our DRA for the teachers to save them time.
     *Visiting classrooms. I pop in to classrooms across the school every week or two to see how we're doing. I can evaluate how kids are receiving the instruction and look for areas to address in upcoming PLCs or professional developments.
     *RtI: I schedule, coordinate, and sit in on RtI. We host meetings a few times a year, provide suggestions/feedback/next steps to teachers, and hopefully meet our students' needs.

2. We work with small groups of students.

You have to be careful with this one. While I love working with students, and I miss having a class of my own (as demonstrated by my pathetic outcry on my first day), it would be very easy to spend your entire day working with students. This might sound fine, until you think about how your job is to support and help grow teachers and your entire school. If you are meeting with six students in a small group for forty-five minutes a day, that's almost four hours a week that you aren't working with teachers. It adds up, surprisingly fast. So choose your groups carefully and limit the time you schedule to work with them. We identify students on the cusp of success and I work with them on a regular schedule. I review the data the teachers have about those students and I plan lessons to address their areas of need.

3. We analyze data.

Data can be less-than-fun, and we have to be careful about what it actually means. Interpretation can be inaccurate when we don't consider all the necessary factors. However, as a literacy coach, you have to understand what is happening in your classrooms, so it's important to keep up with how the kids have demonstrated their skills on the assessments they are given. Then, this data has to be shared with teachers to discuss what you will do about it! We meet once a week with each grade level to discuss any new data and figure out what to do next.

4. We plan and deliver professional development to the campus.

This is very important. The best professional development models are the ones where the trainer stays on campus! You can follow up with teachers and see how the learning is panning out in the classrooms. I have conducted trainings on school instructional initiatives like guided reading, shared reading, word study, writing, district required assessments, understanding state assessments, and depths of knowledge. 

I've also hosted school-wide, grade level, and optional book studies on various books and topics. I  throw in a little professional development during our PLCs where we plan for new units. During that time, I try to share new strategies we might want to include in our upcoming plans.

5. We plan and run school-wide events and programs.

This is a very fun part of my job. School-wide events include family literacy nights, our fun book buddies program, reading and English camps, and our new reading lounge. I also write a family literacy newsletter a few times a year and help run our 25 Book Campaign and our Read Across America celebration. I put up bulletin boards and displays for different events or themes, work with the librarian on our bookmark design contest, and I host the Harry Potter Book Club
I started building up our multiple copies lending library and we have our end of year writing contest coming up. Honestly, these events can be kind of stressful, but if that was all I did all day, I'd have a blast! Who doesn't love to plan an afternoon making golden snitches and figure out where to find enough griddles for a Book Buddies Breakfast!

6. We do whatever the principal wants us to do.

I'm very lucky. My principal is an intelligent, kind, and excellent person. I have been blessed to work for someone who understands literacy, kids, and schools. You might not be so blessed (just sayin'). The things my principal wants me to do, while they sometimes mount up and can be almost insurmountable, are usually good things. We  meet once a week for a few hours on a leadership team to plan next steps and see how we're doing. Sometimes we might be to help out at awards ceremonies, or spend some time in a particular classroom. We might work with another person to coordinate trainings, or to pull in a group of kids for intervention. We also will be asked to administer small group state testing, or other boring but necessary stuff. So it can be a mixed bag. Choose your administrator wisely.

7. We do whatever central office wants us to do.

Again, it's a mixed bag. Sometimes it's great stuff - my latest assignment is to assemble the awesome Scholastic guided reading library they purchased us! But sometimes, it's to deliver trainings to other campuses or to attend meetings that may or may not meet my teachers' needs. It's all part of the job!

 8. We are always thinking about how to help our school.

I collect books that "might be good for something," and I make connections with organizations who can donate books to our campus. I write grants and hunt for great blogs and ideas to share. I read professional books to figure out what we can do to improve the way we work with children and each other. I participate in Leadership meetings every week to monitor our progress and think about next steps. And most of all, I worry. I worry about our people and our work all the time. Just like you do. I consider the teachers my class, because they are my responsibility, just like a teachers' kids are hers. And I care about them and want them to be successful. 
Does this sound familiar to you instructional coaches? If you're looking into being a coach, just know it's a great job. I love what I do. Anybody about to make the move out of the classroom?

I've put together a nice bundle of freebie pages from my Instructional Coaching MegaPack to help you out.

If you're just getting started as an instructional coach, this resource is for you! It's my ebook, The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching: How to make a real difference on your campus. It's over 80 pages of information to help you get the ball rolling on your campus!


 Getting organized? Need some documents that you don't have to make from scratch? Check out my Instructional Coaching MegaPack on TPT! It's full of fillable forms, printable documents, calendars, planning tools, and documentation forms.


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