Guest post written by Kristy Gaudio
Instructional coach. Basketball coach. Life coach. Voice coach. No matter what you’re involved in, you can find a coach to reach out to. And while the concept of coaching has been around for quite some time, it’s hard to identify exactly what traits define an effective coach.
Some would say a coach is a form of support to encourage you when you’re struggling. Others would reject that idea, stating that a coach should challenge you and push you past your comfort zone. And many would reply that a coach is supposed to embody both, skillfully adjusting his/her methods according to the needs of those they support.
Society now uses this term so regularly that I fear we’ve lost a clear definition of who a coach is and what that title entails. And for instructional coaches in schools, especially, it can feel like an uphill battle to help teachers–or anyone for that matter–understand what it is we do.
While instructional coaching itself can differ between districts and their schools, each of us does have the ability to carve out an identity that matches our philosophies, talents, and skills. It is with that notion in mind that I offer the following reflective questions on the path to defining your coaching identity.
Question 1: What does “coaching” mean to you?
If we want a positive perception of coaching, then we need to examine what our title means to us. Yes, our districts and principals craft a job title, but we all know that handing that paragraph to overworked teachers does not a partnership make.
So before we consider how we want to be perceived, let’s start by considering what coaching means to us. I challenge you to do a little word association with the word “coach” and/or your official title and see what surfaces. In your own life experiences, which coaches do you recall having the greatest impact on you? In Sweeney and Harris’ book, Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves, they encourage us to reflect, without judgment, if our coaching is more relationship, teacher, or student-driven. They provide a tool for further reflection in the diagram below (Sweeney and Harris, 2019).
This resource is essential as we work toward authentically student-centered coaching, and it can prove truly helpful as you examine your own practice and set personal goals. When you can define your role by your own standards, you’ll feel much more confident explaining your position to staff, students, and families.
Question 2: How do you intend to impact student learning?
You can’t get much more obvious than calling what we do “student-centered” coaching, and yet, many often wonder if we’re there to ‘fix’ teachers. It comes as no surprise when you consider the fact that our form of coaching is unique. A basketball coach coaches her team. A voice coach coaches his soprano. But an instructional coach? S/he coaches the teacher and student simultaneously. With this structure in mind, how do you intend to have the greatest impact on student learning?
As English teachers have learned to use their novels as a vehicle for student mastery of standards, I’ve begun to view my collaboration with teachers as a vehicle for increasing student learning. I share this parallel not to compare teacher to novels; rather, teachers are our most integral resource for student learning, and when coaches can help teachers to respond to student needs in a way that is sustainable beyond the coaching cycle, that’s where we see consistent growth.
Question 3: What sets you apart?
This is not the time for canned answers. We’re all passionate about learning and students or none of us would be here! So dig deep. What specific skills or passions do you have that lend themselves to coaching others? If you mine your work as a classroom teacher, with both students and staff, you’ll likely find your response to this question.
Though the Danielson Framework has become an evaluative tool for many, it is first and foremost a reflective tool for educators, and this is a great resource to utilize as you contemplate this question. The Danielson Group has organized the components into topical clusters in order to support efficient use of the framework. I recommend engaging with Cluster 6, Professionalism, to help surface what professional qualities you naturally embody. This link will take you to the Danielson Group’s clusters where you can download all six for free.
While these questions will help you in establishing your foundation as a coach, they are only as valuable as the actions you build upon them. When you can articulate who you are, it makes it that much easier to filter your decisions and your time so that your words and actions align.
So the next time someone asks you what it is you do, feel confident going beyond the logistics and definition of your role. Don’t tell them what you do; tell them who you are.
Kristy Gaudio is an instructional coach and former middle school ELA teacher in Kenosha, WI. She holds a Master of Science in Educational Administration from Concordia University, earning Principal and Director of Instruction licensures. She values blending the expertise of education, business, and self-care professionals in order to support the needs of her staff and students. While coaching embodies her professional passion, her two sons, Jonah and Andrew are the driving force and greatest blessings in her life. Follow her on Twitter: @KristyGaudio