A Message to Teachers From an Instructional Coach
By Kim Blumke
Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Virtual Literacy Coach
Indian River, MI
Partnering with teachers through coaching cycles is a rewarding experience. Gaining teachers to partner with is very fulfilling, but sometimes it can be challenging to get them to take the jump to recording themselves teaching, which is the cornerstone of our virtual coaching program. Our coaching program centers around reflection and collaboration through the use of video. Teachers record portions of their lessons, reflect using time-stamped comments, and share their videos with me. I make my own time-stamped comments and use questioning strategies to engage teachers in thinking deeply about their practice.
The rollout of our virtual coaching program took place during 2020-2021 and it’s been a success! Sometimes, however, teachers are resistant and state they are too short on time and too stressed to participate. They appear to view coaching as another thing being piled on their already overflowing plates. This article is my attempt to explain who I strive to be as a coach and the partnership I work to create with the teachers who join our program. I want teachers to understand that coaching can make their jobs easier and more enjoyable.
What an Instructional Coach is (and what an Instructional Coach isn’t)
Some people view a coach as someone who judges them and their teaching and in response tells them things they need to change and do. This is not how it works. As a coach, I always have the teacher reflect on their lesson with time-stamped comments first before I make my comments. I want the teacher to take charge of their learning path. They are the ones who decide what they want to address or work on improving. My job is to be genuine, be curious, be a good listener, and ask teachers questions that help them reflect on their teaching. Sure, I can offer ideas, suggestions, and resources, but it’s the teacher who decides on the path they want to take.
My job is to be genuine, be curious, be a good listener, and ask teachers questions that help them reflect on their teaching.
It is also important to take the time to celebrate the positive noticings in the recordings. Video gives us insight into things that are going well in classrooms as well as things we may want to change. Without this “third eye,” it is easy to miss both due to the demands of teaching. Further, relying on perception or memory of what happened during a lesson often gives us inaccurate information. Video lets us open the door to our classroom and be an outside observer.
Take a Leap of Faith
I understand that it can take a lot for teachers to allow themselves to be vulnerable. Watching yourself teach in a recording can be a challenging experience …. at the beginning. Once teachers can get out of their own way and stop criticizing their clothing, their weight, or the sounds of their voices, they get to the important task of looking closely at the teaching and the learning that is taking place in their classrooms. This usually doesn’t take long, but it can be a job to get teachers to take the first step in getting started with this work.
Once teachers can get out of their own way and stop criticizing their clothing, their weight, or the sounds of their voices, they get to the important task of looking closely at the teaching and the learning that is taking place in their classrooms.
Working with an Instructional Coach is a partnership
I have been in the field of education for over twenty-five years. I loved being a teacher, and I never thought I would want to do anything else. However, once I started taking on leadership roles in my school district, I felt the great satisfaction that comes with working directly with other educators. If I was ever to go back into the classroom, there are many things I would do differently. I have learned more about myself, more about teaching, and more about learning during my years as a coach. As a classroom teacher, I used flashcards to teach high-frequency words, I reported reading levels to my students and their parents, I gave the weekly Friday spelling test, and so much more. While I have since learned the research that supports alternatives, I don’t judge those who use these practices. My coaching is centered around research-based literacy practices, and I love helping teachers see how they can make the most of their instructional time by focusing on these practices and connecting them to what they are already doing. Being an educator, I know it takes a commitment to our own learning journey to give our students what they need. These journeys have different directions, destinations, and durations depending on each individual.
It’s about Depth
While I have years of classroom experience, I also understand that a teacher’s job is different now, especially since COVID hit. As a coach, I attempt to acknowledge their reality and offer flexibility, understanding, and grace. I also know that traditional, ho-hum professional learning is not worth a teacher’s time. There is no sense in providing professional learning that simply shares information that can be accessed through a simple Google search. Teachers deserve targeted and meaningful professional learning. What is more individualized, relevant, and purposeful than coaching?
I am constantly searching to find ways to help teachers realize the impact a coaching partnership can have on their instruction and the achievement of their students. As a coach, I commit to partnering with teachers in a way that supports teacher reflection and empowers teachers to take control of learning that matters to them. I commit to continuous learning myself through these relationships. I commit to doing everything I can to make the experience enjoyable and worthwhile. Research shows that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling (Rand Corporation, 2019). We need to leverage this fact and collaborate with teachers to help them reflect on their practice to make the most of the time they have with their students. In the words of coaching expert Jim Knight (2021), “Video is the rocket fuel for learning.” Teachers, give coaching a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Kimberly Blumke has been in the field of education for over 25 years. She has experience as a middle school teacher, elementary teacher, Title I reading teacher, assessment coordinator, and instructional coach. She is currently a virtual early literacy coach/consultant for the Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District in Michigan. Kimberly enjoys partnering with teachers to increase the literacy skills of students. She has a particular interest in using technology to learn, teach, and collaborate.