Thursday, July 27, 2017

So You Want to Start a Coaching Program?

A few weeks ago I got a DM with the following question:
Have you ever experienced [imposter syndrome]?
And do you have any favorite quotes, lessons, words of advice that got you through hard times? I am always trying to get better and pass on inspiration.
I expected this to be a conversation, so I wrote a short reply.
I just finished a two-year stint as a tech coach where I felt imposter syndrome everyday.
My advice would be to put your head down and do the work. That’s how you will show you belong there.
I just finished a two-year stint as a K-12 Tech Coach. Prior to that, I had seven years of experience in a small international school before that. I was a kind of Jack-of-all-trades, and one of my hats was helping teachers -- especially elementary teachers -- integrate technology into their curriculum. Having been there for so long, I was a fixture and was confident I could help where needed.

Then I saw an opening for a K-12 Tech Coach for Kaohsiung American School in Taiwan. I did a lot of research on the school, and it looked like a small school similar in size, but a little bigger than where I was coming from. But that's a part of growing I thought.

From orientation and having more new teachers than were at my previous school, to the transition for all to a new building, to new teachers having to learn new technology, to a new elementary principal; there were a lot of moving parts to this school.

I still feel grateful to have had the position, and would have stayed had the budget for the program been available, but I never lost that feeling of being an imposter during those two years. It definitely got better towards the end, but for me, I always felt like an imposter.

I now feel that while I was on the upswing at the end, feeling more confident in myself, some things could have been different in this position as a whole that could have suited me better. I know that is selfish as an employee, and maybe I could have voiced these concerns, but I needed the time away to reflect on them.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for schools looking to start a coaching program.

Have a vision 
Why do you want to have a coaching program? If you answered, "To improve student learning!" Then you are on the right track. If it is anything else, I would seriously reevaluate the need.

Once the vision is set, make sure the person at the top shares the vision with the school. Make sure that the teachers are well-informed about what the coach's role is and how they can use the coach effectively.

Articulate the vision to all from the top 
Everything above should come from the top of the school. The directive needs to come with school's backing.

After the leadership team announces the initiative, I think it would be a good idea to have the division teams talk about how they could use the coach within classes in the division.

Give feedback regularly
Set up a schedule to meet regularly with the coach. Those involved will probably be the principal(s) and department leaders. Make they are informed of an expectation to include the coach in meetings.

Give support where needed
Having a vision and a solid plan will help a coach, especially a first-time coach. Having a plan will be a huge support to the coach.

Having regular meetings with the coach will open a channel of communication. This is a great way to listen to what is happening from the coach's perspective. It is also a chance for the coach to talk about ideas he/she might have to make improvements.

Allow for independence
Give the coach leeway to implement initiatives and make suggestions.

If this is a new position, hire from within
Teachers familiar with the school will have a better understanding of the school's culture, will have already had built relationships with others, and best of all, the school will know what they are getting into with an established teacher.

Consider making the position stand-alone
My coaching position had an MYP Design teaching component attached to it. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to teach high school and learn more about design. The experience pushed me to experiment with the maker movement both in class and in after school clubs.

But, there were times when I would be asked to come into a class, but was unavailable because of my class duties. For some reason, this happened a lot my second year with high school teachers -- the group I met with the least of the three divisions.

This is my view of what schools can do. Do you have other suggestions?

I will write a follow-up saying what the coach should do.

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