By Rita M. Bean and Jacy Ippolito, authors of Cultivating Coaching Mindsets
In the initial month of school, coaches often wonder how they can productively spend their time. They understand the demands on teachers, who are busy setting up their classrooms and getting to know their students. Some new coaches indicate they “don’t have much to do” and wonder “will the whole year be like this?!” We always respond: Never fear—it won’t be long before your days will be jam-packed, and you’ll be looking for an opportunity to catch your breath.
Below we describe seven ideas that may be useful for coaches looking to make the most of the initial month of school.
- Help teachers get started. Volunteer to help teachers develop initial materials or activities for their classrooms. One of the most effective coaches we know, in talking with first grade teachers, learned that they wanted to make flash cards to introduce specific vowel sounds to students. This coach took the time to help teachers produce those cards. They appreciated her willingness to help them get organized for the school year, and the fact that she understood the many demands on teachers’ time, especially at the beginning of the year.
- Develop or update a book room. Often the coach is responsible for maintaining a “book room” where teachers can grab multiple copies of a specific book for guided reading or small-group instruction. This is a great time to organize the room, to develop a system for informing teachers about the possible books that are available to them, and even why specific books might be appropriate for particular classrooms or students. Coaches might invite grade level or academic teams to take a walk-through, introducing them to the room and its setup.
- Develop or update a professional learning library. As the year progresses, teachers may want to learn more about specific areas of literacy (e.g., writing, fluency, comprehension). By spending some time at the beginning of the year looking for and organizing up-to-date resources, you will be able to suggest specific articles or resources to teachers when they need them.
- Write a newsletter or blog. Think about the goals that your school has set for itself, or if that hasn’t happened yet, what teachers in your school might want to know more about (e.g., holding productive discussions with students, asking high-level questions, teaching disciplinary literacy). Write several short pieces that describe specific activities, suggest possible resources, and indicate your willingness to work with teachers to introduce some of these activities in their classrooms. One coach we know writes a newsletter—a one pager, “almost every” week—identifying and summarizing a good book, highlighting school activities, and sharing pictures of students’ work, related to a specific theme. This becomes a valuable, accessible resource for teachers.
- Set up informal, initial conversations with teachers. During the first month of school, schedule individual conversations with teachers, perhaps over a cup of coffee, to talk about their goals for the year, students and their needs, perceived challenges, and how you might be helpful. The major goals of these conversations are: to begin establishing (or bolstering) trust with the teachers, and to get a better understanding of the teachers and their students this year. You can find ideas for these initial conversations with teachers on the Learning Sciences Website. These are reproduced from our book, Cultivating Coaching Mindsets: An Action Guide for Literacy Leaders.
- Talk with the principal. In the initial month of the school year, take time to develop or strengthen your relationship with your principal. In addition to discussing possible literacy goals for the year, the strengths and needs of students, the literacy curriculum, teacher learning, and so on, ask the principal how s/he views your role as coach “this year.” As the coaching role is always evolving, it is critical to ensure that you and the principal are viewing the role similarly. Just as important, this is a good time to talk with teachers about your role. Introduce or reiterate key aspects about your role (e.g., you are not there to evaluate; you have a menu of available coaching services for the year, organized by level of intensity). The bottom line is that you, the principal, and the teachers need to be on the same page in terms of your roles and responsibilities. In Cultivating Coaching Mindsets, we provide further suggestions for how the coach can support the principal, and how the principal can support coaching.
- Attend grade level / departmental meetings. By attending grade level and/or departmental meetings held by teachers during the initial month of school, coaches can learn much about the yearlong goals of these groups, their concerns about their students, curriculum, and so on. This is also a perfect opportunity to mention ways you can be involved. But most of all, be a good listener—what are the challenges and goals of teachers? If a middle school social studies team is interested in learning more about disciplinary literacy, given the new state standards that highlight the importance of integrating literacy into their content teaching, you can suggest articles to read, or perhaps suggest organizing a study group around a specific book (e.g., Jeff Nokes’ book Building Students’ Historical Literacies). Or, you can suggest a meeting devoted to the topic, so that all teachers can bring to the table what they know and believe about disciplinary literacy. Depending on the group, you can serve as a facilitator or participate as a member.
As illustrated in the ideas above, the first month of school can be a busy and exciting one. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get (re)acquainted with the teachers and students in your school, and to begin thinking about yearlong goals. It’s also a time when you can begin to establish initial yearlong goals for yourself, as related to teacher and student needs. Some goals will require you to reflect on how you might enhance your content and coaching competencies. In Chapter 11 of Cultivating Coaching Mindsets, we introduce ideas and self-assessment rubrics that coaches might want to use to reflect on their work, skills, and knowledge.
Some questions to consider at this time of the year:
- In reviewing the activities above, how is a coach thinking and acting like a facilitator, a leader, a designer, and an advocate? Which of these mindsets might you concentrate on more this year?
- Which of these activities might work for a coach new to the school? Which might be best for an experienced coach, who already knows the teachers and principal in the school?
We wish you the best as school begins! If you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with us.
We believe that the most important thing a teacher or leader can do is to fuel each student’s passion for learning. When this is achieved, a lifetime of accomplishment becomes possible for that learner. Through partnerships with schools and districts throughout the country, we help educators and leadership transform each classroom into a powerful learning environment that prepares students for lasting success in school, the global workplace, and beyond. Our vision for the future is big and bright, and we love helping schools get there. Learn more about Learning Sciences International.