Find the Champion Within You: Maximize Instructional Coaching as a Teacher

Serena Williams, one of the best tennis players of all time, has been an inspiration to me on and off the court. She has played professional tennis for the past 24 years with a winning record of 83%. Serena has won 72 career singles championships, including 23 Grand Slam wins (the second best record of all time) and 23 career doubles championships. Throughout her success, one thing has remained consistent: Serena has a coach. 

In education, unlike the professional sports world, there has been a stigma toward coaching. Some educators feel that instructional coaching is for poor performers who are not meeting expectations. This idea is perpetuated by administrators who only assign coaches to work with the teachers who are struggling the most. On the contrary, administrators should consider taking a page from the Serena Williams playbook and use coaching to ensure that instructors, at all performance levels, remain motivated and stay on top of their game.

Tennis player Serena Williams (right) and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

As an experienced instructional coach, who can attest to the benefits of being coached firsthand, I offer some tips to consider to maximize your next instructional coaching opportunity. 

Have Clear Expectations

You can optimize your coaching experience by knowing exactly what to expect. To fully take advantage of the time with your instructional coach, the coach’s role in your success should be clearly defined along with your administrators’ expectations. You should aim to answer questions like:

  • How much time is available to spend with your coach?
  • What type of change in your practice is expected? 
  • How can your coach support you?

These questions, among others, can guide you in setting clear expectations for the game plan between you and your coach—even down to being clear about the schedule to ensure you have the necessary coverage to fully engage with your coach. I have seen many instances where coaching visits have been unsuccessful because the teacher did not have uninterrupted time to think, reflect, and plan with the coach.

Keep the Goal in Mind 

It’s key to establish a clear understanding about the focus of the work with your coach. Oftentimes, coaches are tasked to support a particular initiative or have a specific focus that was determined before your coaching visits start.

Being aware of your administrators' priorities and focus areas that you are being held accountable for will help you to be better prepared. Aim to answer questions such as:

  • Will the coach support you with a particular curricular resource?
  • Is the coaching program specific?
  • Does the coaching focus on implementing certain strategies?

Although there may be a specific focus from your school or district, you should also have your own ideas about the areas of your practice you would like to enhance. Often, coaches will be able to support you with your individual needs while supporting you to excel at the focus area defined by your administration. 

Build Rapport

Getting to know your coach to build a strong relationship is essential to a successful coaching experience. The more your coach knows about you will enable them to provide you with advice, recommendations, and resources that are tailored to meet your style as a teacher and a learner. By the same token, understanding your coach’s background, core competencies, and professional expertise can open up opportunities to expand your skill set in new areas and to identify common interests that foster further professional growth. Maintaining a friendly relationship with your coach can make it easier for you to openly communicate about the type of support needed to move your practice forward. Coaches use this information to understand your motivations and to pinpoint the best approach to support you.

Respond to Feedback

Constructive feedback is one of the most important mechanisms for your professional growth. The amount of feedback teachers receive varies greatly from school to school. Thus, instructional coaching offers a great opportunity to benefit from consistent reflection on your practice and receive guidance and support.

The key to benefitting from feedback is to openly share with your coach the issues you are managing in your practice that you would like to improve upon and to reflect on the appropriate response:

  • How can you check your mindset to ensure you are open to receiving the feedback? 
  • What additional resources or support are needed to make changes to your practice?
  • What are one to two “quick wins” you can respond to immediately? 

Keep in mind that feedback is a tool that will enable you to change your actions and, with time, will help you see a difference in your practice.

Track Progress

One of the joys of working with a coach is seeing your progress over time. Identify your goals, as stated above, and monitor your successes along the way. You will find that periodically reflecting on how your practice has developed over time is extremely motivating and empowering! 

Keeping track of your journey will also ensure you know exactly where you want to pick up with coaching in the next cycle or school year. Make a note in your phone or journal or on a whiteboard:

  • What new techniques or strategies have you implemented?
  • In which areas of your practice do you feel most confident?
  • How have you been more effective with your students?

Monitoring your progress will also help you to set higher expectations for your coach and position you to determine how well coaching is meeting your needs. Remember, your coach is there to serve you in a supportive role that is never evaluative, in complete confidentiality.

As you take an active role in your professional development, working with a coach can be a rewarding experience that helps to enhance your teaching practice in very tangible ways. In the same way it has helped Serena Williams dominate the sport of tennis, it can help you be the champion in your classroom.

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Learn more about the full range of HMH coaching services here. You can also sign up for a free trial of the HMH Coaching Studio, which offers services online, in person, and in the blended format.

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