Working as an Instructional Coach is a delicate balance of learning how to balance being a coach who frequently talks teachers "off the ledge" and not losing your teaching credibility. On one hand you're still a teacher because many times you find yourself in classrooms helping a teacher with a particular lesson, but other times you are pulled into "courageous conversations" between administrators and teachers when there are practices in pedagogy that need to be adjusted. While my role changes daily (and sometimes hourly) there is one important lesson that I have learned in my new role -- it's okay to simply shut up.This lesson may seem simplistic, but you have to remember that for over a decade it was my job as a teacher (and a pretty vocal one at that) to talk and give my opinion when sometimes people didn't want to hear it. Instead of shying away from conversations that were uncomfortable I was willing to say what my co-workers couldn't say. However, as an Instructional Coach sometimes the best thing we can do to help a teacher is to not say anything.
Confused, let me explain. A couple of weeks ago a colleague of mine who is new in her position, came to me distraught that there were teachers who rejected her coaching, despite her having an extensive amount of experience in the classroom. She gave me examples of her trying to build relationships with certain teachers, but all of her attempts were met with a cold shoulder from the teachers (in her experience) who needed her help the most. After listening, I thought about myself when I was in a classroom working with students- I only respected teacher leaders who gave me my space and allowed me to see how they could perfect my practice.
You see we teachers are almost territorial about our classrooms and practice so it does no good to go into a classroom ready to help if you haven't taken the time to just sit back and observe your teachers and their practice. After reasoning with my colleague about some possible ways to engage reluctant teachers, I left her knowing that one of the best ways to engage teachers is learning to shut up and just do.
As I work with my teachers, I always make sure to listen with both my eyes and mouth on what they needs are. Sometimes it's glaringly apparent which areas that teachers need help in, but I still don't come in barking orders. That's not in my job description. Instead, I always meet with teachers and simply ask this question, "Tell me about your classroom.." This question could be as simple as complex as teachers want them to be. Usually through answering this question it opens the door to more questions and by the end of a coaching session we've decided the areas of growth that the teacher wants to work on for the semester. I always follow up our conversation with observations that combine video taping and me in the classroom to get a clear reflection of the realities in the classroom.
Of course there are times where I want to revert back to my teaching voice and direct what should be done, but I hold my tongue because I realize that's not my classroom and that's not my practice. On the other hand some of my most reluctant teachers come to me when they are having conflicts with administration over a less than stellar evaluation and they want my advice since I was in the classroom for so long. During those situations I gladly talk and speak candidly, but otherwise I shut up and let teachers talk. Remember, teachers have to find their footing in the classroom and my job is to help get them to that place.