Depending on your school culture, the beginning of the year can be a quiet time for coaches as teachers are busy prepping, which means it’s the perfect time for us to create some habits and environments that will help us have the biggest impact as coaches, while still being able to manage a complex and dynamic work day.
This is the most important thing you can do at the beginning of every year (well, actually all year long, but this is a great time to get into the habit). Take some time in the first teacher work days to stop into every teacher’s classroom. You don’t have to do anything, just pop in to say hi. You can ask if everything is working and teachers have what they need. But most importantly, just be there (especially for new teachers). When you show up, it’s likely a need will arise, and you will be there to support them. This is the first step in building a solid coaching relationship and your first chance to help your teachers recognize how you can support them.
As you’re visiting classrooms, especially if you work in a large school or district, you can also use this time to take some notes on personal information about each teacher (after you leave the room). You might want to keep your notes in a paper-based coaching journal, or use a tool like Evernote or even a Google Form so you can return to those insights later in the year. If you feel like you can remember everything as you go, you may not need to write these ideas down. Personally, I know I can’t, so writing it down helps me feel confident that I won’t forget something important!
Working with so many different teachers, it can be tough to remember personal information, but just jotting down a few thoughts at the beginning of the year will allow you to be much more prepared for quality coaching conversations later in the year. You can think of it a little like “gathering intel” which will enable you to personalize the learning for each teacher which, in turn, will allow you to deepen and grow the coaching relationships. That way, when you have a coaching meeting later in the year, you can refer to a specific personal story that the teacher shared on those first few days of school, or you can remember to bring their favorite treat when they’re having a stressful day, or you can just pop by to ask about something you discussed earlier in the year. Showing you have taken the time to remember (even if you have to use a journal) is one way to demonstrate how much you care, and that you’ve taken a personal interest in the teachers you’re working with.
Just like teachers, school leaders are returning to school with goals and new ideas they want to implement. As coaches, we can support them in achieving these goals similar to the way we support our teachers. We can start by being visible with our school leaders, and simply asking them what the goals are for the year, and how we can best support them.
At this time, you can also begin to set the stage for how you might work collaboratively for the rest of the school year. School leaders usually expect their coaches to know how to do their job, and often would like to know from you, what they can do to support you. Having a good understanding of what you’d like to achieve, how that aligns with the school leaders goals for the year, and how you can work together to make it happen is a great way to start the academic year.
It might be that you already have a solid relationship with your school leaders because you’re returning to the same school. Ideally, you would have already planned out the start of the year at the end of the previous year, and now is a great time to check in and let them know how you’re progressing. Even a quick status update about how your classroom visits have gone is a great reminder to your leadership team that you are a valuable asset to helping them achieve their goals.
This might be obvious, but when you’re meeting with your school leaders, make sure to visit all school leaders – not just building principals. Check in with Curriculum Coordinators, Service Learning Leaders, Technology Leaders, as well as Heads of Departments. Some of these people may also be classroom teachers, so you might want to reference their leadership role when you visit them in their classrooms to remind them that you have many different ways you can support them.
After meeting with your school leaders, you may already know the school goals for the year, or a new focus for professional development, or even just a new trend in your subject area that you know teachers will be interested in. You can use this time for some professional learning to research, upskill yourself, to strategize about how you might want to share this new learning with your teachers, or even just to get a better understanding how this new learning will work in each grade level or subject area.
You can even use this time to plan how you might introduce some of these ideas with your teaching colleagues, to create some resources for them, or to review curriculum for natural areas of connection.
Just like our teaching and school leadership colleagues. We have goals as coaches too! Your goals could be focused on having better conversations, working with a different group of teachers, building capacity in your staff, or managing the time in each day better. Now is the time to identify what your personal focus is for the year, and set some criteria for success. If you achieve this goal, what will it look like? How will it feel at the end of the year? What might have happened over the course of the year? How will you track your progress and reflect on your growth?
As you’re determining or clarifying your goal, you might want to think about who can support you. As coaches, we can all benefit from our own coach or mentor. Ask yourself: Who’s in your corner? Who can you bounce ideas off of? Who will focus on your and your needs as you grow as a coach this year? Who is committed to helping you improve your practice? Who can you count on when you might encounter challenges or struggles during the year?
If you don’t have anyone like this in your school community, I would love to support you! Coaching coaches is something I love to do and having worked with new and experienced coaches around the world, I have a unique understanding of what coaches need in all different school environments. I can also connect you with other coaches or education leaders who might be just who you need to take that next step in your professional learning. Check out our personalized coaching options, or if you’d like to include some formal courses within your professional growth, our The Coach mentorship program.
One challenging aspect of coaching is that it’s a bit hard to quantify your impact. Taking some time early in the year to develop a tool that will help you recognize what’s working (and what’s not) will be a huge asset throughout the year. You can start with feedback surveys for teachers (or set up a structure to solicit feedback from teachers), a strategy to solicit student feedback, and a format for sharing that information with your teaching partners.
For more on tracking data from coaching, check out our recent #coachbetter spotlight with Jordan Benedict, Data Coach at Shanghai American School.
This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the job, because everyone is so unique, and there’s no “one way” or “best way” to get organized. Now is the time to improve the process you used last year, or set up something new that you think will work for you!
Even though you might not be able to tell what will be best for you this year, the most important part is to start something. I’ve tried many different tools and journals and planners. In the end I like a combo of Google Suite tools that I can manage on my phone and my laptop – but I know that only works for me because I’ve customized exactly what I do over the years. You might like a paper-based system, and there are tons of planners you can purchase online (or create yourself)! Test out a few options to see what works best.
Along with organizing your own time, you might also want to use a scheduling tool for teachers to book time with you. If you try that, you might want to find a way to integrate that calendar into whatever other format you set up, so you’re not creating duplicate work for yourself. If you have some favorite organization tools you like, share them with us using the #coachbetter hashtag, or share them in our Facebook group!
As you’re visiting classrooms and noting how each teacher is approaching the coaching relationship, and maybe even hearing about some of their goals for the year, you might want to think about who will be your “go to” colleagues. The ones that are enthusiastic and open minded, who are ready and eager to work with you. The teachers that might allow you to take some risks with their students to try new ways of teaching and learning. The teachers that “fill you up” with the joy of coaching and teaching.
Not every day as a coach is easy, so it’s important to have some teachers that inspire you and remind you how rewarding your job is. Those are the teachers you want to visit when you might be having a tough day, or struggling through a tough coaching challenge.
Another reason I always like to know who my “lighthouses” could be, early on in the year, is that one of the hardest parts of being a coach is not having your own classroom to try out new ideas with. Often my “lighthouse” teachers will be the ones who are willing to let me take some risks and really become part of the classroom. As you go through the year and want to be able to reassure other teachers that a new idea, strategy or tool really works, it’s always good to have tried it out before with another classroom – and often those lighthouse teachers will be the ones are willing to try it first!
Every day as a coach is different. You never know what might happen, who you might be working with and where you might be needed. But, you know that you will need a few minutes for lunch and likely a few bathroom breaks. Make sure to schedule appointments with yourself each day so you have time to take care of necessary tasks.
Of course, it probably won’t be the same time every day, and you might not get as much time as you like, but if you have the time scheduled in your calendar, if something else comes up, you will be reminded that you might need to squeeze in lunch somewhere else during the day.
Do you include these 8 strategies when you’re starting the academic year? What else do you do to start the year off right?
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