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The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach

“In many schools, coaches already are perceived as and perceive themselves as jacks-of-all-trades. They are often scattered, pulled in many directions trying to serve teachers’ disparate needs without any parameters.”

Coaching Matters by Killion, Harrison, Bryan, & Clifton, 2012

Coaches, new and experienced, often find themselves juggling many roles and responsibilities based on their job descriptions (which can be very detailed or very vague), the needs and expectations of the school community, and as both planned and unplanned situations emerge throughout the school year. In conversations with other coaches, we often discuss all the opportunities and challenges that come with having a job with a myriad of roles and expectations, both intended and unintended, and how we work to meet the variety of needs of the people we work with.

To promote discussion about the roles of a coach, I often refer to a list of 10 possible Coaching roles originally shared in Taking the lead: New roles for teachers and school-based coaches, by Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison.

  • Resource provider
  • Data coach
  • Curriculum specialist
  • Instructional specialist
  • Mentor
  • Classroom supporter
  • Learning facilitator
  • School leader
  • Change catalyst
  • Learner

Which roles are part of your current (or potential) job?

 

The teachers and coaches I’ve posed this question to often make connections with most if not all of the roles in the list in varying degree of emphasis based on their position and/or expectations.

I then ask….

What are additional roles or responsibilities you would add to the list for your specific situation?

 

I’ve had coaches easily identify more coaching and non-coaching responsibilities that they have beyond the roles listed. As I often am interacting with other coaches whose focus is on technology integration and innovation, some frequent additions we include cover responsibilities such as organizing events, tech support and training, participating in developing policies and procedures, researching and recommending digital tools and resources, and teaching technology related classes. Our roles can span from supporting specific students and teachers to participating in school-wide initiatives.

So given that coaches often have a wide range of roles and responsibilities (‘jacks-of-all trades’ as mentioned in the introductory quote), how can coaches prepare themselves, and schools support them, to handle the variety of challenges and opportunities that a coach encounters?

As coaches, we’ve often moved into this type of job because we have certain skills, expertise, experiences and/or mindsets that lend themselves to the potential for providing support and leadership within the school. However, in my conversations with coaches, especially those new to the role, there is a lot of discussion (and concern) about being prepared to meet the every changing needs of the teachers and students in addition to other coaching and non-coaching responsibilities, some of which they haven’t particularly developed the skills or had the experience they feel they need to provide adequate support or participation.

So what do we do?

 

A few starting points which each require more in depth discussions and could involve multiple stakeholders

  • Clarify expectations for your coaching role at your school
  • Be reflective and set reasonable goals
  • Find your support and resources (both within your school and in the wider coach community)
  • Seek out and request additional training and professional development as needed
  • Accept that you will not be an expert in everything!

 

The role of coaches in a school need to be addressed regularly so that coaches can provide effective, focused support to meet the goals of the school, teachers, and most importantly, the students. From my experience in working with and interacting with other coaches, they are eager to provide support within their school, however their impact is limited if they do not have clearly defined expectations and goals and then are often spread too thin. This leads to bigger conversations of how and why schools utilize coaches in a strategic and meaningful manner.

Is expecting coaches to be ‘jacks-of-all-trades’ beneficial? And how do schools and coaches define their roles so they can provide effective support in a wide variety of circumstances?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

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