For the past 4 years, I have had the pleasure to be part of an amazing network of educators from across North Carolina – the Digital Leaders Coaching Network. Started in 2014 by the Friday Institute, this cadre of teacher leaders has been given tools to practice the art of coaching. Over the past four years, we have engaged in multiple book studies, several personality tests, and more coaching scenarios than imaginable. We have had guest speakers from across the United States and even internationally. I have met some of the most incredible educators from across our state, educators that see themselves as leaders, educators that are the exemplar of growth mindset. I have seen our group grow exponentially, both in attendance and in terms of professional growth of individuals that are taking part. In 2014, there were a little over 50 educators in attendance, and there is so much interest that now we have two cohorts each year, both rocking a full house of educators! Last year I served as a mentor in the east cohort (#eastisbeast, #bEastmode) and this year, I serve as a mentor in the west cohort (#westisbest).
There is so little professional development available for instructional coaches. Without professional development, educators become stuck in a rut, not knowing what best practices are and how to implement change in their school. This network has given me best practices, protocols, a professional learning network, and has changed the culture of both schools in which I have worked. It has allowed me to grow from a timid first-year media coordinator to a confident innovation facilitator, leading a pilot that is changing the role of media coordinators in my district to formally include the role of a digital learning coach. I teach all 400 students in my school in multiple subject areas, co-planning and co-teaching with their content area classroom teachers, as well as design and implement professional development for teachers in my school and media coordinators/innovation facilitators across my district. I stay current with educational technology trends and bring those trends to my school through grant writing and working with research organizations. Oh – and I also teach media classes once a month and hold open book circulation times every morning and throughout the day. I also manage our 1:1 and BYOD initiatives in my school. Without this network of tremendous educators, and the support of the leaders at the Friday Institute and NCDPI and NCTIES organization, so much of the change that has been implemented in my schools and district may not have happened. This opportunity was certainly a catalyst for so much growth and forward momentum both within myself and my district.
Over the past four years, I have presented multiple times at our state technology conference (ISTE affiliate) NCTIES as a featured speaker, worked with amazing educators to share information about being a connected educator, coding in the classroom, and MinecraftEDU at NCCAT’s Teaching Generation Z seminars, accepted the challenge of piloting the Innovation Facilitator job description, and was elected to the NCTIES Board of Directors as the North Region Representative. I was also named as a Future Ready Instructional Coach Thought Leader. It is not a coincidence that all of this happened during my time with NCDLCN. I felt more confident being part of this cadre, more prepared to face whatever may come my way, and more connected to those outside my district.
So with all of the time spent in the past four years of NCDLCN, what have I learned to be the number ONE secret to coaching?! Relationships. Everything boils down to relationships. Relationships with your administration, relationships with your teachers, and relationships with the students.
When I first started coaching, I was so excited to change the face of education that I started as a bulldozer. I went in and started making suggestions before I had even taken a second glance. Rookie mistake. I learned the hard way that I needed to work in my space first, changing what was directly pertinent to me, then building relationships and trust with administration and teachers around me. Once I took a step back, and started informally meeting with teachers, listening to their ideas and encouraging their efforts, praising their strengths, I started to build the trust that is so vital to implement sustainable change. Once my administration and the teachers I served trusted me, I was able to see change happen quickly. No longer did I have teachers working with me to plan lessons because they “had” to as a mandate, but because they wanted to; they were excited to use the knowledge I could provide as a curator of resources and strategies.
How does one build relationships? Slowly. Spending one lunch period with a teacher, then giving them constructive criticism on a lesson is a recipe for disaster. Informal time outside of school, emailing, social media, lunches on workdays… those nuggets of time are when the real relationships begin to form. When you, as a coach, see a teacher excelling in an area, point it out to them! As teachers, we (I still consider myself to always be a teacher first) are our worst critic. To hear a fellow educator acknowledge a strength is a great motivator and relationship builder. In my current position, it has taken me almost two years to feel as though I have a solid relationship in which I can have critical conversations with my staff without a long-lasting negative impact.
Where do your loyalties lie? This is always a tough question! Many times as a coach, we can become the go-between; administration needs us to share information with teachers, while teachers want us to share grievances with administration. Do not, and I repeat, do NOT put yourself in that situation! Make it very clear to both parties that you are not a liaison. Your loyalties lie with the students you serve, both directly and indirectly. One of the fastest ways to destroy a positive coaching relationship is to be seen as a coach that reports back to the administration. With that said, when a teacher I am working with is doing something amazing, I will notify our administration. However, if we are working through a hurdle, that stays between me and the teacher in question. Everything we do as coaches is ultimately for the good of the students. Placing your loyalties there can only yield positive results.
So there you have it – the secret to coaching, as gathered by multiple sources and personal experience. Building relationships and trust, and taking preventative measures to keep those relationships intact, will propel you and your school(s) forward allowing you to see measurable and sustainable change.
What do you feel is the secret to coaching? Comment below! I’d love to have feedback and chat with other coaches!