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The Balancing Act: Instructional Coaching in Large School Districts

best practices general coaching new to coaching organization time management Oct 03, 2023

Written by Brooke Conklin

Instructional coaches play a critical role in supporting teachers and improving student outcomes. But coaching in a large district, whether geographically or by student population, comes with unique challenges. In a recent Restart Recharge podcast episode, two experienced coaches shared their insights on making an impact across a vast area. Listen to the full episode here

Cammie Kannekans is a district instructional coach in a rural school district in southern Alberta, Canada, which has a small population but a very large geographical area of over 11,000 square miles.

Rachel Porter is an instructional design coach for a district in Southwestern Ohio that serves 5,800 students across its eleven schools. Rachel is the sole instructional technology coach in the district. 

Here are Cammie & Rachel’s advice for coaches serving large school districts:

  1. Use technology like Google Meet for coaching sessions. Virtual meetings can help move coaching cycles along and provide needed support, without requiring long drives or commutes. Cammie shared that Google Meet has been a "game changer" - allowing her to meet with teachers during prep periods or before/after school without spending hours on the road. Teachers appreciate the convenience of connecting virtually.
  2. Harness the power of video. Record mini-PD sessions or quick tutorial videos responding to common tech questions. Then distribute these videos across the district asynchronously. This "clones" your expertise and allows you to support more teachers efficiently. Short videos are a great way to maximize your time and impact.
  3. Find ways to build relationships and get to know staff BEFORE entering their buildings. Starting a newsletter with personal tidbits, facilitating inter-school competitions, or showcasing your passions outside of work can help create connections so you're not a stranger. Teachers will be more likely to seek you out.
  4. Set boundaries on the number of intensive coaching cycles you can take on. Spreading yourself too thin across a large district reduces your effectiveness with each teacher. Be judicious and prioritize schools/teachers with the greatest needs when agreeing to cycles.
  5. Offer to help administrators with small tasks like designing a template or newsletter in Canva. Taking even a tiny thing off their overflowing plate builds goodwill quickly. This also positions you as a supportive partner.
  6. Attend district leadership team meetings when possible. This critical facetime gives you a voice at the table and a chance to highlight the coaching work you're doing across the district.
  7. Arrive early and stay late when on-site. Teachers tend to have more availability before and after school with fewer meetings, duties, etc. This is prime time for coaching.
  8. Accept that you can't be everywhere at once. (This is a biggie!) Build trust in schools you visit less frequently by following up consistently via technology. Be reliable when they reach out to you.

The bottom line? Coaches in large districts must be creative, flexible and judicious with their time. Leverage technology, tap into influencers, and focus where needs are greatest. Consistent outreach and relationship building are key.

What other takeaways stand out to you from these coaches' experiences? What strategies could help you be more effective in a sprawling district? Share your thoughts with us on social media, @EDUCoachNetwork!

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