Demystifying Your Coaching RoleOct 19, 2023
Written by Torie Mollett
You’ve been assigned a new coaching role, maybe your first coaching role ever, or your first day in a new school or district. You’ve probably found a nice spot in your building, a home base, so to speak. You’ve communicated via email where you are on which days and which times, so now it’s time to sit back and wait for the action to begin. Maybe it begins right away, maybe it doesn’t. Perhaps it’s a slow burn. Perhaps you’re noticing a push, a hopefulness amongst staff that you will be a cookie-cutter replacement for the previous coach, and can you blame them?
Regardless of where you are in your coaching journey, you’ll probably have to clarify your coaching role to the staff you serve. In education, we have a love/hate relationship with change. Perhaps you’re the first coach the building has ever seen, leading to many a smile and/or head nod in the hallways and plenty of short-and-sweet-plan-bell-pop-ins…but not much else. Or, maybe you're a coaching veteran wondering why people still ask you to fix their computer connections. Let’s ponder why taking time to clarify your role might be necessary and helpful.
Your Title Includes the Word “Tech” or “Technology”
If your title is something like Instructional Technology Coach or Tech Integration Specialist, your title becomes, in the minds of your teachers, “Tech Lady” or “Tech Guy.” That, right there, is reason enough to get busy clarifying your role!
The District is Unfamiliar with the Role of a Coach
Maybe they’ve never had a coach in their district or building and are not quite sure what “coach” means. Perhaps “coach” meant something different to your predecessor and that’s okay. It’s important that we are confident when it comes to what we, both as humans and professionals, bring to the table. How can we integrate our strengths and skills into how we clarify our role as a coach?
New Administrators, or New Goals and Initiatives
Things change. Perhaps there was a coach in the district before you and the tasks and goals that fell within that coach’s practice were successfully completed or simply aren’t in line with current district/building initiatives. Or, maybe your building/district has new administrators. Either way, it never hurts to bring everyone together to make sure you’re all on the same page.
You Are Filling Someone Else's Shoes so You Need to Establish Who You Are and What You Do
Odds are, you’re a completely different person from whomever you replaced and that’s okay. Part of the excitement is how you approach the role based on what you bring to the table. This, too, is important when clarifying your role.
Each of these situations, including those unmentioned, is different yet all require a similar action - you’re going to have to clarify your role, continually and consistently. Now that we have identified some of the reasons why you need to clarify your role, let's focus on some strategies, especially ones I have found effective, that may help you as you work to demystify your role.
Clarify Your Role
No, seriously. I know you’re like, “Torie, that’s why I’m reading this!” and I know that’s the case, but I’m telling you to actually put pen to paper (or cursor to Canva) and create something that distinctly clarifies your role. Are you a Tech Coach like me? Do you constantly get confused for the building Tech Coordinator? Create a graphic that distinguishes the two roles. Does your staff not really know what you, like, do all day?
- Try a Coaching Menu that outlines how you can support your staff. This is actually a first-day essential. Start the year with a menu so that your staff can see your name (and photo if possible) and get a small idea of what you’re there to do. This, in itself, is a great conversation starter and a foot in the door. Here is an example from Jordan Petri.
- Are you planning on distributing a routine newsletter? Share examples showing how you have worked with other teachers, this helps to make the connection between who you are and what you do.
Shamelessly Plug Yourself!
Let your glory be known! I know that sometimes it can feel like a bit “much” when marketing ourselves. As teachers, it wasn’t super necessary. In the coaching role, you want people to pick up what you’re putting down. The best way I’ve found to do this is to leave little “reminders” for staff to find and engage. I’ve mentioned some of these things in other places but they truly deserve repeating.
- Have you considered a routine newsletter? Maybe you should. Here, you can share tips, tricks, and success stories, plug your coaching menu, attach resources, share personal anecdotes to build rapport, and so much more.
- What do all teachers have in common? No, not a deep-seated love for ink pens and coffee. All teachers will eventually need to go to the bathroom! Give them some entertainment with a Tech Tidbit, Learning on the Loo, PD on the Potty, and slide in another quick tip and plug for ways you can be of support. Who doesn’t love a captive audience?
- You know what might make your staff go home feeling just a bit more, you know, seen? Plugging them! That’s right, I hit you with that Uno Reverse and we are plugging ourselves by plugging them! Have you noticed a teacher trying something new, going above and beyond, or perhaps you’ve even witnessed them as they work to improve their practice? Brag (insert emphatic clap). On (insert emphatic clap). Them (insert final emphatic clap). I don’t need to tell you all the ways this small gesture can be productive and beneficial. Way to go! Another level of clarification, check.
Set and Uphold Healthy Boundaries
When you first start out at your new site, you may get a lot of what I call “SOS Tasks.” These usually take the form of break/fix items and other smaller things that may technically fall into your jurisdiction, but not quite. Of course, if you can help, you should and you probably will because you’re a helpful person (trust me). However, it’s easy to see how this may skew the message of vision you’re working on to portray who you are and what your role actually is. Again, help when you can and use these opportunities strategically to remind your staff of other ways you’re there to support them. You can direct them to your site, Google Classroom, or other general place where you keep all your coaching materials for your staff to access. Remember: If it’s a job that is truly not in your jurisdiction and you’re concerned about doing more damage than good, you’re helping the most by saying “I’m so sorry, this is a little out of my range. Let me help you get in contact with the right person right away.” In this way, you are still helping and helping in the way that best serves the staff (and students) while still maintaining the integrity of your own role.
Bring your Admin on Board
Often, clarifying your role with staff can go farther faster with the help of your admin. This may happen with a before-the-school-year-starts meeting where you all sit down and figure it out. You might need to explain it to them (if they are new to having a coach), or it may include the two of you creating a “Who ya gonna call?” infographic or the coaching “menu” that you will ultimately share with staff. It also gives you a chance to learn about the building/district initiatives and share how you can support those!
Personally Introduce Yourself
Allow your staff to get to know you, first and foremost, as a person. More importantly, show them that they aren’t just a number or box for you to check. Start by dropping in just to say, “Hi!” Heck, you can even do what one of my colleagues does: stalk their desk. Yes, that’s what I said! Stalking their desk will give you some inside scoop on them, as a person. You will have plenty to ask of them - who are those people in the pictures? Did they graduate from such-and-such college? Dogs?! I LOVE dogs, too! And, remember that coaching menu or “Who ya gonna call?” infographic? What better way to hand these out than during a casual conversation where you can explain the document? Or, leave it on their desk if they’re not there when you stop by.
Make Yourself Easily Accessible to Staff
One thing all educators can agree on is that time is valuable and with a consistently full teaching schedule, being available when teachers need you is key! Many teachers appreciate your being available before or after school and via email when in-person just isn’t an option. Of course, you also have to be sure to set your boundaries (a very important part of clarifying your role!). Although they might arrive 2 hours before the start of the school day, you do not have to. You might also try checking in with staff outside their classrooms. Place yourself in the hall during bell changes or go check in with your secretaries and office staff. Someone will see you and remember they need to ask you something. I’ve had so many interactions and projects come from simply “bumping into” my teachers. Clever, no?
As teachers, we spend a lot of time reminding - reminding students about homework, tasks, and skills learned in previous lessons, and reminding ourselves that it’s okay to go home and relax. Much like the traditional teaching role, coaching requires reminders and that’s perfectly fine. It’s going to take time to clarify your role to your staff. It’s not so much about stating who you are and being done with it. It’s about involving yourself in the fabric of the building/district and showing up consistently so that you can show what your role is all about. Even if you find yourself in the same district for years, still having to demystify your role for new staff (and perhaps a few vets), think of these strategies as your foundation and lean on them along with the tricks you’ve collected along the way.