Instructional Coaches’ Questions for Steve - Steve Barkley

Instructional Coaches’ Questions for Steve

I recently worked for two days with 175 instructional coaches in a large Texas district. It was a return following earlier training I had done for them. As part of the preparation I requested questions that folks wanted to pose from their coaching experiences. Here are some of them with my responses:

Balancing time with teachers when you can’t work with all of them at the same time (25 total)…is there an efficient/equitable plan or model?

Balancing supporting all teachers on BIG campuses—how?

As I worked through this response, I had my own aha! I believe the answer isn’t about balance, it’s about prioritizing. I frequently use this slide with coaches and administrators to examine how to set coaches’ priorities.


“You” represents the instructional coach and “student achievement” represents the desired outcome of the coach’s efforts. So how does a coach spend her time? (How much time? Where?):

Working directly with students

Working in the classrooms of individual teachers

Working with teams of teachers in PLCs

Working to provide training/coaching to administrators

I have always suggested that this is a building by building prioritization. I propose that this is a decision that the coach makes with a leadership team for a three-month period. Then revisits and resets. A school with several beginning teachers may focus the coach for the first three months on those individual teachers. Another school with no beginning teachers may focus the coach on PLCs. If balancing means doing a little with every teacher, it may prevent an instructional coach from achieving a “real” change in any given area. A highly effective coach may need to say “no” or “not now” to some requests. A priority filter is important for deciding.

How can data be collected to assess the impact and effectiveness of the instructional coach?

Here is the visual I used to answer this question.


The ultimate data will be a change in student achievement. More students are scoring advance on the state assessment. Our ELL students are successfully completing higher level courses. More students are choosing an additional year of math and science. The number of students volunteering for community service without credit has increased.

The early data on coaches ‘effectiveness begins with recognizable changes in teacher behavior. More teachers are attending the lunch and learn opportunities? Teachers are asking questions about how to get students engaged in project-based learning. Then, teachers’ instructional behaviors change. You see students being given more rigorous learning tasks. Teachers are changing the kinds of questions they pose to students. The next change to record is in student behaviors. On walk throughs, you note students asking more questions. You observe students using teacher feedback to modify their approach to an activity. Students explain “why” they are engaged in a task. All of these indicators are precursors to increased student learning. We should be able to predict increased student learning by the early indicators.

How do we respond to lack of teacher buy into teaching with rigor?- —combating the thought of “our students can’t do that”

As a new IC, how do I avoid all the “Well, last year, we…?”

How do I respond to the refrain, “ There is not enough time.”?

My response to these is to reflect ahead to a positive, desired future outcome and my interest in working with the teacher to make that outcome happen:

Teacher: “ Our students can’t do that.” Coach: “You really want your students to be able to do that.”….” I’d love to support your efforts.”

Teacher:” Last year we ….” Coach: “What are you hoping to accomplish with your students this year that you were unable to achieve in the past”.

Teacher: “There is not enough time.” Coach: If you had more time, how would you use it to increase student success….After teacher responds: “ So you’d like to find a way to make that happen for students.”


I closed the two days with my response to this question:

How do I know if I’m cut out for this job?  Some days I feel so ill-equipped and would prefer to go back into the classroom where I have more control, where I’m not held by some invisible higher standard.  How can I re-energize my spark?  I’m in charge of motivating others, but nobody is in charge of motivating me. Then I feel guilty that I have these feelings at all and would not dare share them, and look THAT vulnerable.    

First, if an instructional coach chooses to return to the classroom after a year or two of coaching (I know several) it isn’t any indicator of failure or quitting. Most everyone who takes that route describes how much stronger of a teacher she is from the coaching experiences. The ones that I know also play key leadership roles from the classroom.

Your rewards and satisfaction from coaching I believe are found in celebrating teacher growth and their students’ success. I was elated when a first grader of mine proudly read his first book. I find that same elation when a teacher shares how her learning ignited a student’s effort in math. Today I get the same “kick” when a coach I’ve supported shares a success with a teacher. If you coach a beginning teacher who choses an extended career in teaching, consider how far out into the future you have touched the lives of students.

Coaching is hard work with some amazing joys!

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