Increasingly today, many educators are moving from an instructional coaching role to administrative positions at the school and district level. Crystal Frommert, a current middle school instructional coach who will begin a new position next school year as an assistant middle school head, joins this podcast. Crystal and Steve explore how she envisions her instructional coaching experiences impacting her new leadership role.
Follow Crystal on Twitter: @mrs_frommert
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Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello, and welcome to the parents as learning coaches edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Parents and caregivers play many different roles, at times, even somewhat conflicting roles as they support children’s development. The pandemic has shown a light on the importance of parents supporting learners. In this podcast, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner that can support your coaching efforts.
Steve: 00:28 Instructional coaching experience prior to entering into administrative positions. Joining us on the podcast today is Crystal Frommert, a middle school instructional coach from the Houston area. I was introduced to Crystal when reading an article that she had written that encouraged teachers to reach out and engage with instructional coaches. Her thoughts encouraged me to share her thinking and extend it with some of my own regarding a coaching culture in schools. I’ll put the link to Crystal’s article and mine in the lead-in to this podcast. When Crystal and I connected, I found out that she was taking a administrative position in a new school next year. As we talked further, I asked her if she would join me in this podcast to take a look at how being an instructional coach is likely to influence her new administrator role. Thanks for joining us, Crystal.
Crystal: 01:33 Thank you. Glad to be here.
Steve: 01:35 I’m wondering if you’d start by just giving us a little bit of your background as a teacher and a coach.
Crystal: 01:42 Yeah, Steve. So thank you so much for having me today. I began teaching in year 2000 and over the past 20 years or so I’ve taught mainly middle-school math with a few years of technology classes squeezed in there. I’ve taught in public, parochial and international schools, mostly in the Houston area. I even spent a brief time as a university adjunct teaching pre-service teachers. So my story transitioning from being a math teacher in middle school to being an instructional coach really started by me taking on roles outside of the classroom. Being a grade level coordinator, being a mentor to new hires, new teachers at our school. And I realized that, you know how Marie Kondo says when, you know, when something sparks joy, you feel your cells lift. And I noticed that feeling of my cells lifting and that joy being sparked when I was working with adults in the community, working with adults in the school and realized this is really where I want to go.
Crystal: 02:46 So I had a very frank conversation with my head of school who was very supportive and wonderful, and she really helped me to seek out opportunities beyond the classroom. That led to me being a part-time instructional coach and also teaching math at the same time. And then that transitioned into a full-time instructional coach position that I have now. And I have decided that I want to keep going on this journey and I have accepted an assistant head of middle school position that I will begin at a new school starting this summer. So throughout all of these twists and turns and throughout my career, my heart still remains in middle school education. So I’m very grateful that I get to remain there.
Steve: 03:28 Middle school is an exciting place. I recently recorded a podcast with a gal who who wrote a book called, “Middl School Matters” and
it certainly does. That’s also as a grandparent of a current middle-schooler. I was wondering as I was listening to you, as a teacher, did you have many chances to experience being coached?
Crystal: 03:57 Actually, no. I wish I had, and I listed that in my article thar you mentioned previously. I think I would have been a much, much better teacher. I think it was pretty okay, but I could have been a much, much better teacher if I had had somebody coming in more frequently into my classroom giving me feedback that was non-evaluative. I wish I had the opportunity as a teacher throughout the years.
Steve: 04:22 So how do you think that experience of not being coached influenced you when you began working as a coach?
Crystal: 04:35 That’s an interesting question because, you know, every time somebody would come into the classroom to observe me teaching,
I always felt just a little bit of apprehension, nervousness. But I’m very grateful that I had a math department head. And in our school, the department chairs or department heads, they were the ones who did all the observations of our classes. So I had someone coming into my room who knew the math, who knew the content, which I think was very important because it helped me to grow in that area. He also was a phenomenal teacher and knew a lot about pedagogy as well. And he, when he came in to observe my classes, he would write down really just straight notes of what he saw, what he heard. And then he left it up to me to read those and to interpret what I needed to work on.
Crystal: 05:24 So I suppose in a way, that is a form of coaching, even though that was an evaluative observation, but he opened the conversation to, what do you think about this lesson? What would you like to work on? What do you think went well, that set the tone for me as a coach. And I took a lot of what I learned from him as a math department, head into my coaching role. But the big difference there is that when I visit teachers, I’m not coming in for an evaluative role and I do also try to pre meet with the teachers to ask, what is it you’d like for me to look for? Is there anything in particular that you want me to listen for or look for and give you feedback on? So that’s the main difference between the evaluation and non-evaluative observations.
Steve: 06:12 As I’m listening, going all the way back to your statement that you think you could have been a stronger teacher faster, maybe with coaching and listening to what you said about your experiences with that with that head of the department, I’m wondering if the word reflection is the key in that coaching process that you’re describing.
Crystal: 06:40 Right. Right. If I had somebody to come into the room to, you know, watch what I’m doing to give me feedback on what I’m doing, I would have had the opportunity more so, or maybe if I had recorded my own lessons, you know, with a camera, which I have done a couple of times, but I never really thought early in my career, oh, this is coaching. This is part of reflection, right? I didn’t have that vocabulary yet. So I think that, yes, you’re right, that the reflection piece would have been really helpful and looking back on, how did that lesson go? And how could I change that to be better for my kids next time?
Steve: 07:16 Reflection on our own is difficult. And it’s part of why I’ve always described the piece of the power of coaching is that coaching lives on after the coaching session. So once you engage in that reflection that the coach has kind of triggered, for the next days and weeks, you have a tendency to continue that reflective process. And we can all kind of meander away from it and so our next session with a coach or with a colleague is our opportunity to to come back to it.
Crystal: 07:51 Right. I also try to bring that reflection piece into my teaching as well or help the teachers that I’m coaching to bring that into their classrooms to help the kids also do reflections on their own.
Steve: 08:03 Yeah. Reflection – key to learning. For the kids and for us as adults. I’m wondering what mindsets you think you’ve developed from your coaching experiences that you’ll likely carry forward into into your new leadership role?
Crystal: 08:22 Well, as I became a instructional coach, I really look to – I have a few people that I’ve been following that really have guided me through my career and I look to their work. You, of course being one of them, Jim Knight, Elena Aguilar, Kim Cofino, Bernie Brown, who everybody loves and Michael Bungay Stanier. Those are really the people I follow on social media, I read the books and there’s a common thread that follows through all of their work and that is the idea of staying curious. And I take that mindset of staying curious through my work with teachers, my work with colleagues and administrators, my work with kids, my work with parents, and what that means, staying curious is, asking thoughtful questions, listening deeply – listening’s very difficult. So putting a lot of effort into listening deeply and then guiding the person that you’re working with or that you’re having a conversation with to come to their own solutions.
Steve: 09:26 So you connect right with me with curious and I’ve I’ve written substantially that that’s part of if a coach will use their curiosity, it drives the work of the coach. And I’ve always seen teaching and learning as being so complex that it creates lots of opportunity for curious, ongoing study and exploration. I’m wondering in your new administrative role, how do you see yourself working with an instructional coach if that position’s there or working with teacher leaders who have similar coaching roles that might be described as grade levels or department heads?
Crystal: 10:22 Right. So being a leader in any organization, I think also, especially in a school, we really do need to come to our work with a coaching mindset. That’s staying curious, that open conversation mindset. And with my new school, we have curriculum coordinators. So these coordinators, they do serve a bit of a role of an instructional coach by working with the teachers on a particular content area. That might be humanities, that might be STEM content. So by working with these curriculum coordinators, my goal is to model and to work with them, with that staying curious, that having questions. Not the authoritative, this is what we’re going to do, but let’s come to this together. We are all professionals. We have lots of wonderful rich experiences. How can we bring all of that to the table to come up with the best lessons, the best projects, the best programming that we can for our kids? And then hopefully, you know, with that work with the curriculum coordinators, they can bring that to the teachers and their conversations. I really would love to get that coaching conversation going throughout all of the faculty and staff and all of our conversations from all the way from head of school, to the teachers and then the teachers can use that with the kids. That’s what I would like to spark. I’d like the spark that fire of staying curious and deep conversations.
Steve: 11:48 So I had a question I was going to ask you about a coaching and I think that’s what you’re describing.
Crystal: 11:55 Yes.
Steve: 11:56 So what do you think is the how? What would you see as critical leadership behaviors that you would be executing in order to bring about that outcome?
Crystal: 12:12 Well, I think about as an assistant head of middle school, I have three constituencies that I’ll be working with mainly. That will be faculty, parents, and with kids. And I think about what would I do and how would I bring myself to working with those constituencies and still maintaining the coaching mindset? So for example, for teachers, that would be pre meeting with the teachers before I observe their classes and having that open conversation, letting them have the ownership of their, you know, their observation. What would you like for me to look for, letting them set their own professional goals. I really hope that when I walk into the room to do an observation with a teacher, that there’s not that feeling of anxiety or feeling of apprehension, but they see me as a person there to help them grow. And we’re all here to grow.
Crystal: 13:06 We all have room to improve. That’s what I hope to set. And I would build relationships first to hopefully, you know, ease that apprehension. And secondly, for parents, I would work a lot with parents as assistant head of middle school. And a lot of that would look like listening. I’m asking the parents, tell me more about what you see Steve doing at home. And tell me more about how we can support you and we can partner with you, rather than being the disciplinarian. This is what we’re going to do. Let’s build this together. Let’s support your child together. And maybe even bringing in the child in that conversation, if it’s appropriate.
Crystal: 13:58 And for third for the kids, I will be working with a lot of kids, you know, and perhaps maybe uncomfortable situations that involve a disciplinary issue because let’s face it, middle school kids do make some weird decisions sometimes, right? And I hope to bring a coaching mindset to that conversation as well, that hopefully other faculty will see that I could model for them. That might look like talking with the student, asking them what happened, you know, if there was harm done, coming to the conversation with the restorative approach. You know, what harm was done and how can we repair that harm? How can I support you in this? And so it’s really empowering in giving that child agency and going forward. I do love to end conversations with my kids by saying, what will you take away from our conversation today? Because it really makes them reflect, it makes them accountable for listening to what we had talked about and retaining it. And I do that with faculty as well at the end of the coaching conversation. I’ll say, you know, what was about what we talked about today? And it’s a nice cap to the conversation.
Steve: 14:56 Well, it actually creates an opportunity for them to give you coaching feedback,
Crystal: 15:02 Right. As we all have room to grow. Yes, yes.
Steve: 15:05 Of what they’re walking away with, this is what you were hoping they were going to walk away with, it gives you that chance to back up and rethink how you played that whole thing out.
Crystal: 15:16 Right.
Steve: 15:17 What’s firing through my mind as I was listening to you talk about working with each of those different groups, that at times when I’ve been doing a a workshop for school administrators and coaching, and I’ll frequently find, especially assistant principals, talking about the limited amount of time that they have to coach. Especially in some of the schools where they get a lot of discipline that they’re needing to deal with. I generally work in the conversation that those disciplines settings are pretty good coaching opportunities. So if you’re dealing with the teacher about what happened and how it happened, you’re coaching the teacher, you’re coaching the student and as you added, you end up in a coaching session with with the parent as well.
Crystal: 16:06 Right. And there’s something you said in a previous podcast of yours that really rang true with me, that, you know, when there is a discipline issue in the classroom and the teacher goes straight to the assistant head or straight to the principal of the school, the principal can reply back with, have you asked the instructional coach, if you have one – have you asked the instructional coach to observe your class? And what would they say about what’s going on? Because that builds that coaching culture in the school that gives the instructional coach a role in supporting that teacher in finding his or her own empowerment with helping that child. And it also gives, like you were saying with the time limitations, again, it takes away a little bit of the time that a principal might have to spend on a discipline issue when it really could be something that an instructional coach could help with.
Steve: 16:58 I want to throw you a little curve question here just because of the time that we’re in. I’m doing a lot of my work right now, focusing folks on next year and post-COVID times in schools. As a leader coming into that school, what would you think you need to keep in your mind about what’s most important to be happening in those first weeks and months of the school year?
Crystal: 17:25 Yeah, that’s really difficult to think about because, you know, with everything changing you know, kids might be vaccinated, they might not be vaccinated, who could be close to each other, what’s the CDC gonna say? But on the educational standpoint of looking at that, the first and foremost important thing that we need to keep in our minds as educators is relationships and wellbeing of our kids. Some of these kids have gone through some pretty rough stuff in the last, you know, 15 months and some families have gone through some pretty rough patches. It’s been pretty devastating for everybody. So really keeping that empathy and benefit of the doubt for our kids, you know, coming with care with the kids and this whole idea of learning loss, it needs to be thrown out the window, right? We can’t keep focusing on that term of learning loss.
Crystal: 18:18 We have grown in other ways as a human species, we really have learned a lot in the last year or so. In keeping the positive mindset in that direction of we’ve grown, we’ve learned as humans, how can we support each other? We’re all brothers and sisters here to work together and keeping that in mind and not trying to rush the curriculum, cram it down their throats. I think that sometimes teachers might feel that pressure, maybe it’s an external pressure that they’re feeling, but relationship building would be first and foremost of my mind and building the beginning of the school year mindset with our kids. And the curriculum, all of that, it can be paused. They can wait, we don’t need to rush it.
Steve: 19:03 Great. Great. Crystal, how can folks check in with you follow up with you, maybe provide some questions that they’ve got from things
that you’ve said?
Crystal: 19:16 Yeah. So I have a Twitter account that is @mrs_frommert. So I’ll spell that – it’s @ M R S, _ F R O M M E R T. Mrs. Frommert. And that’s where I’m pretty active with sharing and having conversations. So I really welcome anybody to interact with me there.
Steve: 19:44 Okay. We’ll be sure to add that again, to the to the lead-in. And I think I’d like to make a date with you for a year from now.
Crystal: 19:56 I would love that.
Steve: 19:56 We’ll stick it on the calendar a year from now. We’ll jump back on a podcast and let you tell what what happened and how it compared
to to what you thought was going to happen in the – I know you’ve got a great year of learning and excitement along with meeting.
Crystal: 20:18 Right. And I’m very interested also in learning what I will say a year from now, because I really do have all these high hopes for supporting a coaching culture in my new school. And I cannot wait to find out how that’s going to play out and see how much that spreads, because I really do want to model that for everyone in the school and to work with everyone. And, you know, through my interviewing and meeting everyone there, I already know that the faculty there and the staff there, they already do have this mindset of growth and of supporting each other. So I think I’m coming into a really great environment that that’s ready for that.
Steve: 21:00 Terrific. Well, have a great end of this year and just a terrific start in your new position.
Crystal: 21:04 You too. Thank you for your time.
Steve: 21:07 You bet. Bye-bye.
Crystal: 21:07 Bye.
Steve [Outro]: 21:10 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.