Podcast: Questioning Instructional Coaches’ Job Descriptions - Steve Barkley
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Podcast: Questioning Instructional Coaches’ Job Descriptions

Questioning Instructional Coaches’ Job Descriptions

It seems that often, those creating a job description for instructional coaches have entered a brainstorming contest designed to cover every possible thing that might be asked of a coach. Those lists create confusion for administrators, teachers, and especially coaches who are looking for indicators of their successful coaching. Coaching roles that emerge from the needs of students, teachers, and administrators focused on maximum student success create actionable steps for coaches, leaders, and teachers. Usually, this occurs mostly at a building level while job descriptions are often formed at the district level.

Read Sharon Thomas’ article, “Hiring Instructional Coaches and Firing Scope Creeps” here.
Read Diane Sweeney’s article, “So You Are Thinking About Hiring Instructional Coaches” here.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.

Steve: 00:28 Questioning job descriptions for instructional coaches. I frequently struggled when reviewing the job descriptions for instructional coaches. My problem emerges as the job description is usually written at the district level and the real work of the instructional coach should be focused and driven by the needs of teachers and administrators in a building who are working to create the maximum learning opportunities for students. I think this requires great personalization at the building level and then to the classroom level. My approach has been that it’s the partnership agreement between the coach and the building leadership team that focuses and drives the work of the coach. That agreement should also guide the work of the school administrators and teacher leadership in the support of the coach. In other words, a team is focused on common goals. The tasks that the coach takes on emerge from the partnership agreement, rather than being driven from outside by a job description.

Steve: 01:53 In many ways, I see this job description issue as being similar to problems that I often find in school improvement plans. The plan is often more of a list of activities that will be carried out, than on outcomes of the improvement in student success. For example, when I ask a school, I might be told that their school improvement plan is to have all the teachers trained in a new math curriculum program. So when the training has been completed, check off goal’s been met. When I hear that, I look to coach the leadership team to recognize that training in the program is an activity. The goal is increased student math learning that occurs from students doing and experiencing different learning production behaviors, because teachers have changed math instructional practices and perhaps classroom environments. When that’s clear, we know that the training is just the first step of the process, and then we should be asking what needs to be observed following the training.

Steve: 03:06 Generally, the first thing to be looking for would be changes in teacher practices. If those changes are not occurring, then we know the leadership needs to engage in leadership actions, such as conversations with staff coaching, perhaps gathering the necessary resource materials to support teachers, or retraining. In other words, the training didn’t work so we don’t want it checked off as the goal has been met because the training has been completed. I’m currently coaching a district central office team responsible for teaching, learning curriculum innovation. They want to function as a team rather than as individual content specialists. Now everyone on the team is used to having a job description, which historically provided some degree of comfort. In other words, I can check back and check off that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but as a team projects and needs require a group to form and respond.

Steve: 04:20 So now we are called upon to step into roles that emerge as needed for success. Sometimes my strengths and passions are called upon, other times, I need to learn something new or seek outside resources as what’s needed isn’t on any of the team members’ talents or passion lists. I’m seeing the role of instructional coach in a very similar light. The coach needs to step into the role needed by the school staff and students. The role emerges rather than being pre-set in the job description. I pulled an instructional coaches job description from a district posting online. It contained 27 items listed as general responsibilities. Here’s just a few. Provide support in analyzing student assessment data, assist teachers in designing instructional decisions based on assessment data, assist teachers with specific classroom activities when requested, provide support for classroom motivation and management strategies, assist teachers in creating materials that are in alignment with the curriculum, provide teachers, internet links related to instruction and curriculum, instruct and support teachers with curriculum, software products and classroom curriculum related technologies, model lessons when appropriate provide encouragement and emotional support to teachers.

Steve: 05:58 When I read the last two items on the list, I kind of interpreted them as good news and bad news. Understand that job responsibilities may vary related to each building’s need. Good news. Bad news concern – performed duties as assigned by the principal. The bad news for me is the term assigned by principal. I’d be much more comfortable if it was understood that the responsibilities will emerge as the leadership team and coach analyze and plan for maximum student learning. That job description pulled me back to a piece that I recently read written by Susan Thomas, who is a part of Jim Knight’s instructional coaching group. She posted a blog titled, “Hiring Instructional Coaches and Firing Scope Creeps.” The link to her blog is in the lead in to this podcast. That last line, perform duties as assigned by the principal, sure opens the door for scope creeps.

Steve: 07:16 Thomas writes, “once the coach is hired these hazy job descriptions result in the coach having so many different tasks that they can’t spend most of their work time on the coaching tasks that help to move student growth. And they have no idea whether what they’re doing is helping students. That feeling leaves coaches frustrated and overwhelmed. Scope creep is as pervasive in coaching as good intentions and only a concerted focus on role clarity can solve the problem. I agree that role clarity is what we need to seek, and that that is most likely to emerge from the partnership agreement made between the coach and the leadership team at the school after deep analysis of need and goals. Thomas adds, “scope creep means that people are now unsure of what the project or role is, unsure about who’s responsible for it, and definitely unsure about how to measure whether it’s successful because no one is sure what success is anymore.

Steve: 08:35 Things have spun out of control.” I have frequently stated in my training sessions with coaches and administrators, that coaches need to be getting positive feedback as the initial changes of their work are noticeable, observable. In other words, back to my earlier
example about the math training program and improvement in student math outcomes. As soon as it’s recognizable that teachers are beginning to change practice, that should be bringing the first positive feedback to the coach that his or her work is having initial impact. We all need that kind of positive feedback. Another example is found in a blog post by Diane Sweeney, also linked in the podcast lead in. The title of her blog is, “So You’re Thinking About Hiring Coaches.” She writes, “recently we received a job description that was created by a district that was implementing student-centered coaching. We noticed that the duties listed prioritized practices, such as modeling lessons, writing curriculum, and managing tier two interventions.

Steve: 10:01 We pointed out that these practices aren’t emphasized in student-centered coaching and suggested that it might be confusing to include them so prominently. Imagine getting hired as a coach with the understanding that you’ll be managing two tier interventions and then learning that the real expectation is to engage in coaching cycles.” So here’s my current thinking – rather than a job description, identify the desired skills, talents, attributes, and mindsets of the individuals that you’re seeking as instructional coaches. High on my list would be a curiosity about teaching and learning and it has desire to learn more about teaching and learning. Another would be people with great respect for students, teachers, parents, and administrators, as continuous learners. Having selected the person for your instructional coach role, have them join the leadership team and develop the role that they will initially play and then modify as learners’ needs and goals evolve. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Drop me a line at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

Steve [Outro]: 11:34 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

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