Advice That Would Have Helped Me in My First Year of Coaching

As the school year comes to a close, it’s a natural time to reflect back on the year. For me, I’m closing out my second year as an instructional technology coach in a K-12 district with almost 4,000 students and over 350 educators. Here are three pieces of advice for any new coaches looking ahead at next year or a veteran coach looking for a refresh. 

1. Prioritize building relationships with both administrators and teachers 

This should be your number one priority. I was listening to the Restart Recharge podcast today and Scott Nunes, the guest on the episode, PBL and the Coach!, said it best. He said, “You need to meet them [teachers] at the human level before you can meet them at the professional academic level” (Ritter &Thomas, 2023, 10:00). As many ideas about initiatives and professional development sessions you might have floating around in your mind, your first step must be to get to know the administrators and teachers. And unfortunately, this does take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. I’m still working on this, myself. Even if you were a teacher in the building you are now a coach in, it’s still important to build those relationships especially with the teachers who are outside your circle. And this can be uncomfortable at times. As someone who is not a big extrovert, I will put socializing with teachers on my todo list. For example, I will put, “Go talk to 7th grade social studies teachers” on my list of things to do when students leave for the day. I love a good todo list so this motivates me to get out of my comfort zone and go chat with teachers. And everytime I do it, it gets easier and easier because I start to strengthen those relationships. 

When it comes to building relationships with administrators, make sure to schedule your monthly meetings with them. Come prepared to those meetings with bright spots and offer to take things off their plates. We know how busy principals are, so offering to save them time will also strengthen your relationship. However, again, it’s important to get to know them too. 

2. Begin with the end in mind 

With the year coming to a close, now is the time to start thinking about next year. The first step is to meet with your building principal(s) to determine what the district and school goals are for the following school year. Some schools might have very clear goals that you might already know about. And some schools and districts might not. Regardless, it’s important to determine the focus of the professional development you’ll be leading next year. For example this year, I tried to tie all of my professional development sessions back to my district’s Portrait of a Graduate. At the beginning of each PD session, I would share how this strategy or tool related to a Portrait of a Graduate attribute or skill. This gave me direction in planning my professional development sessions and helped the teachers to understand the why behind the strategy or tool. 

Additionally, now is the time to collect data from teachers on what tools and subscriptions they are currently using and want to continue using next year. Also, it can be beneficial to ask them what they think their needs are in regards to professional learning for next year. This can help you begin planning professional development, and it shows that you care about what the teachers think and want. 

3. Make time to reflect and learn 

Last but not least, is to make time to reflect and learn. This summer, focus on learning and building your professional learning network. Since you’re reading this blog, you’re already on your way! Personally, I love listening to podcasts. As you already know, Restart Recharge is one of my favorites! I also enjoy listening to Ask the Tech Coach, and I recently devoured Sold a Story by APM Records that explains the move back to phonics instruction and why millions of kids can’t read well. Summer is also a great time to join a book club and finally tune into those webinars you may have registered for but didn’t attend live. 

Finally, as you’re taking the time to learn more and stay up on the newest research, it’s important to also reflect on your own practices. If you’re coming fresh from the classroom, reflect on your year teaching. What strategies were most successful for your students? What wasn’t and how could you have revised? Make notes of these thoughts somewhere that is easily accessible next year. Personally, I Iike keeping a Google Doc. When I was teaching, I would take notes at the end of each unit. I would identify lessons that I liked and ones I didn’t. This saved me so much time the following year because I already knew what I needed to change. My first year of coaching, I did this quarterly. In all honesty, I did not do as good of a job reflecting this past year. However, I recently started a Google doc again and began thinking back on my professional development sessions that went well and didn’t go well from this year. 

One thing I did well this year is reflecting on the data I collected throughout the year. Everytime I met with my principals, I would share my data with them. I use ConnectHub to collect data on my interactions with teachers. This makes it super easy to see the breakdown of where I’m spending my time and with what teachers. I can also tag the topics that I discuss in these interactions. This is useful to share with my principals, so they know what teachers are interested in learning more about. For example, it should be no surprise that this spring, I’ve had a lot of teachers reaching out to me wanting to discuss AI. This shows my principals that this is a topic that is worth discussing as a building and that teachers want to learn more about it. If you’re coming in from a different building or district, ask the administrators or curriculum team to share what they think the big themes and trends from this school year were.

This wraps up my three pieces of advice that I’ve learned from the past two years of coaching. So whether you’re new to this job or a veteran coach, I hope this gives you a few things to consider going into summer. Connect with me on Twitter (@05Maggie_Harris), I’d love to hear your advice to new coaches!