4 Reasons Why Instructional Coaches Visit Classrooms
How do you feel when people walk into your classroom?
Are you nervous? Immediately stressed? Get a bad case of dropsy?
This is pretty normal, unfortunately. In a lot of schools and communities, teachers tend to teach in a bubble. They spend all day with the minions, only looking someone eye-to-eye while walking to the car after school.
But this isn’t ok. Bubble teaching is the opposite of collaboration. This isn’t a commentary on teachers or coaches; rather it’s about school culture. If your school promotes a culture of collaboration, you’ll see teachers working together in different ways: PLCs, book studies, planning sessions, teacher-led sessions, and teachers visiting each other.
And yes, you’ll see instructional coaches in classrooms, too.
In some schools, people visiting classrooms are a threat. They’re there to “catch” you doing something “wrong”. But that’s not a good reason for coaches (or anyone) to visit classrooms.
Here’s what you should know: If I don’t visit classrooms, I’m like a teacher who doesn’t watch her students while they work. You can hand out an assignment and sit back. And then you’ll have absolutely no idea what kids do, how or why they do it, and you’ve missed an opportunity to see how someone thinks.
Here are a few good reasons instructional coaches visit classrooms:
1. To see how the curriculum is going.
When I walk into a classroom and I see a lesson we planned (or didn’t plan) during PLC going on, I should know what it’s trying to accomplish. As an instructional coach, I know the standards for the subject areas I’m responsible for very well. And part of my job is to watch a bit of that lesson and see: are the lessons we’re planning achieving their goals?
If not, then I need to make adjustments to the work I’m doing during planning with teachers. What’s missing? Is the standard not being taught to an appropriate level or degree? Is it misaligned to the way we planned to assess the kids? Are the materials not serving the lesson purpose?
There’s a lot to think about in curriculum. We can make all the most beautiful plans on paper, but if they don’t pan out in the classroom for kids, then we’ve got to make some adjustments to our approach.
2. To see what training support they need to provide.
If I visit four third grade classrooms and see the same need, then maybe that’s an appropriate topic for training. Training needs to be supportive of teachers’ needs and wants for professional growth. If teachers are experts in questioning, then I’m not going to waste their time with an hour and a half session on higher-order questions. But if that’s an area that many teachers can grow in, it’s a good use of our time.
3. To figure out what kinds of support teachers can benefit from.
It’s easy to sit around a table and talk about the support teachers need or want. But until I see it in action, I don’t really know what that support needs to look like. As the instructional coach, it was my responsibility to meet teachers where they are and support them in increments. Just like in the classroom, everyone needs something different. What’s equitable isn’t what’s “fair”. I won’t put everyone through the same support plan because that’s a waste of their time.
In the classroom, I can really see what’s happening. I visit the teacher who mentioned that her students are struggling with test-taking skills during a test to see what the kids are actually doing. I visit the teacher who is struggling with classroom management to see what’s already in place. And I visit the teacher who hasn’t asked for support to see what I can do to actually do my job: support her in areas she can grow in.
I take notes for myself, so I know where to go next. I use them to create a support plan for the teachers I’ve seen. Of course, I talk to the teacher, offer the support, and see what they think before proceeding.
4. To see who can help us grow.
Some teachers have a knack for something. They don’t always know it, though. For example, I’ve walked into a classroom and seen a really great strategy for helping kids figure out main idea. I’ve told the teacher, “That’s a great strategy! Could you share it with your colleagues?” and the teacher says, “Oh, everybody does that.”
Nope. Everybody doesn’t. We think everybody came up with the same ideas, but they didn’t. Everybody has strengths and everybody has areas to grow in. So sometimes, in visiting a classroom I see one of those strengths that the teacher doesn’t even know she or he has. And I use that as an opportunity to say, “Help us! Help your colleagues!”
I might ask them to share during PLC or another grade level meeting. We may set up a mini-training, or we may have an opportunity for colleagues to come in and watch a lesson in action. I might record the lesson and share it via Google Drive. Either way, if I don’t visit classrooms, I can’t help teachers share their ideas with each other.
We need to get out of our bubbles and work together to create the best possible collaborative professional environment for teachers. Sometimes that’s a little uncomfortable, but discomfort is an opportunity for growth.
How do you feel about having people in your classroom?
I think one of the most important, but maybe often overlooked, goals for coaching is to identify colleagues who can help build capacity in the school by sharing their talents and wisdom.