If you’re a new instructional coach, or new to a campus, or you have new teachers, or for a whole slew of reasons, you probably have a lot of questions.
* What best practices are being utilized on my campus?
* What resources do teachers have, and how do teachers use the resources them?
* How are students’ needs met, even when they’re operating at different levels?
And the most important: How can I support teachers and ensure that our school is growing?
There’s really just one way to figure out the answer to all of these questions. And that is: visit classrooms.
You can sit, locked in your office or meetings with admin, teachers, and students all day, and still not really know what’s happening at your school. Because honestly, we all speak slightly different languages.
We view instruction through the lens of our own experience. So, when a teacher tells you, “I differentiate my math instruction,” that can mean 8,000 different things – almost definitely not what you’re envisioning.
In order to make sure that the coaching support you’re providing is actually making an impact (and being relevant to teachers), you need to visit those rooms. You can read about four reasons coaches visit classrooms here.
So how do you set yourself up for successful visits, and what do you do once you’re there? Read on, dear coach for some tips to get you rolling! 1. Talk to your principal. If your principal isn’t on board, you’re sort of asking for trouble. There are several reasons that you’ll want to talk to your principal before you begin visiting any classrooms. They may not consider this to be part of your roles and/or responsibilities. They may want you to debrief only verbally with teachers, and not provide written feedback. They may want you to look for something specific, such as something your campus is currently working on, in order to help you figure out what to do next. They also may want you to turn around and tell them every little thing you saw, which is not a good idea and not going to make you a trustworthy coach. So make sure you’re on the same page first.
2. Give teachers a heads-up.
If teachers haven’t had anyone visit their classroom for instructional purposes before, you popping in is definitely going to stress somebody out. Instead of just bursting in without any warning, send teachers an email (I’d recommend sending it out to grade levels or the whole school. If you send it individually, teachers may think they’re being singled out.) Just tell them the truth: you’re going to be visiting classrooms to see the great things that are going on on your campus and to figure out how you can best support teachers.
Give a time frame for the visits to start, such as “next week”, “the week of the 18th”, or “after Labor Day”, for example. If you’re looking for something specific, you can say, “I’m going to pop in and see how Reader’s Workshop is going”, or “I can’t wait to see how your kids are utilizing their Writer’s Notebooks!”
3. Put it on your calendar.
If “visiting classrooms” isn’t on your calendar, you’re probably not ever going to actually do it. I recommend, when you’re starting out, that you visit every single classroom on your campus. This is going to take some time, so make sure it’s marked off with a nice block of time.
Consider PE, lunch schedules, library, computer lab, art class, etc. All of those things interrupt the day and require some travel time for kids and teachers, too, so give yourself a wide berth in order to avoid visiting empty rooms.
I actually kept a little log of the dates I’d visited teachers’ rooms, in order to avoid getting mixed up and visiting the same rooms over and over. If you always visit rooms when fourth grade is at PE, you might miss visiting fourth grade and have no clue what you need to do to support them!
4. Go with a purpose.
Know what it is that you’re looking for. The first time, you’re probably just learning a little bit about teachers’ instructional style, what their rituals and routines look like, and maybe noticing some teacher ideas and/or strengths that you can ask them to share.
After that first round, you may look to see how a specific workshop is panning out in the classroom, if the books of the month are being utilized and how they’re being used, and what next steps you need to do.
5. Figure out how you’re providing feedback to teachers.
Before you go, make sure you’ve communicated with your principal about the feedback you’re providing to teachers. Are you leaving written feedback? Verbal? Will you debrief with every teacher? With teachers who request it? With those teachers you think could benefit from it?
If you can leave written feedback, I recommend two things:
* Start with a completely positive note the first time. You can also offer your services.
* Do not leave it with the teacher during or at the end of your classroom visit.
Instead, take some notes in your notebook, and then write a positive note for the teacher when you have a minute. Reread it. Reread it. Reread it! Make sure you are conveying honesty, while being positive. Do not say anything that isn’t true for the sake of being positive. Find something truly positive to say.
Then leave the note for the teacher in their box or mailbox. Do not hand it to them in the moment because you don’t have time to think, and because that turns your visit into a performance from the teacher, immediately after which they’ll get their “grade”. That is not the purpose of a classroom visit.
6. Watch the kids.
If you’re a coach, you work directly with teachers, and not as much with kids. But why do you work with the teachers? To impact teaching- for the kids! In classrooms, watch what the kids do. See how they listen, speak, think, read, write, and respond to what they’re being asked to do. You can even talk to them (if you can do so without disrupting the lesson) and ask them about what they’re working on, reading, or thinking!
7. DO NOT disrupt or distract the teacher!
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Please do not stomp into the classroom, talking loudly, and addressing the teacher in the middle of his/her lesson. Be discreet. If the teacher thinks they have to address you, respond in kind, but make it clear that you’re not there to interrupt; just to visit. If you’ve sent them a heads-up email, they’ll remember!
8. If you’re debriefing verbally, in person, have a plan.
If you, your principal and/or your teachers decide for a verbal debrief, do it in person, and have a plan. Prepare some sentence starters and some reflective questions that will help you and the teacher communicate effectively and with a purpose. You are not an evaluator. You are a coach. Coaches help people reflect on their practice. Be prepared to do that! Schedule a time that’s good for you AND for the teacher. And then be prepared!
Do you visit classrooms? How does that help you be a better coach?
But wait! There’s more!
You can now sign up for my all-new Start-Up Course for Instructional Coaches!
It’s a free email course, right to your inbox, that will give you the essential steps for getting started as an instructional coach. You’ll get videos, links to posts, and even a free resource or two, and follow-up emails to help you along your coaching journey!
Just enter your email address in the box below. You’ll also be signing up to receive periodic emails about instructional coaching as part of my mailing list!
Are those note cards available in any of your products? Those are super cute. I love leaving little thank you for having me cards.
We returned to school this week (teachers only) and I have had time available to walk the halls and lend a hand helping set up classrooms and anything else teachers need. I am thinking this will go a long way towards establishing trust and a positive relationship before the classroom visits begin. So excited!
I'm not an instructional coach…yet but am interested in applying in the next couple of years. What's your favorite part of your job?
Where can I find the yellow and blue thank you card pictured above? It's adorable and I would love to use it.
Natalie, Thank you! It's part of my Instructional Coaching Binder Megapack. You can get it at the link below. I am working on a new resource full of printable notes for coaches to leave teachers, too! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Instructional-Coach-Binder-Megapack-Editable-Forms-Calendars-Planning-Tools-2065048?aref=lp0nli12