Opinion
Education Opinion

‘Coaching Is Harder Than I Thought’

By Elena Aguilar — February 05, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A coach who asked to remain anonymous sent this email to me last week:

This is my first year coaching after 15 years in the classroom and I had no idea that coaching was this hard. I'm really struggling and don't know what to do. I work with 8 teachers, not too many, I have a great boss, and mostly I like this work. But it's SO hard! I'm completely exhausted by the end of every day, I'm always questioning what I'm doing, and I really wonder if I'm helping anyone. Was it this hard for you? Is it this hard for all coaches?

Dear coach,

I’m sorry you’re experiencing a rough transition into this new role. I wonder about what preparation you had for becoming a coach and what you knew about what it means to coach, because yes--coaching is really hard! I don’t know if this was your perception before, but I have often heard comments like, “I want to become a coach because I need a break from the classroom,” or “Coaches have it so easy.” Every time I hear of someone seeking a position as a coach because they are tired of teaching, I cringe.

I love coaching, but it is cognitively, emotionally, and sometimes even physically exhausting. (Sitting for long periods of time drains me--I miss those days of teaching and moving around all the time). If I could make visible what goes on in my mind when I’m coaching it would constitute volumes. I try to listen deeply, listen for what is said and not said. Then I need to quickly analyze what’s been said--what is this teacher or administrator saying and asking for? And then I need to construct a question that is appropriate to what’s been said. Finally, I need to consider whether there’s some action I could propose that would help my coachee learn--should I suggest we pull out student data to look at? Or read about an instructional practice? Or engage in a role play conversation? I need to be acutely, constantly tuned into the coachee’s nonverbal communication so that I can make sure I’m maintaining trust. I also need to make sure that whatever I’m saying or suggesting is within the coachee’s zone of proximal development. It’s my responsibility to facilitate his/her learning--there’s a lot to consider in order for that to happen.

Adult learners are different than kids--similar, but also different. Adults have lived longer and in some ways are more complex learners. Which means that coaches need more skills.

Let me be provocative: did you ever think that teaching was easy? I’m going to guess that after 15 years in the classroom you have a deep appreciation for pedagogy. I never cease to be amazed by how complex teaching is. So why would coaching be so different? Coaching is a complex form of teaching, of professional development, of guiding another person in a learning journey.

There are a few things in your email that make me think you’re on the right path. First, it sounds like you have a manageable work load, some support from your boss, and that you like your work. Those are really important conditions of being a successful coach! It also sounds like you’re thinking deeply about what you’re doing--also a good sign! I wonder how your work is organized, what you’re coaching on or towards, and how you can measure the impact you’re having. We want coaching to result in changes in teacher practice, which result in improved outcomes for students. So how can you focus your coaching on a few high leverage instructional practices, and then design a learning path so that your teachers can improve in those areas, and finally, recognize and document their growth? Their growth and learning is your impact.

My first years coaching were really hard. I had no idea what I was doing, or how to do it. I sought out other coaches to learn from and read everything I could get my hands on. Becoming an effective coach takes time. I’m in year 7 and learning more and more every day.

There are a couple practices I’d suggest to help you refine your skills. First, start planning your coaching sessions. Reflect on where your coachee was the last time you met, where you need to guide him/her to in this next session, and then design questions to do this. If you can, it always helps to record your coaching sessions so that you can listen to them and reflect on them later. After a coaching session, reflect on how it went. How did your coachee respond to your questions and suggestions? What did you notice about how he/she engaged in the conversation? Where do you think you might need to guide him/her next?

Coaching can have a deep impact on a school’s culture, on student learning, and on teacher practice. It’s worth the struggle to learn this craft. I hope you’ll stick with it. Like anything, it gets easier with practice.

How about other coaches out there: Was coaching harder than you thought it would be? How did you improve your coaching? What advice would you give this coach?

The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP