This morning I received an email with this question: “As a new coach in a new position for my school district, what are my first steps? My title is ESL District Coach.”
- Make an appointment to meet with the person who hired you, or your supervisor, and ask: Tell me more about this role. What does this title mean to you? What do you hope I’ll do? Why was this position created? Is there anyone else in our district that I should talk to so that I can understand what this role is about?
- Explore your own vision for this role. Why did you apply for the position? Why are you interested in the role? What do you hope to do through the position? What’s the need that you see for the position?
- Talk to--and listen to--the teachers whom you’re to work with. Ask them: What do you hope I will do? How do you see coaching? What impact do you hope my work as a coach will have on students? What are your hopes and fears for an ‘ESL District Coach?’ What do you know about coaching? What experience have you had with a coach?
- Explore the data on English Learners in your district. I assume your position was created in order to better meet the needs of ELs--what data support this? Who are your ELs? What are their challenges? Which systems are in place to support ELs? How are those systems working? What trainings have teachers and administrators received around supporting ELs?
- Talk to--and listen to--English Learners and their parents. Find them in the hallways, before and after school, and ask them about their experiences in school. Which challenges have they faced? What do they appreciate? Which changes would they like to see? This is also important “data"--go to the source.
- Get sharp clarity on what you’re supposed to do. If you didn’t get this after step 1, return to that step and talk to more people about what you’re supposed to do. You might also be able to add to that job description based on your inquiries in steps 2-5. If it doesn’t exit in a very satisfying form, create or expand on the job roles and responsibilities. This includes an articulation of, or agreement on your schedule as a coach.
- Make time to meet with the teachers you’ll coach and share your vision for your role (step 2) and your roles and responsibilities. And then say, “I’d really like to hear your thoughts about this.” And listen to what they say. You’ve now embarked on a massive and lengthy trust building campaign--by sharing your role and inviting their thoughts--a campaign that will be extensive and lengthy, and which starts with listening.
- In the same conversation as Step 7, ask teachers if they’d be open to having you stop visit their class and observe kids. (Notice I didn’t say observe them.) Let them know that you’re really curious about the EL experience, that you’re not going to be leaving feedback, and that by doing this you’ll be better able to support the teacher. Visit for 10-15 minutes. Notice where ELs sit, how much they speak, to whom they speak--just watch them and see what you can learn about their experience.
- Whenever possible, (and if this is an option) work with teachers who are willing and excited about coaching. This is a strategy to build district-wide buy-in to a coaching program, to shift a staff culture to one of learning, and an effective use of energy. Coaching is sometimes allocated just for teachers who are really struggling, or new teachers, and sometimes this is useful and important - but there’s a lot more evidence indicating that coaching that’s offered to teachers in mid-career - or who are willing - is more strategic and impactful.
- Read my book! I wrote The Art of Coaching with brand new coaches in mind. It’s what I wish I’d had my first year as a coach. My book has many tools, lists of questions, and much more to help new coaches (including on page 235 a sample weekly schedule for a coach.) The Art of Coaching is really a very long list of “First steps” for a new coach.
Good luck to you! Coaching is a wonderful, exciting adventure--and can have a huge impact on teacher and student learning.
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.