Education Opinion

How Do I Become an Instructional Coach?

By Elena Aguilar — March 04, 2014 4 min read
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Jennifer, an educator from the Midwest, recently asked Twitter users for advice on how to become an instructional coach. I know this is the time of year when many are exploring different positions for next year, and so I thought I’d share my response here.

1. First, I’d suggest reading this blog that I wrote a few years ago on Edutopia called “Five Things to Consider Before Becoming an Instructional Coach.” As I emphasize in this blog, you’ve really got to love working with adults and be excited about those particular challenges if you want to be a coach. Take some time to reflect on why you want to become a coach and what you hope the position might offer.

2. Talk to as many coaches as you can about their job--what it entails, what the challenges and rewards are. I suggest this with one disclaimer: coaching jobs differ tremendously from school to school and district to district. This is in part because there’s no agreed upon definition of what coaching is or what effective coaches to. So keep that in mind while you hear first person stories from the field.

3. Take this Coaching Self Assessment.docx and figure out what your strengths are as a coach and what your biggest areas of growth would be. Becoming a coach will involve a lot of learning and this tool might help you focus and narrow that learning.

4. Start learning. The learning journey to become a coach can be a wonderfully exciting one and won’t stop once you are a coach. You’ll need to learn about adult learning theory, systems thinking, communication, dealing with emotions, empathy and compassion, and much more. How you learn is a little more challenging. Most coaches I know (myself included) were nudged or pushed into coaching, or leaped into it straight out of the classroom. I know that in order to be an effective coach it takes 10,000 hours of practice, with consistent feedback from a master coach. One day I hope that coaches will have at least some 5,000 hours of preparation before stepping into a coaching position.

Courses: In her tweet, Jennifer asked about Master’s courses in coaching. This is something I’m very curious about but don’t know of any--so if readers know of a Master’s or credential program in instructional coaching (not life coaching or any of the non-education coaching programs) please let me know or share in the comments. This is something I’m very interested in developing and offering because I have fantasies that one day there will be a formal preparation program for coaches working in schools--for instructional and leadership coaches.

I haven’t seen any online courses for coaches that I can enthusiastically endorse--there are a few out there, but I’m afraid I can’t recommend any. If anyone has taken one that you can recommend, please share! I’m also hoping to offer an online course within the next few months.

While I don’t know of any Master’s programs, there are a number of books on coaching that you can start with. Of course, I recommend my own book, The Art of Coaching. This is the book I wish I’d had when I started coaching and it’s written with the new coach in mind. I also recommend Jim Knight’s book, Instructional Coaching. And this one: Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives. If you’re interested specifically in literacy or math coaching there are books that focus on those areas. However, I think that coaching is a skill set that can be applied to any content and therefore that deserves to be studied as it’s own domain--not necessarily in conjunction with a content area. An effective coach can coach a first grade teacher in reading, and an 8th grade Algebra teacher, and a high school foreign language teacher who teaches only in that foreign language. In other words, an effective instructional coach doesn’t provide knowledge of the content or curriculum but guides the teacher through a reflective process around decision-making.

Workshops: In addition to reading, there are some workshops around the country that you might attend. I’ll unabashedly recommend my own Art of Coaching Institutes in Oakland, CA--I’m holding one in early April and another in the end of July (see my website for more information). An intensive few days can give you an immersion into coaching and set you on a clearer learning journey. Jim Knight also offers workshops--see his website for more information. And attending a conference like Learning Forward’s annual conference is another opportunity to learn from other coaches and authors.

There is so much potential in the role of a coach and in the work that an effective coach can do in schools. I think most schools have only scratched the surface of that potential--because there’s no clear definition of what coaching is, because there’s no agreed upon set of skills that all coaches must demonstrate, because coaches aren’t prepared, and because many schools don’t know how to access what a coach has to offer--they aren’t set up to take advantage of what coaches can do. However, Jennifer’s question gives me hope. I think the more this question is asked (“How do I become a coach?”) the more we are pushed to think about what it means to coach and how we prepare. And Jennifer, feel free to keep asking questions--here, on Twitter, and on my coaching FaceBook page!

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