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Education Opinion

When Coaches Are Stretched Too Thin

By Elena Aguilar — November 01, 2012 2 min read
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A coach in Seattle writes the following:

This is my first year as a literacy coach in a large elementary school. I'm being asked to do all kinds of jobs that have nothing to do with coaching including doing lunch supervision, putting up bulletin boards, translating and testing coordination! The hours I have for coaching keep being whittled down--unless I just work more hours and I'm already working over 60 hours a week. I don't know how long I can do this for. Stretched too Thin

Dear Stretched,

I read your email in an exhausted moment last night and drifted into a strange fantasy based on your sign-off name. I visualized scores of elongated, emaciated, alien-like educators gliding through schools amongst children. I sympathize.

This is unfortunately a common scenario in our schools these days. Too many people are doing too much outside of their roles and as a result, they are left unable to effectively fulfill their primary role. I’m going to lay the blame primarily on the lack of funding for schools. We used to have aids, yard supervisors, and others who could do these kinds of jobs. Now the message seems to be, regardless of what role you’re in--"Just do more!” This systemic breakdown will take years to address.

In the meantime, there are some things that you can do.

Consider these questions:

• Are your roles and responsibilities clearly articulated? Who defined them? Have they been shared with the whole staff?
• Who is directing your work? What are you accountable for? What are your coaching goals for this year? How are your goals aligned to and supporting the school’s vision and goals?
• What other tasks need to be done at the site, (such as yard supervision) that could be done by someone else? What are the consequences of using your time to do these jobs? What are you then unable to do? If you do these other jobs, will you reach your coaching goals?

Next, the question is:

• Who do you need to talk with in order about this dilemma? Who makes decisions about your work? For a site-based coach, this is usually the principal or another administrator. Prepare for a conversation with this person, gather your ideas and proposals for solutions, and have it.

This is the kind of scenario that also leads to conclusions about coaching “not working.” I’m going to assume that you have the kind of experience and knowledge that will make you an effective coach--but not if you don’t have protected time to coach, not if this isn’t what you’re spending 90% of your time on. Advocate strong and hard for the opportunity to be a coach. There’s far more evidence that you can positively impact student learning by working with teachers on their instructional practices than by putting up bulletin boards. Help your principal see this--provide him/her with research if that could help, remind him/her of why a coach was hired in the first place, and help him/her see how your coaching can support the school’s vision and mission. You’ll essentially be coaching the principal in prioritizing resources that can best serve students. But it’s worth this struggle--coaching is an extremely high leverage vehicle for transforming schools. Don’t let this opportunity be lost for children.

I also think that as coaches we are in a position to message the urgent need for all of us working in schools to slow down. What happens, ultimately, when you stretch people too thin? We snap. We’ve all seen the heaps of burnt out teachers (or we’ve been there) and others who have given their best to schools and can’t manage the stretch. Let’s think about how as coaches we can explore this dilemma and start to say no.

Coaches and others: have you dealt with a situation like this? What have you done?

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