Career Advice Opinion

Teachers Leaders in Career-Coaching Roles

By Ariel Sacks — March 26, 2013 3 min read
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Ariel Sacks

Ilana Garon’s first post in this series, entitled, “A New Type of Hybrid Role: Teachers as Life Coaches,” caught my attention. It is about teachers coaching students in their social-emotional development, something she’d like to have more time to do without leaving classroom teaching. As Brooke Peters puts it in her recent post, hybrid roles can fill gaps in schools. As these roles become more common, though, how will teachers and school leaders sort through the myriad options to maximize job satisfaction for teachers and serve the needs of the educational context?

When I first saw Ilana’s reference to “life coaches,” I actually got a picture in my mind of teacher leaders as life or career coaches for other teachers. Let me explain.

In a new educational landscape, full of opportunities for hybrid roles for teachers, flexible school structures, and differentiated professional pathways, teachers would have many more options. With greater options, teachers would have many more career decisions to make that would affect day-to-day and long-term plans. “Should I work on becoming an expert in project-based learning or in collaborating with parents, or should I spend my extra time writing about my teaching practice?,” a teacher might ask herself. One’s passions would definitely play a key role in such a decision about how to spend one’s time, but career opportunities and the needs of the school community would be other influencing factors.

Most of us had a mentor in the beginning, who helped us through our teacher-preparation programs and coached us as we interviewed for our first teaching positions. After that, the formal support generally disappears. We may benefit from the informal mentorship of other teachers, coaches, principals, family members, or friends in our lives who helped us make important decisions, but finding someone to help us sort through career decisions can be difficult. It’s easy to feel isolated. Union representatives are there when issues arise, but they are not currently set up to be career advisers.

I imagine—in a transformed profession and along the way there—a need for experienced teacher leaders who can coach teachers as they create their own unique professional pathways. Teachers could discuss their interests, strengths, and goals with these coaches and turn to them for help deciding which direction to take and what to do in preparation. Since our pathways would often not be straight but enjoy various twists and turns, the need for this sort of support would come up again and again throughout a career (though the right person to offer the support would not necessarily stay the same).

Teachers as career coaches could also help school leaders make use of the strengths of the teachers in their midst. The role of the school principal will be shifting to make room for many teacher leaders and hybrid roles, and principals will need to become skilled at understanding the skills and aspirations of the teachers on their teams. A hybrid teacher/career coach could be a valuable liaison between teachers and school leaders and outside organizations looking for teacher involvement, as educators at various levels attempt to maximize the skills and time availability of teachers to meet the needs of the students, schools, and districts.

How many of us would have liked to talk to someone in this role at key points in our careers? How many of us know someone who would be great in this role?

Ariel Sacks, a frequent contributor to Education Week Teacher, has been teaching middle school English in the New York City public schools for the past 9 years. Her new book entitled Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student Centered Approach, will be published by Jossey-Bass this year.

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