School & District Management

Instructional Coach Jumps Into New Standards

By Catherine Gewertz — June 04, 2013 3 min read
Sarah Hawley is an instructional coach at Stuart-Hobson Middle School. She has spent 13 years teaching; this is her first year as a coach.
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Sarah Hawley
Age 35 | Stuart-Hobson Middle School
Instructional Coach

Sarah Hawley immersed herself in urban teaching as soon as she graduated from college in 2000. It didn’t take her long to conclude that she’d found her professional home.

Having grown up outside Toledo, Ohio, and studied K-8 education at the University of Toledo, she found it natural to apply for her first teaching job in that city’s school system. While earning a master’s degree in school leadership and administration, she taught 7th and 8th grade English/language arts for six years and spent a year teaching middle school science there as well.

But the district’s fiscal instability wore on her. Tired of being laid off and rehired at the last minute, and moved between grades and subjects, she made the leap to the charter school sector.

Ms. Hawley joined the staff of a charter school startup as a 4th grade teacher. Life at the small school was hectic, however, with everyone wearing many hats and working long hours. As a seven-year veteran, she had more experience than most of her fellow teachers—and the principal—so she ended up assuming broad responsibilities beyond teaching her own students. She was exhausted, but learned a lot, including getting a clearer sense of how she might fit into the education world.

“I saw that I could make my school the kind of place where students could learn,” she recalls. “I felt ready to leave the classroom by then, and I was starting to think about moving more into some kind of leadership role.”

When her partner moved to Maryland, she followed him, taking a teaching job in a K-8 building in struggling Prince George’s County. In 2011-12, her second year there, Ms. Hawley became team leader for grades 6, 7, and 8, working closely with the assistant principal and serving on the school’s common-core-implementation team.

In that role, she helped design grading guidelines for teachers to help them judge writing assignments aligned to the new standards, and she trained fellow teachers in using the guidelines.

When Ms. Hawley heard that the District of Columbia was hiring instructional coaches, she applied for and got one of those jobs. In June 2012, her training began with a weeklong summer leadership academy for principals, assistant principals, coaches, and lead teachers. Another week of training in August focused both on the work of coaching and on the main shifts of the common standards.

During an intensive few days last fall, the school district’s content experts immersed the new coaches in modeling lessons, writing coaching plans, and other work across the disciplines.

As the year began at her assigned school, Stuart-Hobson Middle School, Ms. Hawley worked with her instructional-coach supervisor, Abby Welsheimer, to learn how to structure her six- to eight-week coaching cycles, give feedback to teachers after observations, and master other skills required in her new role.

Ms. Hawley says her first year as a coach has been both harrowing and rewarding.

“It was pretty tough at the beginning of the year to balance everything,” she says, noting that in addition to being Stuart-Hobson’s coach, she is also its testing coordinator. That means she oversees the immensely detailed logistics of administering accountability tests at the end of the year, as well as interim tests every six to eight weeks.

Managing all that at the same time as producing coaching plans and coaching calendars, working with teachers, and meeting with the principal and assistant principals often kept her at school late into the evening during the first semester. And, she admits, it reduced her to tears a few times.

It has been tough, also, to coach for the new common standards while she and the teachers are in the process of learning them, she says. She feels that the support and coaching she has received—and continues to receive by working with Ms. Welsheimer and getting periodic district-provided professional development—has been sufficient.

But “a lot of the stuff is just stuff you have to learn by doing,” Ms. Hawley says, so it’s a work in progress.

As the year concludes, she is feeling calmer about juggling her many duties: “Every [coaching] cycle, I feel more confident.”

Coverage of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the common assessments is supported in part by a grant from the GE Foundation, at www.ge.com/foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2013 edition of Education Week as Sarah Hawley

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