Recently, a colleague came to see me and begrudgingly shared that the district picked her to work with an instructional coach at BetterLesson. When I pressed her on why she was not ecstatic to have a support system, she shared her concerns: she wasn’t a new teacher, she had so much on her plate already, and she didn’t need someone telling her what to do in her classroom.
As I listened, I realized she was voicing the concerns that many veteran teachers may have about instructional coaching. Yet these are all myths. I know this because not only am I a coach at BetterLesson but two years ago I was coached through BetterLesson. Working with an instructional coach was the best professional learning experience for me—and, in fact, propelled me into my role as the 2020 Rhode Island State Teacher of the Year.
Professional learning and constant improvement are critical in any profession. That’s why top athletes work with a slew of coaches and physicians do medical rounds with other doctors to discuss patient care. Educators are tasked with the incredible responsibility of shaping the minds of the next generation, and should not feel like they need to do so on their own. For all teachers to embrace this support, we need to dispel a few myths about instructional coaching.
Myth 1: You only need coaching if you are a struggling teacher.
Reality: Excellent teachers, mid-level teachers, and struggling teachers all benefit from a coach to help them get to their next level.
Instructional coaching is about growth. Professional learning and coaching support teachers to be not just competent educators, but exceptional. Teachers offer support to all students, not just the struggling ones. So why would proficient educators not be awarded the same opportunity?
When I worked with an instructional coach, I had just been named my district teacher of the year, and I was so excited to engage in the experience. When my principal asked for volunteers to join the coaching process, I immediately signed up because I know that I could be a better teacher tomorrow than I was today. I was intrigued by the idea of having a thought partner to provide rich personalized strategies, and a professional sounding board to talk through what’s working or not working in my classroom. Fast forward a couple of years and now I am equally excited to be on the other side of this symbiotic relationship and provide teachers with a set of ears and strategies for their own growth.
Myth 2: Being coached means extra work.
Reality: Good instructional coaching should be job-embedded.
Quality instructional coaching relates directly to what teachers are already doing every day in their classrooms. BetterLesson coaches use the try, measure, learn approach, which allows teachers to test out instructional strategies in their classroom. Coaches work with teachers to measure the success (or lack thereof) of their lessons by collecting data and looking at student work and then reflecting together on what was learned. Imagine being able to do all this with a thought partner and not alone! Coaches are there to be supporters and collaborators.
Myth 3: Coaches tell you what to do in your classroom.
Reality: Coaches are there to support you with what YOU need in YOUR classroom.
The role of a coach is not to tell you what to do, but to help you identify challenges, brainstorm solutions, and then debrief what you tried. Instructional coaches help teachers learn the specific skills that they need to support their specific students. The try-measure-learn process is highly effective because it is student-centered. This personalized process allows coaches to support teachers with an actionable method focused on change over time. There is always a new challenge to tackle: not only do teachers grow and change, but every year brings a new group of students, of course!
Myth 4: You only need a coach if you are a new teacher.
Reality: All teachers can benefit from instructional coaching.
The tools are changing and the audience is constantly changing, therefore educators can constantly grow and refine their craft. It is irrelevant whether an educator is starting year one or year 20—every educator can benefit from coaching. Year 18 was the year I started working with a coach. I was so grateful to have a thought partner that guided me. My classroom truly transformed into a student-centered environment where I served as a facilitator. The students were engaged in group work and choice boards. “Organized chaos” is how I liked to describe the buzzing hum of learning and collaboration.
As educators, we must strive to improve our craft while always keeping the focus on students. Instructional coaches are the support system for educators and through a diverse group of strategies, they allow teachers to grow. The personalized approach begins with some collaborative goal-setting aligned to the educator’s reality. Coaches then present options to try and move teachers forward. If we keep the focus on students and make it our goal to be better teachers tomorrow than we are today, the students will benefit—and that’s the ultimate goal of instructional coaching.
Liz Russillo is a veteran teacher who has taught a variety of science classes in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Her passion led her to serving Rhode Island as the 2020 State Teacher of the Year, where she worked with educators on professional learning goals.
BetterLesson supports teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators as they face the challenge of creating flexible, equitable, student-centered learning environments—whether learning happens in-school, online, or in a hybrid model. We offer 1:1 coaching and 2-hour Virtual Workshops on asynchronous vs synchronous learning time, designing meaningful learning tasks, creating classroom community, social-emotional learning, and more.