Thoughts From a New Coach

Those who get the best results are the ones who ask the most questions and aren’t afraid to try new things.

In my first year as an instructional coach, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own teaching.  After 15 years in the classroom, it was a scary move to attempt something new. If you had asked me what I thought about this new role earlier in the year, I may not have had such a positive response.  I missed working with “my own” students and I missed the comfort and predictability of my role as a teacher. In the past two months, the Instructional Coaches have been required to attend a substantial amount of training.  The teachers are not unwarranted in their concerns and comments of “I haven’t seen you in so long” or “do you still work here?”

While it bothered me that I was unable to support the teachers I work with as much as I would have liked to, this heavy dose of information rekindled my love of learning.  While sitting through each presentation, I caught myself thinking “I wish I had known that when I was in the classroom” or “that would have helped so much.” There were quite a few moments where we learned the research behind one strategy or another that reinforced some procedure that I had always felt in my gut to be best for students.

Long story short, I wish I could go back and be the coach that I never had.  Of course, I learned to do some things well, but I know so much more now that could make me a better teacher, I almost feel guilty for not providing my students with more than I was able to give them at the time.  I always worked very hard as a teacher, but all I could do for my students was the best I knew how to do.

The harsh reality is that we (as teachers) aren’t getting the job done.  According to the California School Dashboard Website, only 21.2% of our students were College/Career Ready in 2018. (Source: https://www.caschooldashboard.org/reports/39686760000000/2018)

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here.  Teachers are working very hard. Many have more on their plate than ever before and they are doing the absolute best they know how in order to serve their students.  No good teacher, however, will ever tell you that they have no room to improve. I personally believe that 21.2% is not good enough. What we are doing is not working.  My suggestion is to try something new.

So where does technology fit into all of this?  The State of California actually has Standards for Career Ready Practice.  (Source: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/ctescrpflyer.pdf)  The fourth of those standards is

Apply technology to enhance productivity.  Career-ready individuals find and maximize the productive value of existing and new technology to accomplish workplace tasks and solve workplace problems. They are flexible and adaptive in acquiring and using new technology. They understand the inherent risks—personal and organizational—of technology applications, and they take actions to prevent or mitigate these risks.

My big takeaway from this standard is that students need to be fluent with the acquisition of new technology skills.  This fluency can only be perfected through exposure and instruction and it needs to begin as early as possible. Just as students learning a new language benefit from being immersed, so do our students who are developing their technological knowledge.

Many teachers are not digital natives.  This is not an excuse that we can accept to justify our lack of instruction with technology.  Our students depend on us to teach and guide them to digital fluency. When I started teaching, I was not an expert at anything.  I’d argue that I’m still not an expert at anything, but my skills are much better developed. I tried new things and I improved. I was fortunate to have others (both adults and students) who helped me improve.  I was able to ask questions and search for answers.

My observations as a new Instructional Coach have shown me that the teachers who are asking the most questions and trying new things are making the most growth (both as professionals and as measured through assessment of students).  Both veteran and brand new teachers are doing amazing things with students that are helping to prepare them for their futures because they aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know everything and they are willing to ask for help.

Those who’ve worked in Stockton Unified long enough have seen many failures in the past.  If you’ve been considering a new approach, thinking about implementing more technology in your classroom, making drastic changes to the way things are done, or even trying to carry out some small modification to your previous way of doing things that will incorporate technology, I’d like to quote Mark Hall from a recent conversation we had:

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

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