Jamey Everett shares tips on being a better instructional coach based on her wildly popular ISTE 2017 session. We can build trust, be helpful, and help teachers improve learning but it takes lots of work and trust.
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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
How to Be a Better Instructional Coach
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Vicki: Today we’re talking with Jamey Everett @jeverettPT about making instructional coaching better.
Now, I found out about Jamey by following the #ISTE (hashtag) when I was at ISTE. And so many people were talking about this session.
Why do we need to change the dynamic between instructional coaches and teachers?
Vicki: So, Jamey, you want to change the approach or dynamic between instructional coaches and teachers. What’s the current dynamic, and how do you want to change it?
Jamey: Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for about five years, and I feel like there’s still such a disconnect between technology coaches and what we’re trying to do – and what teachers are trying to do in their classroom. Sometimes I just feel like really what ends up happening is – teachers AVOID me!
And I’ve heard the same stories from other coaches. They don’t want to know the “new thing.” And if you do try to make some recommendations, or give some advice, it ends up creating an awkward situation that no partnership, no collegial partnership should ever feel.
So, I really want to see coaches and teachers working together in an equitable partnership, and one where the coach truly is supporting the needs of the teacher. And it’s because the coach has created a situation where the teacher can be vulnerable, and say, “What’s working in your classroom, and what’s not?”
And then together, they work to solve that problem.
How do we improve the relationship between technology coaches and teachers?
Vicki: So, how do we change this dynamic? I mean, I’ve lived it, too. You know, you try to help, but then teachers are busy, or maybe they don’t know they need help or don’t want any help, you know? They just want to be left to do their job, because they’re busy, right?
Jamey: Right. Right. They’re very busy. And they don’t have a lot of (sometimes physical or even mental/emotional) energy to spend on you, the coach.
Step 1: Deeply understand the teacher’s problem
So, the first place Jen Euell and I say is you have to start with listening. And that is where the design thinking comes into this process. You cannot begin to solve a teacher’s problem until you deeply understand what that problem really is. And there’s no better way than to sit down and listen. You ask questions that get the teacher to reflect more and feel more open about sharing with you. What’s going on in their classroom? What’s working? What’s not working? And from there, the partnership begins to evolve.
Step 2: Work with those who want to be coached
Vicki: What if the teacher feels like they don’t have a problem they need to solve? Everything’s OK.
Jamey: Then you move on. Not everybody wants to be coached. And that is fine. But they will, someday, because I think that word will spread that you are an ally.
There will come a day when they feel comfortable saying, “You know what? I do think I want to try something different in my classroom. Can we sit down, and can I tell you about what I want to try?”
Vicki: You know, my philosophy is that I work with the willing. I mean, I spent too many years trying to help people who didn’t want it. And you can’t push somebody up a ladder. They’ve got to want to climb it, you know?
Jamey: Yep, they’ve got to want to climb it. You just can’t force it.
Vicki: Oh, but that’s so hard because that’s your job. You’re the instructional coach, and the principal wants you to help every teacher become better and use these tools. And what do you say to your principal, when you’re like, “Ummmm… Well, I’m helping so-and-so.” And they’re like, “Well, I need you to help so-and-so.” And that other one, they don’t want you.
Step 3: Talk about the instructional experiences, not the technologies
Jamey: If there is a culture of instructional coaching at a school, I would say that likely won’t happen. I think this is new for technology coaches to be more of an instructional role, to be able to say to a teacher, You know, I don’t want to talk to you about a new app, or how to make your device work. We want to talk about the instructional experiences in your classroom.” That’s a new realm for a lot of teachers and tech coaches.
Step 4: Make working with you a safe place
Jamey: I think really what we have to remember as tech coaches is that we’re not here to change people. We’re not here to make people do things differently. We’re here to create a culture that allows for change.
And so just by the nature of coaching, where people feel like they want to be coached – not coaching when they don’t want to be coached – you’re creating a safe place for people to try new things and do that when they’re ready.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made with instructional coaching?
Vicki: What do you think the biggest mistake is that you made in the earlier years of instructional coaching, that you just make you cringe now?
Mistake Prevention Tip #1: Make sure the timing is right for your help
Jamey: As a technology coach, yeah, just swooping in and saying, “Oh my gosh. I have this great new app that I think you should try.” Or… There were too many times when I stepped in when it was not expected, when it was not wanted. I think, in my particular situation… (sighs)… it just was not expected. And I think it felt very judged. I think the teachers felt judged and evaluated.
Mistake Prevention Tip #2: Keep coaching confidential
There’s also this – the thing about coaching is it has to be completely confidential. That’s one of those things that I think that principals and heads of schools need to understand. I can confirm or deny whether I am coaching someone. But I won’t share with you the nature of the coaching or the relationship. Because that’s between us.
Vicki: Mmmm. I like that. I like that, and I think that that helps build trust, doesn’t it?
Elena Aguilar’s books helped Jamey become a better coach
Jamey: It does. It does. And all of this – I would highly recommend that folks check out any workshops of books by Elena Aguilar. She writes all about instructional coaching, and The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities is one of her books. To me, when I was most frustrated with my position, a friend of mine recommended those books to me. They were therapeutic. It completely changed the way I thought about my role and how to approach other people – and where THEY really were. And how I could better appreciate what they needed at that moment.
Vicki: I so feel this. I’ve these books. Don’t so many of us instructional coaches – because that’s part of the role I play at my school – don’t we want to just be helpful, and doesn’t it hurt when we know we can help but we’re not wanted?
What so many educators want: to make a difference
Jamey: Yep. It really does! And people sometimes say to me, “Thank you, Jamey, for all that you do,” But I always say, it’s not thanks that I’m looking for. I just want to know that what I did was TRULY helpful. Truly meaningful. You don’t need to thank me. Just tell me I made a difference.
Vicki: Now you also use these little coaching cards, at the end. I want to understand what they are, and how they work, because we’re almost out of time, and I think it’s a really powerful tool.
Jamey’s Coaching Cards
Jamey: Sure. It is. So, the idea is that the ISTE standards can be really overwhelming for teachers. There are a lot of them, and the last thing a coach should do is just hand the ISTE standards to a teacher and say, “Here! Choose some.” They don’t really have time to figure out what they mean, they don’t have time to go find the tools for those particular standards.
So, what we came up with are the BYTE cards, which means Build Your Technology Experience. There is an ISTE standard for students on every single card. On the back is a bit of an explanation about that standard with some tools that would help a teacher achieve that particular standard.
Once a coaching conversation is done, the coach would then say to a teacher, “I’ve heard what you said, and I really think that these three particular ISTE standards are what you’re looking for. Take a look at these cards. Tell me what you think. Does this really resonate with you? Am I on the right path?”
And then from there, you work with the teacher to just develop a learning experience based on those specific ISTE standards, not all of them. It makes it much more manageable, more “bite” sized for a teacher, and it’s much less overwhelming and (more) empowering. They know those cards are just for them.
Vicki: That’s awesome. You’ve given us so many ideas, Jamey, to make instructional coaching better. I’ve been taking notes.
Instructional coaches and teachers, there’s so much of teaching in this, for all of us. All of you teachers want to be helpful. But instructional coaching has its own unique challenges, and I so feel the struggle and the frustration and the “upsetness” that many of us feel. There has to be a better way. I totally agree with Jamey. There has to be a better way. We’ve got to step up our game, and perhaps try a different way of being “helpful” that is more coaching and more empowering (with) a lot more trust.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Biography as Submitted
As a technology integrator and instructional coach, Jamey takes a highly personalized approach when designing learning experiences with teachers. Her goal is to understand the teacher's instructional aspirations and frustrations, then support the teacher in exploring new learning objectives that are specifically tailored to her or his needs.
Her passion for problem-based, real-world learning has grown out of 14 years in education, as a fifth-grade teacher, an academic technology specialist, and an advocate for design thinking in the classroom.
In her spare time, Jamey loves gardening, taking care of her four chickens and playing with her chocolate Labrador. She lives in Indianapolis with her spouse and two kiddos.
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