As educational practice becomes more collaborative, instructional coaches play a pivotal role in helping educators hone their skills.

How to build relationships with instructional coaches

As educational practice becomes more collaborative, instructional coaches play a pivotal role in helping educators hone their skills

Instructional coaches need to begin by building relationships with those instructors they are assigned to support. Building a supporting and trusting relationship with those coaches is essential. Coaches have to be able to keep confidences with those they work with. Building trust is essential for coaches and co-teachers to be able to collaborate fully and honestly. It is easy for instructional coaches to be frustrated when asked to complete mundane tasks, but those mundane tasks might be the conduit to building an initial relationship with an instructor.

One recent instructional coach exclaimed to a class full of graduate students, “Please tell everyone to take that first step, even if it is to make copies. It just might be the important first step.” It might be those copies that were the first step to an instructor telling the coach, “Ok, I will try that, because it is you.”

Beyond the need to build relationships, instructional coaches need to ensure they help the instructors focus on the impact they are having on students. Instructors almost universally want their students to be successful. Once the coach has built a trusting relationship, then they can begin to suggest technical changes based upon the data and best practice. Here again, balance is important. Asking instructors to make wholesale changes will not be nearly as effective as working on a couple of specific high value items. After experiencing cooperative success, the coach can then push forward a few more suggestions. Pushing too much at once can turn an instructor off. Even with the most struggling instructors, instructional coaches should always look for bright spots where they can help instructors build confidence–particularly in those cases where the instructors have been directed to work with the coach due to performance concerns.

Effective coaching is a three-faceted process. Coaches need to build relationships with the instructors they support, then work to collaboratively analyze the relative data in light of the goal of impacting student achievement or otherwise supporting student success. All three facets of the coaching process need to be given adequate attention to build strong successful partnerships to improve the teaching and learning process.

One instructional coach articulated her process in this way: I started my process in an optional fashion, meaning my teachers choose “to work with me.” This has been a challenge that made me come up with ideas to get the foot in the door, made me feel sometimes ineffective as an instructional designer, but now after seven years, it has really made me appreciate the value of that journey.

As mentioned, instructional coaching is a multi-faceted process. There are many layers in it. The emotional wellbeing of your team is essential to build a foundation for further work. The small steps are key ingredients to start any coaching program and finding a framework to plan for structure and next level of practice. A coach starts with small tasks, but we need to be prepared to move our practice toward alignment with building goals, refine the work, and this is what a coaching framework provides.

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