A New Year, A New Role: Becoming An Instructional Technology Coach, Part II

by Justin Birckbichler

Becoming An Instructional Technology Coach, Part II

After a fantastic five years in fourth grade, I left the elementary classroom to move into a role as an instructional technology coach. With this transition in position comes a lot of changes. While I won’t pretend to be an expert in this new job or coaching in general, I’ll be writing a series of three posts called ‘A New Year, A New Role,’ with the goal of sharing what has (and perhaps even what has NOT) helped in growing into this new opportunity.

The first post focused on what helped me in the weeks before school officially began. This entry will hone in on what lessons I’ve learned so far throughout the first semester of school.

Meet the teachers’ needs

I find most of my time is spent helping teachers problem solve pain points in their teaching and try out new teaching strategies in their classroom. Often times, their requests are for activities that are engaging for the students, can provide instant feedback to students, and save the teacher time. Bonus points are awarded if all three points are hit with one lesson idea.

Once their needs are understood, I work with the teacher to develop and implement an action plan. It’s important that we do this together, as teacher and coach, as opposed to either one of us doing it alone.

I want to make sure I meet their instructional needs and level of comfort, while pushing them to take things to a next level that they can be okay with. We often co-teach a new idea in a lesson for the first time so they have a safety net to try something new. From there, they take the reins and fly on their way.

Find the “hidden gaps”

A big part of my job involves analyzing data, which is something that I did not initially anticipate. Since I have a more flexible schedule than a classroom teacher, I have more time to dive deep into assessments, including interpreting responses to individual questions and trends in standard strands. This allows me to find unmet needs and bring them to the team during a PLC meeting.

From there, we can focus on finding solutions to any of these gaps. By taking the time to analyze the data ahead of time, I can aid in helping the teachers use the time to plan interventions instead of using collaborative planning times to sort through data.

Keep the focus on the kids

We got into education to impact students, but instructional coaching is often focused more so on the teachers. However, I’ve found ways to make sure that I have regular interaction with students to keep my “why” in the forefront of my mind.

In addition to co-teaching lessons here and there, I am regularly scheduled for a weekly lesson with fifth graders. I check in with various students throughout the day to see how their day is going and provide them a break, if needed.

These small moments help me to build relationships with the students, which I can then leverage into helping the teachers better meet their needs. Plus, it’s just fun to have regular interactions with students and keeps me sane!

Remember your place

Instructional coaching is a difficult line to balance. In my school district, we are somewhere in the hierarchy between a classroom teacher and an administrator. We often have more responsibilities than those in the classroom, but without the “power” of being the official leader.

My job is to help improve instructional practice in the school and across the district. This has to be done in collaboration with the teachers. To do this most effectively, a strong rapport and professional respect must go both ways. While it may be frustrating at times to give suggestions and see them not being followed, ultimately, I cannot force teachers to do anything.

That becomes a job for the administrators, but to “tattle” on a teacher then has the potential to ruin the working relationship. It’s a tricky line to balance, but at the end of the day, focusing on the why and how of teaching instead of the who of the teacher can go a long way.

This wraps it up for this edition of ‘A New Year, A New Role.’ In the third and final edition of this series (around the end of the school year), we’ll focus on how my first year as an instructional coach went overall.