Career Advice: Heading Back to Class and Instructional Coaches
Suzanne Tingley on returning to the classroom post
master's degree and effective instructional coaches.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Q | I’m returning to the classroom after finishing my master’s. Any pointers for transitioning back?
A | Be ready to accept that your school will not be exactly as you left it. You may have a different classroom, an altered schedule, new colleagues, or even a new principal. Make up your mind to go with the flow and adjust as quickly as possible. Check with colleagues to make sure that you are aware of any important policy changes (such as new evaluation procedures), and review updates in curriculum or materials before you prepare your lesson plans.
Your graduate work has probably provided you with lots of new ideas regarding curriculum, instruction, classroom management, and discipline. Implement these ideas selectively rather than simultaneously and share what works with receptive colleagues or your principal. There might be a school committee that would benefit from your work as well.
Finally, think about how you will have to manage your time now that you are back in the classroom. Graduate school can be challenging, but typically you have a good deal of discretionary time in which to complete your work. As you well know, discretionary time during your regular teaching day is rare or nonexistent. Even if you are an experienced teacher, you may want to plan your time more carefully at the beginning of your transition period so that you’ll feel a little less harried as you establish your routine.
Q | I recently became an instructional coach. How can I be most effective for my teachers in this new role?
A | Begin by reflecting on your own teaching career. What help would you have wanted from an instructional coach? Would your needs have been the same as those of a veteran teacher or the new teacher down the hall?
Your approach to assisting teachers should vary depending upon each teacher’s experience and expertise. New teachers may be willing, even eager, for specific instructional strategies or classroom management tips. Experienced teachers often appreciate a more collaborative approach and may be particularly interested in new, research-based strategies.
The key to a coach’s success is establishing trust. Recognize that not every teacher will welcome you into her classroom. However, when teachers understand that your purpose is to help them improve performance, they’ll be more comfortable with your presence and open to your suggestions—provided that your new assignment doesn’t include teacher evaluation. Building trust becomes difficult, if not impossible, if it turns out that you will also be the judge of their success.
One final note: Some coaches find that giving critical feedback to a former peer is the most difficult part of their job. But ignoring or glossing over classroom problems will not serve that teacher well when she is evaluated. So be supportive and respectful—but be honest.
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Suzanne Tingley is a former teacher, principal, superintendent, and education professor. Her Practical Leadership blog can be found at scholastic.com/administrator.