What IS a coach?

Playing a lot of sports while growing up in the Midwest was an unforgettable experience. I learned some hard life lessons as a youngster, and now those growing-up moments are still so valuable to me–to the extent of shaping my present, adult decision-making. Behind every challenge overcome and opportunity that didn’t turn out as I had expected was a coach doing the hard work to drive many people toward one common goal, despite a plethora of variables and unforeseen obstacles to success.

Coaching positions are popping up everywhere in education these days. And how you define the role seems to be as dependent upon a particular school or district as it is on the coach’s resume itself.

There are instructional coaches, digital learning coaches, leadership coaches, reading coaches, curriculum coaches, and even innovation coaches. They’re everywhere!

And these coaching positions can take on many different appearances–especially in the education world. Some coaches can tell you how to become a better batter, without ever having stepped up to the plate themselves. (Yet some of these people actually can hit it out of the park themselves).

Some coaches can tell you how to field hard grounders that take unexpected hops, choppy bouncers that leave bruises, screaming line drives that sting, and even seemingly easy pop flies that still require concentration and perseverance, and yet they themselves don’t even own a glove.

Still, other coaches can call all the balls and strikes, and even tell you when there are three outs and it’s time for a change–all from a sharp angle or sight unseen.

Even with all the latest technology tools and innovation strategies, being the educator who actually does the work directly with the learners is a whole different ballgame than simply coaching others on how to make teaching and learning better.

Still, coaches with potentially no transferable skills or related experience themselves can succeed and be a most valuable player–that is, if they have the right mindset, work hard, and surround themselves with the right people.

Recently, I read another post by my friend Marci Houseman. This reflection really has me thinking on the coaching position. Here was my response:

Another thought-provoking post, Marci!

First of all, I believe the overall WHY for any position in education is to make teaching and learning better for the students. That vision is key, because all learners need to embrace the mission for it to succeed appropriately. I wonder, sometimes, if it’s good to have pictures of students at the beginning of every meeting, or to tell a story about a student as to realign our WHY, before charting change.

In addition, I love how adding support and intricacies to our ecosystem in education is intentional. No doubt, coaching–a strong span in the scaffolding to make education effective–often gets overlooked and under-appreciated.

The number one obstacle to an effective coaching endeavor is the perspective of the one being coached. To many, it’s a matter of credibility. For example, will a veteran classroom teacher readily embrace constructive criticism from a coach who has minimal to no substantial classroom teaching experience? With so much on a principal’s plate, will the principal take seriously negative comments or redirection from a central office staff member who has never been a principal? Will the parent of three–hearing how her youngest child is performing below grade level due to off-task behavior–from a teacher who is not a parent, not take every syllable with a huge grain of salt?

I have personally experienced the teacher example from the perspective of the one being coached, and the parent example from the perspective of a the teacher with no kids (at that time). I’m fascinated by the administrator example as I’m currently pursuing my Masters in School Administration.

Just like a classroom teacher, parent, and administrator, I believe the coaching position can ultimately play a huge part in making teaching and learning better for kids.

I’m not saying that one can’t be a great teacher without being a parent first. I’m not saying that all coaches must first be classroom teachers, or even that administrators mustn’t skip seemingly linear rungs in the promotional ladder.

However, I also believe that all of these positions require much more than a degree or an add-on certification to be genuinely successful.

Great post, Marci.
As always, I’m looking forward to your next one.

Bloggers Note: I added this microcast reflection on October 12, 2018, over two months after my original blog post.