What is an Instructional Coach?

  (Updated March 17, 2022)
Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
K-6 Math Instructional Coach and the Summer Enrichment Academy Coordinator; M.A. in Administration, Leadership, Georgian-Court University, NJ
Two, smiling colleagues work together at a computer while on points to the screen, showing the other something.

What is an Instructional Coach?

Instructional coaches have a broad role in a school district. There is no simple way to define an instructional coach job. Each day is different and can be rewarding in several different ways.

School districts use instructional coaches to do a variety of tasks such as analyzing teachers’ needs, preparing materials, observing classes, and identifying interventions. In short, an instructional coach is there to bring best practices to the teachers and improves the quality of the students’ education.

What Value Does an Instructional Coach Provide Teachers?

An instructional coach provides much value to teachers who are open to working with an instructional coach. As a new instructional coach working with seven different grade levels, I felt as if I was being given a great opportunity to positively impact our district.

One piece of advice that I was given multiple times was, “Water the flowers, not the rocks.” That has resonated with me because I focus on the teachers that desire to work with me and want me in their classrooms.

When there is a new teacher, an instructional coach can play the role of a mentor. As a mathematics instructional coach, I have worked with some new teachers and have done many different things with them. Lesson planning, modeling lessons, prepping materials, and meeting frequently to discuss class happenings are just a few of the weekly and daily tasks we work on as a team.

An instructional coach is infinitely valuable to new teachers as these teachers are provided with an experienced educator that will show, not tell, them how to make lessons successful and beneficial to the students. Instructional coaches are there to make a teacher’s life a little easier. As an instructional coach, you are an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Whether it is a teacher looking for advice on a specific situation or a teacher that needs to vent, that is part of the role of an instructional coach.

It is important to stress that an instructional coach is a confidential role and that you are there to support the teachers, not judge them, and you won’t repeat anything said to the administration or others. Gaining the trust of teachers and building relationships with them is so important. Your value in the role of a confidant is incredibly valuable to teachers.

Another role for the instructional coach is to bring best practices to classrooms. An instructional coach prepares materials, lessons, and anything else to make a teacher’s life a little easier. When I first meet with teachers to discuss my role in their class, I always let them know that I am there to help and support them in any way that I can. My goal is to provide teachers with anything possible to help their students work to their full potential.

Instructional coaches are constantly researching and finding new educational tools to help increase student achievement. They can provide teachers with cool, new ways to teach material and ways to help remediate students that are struggling. One of the most valuable things that an instructional coach provides to teachers is a teammate to collaborate with.

What Value Does an Instructional Coach Provide Administrators?

Instructional coaches provide insight for administrators. As an instructional coach, you have the best interest of the school and district at heart, so you can solve a lot of issues that may otherwise go unnoticed or unidentified.

When an instructional coach has good relationships with the teachers in the building, they may approach the coach with situations they may make them feel uncomfortable approaching their administrator. This will benefit the school as a whole and, in turn, can have a positive effect on student achievement.

Another way that instructional coaches are valuable to administrators is by providing teachers with the support they need. With instructional coaches focusing on teachers, their well-being, satisfaction, and their instruction, administrators can to focus on keeping the school a safe and happy place for students to learn. Having trustworthy instructional coaches gives administrators a little peace of mind, which is invaluable.

Professional development is essential to educators, and instructional coaches can provide teachers with effective professional development. Observing and working with a variety of students and teachers can help guide the professional development a school district may need. As administrators are removed from the day-to-day classroom operations, instructional coaches can provide great insight into what can be of value to the teachers.

Professional development is beneficial to teachers, and instructional coaches can help the administration choose the best development for the district. In addition, instructional coaches can provide the professional development themselves, as it will be catered to the specific needs of the teachers.

Instructional coaches can also help administrators analyze data and work with teachers’ data to drive their instruction. This is important because some teachers do not understand how to fully do this. Hosting Data Dives and data meetings is another way instructional coaches are of value. Crunching numbers is one thing, but using the numbers is another.

How has COVID Impacted Instructional Coaching?

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly put instructional coaching and instructional coaching programs on the map! There are many different grants available to school districts, and many districts have created new instructional coaching positions to help address the learning loss and gaps that the pandemic has created over the last two years.

These gaps created by the pandemic are significant in academic learning, as well as in social-emotional growth. Students have not had a “normal” school year since 2018-2019, so the challenges in teaching have changed, as the gaps in maturity have affected the academics.

Putting routines in place is essential and instructional coaches can help teachers create an effective learning environment. Without the pandemic, you would not see as many instructional coaches in districts as you do, so hopefully this trend of more instructional coaches stays to help districts reach their full potential.

Instructional coaches are leaders in the educational community, but it is important to remember that instructional coaches are not administrators. The goal of an instructional coach is to make a school and district achieve growth in all areas pertinent to the students. As John Maxwell stated, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Instructional coaches are right in the trenches with teachers and keep guiding the way. Their role in a district can be of utmost value and importance, especially when you have the right person in the position. Lead by doing, which will show teachers how to be the best version of themselves.

*Updated March 2022
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