Building Positive Relationships with Teachers as an Instructional Specialist

Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
K-6 Math Instructional Coach and the Summer Enrichment Academy Coordinator; M.A. in Administration, Leadership
Two teachers walk together, laughing and smiling.

In the beginning of the instructional coach journey, every article, course, and book you read states the most important part of being successful is building positive relationships. This is no easy task, as your role is going to be somewhat undefined and broad. Positive relationships with the teachers in your school and district will be at the core of what you achieve, so it is imperative you have mutual trust and respect. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your coaching relationships, but I’d love to share some tips, from my experiences, on how to do just that!

Making a solid connection is an excellent place to start, as you need to know the teacher(s) you are working with. To give a bit of background on my role in my district, I work with mathematics teachers in grades kindergarten through fifth spread over four different buildings. Last year was my first year in this role, and I worked very hard to get teachers to want to work with me.

Know Teachers Outside of the Classroom

I wanted to know who they were as educators and outside of work. Social media is a great tool for this, as you can chat about pictures they post. I work in the town I grew up in, so there is typically six degrees of separation for me, and I like to make sure to address that. Share a common interest in student outcomes and have solutions for difficult (academic, behavioral, or social-emotional) situations. Being invested in the classroom is not enough; you must also go all in on the teacher.

Form Connections with Students

Additionally, you want to have strong connections with students. You are entering a class and becoming part of a “family.” Having the students buy-in is just as important as the teachers. Learn the students’ names, likes, and academic levels. Be approachable, caring, and available to the students in order to gain their trust. I genuinely love going into the majority of classes I work with, so it is enjoyable checking in with the students regularly.

Be Available and Communicate with Teachers

Another key to positive relationships is being available and communicating with your teachers. As I stated previously, I am in multiple buildings, but I check in with all my teachers frequently. One easy way is getting the cell phone numbers, so I can send a quick text. I try to be visible throughout the buildings. I don’t just communicate with the teachers whose classrooms I work in, but all the teachers and administration. Never be too busy to respond to an email or listen to a teacher having a tough day. There have been many times that I have been stopped in a hallway just because a teacher needed to get something off their chest, and I try my best to give them the time that they need.

Listen to Teachers and Administrators

This goes hand in hand with listening. Teachers want a voice, and you need to hear them. Our district underwent many changes at the beginning of this year, including transitioning to standards-based report cards, and it was, to say the least, a challenging time. Many teachers, and administrators, just needed me to be there to listen. It can be challenging to do this sometimes, as you may want to add it to the conversation. I promise, if you let them talk first and as long as they need, it helps to build that positive relationship. Sometimes, people just want to be heard, and you might just be the person for that job.

Be on the Teachers’ Team

Another important aspect of a positive relationship is being on the teachers’ team. Let the teachers know that “you have their back.” An instructional coach’s role is a unique one, as you are not an administrator, but many times administration will rely on you for certain items. Be sure that your teachers understand you are with them, you are support them, and you are their confidante. Don’t get caught in a situation where you lose a teacher’s trust. It is hard to gain, easy to lose, and impossible to gain back fully.

Weekly Planning and Reflection Meetings

Having a weekly planning and reflection meeting is another essential component to relationship building. This is where you and the teacher can plan for the following week and reflect on past lessons. It is also a time when you can laugh and get to know one another better. Collaboration is vital to the success of a coaching relationship. The meetings don’t always have to be formal, as some teachers like to have a weekly meeting set in place, and some prefer to chat when necessary. Whatever works for the teacher, make it work for you.

Be There When You are Counted On

Make sure to be there when the teachers are counting on you. There are times as an instructional coach, you are responsible for providing professional development, training teachers on district programs, or any other variety of items, but you need to inform teachers when you will not attend a scheduled class. I try to give my teachers a week’s notice (minimum) and always try to reschedule within that week if possible. You need to be consistent with your teachers and let them know when “something comes up.”

As with anything, the key to being successful in building relationships is to be passionate and genuine. Stick to your core values and remind yourself of what they are. Supporting teachers and helping to make their lives easier are part of what your role as an instructional coach entails. In that role, you have the ability to change education for the better by increasing student achievement and motivation, and your dedication and perseverance make all the difference. And, yes, it starts with positive relationships with those that surround you. As Dr. James Comer stated, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship,” and that includes teachers, administrators, and students alike.

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