For many tech (or instructional) coaches, our job descriptions are not clearly defined within our schools.
We may have great external resources, like the ISTE Standards for Coaches or their whitepaper on coaching (and of course all of the awesome resources that coaches themselves are sharing all the time!), but often there is no actual job description for this position.
I know I’ve personally had to write one for every school I’ve worked at (that’s five in sixteen years). And, while defining our job is very important for clarity among the internal school community, it’s not the only way to build understanding about the role.
Who defines your job?
Back in 2007, I was hired at ISB for the position of 21st Century Literacy Specialist. This was an entirely new job at the school, and perhaps an unusual job title, so, to be honest, very few people knew what I was supposed to be doing. For the first few months, I found it really stressful — I didn’t know how to fit into the existing school culture and do the job I was hired to do (and which I was super excited about doing).
Lucky for me, ISB (and, interestingly, all of my following schools) worked with Pam Harper from Fieldwork Education. Pam would visit the school every few months and meet with any teacher who was interested, about pretty much any challenge or issue they were facing. Pam, and the rest of the team, provided critical friend support to the school, and coaching to the staff. In one of our many conversations, Pam told me perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned as a coach:
You are what you do.
To clarify: People will recognize and understand your job, and your role in the school by what you choose to do each day. Even if they have no idea what your job title means, or who you are, you are defining your role for yourself and for them.
Every day we make choices and take actions. Each choice and action we take gives further evidence of our role. So each day, as you make choices about what you do, you are also informing others about your responsibilities. People don’t need (and certainly won’t read) a job description. They don’t need to be told what your job responsibilities are. They need to see you, in action, doing your job. That’s how you define your role in a school.
Of course, this has pros and cons. The great thing is that you can define, for yourself and for others, the work that you do by the work that you do. The not so great thing is that it can be tough. We know teachers want tech support, so we can be sucked into doing tech support all day, every day, and then we become “just” tech support. We know that teachers like easy to access resources, so we can end up creating resource banks all day every day, and then we become “just” the resources person.
But most coaches are excited about, and very much capable, of doing so much more. Sometimes this means making hard choices and having the strength to say no – even when we know we could do that simpler task – because the more meaningful or important actions that define your role should take precedent.
Each day is a clean slate
As I was thinking about this (when I ran into Pam at NIST) last week, I realized that this not only applies to tech coaches (or whatever your job title might be), but also to your personal life. Each day you have the chance to re-create the person that you are, simply by the choices you make and the actions you take.
In our work, coaches are often very concerned by what other teachers think our job is, because we want them to work with us. In our personal life, we might be able to trick ourselves into being the person we want to be (but maybe never thought we could) by taking small actions each day, which build into habits, and can transform our lives over time.
I realize that this may make it harder (or slower) for coaches to make progress in their schools, especially if the role is new. But, I also think it’s an exciting opportunity to shape your own career over time. As one of my Heads of School once said, If you’re ready and willing to take the risk to define your own work, it’s a little bit like being an entrepreneur with job security and full time salary – that sounds pretty good to me!
How do you define your role by the actions you take? Have you seen this kind of process play itself out in your school or your life?
Originally posted on kimcofino.com
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Thank you so much for sharing your awesome insights on this topic. As someone who has been in the tech integrator / leader of innovative learning / e-learning coach / academic coordinator for 21st century learning / instructional coach for technology (insert any random combination of ed-tech related words here) role for many years in different schools, I can relate closely to the sentiments expressed in this article. Firstly, let me just say that I totally 100% agree than you are what you do – no denying it. And yes, we do have to make hard choices as coaches and have the strength to say no sometimes.
However…In my current role I work alongside two other absolutely awesome instructional coaches and we had been grappling with some professional issues last year related to how those we serve perceive our roles and responsibilities. One thing that we identified was that the schools instructional coaching model, a document that was intended to outline the roles of leadership, coaches and coachees in the coaching process, did not accurately reflect the different facets of our roles and what we did on a day to day basis. Was it also true that many teachers had not read that document or paid scant attention to it? Absolutely. However, I think that documentation, especially that which is empowering to teachers, can give coaches and coachees a platform from which to be successful.
In revising our instructional coaching model, the new document outlines what our jobs entail, the different ways we can support teachers and, just as importantly, what our roles do not cover. We have given a copy to each teacher but, moreover, at the start of the year we presented the document and how it could be used to inform and empower teachers to know when to seek support from coaches and what type of support to ask for depending on their need – consultation, coordination, collaboration or cognitive coaching.
Teachers really appreciated having some clarity on what our roles were (and what they weren’t) and we had many people say things like ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could help me in that way!” So while it’s true that many teachers will not read a job description and instead will judge you by your actions, I think that a lack of clarity around how you can best support them does nobody any good in the long run.
I think that for coaches to be successful and have the desired impact on teacher efficacy and student outcomes that we all wish for, a good starting point is for schools to clearly identify the role of leadership, coaches and coachees in any coaching cycle or model. Instead of just sending people a link to the coaches job description however (which as you point out is not likely to be read by many), engaging all faculty in face to face professional development opportunities to dig deeper into how coaching can support them would not only be more effective but, I would argue, is essential. Without it, there is the danger that coaches, especially tech coaches, can be pulled in so many different directions that they either suffer burnout or end up doing many different things fairly well without ever having the time to dedicate themselves fully to the instructional coaching side of the role.
Thanks once again for a thought-provoking post!
My school division also provides different types of coaches within the schools (Instructional, Technology, Literacy, Math). You mentioned above, “In revising our instructional coaching model, the new document outlines what our jobs entail, the different ways we can support teachers and, just as importantly, what our roles do not cover.” Are you able to share these? I feel like seeing how others do this would be so helpful.
@DebbieMartinITC on Twitter