Guest Post: Vulnerability: An Instructional Coach’s Key to Growing Outside Her Comfort Zone and Leading Teachers to Do the Same

Are you immediately able to picture the person on your staff that continually models Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 8.21.16 PMbeing a learner? Hopefully you are able to visualize several faces. The more individuals in your building who are leading the learning necessary for teacher growth, the better.  But growth will not take place without taking some risks.

Naturally, people avoid risk because it represents uncertainty. So people generally remain in their comfort zone. Risk by its very nature makes us vulnerable. Without those faces you previously imagined who take risks by modeling vulnerability through identifying and sharing their own strengths and weaknesses, growth will not take place. The Instructional Coach plays a critical role guiding and supporting staff through risk and reward by being the risk-taker-in-chief .

The Instructional Coach has a defining role in leading the charge for creating a risk-taking culture. When trying to define the role of an Instructional Coach, one could describe an Instructional Coach as,

a teacher’s biggest support system.

But being part of that support system means taking risks in front of other teachers and challenging and inspiring your teachers to do the same. By continually modeling what it means to be vulnerable, an Instructional Coach can slowly help move teachers from literally and figuratively closing their doors to welcoming other teachers into their classrooms. There are actionable steps that an Instructional Coach can use to exhibit leadership through vulnerability.

Five ways that Instructional Coaches can cultivate a school culture that encourages taking risks:

  1. Video record yourself teaching and share it with your teachers.

Being reflective in our teaching practice is an essential way of creating a culture that values risk-taking. There are few things more uncomfortable than watching yourself on video. Yet, we and our colleagues have so much to learn from really observing ourselves in action. Video reflection is a powerful way to stimulate conversation about reflective practice.

2. Ask teachers to come and watch you teach.

If we desire collaborative practices where teachers learn from one another, we must be willing to constantly require it of ourselves. If you are modeling in a classroom, invite others teachers to come watch. Ask for feedback on a particular area and thank them for coming and learning alongside you.

3. Encourage the #observeme movement.

Researching and discussing the #observeme movement with staff can be greatly beneficial. Seldom will a teacher observe another teacher without walking away with a great idea that can then be discussed and shared with the larger community of practice. When we are willing to observe one another, it creates a sense of school community as well as builds a community of practice.

4. Talk openly about your successes and failures.

While sharing successes around the building is great, it is just as important to model that you fail at times as well. Then follow up by discussing what you learned from that failure and the path you have mapped forward toward your goal.

5. Say your goals out loud.

Verbalizing your goals is the first step to making them happen. You will now be held accountable by people who heard you express those goals. Most importantly, they will see you modeling vulnerability.

An Instructional Coach has the unique role of helping others become their best selves while ensuring their long term success. Start modeling risk-taking through vulnerability today!

About our Guest Author: Tonya Moody is a first year Instructional Coach in Westfield Washington School District in central Indiana and has over ten years of teaching experience. This is the first year for Instructional Coaching in Westfield Washington Schools and building a strong Instructional Coaching team that supports teachers is her number one priority. Prior to coaching, she taught Kindergarten, Second grade, and was a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. She has a passion for encouraging her colleagues and collaborating with fellow educators.  Tonya loves growing her PLN on Twitter (@MrsMoodyIC) and would love to connect with you!

Dashing through the Snow…

We are currently in the middle of a record-breaking snowstorm in cropped-slice-copy.pngErie, Pennsylvania. While we have had many snowstorms before, driving in the snow is always an adventure. On a recent drive, I thought of some connections to the journey an instructional coach takes with a teacher. Five lessons learned…

  • Drive for a purpose.

When you drive in a severe snowstorm you have to know your destination and the specific directions for your travel. In you instructional coaching journey, you also need to know your goal. You also must know your specific, measureable steps along the way. In either scenario, your success is too important to wander.

  • Have the right equipment.

Your chances of success on your journey are greatly enhanced by having all wheel drive, good tires, windshield wipers, and warm winter gear (of course). Likewise, your instructional coaching success depends on strong curriculum, teaching strategies, formative and summative assessment, and student engagement.

  • Slow down.

Without fail, many drivers drive too fast when winter weather hits. This leads to cars ending up in all sorts of places other than their destination.  The advice to these drivers as well as instructional coaches is to slow down. Small changes and successes over time will lead to change that sticks.

  • Don’t “over-correct.”

When you drive in the snow, no matter how experience you are, you will slide. The key is to not panic, but to make a small adjustment and drive through it. As you work with teachers, resist the temptation to change everything after every misstep. Instructional coaching is a delicate, learning process. When you slide off course, make a minor correction and drive through it.

  • Learn from your mistakes.

I was reminded of this lesson just a few nights ago when, despite traveling up my in-laws driveway hundreds of times over the past twenty years, I forgot to stay on the path side and slid off into the snowbank. Not only was I embarrassed, but ended up ruining a night out with my wife and our friends. This leads me to my final piece of advice to instructional coaches. We need to learn from our mistakes. We are not perfect. It’s okay to not know the answer, to mess up, to apologize and move forward.

Move forward, my friends, move forward.

What makes a Sunflower successful?

Let’s talk about a sunflower. No, not any sunflower, but this particular sunflower. It isIMG_4570 2 beautiful, but that’s not what makes it successful. It’s only successful because it has a story. The story is quite unique.

This sunflower is currently in our yard. It’s November in Erie, Pennsylvania. Our yards are more often full of snowmen this time of year, rather than sunflowers or any flowers for that matter. This success only happened because the wrong time for every other sunflower was the right time for this one.

This sunflower’s success is even more unlikely. No one in my family planted this particular flower, at least not directly. The seed that became this IMG_4572sunflower fell from the another sunflower that we did plant in a garden, watered regularly, enjoyed all summer, then watched as it withered. Eventually we cut it down and placed the dried flower in one of our window bird feeders. You can what’s left of the flower in the picture to the right. So, one seed escaped being eaten by birds and survived a fall six feet to the ground.  This success only happened by taking a leap.


This may be hard to believe, but our friend the sunflower’s path to success was even trickier. Not only did the seed need the right time and take a leap, but the seed needed a landing spot that was just right.  IMG_4571Our seed didn’t fall in soil that was properly prepared and fertilized. No, our seed fell into a rock garden and somehow found the right spot between the rocks to find soil, stay hidden from hungry squirrels, and receive the appropriate sunshine and water to sprout and grow.

So, if you are taking notes, you noticed that our sunflower needed three things to be a success: the right time, taking a leap, and landing in the right spot. What’s this all mean?

It means that you can be a success, too. It might not feel like it right now, but success will come. It might not be the right time quite yet. You might need to take the leap. If you do, you might land in the right place. Your story is a unique as that of our sunflower.

So, thank you to the sunflower for making it feel that everything is going to be alright.IMG_4570

“You’re, making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower
You’re, making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower” -Lenny Kravitz


Guest post: The Stretch

Being an instructional coach has a lot in common with rubber bands.

What? Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 8.07.50 PM

The work of an instructional coach often involves helping a teacher or administrator stretch beyond their present abilities enough to grow and develop new skills. The really tricky part is to apply just enough pressure to move the needle without a blowout.

This was more than evident during one of my first coaching sessions with a young alternative certification intern. Brilliant guy. Not handling his stress very well. Enter the new instructional coach. Boom! Too much pressure, way too soon.

So this got me thinking about rubber bands and I discovered some interesting connections to the work I am doing as a new instructional coach.  Here are some of my conclusions.

Fact: Rubber bands are sensitive things. Treat one badly and the effect is evident. You’ve seen the kind of rubber bands I’m talking about. The kind that have spent a month or so in the sun, or allowed to dry up, losing much of their elasticity. Maybe you’ve even abused one or two in your lifetime.

Corollary: After nearly 20 years in the classroom, I get how much stress and strain some teachers are under. Some are drying up and losing their elasticity. As a coach, I can’t fix that, but I can empathize and take it into account. I also have to assume that it is there, waiting  like a tiger in the dark. I don’t want to be part of what causes them to snap.

Fact: Rubber gets hot when stretched. According to Scientific American, when a rubber band is stretched, it produces heat. In fact, you can stretch a rubber band and hold it — still stretched — to your face and you will feel a slight warming of the rubber band. Release the rubber band and it will return to its original temperature.

Corollary: Coaching is hot work. Working to develop new skills in a teacher or administrator can produce a similar rise in temperature — at least metaphorically — resulting in a higher degree of stress.  Releasing the stress will also lower the metaphorical temperature.

Fact: Even when stretched, a rubber band will eventually cool down. Holding a stretched rubber band in position until it naturally returns to normal temperature while still stretched will alter the shape of the band permanently. For example, a rubber band wrapped around a folded newspaper for a period of time will heat up, cool down, and then be permanently stretched out of its original shape. It will be slightly bigger.

Corollary: As a coach, I have to stretch my coachee beyond his or her normal “shape” and hold the pressure on just long enough that when things “cool” down, the new skill level is retained, resulting in a slightly new and improved model of teaching or leading. Part of my growth as an instructional coach is learning just how long to keep the pressure on so that I don’t “snap” the coachee.

I saw this first hand in one of my first coaching assignments, I stretched a little too far and held on a little too long and had to spend some time helping my coachee put it back together before we could continue the coaching process.

Fact: If I do not stretch the rubber band enough, it won’t heat up enough so that when it cools the shape is permanently altered.

Corollary: When working with a teacher or administrator, one might be tempted to take an “easier” route to a desired growth point out of fear of stretching too far. It’s not exactly about “no pain, no gain”, but if I don’t take my coachee far enough out of their comfort zone to experience the win that comes from improved ability, they will not be as likely to expand enough to ensure permanent change.

The sensitivity to know how much is enough and how much is too far is part of the art of instructional coaching. Consider this graphic and the sensitivity required to measure the state of your coachee.


In his book, Get Better Faster, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo writes that “Teaching is a performance profession…Just like the soccer player going for the goal, the actor delivering the monologue, and the surgeon performing an emergency operation, teachers have to deliver excellent instruction live…modifying it swiftly and surely in response to whatever challenges or triumphs the students bring to the classroom that day.” (p. 25)

Coaching for peak performance requires growth and is going to generate some heat. Coaching is hot work.

About our Guest Author: Dr. Harrison McCoy brings nearly 20 years of classroom and administrative experience to his new position at Texas’ Education Service Center Region 11 in Fort Worth, where he is a new Instructional Content Coach. In that role, he supports teachers and administrators in their campus improvement strategies in the service center’s more than 75 school district region. Professionally, he enjoys connecting with educators at a global level, blogging and creating amazing learning experiences for teachers and students.

Guest Post: Call me “Coach”

(Note: This is the first of a series of posts by Dr. Harrison McCoy, an experienced educator, but new coach. During his first year in his new role, we’ll hear from Dr. McCoy periodically regarding his journey from teacher to coach).

After almost 20 years of teaching students in the classroom, I have accepted a position asSLICE an instructional content coach for one of Texas’ 20 regional education service centers.  With a shortened summer vacation under my belt, in a week or so, I will be starting a new phase of my career as an educator.

So, this week I got a notification today on my cell phone that my school district-provided email address had been locked, and I would no longer have access to its contents. That was the first “official” sign that I was no longer employed as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I was expecting the notification, but still, when I saw it in black and white, it gave me a moment of pause.

“Oh my God, have I made the right decision?”

The short answer to that question is a resounding “yes”. I am thoroughly comfortable with the decision that I have made, but that does not mean that I am not very aware of the magnitude of the transition that I am beginning.

Coaching, while not a new concept, is emerging as an important part of the vocabulary in many schools and districts across the country. For the past few years, I have noticed a growing number of coaches in the edtech field of education. Instructional coaches are being used at the campus level, at the district level, and even at regional/state levels. Many educators are also becoming self-employed as coaches.

Let me be clear about this, however. While I have had the opportunity to lead a lot of professional development over the past three years, I do not have a lot of experience as a coach. My new employers are taking as big a chance on me as I am on them. This will be a period of massive new growth for me. I have mentored a few teachers through the years as a part of informal programs designed to help new faculty members get oriented to their role on my campus, but that is not coaching. I was hired, I think, because I bring broad experience as a classroom teacher and administrator, good communication skills, and the temperament for helping others define and meet their goals for professional success.

So, how am I preparing for my first weeks on the job?

I’m a Googler, so I have been spending a lot of time searching for a reading what some of the best instructional coaches have to offer. Two names keep coming up, so I am reading a lot of Jim Knight and Elena Aguilar. That’s also how I discovered Eric Sandberg and this blog. I have been adapting and expanding my professional learning network through previous and new contacts on Twitter. I have a cobbled together a Twitter list with 75 or so names of coaches from around the globe on it. I have also accepted an offer to facilitate a Twitter chat about the role of instructional coaching.

What are the concerns that I have as I look forward to new beginnings?

  • How will I know if I am successful? I was asked that question during the interview process, and I remember giving what felt like a good answer. It will be interesting to see how this develops. One thing is certain: I am seeing the development of a new standard of personal success for my work as an educator.
  • How will I respond when I meet my first “uncoachable” teacher? What will happen when the irresistible force of my eternal optimism meets the presumably immovable object?

There are three things that I am trying to keep in mind as I prepare to begin my new career as a coach, and they come in part from a blog post by Elena Aguilar.

    1. Listen, Listen, Listen. Not only do I have a lot to learn about the role of a coach, I expect to learn from the educators that I will be privileged to coach. It’s a partnership and a team, and we will grow together.
    2. Adults are different than children and teens. Fortunately, I enjoy professional development and working with adults as much as I ever enjoyed working with students. No problem here.
    3. There is no coasting going on here. I am not changing my career to wind my way toward retirement in an easier role. The energy is positive and the pace is fast.



Fortunately, I am being placed on a coaching team with a wide varied levels of experience among its members. There is much to learn, but I will be well-coached as I begin my own new journey.

About our Guest Author: Dr. Harrison McCoy brings nearly 20 years of classroom and administrative experience to his new position at Texas’ Education Service Center Region 11 in Fort Worth, where he is a new Instructional Content Coach. In that role, he supports teachers and administrators in their campus improvement strategies in the service center’s more than 75 school district region. Professionally, he enjoys connecting with educators at a global level, blogging and creating amazing learning experiences for teachers and students.