Top 5 Misconceptions About Teacher Leadership / Coaching

Jose VilsonEducation, Resources2 Comments

Tightrope Walker

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m young, Black / Latino, and / or well-dressed more often than not, but people have serious misconceptions about what I actually do in the building. This seems to be the case with lots of teachers I’ve met who, for whatever reason, have been pulled out of the classroom. Some of us are an ambitious lot who don’t really want to be in the classroom but want to work in education. Others just want to become administrators (no way). Most of the the teacher leaders and coaches I know, however, simply believe that they would better serve their community at large by having this in-between role where they could have a teacher’s voice in a board room. That often has mixed results, but that’s not the point of this particular post. So, without further adieu, here are the five biggest misconceptions for teacher leaders and coaches:

1. We have nothing else to do.

This is probably the largest complaint my fellow coaches have about their jobs. We understand that our first job is supposed to be to support our fellow teachers and we do so willingly. It’s just that we have the same obligations to tends of other teachers and administration who don’t take no for an answer.

2. We’re snitches for the administrators.

Our job states that we have to be liaisons to administrators, but not actually do observations of any nature. As a matter of fact, we shouldn’t even mention whom we visit (not observe) and what brought us there. If administrators ask us to go visit, it’s to help a teacher out, not to report back on our findings. Frankly, some don’t follow that rule because they’re scared for their jobs or they’re actual snitches, hoping that bringing other teachers down will make them look better by comparison. Yet, most of my friends know this code and hold it close to their hearts, which leads me to another thought …

3. We’re snitches for the teachers.

People have this weird belief that, once we say we’ve pledged our allegiance to our colleagues that we’re going to betray the trust administrators have in some of us. Much the way teachers expect us to not tell administrators what’s happening in their classrooms, administrators expect us to keep their thoughts and office business tightly sealed. It’s a different game when we’re acting as the in-between, so we’re often asked to reiterate or re-purpose the visions handed down to us from administrators and outside forces, many of whom never have to meet with the day-to-day teacher because we’re there.

4. We have lots of power.

This one really varies from person to person. For some, being a teacher leader means that the head of school fully respects you and your opinion, and gives you a certain degree of autonomy on the things he / she has assigned you to do. In other cases, that trust isn’t always there. It varies so frequently that the regular classroom teacher / staff member ought not to assume how much power one has until they see it for themselves. Plus, the power play depends also on the dynamics of the school system. In NYC, where teachers do have a certain level of protection, teachers can vocalize the things teacher leaders can’t.

5. We don’t teach.

This probably hurts most of the teacher leaders I know, because this statement usually equates to not being able to teach. The people that I trust in were accomplished teachers before they ever stepped into their current roles. They still have their lesson plan books and / or teaching materials. I personally teach a class for the full eight periods I’m assigned, and that’s something I asked for because it gives me an insight I can’t gain by just coming in for drop-by visits. When we develop assessments and lesson plans together, I can implement the strategies on my own students, and not do it as some sort of mock lesson. Building that trust is important for me, so that’s the route I chose. Others weren’t assigned a class, even when they miss it daily.

As stated before, some of us don’t actually want to teach, which is fine because who wants a teacher in a room that doesn’t actually want to teach? The best teacher leaders and coaches I know, however, have one foot in the classroom and build trust by any means necessary. They know how to translate the visions of administrators into meaningful practice for teachers and can provide proper feedback to higher-ups about next steps. It’s a delicate balance we play, but it’s more necessary than people think.

This stuff requires a stable mind and a set of feet impervious to callouses. They’re not good for walking tightropes.

Mr. Vilson, who thanks Matthew Ray for this …

Comments 2

  1. I connected to this post perhaps more than any other I’ve read in months. There are actually some pretty obvious reasons. 2011 marks my sixth year as an educator without a full, daylong, class roster. Six years ago I accepted a position as a generalist “instructional coach” in my high school. (my district employs one coach per each of our secondary schools) At the time I still taught Zoology and Dual-Credit Biology with a local university. You still have a class in all eight periods? Forgive my absence from the progressive edublogger community as of late, but how does that work out for you? Had I only one section per semester, I’d have still planed and prepared as if I had six of eight (block) sections. At times I had two, and that was madness considering my responsibilities as a generalist instructional coach (essentially the “P” in the TPACK framework).

    I appreciate the apparent “opt-in” nature of your job description. That is one element of that position I strongly believed in as a building instructional coach. Although there was pressure to push in at times, those uncomfortable situations were certainly the extreme exception in my experience. And really, it would only take one really bad situation from that angle to destroy your credibility with staff for a long, long time, if not forever. Just curious… were you the first of your position in your school, or did you follow another’s legacy?

    Regarding #4 above, you are correct, the position of “coach” is less an element of positional power, but in a best-case-scenario, perhaps… a position of great influence. Influence vs. Power? That’s a tough one both in terms of what I desire as a human, and what gets things done in a large and complex organization. Here’s betting you’ll spend much time reflecting on the ins and outs of that one.

    I spent three years in the role of IC at the building level before being asked to move toward a focus of, (more-specifically) technology integration within instruction in general. I get it. That was not a strength in my district, and it was an obvious person one of mine. At the time, I saw a huge advantage in being able to be perceived first as a pedagogical resource, and then a distant second as a “tech savvy” teacher. To me, that shot the local discussion way beyond the mere “integration” of technology. And gosh darn it… that is a popular discussion nationwide. After a year in this loosely-defined role at my high school, I moved into a district-level position (26 schools- like I said: new position) last year.

    While there are a million stories I could tell of the past year (one of which: my near halt on blogging) the key one to remember might be this: I still retain one class. I still have my Marine Biology students. Even in a district-level position, I still meet regularly with students. I still design and develop lessons and units of study. I still assess students on curricular goals (even if I am the sole creator of such goals ten year ago: talk about “buy in.”) My suggestion for your own -as well as the betterment of your learning community- hold on tight to that student connection as long as you can.

    While the rigors of classroom instruction might keep many job descriptions disconnected in some way from the role of “teacher,” I’ll hold onto that one like many Midwesterners hold onto their firearms: cold, dead hands… you know, that sort of stuff.

    You’ve elected to move into a controversial, yet potentially powerful role. For what it’s worth, pay attention to two things above all (that I’m sure already know):

    1) Relationships. Nothing is more important in this, or any related role. Continue to be trusted, and you’ll continue to be a valuable resource for many, many others.

    2) Modeling. You cannot model when you’re not with students. And it is never authentic modeling when they are not “your” students. Aside from peer-to-peer relationships, nothing will further your work more than continued, solid modeling with real students in real situations.

    You have the right ideas from where I sit. Stick to those core ideals, and don’t be afraid to move into new (even unforeseen) roles. So long as you hold tight to those ideals, you will be the respected educator you are today… and then some. Yours is a tough position to negotiate. In today’s climate, it is even tougher. A hat tip to you for both seeing the potential, and sticking to your potential.


  2. I really loved being a staff developer. However, I too encountered a lot of resistance not only from teachers but from the principal. The AP on the other hand supported me. It was a hard sell in the beginning, but by the end of the term, teachers enjoyed the lessons and so did the kids. But not all teachers. I had a teacher who insisted that her students start all written work using the same paragraph she wrote on the board. I asked to be relieved from that classroom.

    Like you I also taught when I went into a classroom. I remember the superintendent came to the school and visited a few classrooms. He told the principal he only saw one teacher who was actually doing what he wanted–she was using what I had modeled.

    Then Klein took the program away and wanted only math and reading coaches. Teaching is so much more than those 2 subjects. So I went back into the classroom only to find that I couldn’t put into action what I modeled because the principal just wanted big test scores. The amount of paperwork was overwhelming and not really relevant. But it looked good to “The Brits” who would travel across the ocean just to visit and judge our schools. The biggest losers under Bloomberg are the students.

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