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Who is Dr. Katie Ritter?
Vicki: So we’re talking with Dr. Katie Ritter about ten tips for instructional coaches. Katie, you work with instructional coaches every day, so this is out of your day-to-day experience, isn’t it?
Dr. Katie Ritter: Yes, it is. And I actually finished up my doctorate. My research was around instructional coaching and supporting the growth and development of instructional coaches. I just wrap that up last November. I’ve been living and breathing it in my daily job and living and breathing it in like school and research.
Katie’s Podcast Restart / Recharge
Vicki: Yeah, and you have a podcast called Restart / Recharge that is especially for instructional coaches, right?
Katie: We do. That’s been a fun project our team has been doing the past year and a half almost.
Vicki: We have ten tips, so we need to get started. What’s your first tip?
Tip #1: Find Your Tribe
Katie: The first tip for instructional coaches is to find your tribe. It’s really important that you have other people that you can network and talk about the day to day challenges so you can kind of crowdsource the best ideas and bring them back to your district instead of being this alone charge or trying to do everything on your own and reinvent the wheel.
Vicki: So do you find most people find their tribe on Twitter, on Tik Tok? On where? Where do they find your tribe?
Katie: I know for myself, it’s been a long time now, about ten years. But ten years ago, Twitter was everything to me to find my tribe. I kind of joked, you know, for a long time that I wouldn’t be in my career where I am if it weren’t for Twitter and the connections that I had made there.
Katie: I still think it’s pretty important, but now that I’m hiring people that are a lot younger, I hear a lot more about TikTok. I don’t really know what that means. I’m not on TikTok, so I’m not there. But I definitely think there’s a growing space for educators on TikTok and then different conferences, professional organizations and trying to start as an online connection because it opens the door for people well beyond your geographic region.
Katie: But then there are lots of opportunities. I think that people are able to make those face-to-face connections at different conferences and events and things that really just solidify that relationship with the tribe.
Tip #2: Seek Out Training
Katie: Second is to seek out training. So this might sound kind of obvious, but I think coaches are like ultimate power providers. But yet they don’t ever really get professional development specifically geared for how to coach, how to work with adult learners, and how to give feedback.
And so we’ve seen through COVID and just kind of over the years, especially when we think of instructional technology coaches, you know how that position’s been increasing. But very often we see districts take the techie teacher or the really good math teacher or the really good ELA teacher.
And it’s like, OK, now you’re a coach, but then they have to figure everything out on their own. And while there’s a lot of overlap with how we work with students, it still is a very different world, not only for the coach to seek out training, but a tip for the district leaders out there to as make sure you’re providing training to those people you’re putting in the role to support all of your teachers or however many teachers that coach is responsible for supporting.
Vicki Davis: Yes, and you become like those you hang around. So if you hang out with amazing trainers, you will actually pick up tips on how to have engaging training. We need to see that, too. That’s awesome. OK, what’s our third?
Tip #3: Build Positive Relationships with Administrators
Katie: It kind of ties back in with those administrators, but coaches really need to work incredibly hard to build positive relationships with those administrators, not only at the district level.
Those building principals are critical for a coach getting into classrooms, working with teachers, and really finding success. You know, a principal who maybe doesn’t know what the coaches are or what they’re there to do kind of acts like they don’t exist.
You know, we see a lot less impact that coach is able to make in those buildings. I always tell coaches, to make those administrators’ lives easier so that you can really work to build a good relationship with those administrators and they can help you get into classrooms.
Tip #4: Align Your Goals with District and Building Level Instructional Goals
Katie: They are critical for your success. Tip number four is to make sure that you’re aligning your goals as a coach with district and building-level instructional goals. So, you know, whatever those goals are, it is most important.
Like you just said Vicki, you find out what the admin goals are and then, you know, either together or on your own. If you have a more hands-off administrator, figure out how you can make sure that your work, the PD, you’re providing the one on ones that you’re doing with teachers.
Make sure that work is supporting those goals. So we’re all moving forward in the same direction.
Instructional Coaches Need Strong Relationships with Administrators and Building Goals
Vicki: Well, if you said your goal is to help project-based learning with science teachers and their goal is to have direct instruction with science, then you’re going to find yourself in conflict.
While I believe project-based learning is better. This is about. OK, let’s take their initiatives and their goals and find what works because they’re something that works for just about every project.
Katie: Absolutely. Yeah. So I think when you as a coach being privy to that information, which goes back to tip number three, the better relationship you have with those administrators, the more they’re going to invite you to the table in those planning and visioning discussions to then help you understand, OK, what are the goals? What of individual departments, buildings and how can I really make sure that what I’ve been tasked with doing as a coach is moving those goals forward?
Vicki: That’s great, OK? What’s number five?
Tip #5: Focus on Improving Instruction
Katie: So number five kind of builds on that a little bit.. I would say this one is particularly for the tech coaches out there really making sure that you are focusing on improving instruction and not the latest and greatest tech tool.
So the more that you can embed your training in your work, you know there’s an instructional goal around student voice and choice and providing more voice and choice, right? So then how can you then use technology to support that instructional goal instead of just saying, Hey, guys, let me show you a Flipgrid where it may not be connected to some of the other instructional goals?
You’re going to get more buy-in from the teachers and the administrators when you’re making it very clear that this is how the technology is supporting those instructional goals that we have instead of advertising for the technology first.
Vicki: Yeah, but for example, with engagement, I love Gimkit. We got a subscription for all our teachers, but I have some teachers who love Blookit I have some teachers who love using NearPod, and I’ve been playing with Lum.io and being able to put stuff in there with games.
Vicki: So understanding that adding games and adding engagement and you’re not so attached to the tool as the method is absolutely true because it’s actually been shown that kids get bored if every teacher does it the same way. So variety, does help kids.
Vicki: That novelty and that curiosity and that element of surprise that you get from using different apps is actually a good thing between teachers. So we should encourage that diversity then, shouldn’t we?
Katie: And I think, you know, when you approach it that way, I mean, we’re trying to teach them how to fish, right? Like we want them to be able to make the decisions for themselves in their instruction, in their classroom every day. And if you only teach them one way to use, you know, one tool or even a few ways to use that tool, they kind of feel pigeonholed into always only using it in that way.
Tip #6: Focus on the Bright Spots
Katie: But if we’re talking about the larger instructional goals and things behind the tools, the purpose behind them, they’re going to be able to more sustainably make those decisions on their own. Number six is focus on the bright spots, so I know coaches can feel defeated, especially a brand new coach.
They walk into the role and they’ve got all of these great ideas that they’re going to just change everything and more power to hold on to that spirit. But it may not happen as quickly changing people can be really hard and not necessarily that we’re trying to change the people, but we’re trying to change instruction, which, you know, educators really deeply identify with being an educator and how they do things. So, you know, in a sense, we are kind of trying to change a little piece of them. So come up with checkpoints, come up with things along the way, find those bright spots.
Katie: It may feel like a small incremental change, but I promise those small changes will have a ripple effect, and you can use those to share and kind of create networks within the district and connect all this teacher did this. “You know, Vicki, you should go check out what they did. I think you’d love it.”
So focus on those small moments. I promise when you look back and reflect over the whole year, all those small bright spots are going to really feel like you’ve come a lot further.
Innovate Like a Turtle: Short 15 Minute Steps Works
Vicki: And all my listeners that have listened for a while know what I’m about to say, I always talk about innovating like a turtle. It’s the only change that works, taking small steps forward. I’ll take that 15 minutes twice a week to learn something new and encourage my teachers to turtle.
Vicki: And we had a credentialing interview. You know where they interview teachers. They interviewed me and they interviewed everybody. Well, I did it before last that day and it was OK. And I told the people interviewing me. I said, “Well, I always teach my teachers to innovate like a turtle”, and they looked at each other like, “that explains it, I’ve never seen a school that uses ‘turltling’ like a verb because the teachers all keep saying they are ‘turtling.’” And I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s great, because they understand small change works. That’s wonderful. Principle absolutely works.”
Vicki: OK, what’s seven?
Tip #7: See Yourself as the Chief Culture Changer.
Katie: Kind of see yourself as the chief culture changer. A lot of what we’re doing is we are trying to change the culture and a lot of these districts, and we want teachers to take risks. We want the admin to let the teachers take risks in their instruction. We want to promote lifelong learning and kind of this concept not only for our students but also for educators.
I know a lot of times that not every district has that culture. Ironically, not every school district has a culture of learning across the district for everyone involved.
Katie: A lot of times you’ve got to kind of see yourself as that chief culture changer to kind of help think from a systemic level. What can we do and what changes can I support to drive that culture and that mindset forward?
Teamwork is essential.
Vicki: And you know, that ties back to number three and four that you talked about being in all those conversations. What does your superintendent think? What is the culture used and does that terminology support your principals and their initiatives because you’re all on the same team. OK, what’s number eight?
Tip #8: Champion Your Teachers
Katie: So it also goes back ties in a little bit to some of the others that I’ve said, but actually for you as the coach to be the bright spot for other people. So I talk about a lot to coaches and tell coaches that it is incredibly important.
You know, my old high school cheerleading coach used to always say, “Girls, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” So I’ve always kept in mind in my work as a coach that I’m going to get a lot further with these adults if they like me if I’m someone they can trust. If I’m someone that they feel comfortable in my presence, you know because they need to be vulnerable with you. So I think a lot of times, not only just being kind of that calming kind presents for educators, but also when you’re recognizing the bright spots in them, championing your teachers, you know, back back to that previous tip. But when you’re consciously expressing that and acknowledging the great things that these teachers have done, they’re going to enjoy working with you.
They’re going to enjoy being around you and partnering with you in this process of change. So then hopefully it will make them more likely to want to continue that, that hard and deep work with you.
Give Grace and Love to Teachers
Vicki: Yes. And you know, sometimes it’s just accepting teachers as they are and giving them that grace and that love. You know, if you’re constantly criticizing what happens in the classroom, they’re not going to tell you their biggest problems.
Because I always tell teachers, you know, some of them, they want to show you what they do already, that’s great.
I say, “You don’t need me there. You need me where you’re struggling, right?”
So if they have to trust you enough to share their struggles so you can work together and then celebrate wins as you’re grown in those struggles? OK, number nine.
Tip #9: Get Feedback After Feedback After Professional Development Sessions or at the End of Coaching Cycles
Katie: So number nine is get all the feedback after professional development sessions you attend and at the end of coaching cycles. You know, what do teachers want? How did things go? I mean, just collect feedback for yourself as a coach to improve in your role?
I know, especially as a new coach, I can remember collecting feedback on some of my first, you know, professional development sessions, a little “lunch and learns” that I had ever led. And I remember being so nervous like, what if someone said something bad?
And it has just become an inherent part of everything I do. I want feedback so that it can improve. And not to say that there aren’t some times that maybe that feedback will hurt, or there aren’t some times where you’re like, What are they talking about?
I did do that, but I think if we’re not open to looking at the feedback with an open mind, then we will never be the best that we can possibly be. And when you have to support again, depending on who you’re, you’re tasked with coaching K-12, whichever content areas in order to support them the best we can . We need that feedback. We need to take it, and we need to set our pride aside to look at that feedback.
Vicki: And I’m going to link in the show notes to fantastic Edutopia article (The Research on Life Changing Teaching) about what makes great classroom learning and what makes great classroom learning is having feedback and getting it multiple ways from your student by
teaching instructional coaches and getting feedback and instructional coaches. Getting feedback from teachers were modeling what we want to see them do, which is a major instructional change of getting that constant both formative feedback, but also just opinions understanding that, yeah, sometimes you’re going to get those not so great opinions or things that sting and you have to learn what to do with that. Sometimes you take it and sometimes you’re like, you’re just a person that walks outside and says, I hate you, son. And then when it rains, they say, I hate you, right? Got to be careful knowing what feedback is, OK?
Vicki: And now we have number 10.
Tip #10: Keep Going, Your Work is Important
Katie: My tenth tip is just to keep going. You know, the work that you’re doing is so important. And it’s so meaningful, and so keep going, I know coaches feel a little bit defeated this year.
You know, teachers, they’ve had burnout. They, you know, they don’t want to attend another session right now. You know, they just want to break. I think coaches have started reflecting like, Am I not doing what I’m supposed to be doing?
Am I not working hard enough? And you are just, you know, give yourself the grace and just keep going and just kind of remind yourself why you got into this work because it really is very important work. I think coaching is is the best job out there, so just keep going and it will get better and we will get through this together.
Vicki: And focusing on how can I help you? How can I save you time? How can I take something off your plate? What can I do to simplify your life? Those are all things that as a teacher, some both roles that I appreciate as we finish Katie.
Top Mistake Some Instructional Coaches Might Make Right Now
This has been fantastic. So many great ideas. What do you think is the number one mistake instructional coaches are making right now in this season?
Katie: I would say, is that they don’t work with their administration, try to to charge alone with their work and they’re not working.
Whether it’s like in a goal standpoint to align to instructional goals or have those conversations with their principals, especially around how we can best support the teachers? What do they need? How can I support them in my role?
Vicki: I think that is something that regardless of the season, that’s one of the biggest things that I see are real missed opportunities because I hear coaches say all of the time my principal doesn’t know what I do, my principal doesn’t know what I’m supposed to do.
Katie: There’s some onus on the principal’s part, but I think that you know, as a coach again, how can we make that admins life easier? Part of that is how can we make sure that they understand what you can do and how you can support teachers? And how can you take things off of their plate?
Vicki: And they’re the ones who do the budgets. So you definitely want them to see you adding value by having you partner in it. OK. So Dr. Katie Ritter, director for curriculum and technology integration at Ford Edge in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thank you for coming on the show. These are great ideas and your podcasts. Tell us a little bit about your podcast as we finish up.
The Restart Recharge Podcast
Katie: Thank you. So our podcast is Restart / Recharge. It was something that our team came up with. Speaking of, it’s been really hard the past few years. We started the podcast last January, so January of 2021. It was really kind of a fun creative outlet for us. You know, we were feeling pretty down and defeated through COVID as well, right alongside with all the teachers we support.
So we needed something kind of fun and creative to put our energy into. And so we decided that, hey, you know, we have a pretty big team of coaches. We’re really fortunate in that regard. Back to tip number one, most coaches are out there kind of on their own island.
So we said, Hey, how can we kind of bundle this collective knowledge in this network we have and share it out with instructional coaches? So how can we share that out with others who are in a similar role? So hopefully they won’t feel quite as much on their own island, at least every other Tuesday when we put out our podcast?
Vicki Davis: That’s fantastic. Thanks for coming on the show, Katie. Last year, when I needed to take a college ICU course, I chose the basement courses and learned so much about teaching computer science in the classroom.
Thank you to the Sponsor Lum.io
A big thank you to our sponsor Lum.io for this episode. If you’re looking for a collaborative learning tool to make it easy to level up your lesson materials you already have with assessments, game-based activities, collaborative spaces and lots more all in one place, Lumio is the perfect choice for you. Head to Lum.io for more information and to sign up for FREE.