Finding Balance: Advice for New Instructional Coaches

Guest post written by Kristy Gaudio

Riding a bicycle backwards. That is how I would describe my first year as an instructional coach. The old adage “like riding a bike” applied, considering my prior experience as a teacher. My focus was on working with fellow teachers and their students in their classrooms. However, the ‘backwards’ part came in once I realized that I wasn’t the lead teacher anymore, these students weren’t truly my students, and my new responsibility was to establish and monitor specific goals with teachers and students.

Since that first year, I have learned how to turn myself around and face forward on the coaching bicycle–still embracing training wheels as needed. For all who are embarking on, or supporting, instructional coaching, I offer the following interview… between you and me.

You:    Kristy, this instructional coaching gig is such a transition from the traditional role as an educator. Where do I even begin?

Me:      Great question, You! Begin by reading Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals (Sweeney, 2010), followed shortly by Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Sweeney and Harris, 2016). These two books continue to be my coaching Bibles, and they were especially integral at the beginning.

When you’re ready to dive in to these texts, make yourself a basic T-chart to gather notes as you read. Label the left column: “Coaching is…” and the right column “Coaching is not…”. Establishing these differences is critical. It’s comparable to backward planning–you can’t reach a destination if you don’t know where you’re going.

You:    I can handle that! But then what… How do I get started?

Me:      I was hoping you would ask that question. Get. Into. Classrooms. Don’t overplan, and definitely don’t walk in with a to-do list. I recommend sitting off to the side without a laptop (feels less evaluative).

The simplest and most counterintuitive advice I can give is this: focus on the students. Student-Centered Coaching will shift your perspective, because educators’ instinctually focus on (and prepare feedback for) the teacher; however, as your t-chart demonstrates, your focus is student learning. As you visit classrooms, keep asking yourself what you infer students will know and be able to do as a result of the lesson (or portion of the lesson) you just observed. The answer to that question will keep you student-centered and focused on evidence of learning, which is the cornerstone of coaching.

You:    That makes sense. I feel prepared except for the conversations I need to have with teachers. There are so many great questioning and feedback stems… is it wrong to have them tattooed on my forearm?

Me:      While I won’t advise the way you express yourself with ink, my friend, I will tell you that the coaching stems can feel overwhelming at first. Rather than attempting to use all of them, hone in on those that feel most natural with your communication style, and make a cheat sheet for yourself. Both books offer fantastic stems for goal-setting, strengths-based feedback, co-planning, and more. I personalized mine and have them on my laptop and clipboards to support open-ended questioning that encourages teachers to draw their own conclusions rather than those I have drawn for myself.

I wish we had more time for our interview, but I’m sure you’ll want to test out your shiny, new strategies! Change in any form can feel overwhelming at first, but a few simple routines can ease you into your new role and help you find your own identity and balance as a coach.

Best wishes!


Kristy Gaudio
Kristy Gaudio

Kristy Gaudio is a former middle school ELA teacher and current middle school instructional coach in Kenosha, WI. She holds a Master of Science in Educational Administration from Concordia University, earning Principal and Director of Instruction licensures. She values blending the expertise of education, business, and self-care professionals in order to support the needs of her staff and students. While coaching embodies her professional passion, her two sons, Jonah and Andrew are the driving force and greatest blessings in her life. Follow her on Twitter: @KristyGaudio

2 thoughts on “Finding Balance: Advice for New Instructional Coaches”

  1. Connie,

    Thank you for your comment. Sounds like you’re riding a tandem bicycle all by yourself!

    In my experience, the more often coaches can model what it means to be student-centered, the more teachers begin to mimic our phrasing and focus. Teacher evaluations are geared toward what teachers can do better, so we have the unique opportunity to offer a new lens that they aren’t used to. We get to help them see that it’s about this “batch” of students and their needs—instructional practice is our secondary goal.

    I feel so fortunate that we can connect on this platform that Diane offers. Keep showing up for your teachers and narrowing the focus on student learning, and you’ll begin to see slow shifts that change mindsets.

  2. Kristy,
    Thank you for the conversation that you had with me (and other “you”s) today! It was too short but it had many important points. As a first year coach, I am not only riding the bike backwards but often with blinders on too! Worse yet, I have two schools that I am trying to navigate a backward ride among two very different school cultures.

    I love your T-chart idea! I will go back and reread my book and do this! I also plan to buy “The Moves” book and continue my learning. My internal mantra is “I’m student focused” but I get so frustrated when teachers are not, that it sometimes clouds my thought process.

    I hope Diane lets you return to have further conversations with me (and other “you”s)! I needed a reminder of why I am here!

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