Instructional Coaches: Interior Decorators in Education

Guest post by Kristy Gaudio

Anyone who has seen, or binge-watched, a home remodeling series can’t help but obsess over how easy they make it look. The interior decorator quickly transitions through the processes of viewing the room, sketching out a vision, and unveiling the mind blowing result to the homeowner in 30 minutes–minus commercials! But there’s a lot of unmentioned work that Hollywood wants to keep your mind off of–the tireless efforts of the design team. The producers only save this madness for the special “behind the scenes” episode that fills the time while the show is on hiatus, but by doing so, they have left us with a false sense of what is truly involved in order to take a concept from theory to practice.

As an instructional coach, I have gradually realized parallels between my role and that of an interior decorator; it’s actually how I present the idea of coaching cycles to my teachers. ‘Your classroom is a beautiful learning space with so much potential, and any changes we make aren’t in an effort to change you; they are about your space, or in this case, how we can support the students who learn in this classroom.’

In our student-centered coaching cycles, the coaching Moves become the ‘swatches’, custom-picked according to teacher and student needs. And my ‘clients’, teachers and students, bring their hopes, concerns, and eagerness for a new ‘look’. Together, we will establish a ‘budget’ of learning goals and reflect on student learning needs so that we find a way to get the most for our ‘money’. Because while we’re all eager to run out to slap on a fresh coat of instructional strategies, we need to measure the ‘space’ first.

While there are many similarities to be explored in this extended metaphor, I think there’s more to be mined from two, striking differences: the value placed on vulnerability and sustainability.

We’ve all tried those DIY projects that promise even YOU can do this in only 3 steps… they never pan out. Don’t blame your lack of an inner Martha; the blame goes to the vulnerability these shows are not willing to share. Hiding the “behind the scenes” process promotes the fantasy world they know viewers want to escape to, but instructional coaches know better. We embrace this vulnerability, because we know it is essential if we aim to make connections and promote growth. Coaches level with teachers– “I am not the expert, and I don’t have all of the answers. Instead, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and let this process unfold together so that we can make on-the-spot decisions”. Just be wary of self-deprecation–vulnerability’s distant cousin. Selling yourself short will not positively impact any of your goals; instead, become comfortable with showing up, listening, and trusting that your shared experiences will guide you.

Coaches know that a one-size-fits-all solution does not lead to an authentic, sustainable impact. Instead, success lies in collaboratively adjusting as needed. Ever seen an episode where the design team spent every penny of the budget, the homeowners feigned delight, and when the TV crew followed up a mere month later, the owners secretly reverted the kitchen back to its kitchy red and white checkerboard wallpaper? When designers prioritize their own vision over that of the people who actually utilize the space, sustainability was never the focus. Instructional coaches, however, know that there is no better way to waste everyone’s time than by initiating a coaching cycle around the coach’s own beliefs and vision. If we genuinely want to impact student learning, we must serve our teachers and students rather than providing directives and ‘showing them how it’s done’. Coaches ensure a sustainable impact, beyond the coaching cycle, when they listen attentively, ask clarifying questions, and make suggestions according to what the teacher notices about students’ needs.

Now this all sounds delightful, because in theory, everything does. But teachers live in practice, and it is only in practice that coaching can have a genuine impact on student learning. So here are some non-Hollywood tips for embracing the messy vulnerability of coaching while promoting sustainability throughout the coaching cycle journey.

Timeline in Coaching CycleEmbrace VulnerabilityPromote Sustainability
Beginning: Swatches ready!
  • Listen to understand, not plan
  • Show up without judgment
  • Use a general framework that will keep the cycle focused & intentional. Begin with the end in mind.
Middle: Demo & customization
  • Provide reassurance
  • Do not over-research or over-prepare
  • Review student work together— avoid walking in knowing ‘more’
  • Promote teacher & student self-reflection
  • Focus on quality over quantity–key in on narrowed learning targets
End: Taking it all in
  • Thank teachers for learning with and from them
  • Genuinely reflect on feedback from teachers
  • Highlight any and all positive impacts
  • Reflect on continued student needs & ask how you can help the teacher’s next steps

Unlike the DIY shows, instructional coaches don’t aim for a ‘big reveal’ at the end. Instead, we are finely attuned to students’ and teachers’ needs throughout the entire process of our work. It may not be a glamorous, Hollywood surprise, but we’re not dealing with ratings, we have something much more important at stake.


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 (5) and Andrew (3) are the driving force and greatest blessings in her life.

2 thoughts on “Instructional Coaches: Interior Decorators in Education”

  1. This was a great read! I especially like the point about sustainability. Thanks for sharing.

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