Instructional Coaches Are Essential in Schools
By Kelly Emadi
I sat down on the tiny stool meant for kindergarteners, my knees halfway up to my chest, across from Emily, a young teacher. We were brainstorming ideas for her stations. Two years into Emily’s career, her students were finally getting into small groups because of the unique challenges of becoming an educator during the pandemic. Teaching during the last school year meant tiny class sizes, no stations, no carpet time, and no small groups. This year was already radically different than the last and even more different from Emily’s student teaching. This is where I come in.
As an instructional coach, it is my job to work with teachers of all levels and help them become the best teachers they can be. Unlike Emily’s principal, I am not her evaluator. I am here only to help her improve and to support her. We have sat together to write lesson plans, I have modeled reading lessons, and we’ve poured over spreadsheets of data to discern our next steps for her students. Emily has sat in on my trainings focused on everything from building a classroom community to phonological awareness. Together, we have problem-solved classroom management issues and shared strategies on how to help challenging students. As a coach, I am a friend and mentor to teachers like Emily in their first year and their 50th. Especially now, when so many new teachers have had little to no student teaching experience or opportunities to observe classrooms, instructional coaching positions in schools are critical to maintain.
However, the opposite is happening. Despite the many hats instructional coaches wear, our positions are disappearing. Coaches are being pulled into classrooms because of unfilled positions or substitute shortages. Often, coaches’ positions are cut altogether because of lack of funding and because our positions are seen as nonessential. In my district, the coach position is being slowly phased out to become a half-time teaching and coaching role. What last year was a team of 14 has been reduced to eight. Some of our team members have retired and some have taken other positions; their jobs have remained unposted and unfilled.
This is especially shortsighted since the ripple effects of the pandemic will continue to affect our educational system for years to come. In addition to having little or no opportunities to student teach, many new teachers are entering classrooms where students have gaping holes in their educational experience. Even veteran teachers are facing the most challenging years in their career and need and deserve support when their students are dealing with a host of unprecedented, pandemic-induced challenges. Third-grade teachers, for example, are needing coaching on how to teach first-grade level phonics to their students as some of them still lack basic reading abilities. Second-grade teachers are covering spelling patterns that should have been mastered in first grade. Fourth-grade teachers are about to face a totally revamped state assessment and need guidance to ensure they are both catching kids up while maintaining appropriate academic rigor.
Now is the time for our state to ensure funding for instructional coaching positions, especially in smaller districts. Whether through general allotment or strategic allotments such as the Teacher Incentive Allotment, instructional coaches should be considered as necessary a role as a teacher.
There is no greater honor for me than walking with a teacher during those first tumultuous years and then watching them become a leader and mentor on their campus. Every May, however, I question if my position will exist the next school year. If teachers like Emily are to succeed and stay in the profession, we must maintain instructional coaches in our schools, now and in the future.
Kelly Emadi is a Reading Academy cohort leader in Lockhart ISD, providing training and support for teachers in the district. She has previously served as a district instructional coach, a classroom teacher, and a K-12 special education teacher. Kelly is a 2021–2022 Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellow.