I get emails from time to time from readers who are new math coaches seeking advice. That’s in part, I think, because coaching positions are not often well-defined. Sometimes, to be honest, you feel like you’re making up your role as you go along! I always like to take time at the end of a school year to reflect on how the year went–what went well, what could be improved on. I thought I’d take this opportunity to roll some of those thoughts into a post about what I feel are some of the important aspects of being a math coach.
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- It starts with relationships. You have to develop relationships with your teachers, or they won’t feel comfortable working with you. Get to know your teachers. Make sure it’s not only math you talk to them about.
- Help teachers understand your purpose. Teachers can’t think you are in any way evaluative. They must understand that your role is to help them improve as math teachers. Period. If they think you are leaving their room and heading right to the principal’s office, you’ll have a hard time making any headway.
- Know your stuff. Teachers need to feel that you know what you are talking about. Now, I’ll admit that when I first moved into the math coach role, I knew very little about primary mathematics. I had taught in only grades 3-5. So I spent the next 2 years immersing myself in early numeracy. I read books, attended workshops, visited primary classrooms, and talked and planned with primary teachers. If you don’t know something, don’t try to bluff your way through it. People will see through that, and you’ll lose credibility.
- Be a model for continuous learning. As a math coach, your primary role is to provide professional development to teachers. That comes in many forms—workshops, modeling in classrooms, planning, book studies, etc. But they need to see that you are always hungry for more yourself! We don’t get better at anything through osmosis. It takes hard work and a desire to learn more, and they need to see that in you.
- Set priorities. Keep your eye on the prize–increased student achievement in math. With everything you do, you need to ask yourself, “Is this improving student achievement?” If not, do something else. Be sure that you spend the bulk of your time on activities that give you the most bang for your buck.
- Get into classrooms. This will feel strange to you at first. Trust me. But until you get out into the classrooms, you can’t really be an effective coach. Create a schedule showing the math instruction times of all your teachers, so you can stop by, and be sure to follow up your visits with some positive feedback. It gets back to relationship building. You will see things that scare you when you visit classrooms. That’s okay. Find a way to help those teachers out.
- Model lessons. This is one of the most powerful, and most FUN, aspects of your job. It’s the way to keep that connection with the kiddos, and it also helps you identify instructional needs. An easy way to get this started is to tell your teachers you’ve just read a great new lesson and ask them if they’d mind if you tried it out on their kiddos. Modeling lessons not only helps you model math instruction, it also allows teachers to see how you handle classroom management.
- Work with ALL teachers. Sometimes teachers have the mindset that coaches only work with struggling teachers. It’s important that you are in all classrooms, working with all teachers.