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So You Want to Be a Math Coach?

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 formsโ€”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.
I’m sure there’s more, but that’s a pretty good list to get you started. One note: as I typed this list, I was grading myself on each one, and I won’t pretend I got all A’s. There is always room for improvement!

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  1. I. WANT. TO. BE. A. MATH. COACH.!!!!!!!!!
    Do you know of any online program?
    Thanks Donna and hope you are still celebrating!!!!!

    1. Oh, Amy, I love your comments! I must say being a math coach is the BEST job in the world. I think more and more districts and schools are creating math coach positions, so just be on the lookout for them and apply.

      Yes, the celebrations continue. I managed to get this post done before everyone got up this morning, and we’re about to head out the door.

  2. I completely agree that one of the most important things is making sure they know you are not in there to assess. I think one of the best ways to do that is to ask if you can model something in their classroom first- and then, you can help them work with it on their own. If you’re modeling first, it feels more like a learning experience and not an evaluation!

    I had a coach who “said” she was not there to evaluate you- but it never seemed to show.

    Great tips!

    Luckeyfrog’s Lilypad

  3. As a K/5 math coach, I decided to be incorporated with the special area rotation. I see every child/class in the school over a 6 day rotation. I love being with all the students. I am able to to deliver lessons, teach/make games, start activities, and then pass it on for teachers to complete- (if they choose). Some teachers are very receptive to games and charts, while others smile and send it home.

    As a special area teacher, I collaborate with those teachers – art, music, & PE – to show them where & how they are already teaching math!

    This also gives me the opportunity to be involved in RTI, EIP, or other meetings needing a teacher familiar with students. I don’t really compare them to another child, but I know what the typical peer group/ grade level is able to do.

    I love being a math coach and the teachers appreciate my delivery and insight!

    1. That’s the cool thing–math coach roles are so different in each school. Sounds like your model is working great for you and your campus!

      1. Interesting. Thanks
        I just got an invitation to apply for a math coach position.
        Your article gave me a great insight

  4. Thank you for the excellent post! I think most of these tips are applicable to any teacher and can help us all grow.

    1. You’re welcome! I think it’s so important to be reflective. It’s the only way to grow!

  5. I’m hoping that my school will create math coach and math interventionist positions in the near future. I would love to do either. I appreciate your post and I love stalking your blog. I switch with another teacher and teach math and science for both of our classes (while she does reading) so I’m always on the lookout for the math tips and ideas.
    F is For First Grade

    1. Hey Melissa. Keep after your principal until she caves and creates the positions! Ha ha. Glad to have you as a stalker. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Thanks for your tips. I was recently selected for a new math coach position and am feeling a little nervous.

    1. Congratulations! You will love it. The teachers will be so grateful for your assistance that they’ll make it easy for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I was a math coach, first in CA, then in TX. LOVED IT! I agree with so many of your comments. The sad part is that I’ve watched the position get cut in so many places. Keep fighting the fight.

  8. Thanks for a great post Donna. I really appreciate it especially after our last couple emails. Sounds like a plan.. You are so right, these positions are not clearly defined. I became a math coach this year with no direction so it is a step by step process. Again, thanks for all your posts. They are quite informative!

  9. To those who are in schools that do not have a math coach- or specialist positions, some suggestions are to start with offering to do a pd session on math, also start sharing lessons and items that you have created, and / or offer a time for others in your school or district to get together to plan together. I know this ends up sometimes being after school, but if you really want to build your presence at a school as a math specialist, you will need to start making your skills and interests present. Good Luck, I agree the Math Coach or Math Specialist Position is simply “The Best” job.

  10. Coming from a 2nd and 3rd grade background, I will be our building’s math interventionist 1-5 (new position so no set resources at this time). Can you point me in the right direction for books you recommend to help build my knowledge and materials you think would be helpful? Thank you so much!

    1. I just accepted a position as a k-5 math specialist. I’m wondering if you can point me to some great elementary math related books, curriculum alignment work and teacher coaching models?

      Thank you,

  11. Great article. I am starting a position in a couple of weeks as a K-8 math specialist/coach. I feel that I will be running in circles until I figure out how this position is going to look. It is a first for our school. I am wondering if you have any resources to point me in the right direction. I have ideas of how I want this to look but would love some guidance of how others are doing it.
    Thank you,

    1. Congratulations! Corwin has a new book out titled Everything You Need for Mathematics Coaching. Just now reading it now myself, but it looks good!!

  12. Hi Donna!
    Great advice and very well-timed it seems! Like some of the others stated, I also am starting a new job as a first time math coach (K-8). Iโ€™m the opposite of you, however, in that Iโ€™m very comfortable with K-3 Math but not so much 4-8. Can you recommend any content related resources to help me learn more about teaching math in this grade range? I ordered the Van de Walle book you suggested earlier and Shumwayโ€™s Number Sense 3-5 book. Are there any other good resources youโ€™d recommend?

  13. This is a helpful explanation . We have a math coach in our school (I am in a new school for my internship) . I am coming in for math support for students and I wanted to see if i could work with the our math coach

  14. Thank you so much for this post. I am a new coach this school year, and I’m struggling with knowing whether or not I’m doing my job! This is a great reminder of what my priorities should be. I love sharing your ideas with teachers.

  15. This last year I was blessed with the position as curriculum coach on the Elementary K-4 campus which I have been a part of for 23 years. I was the first in this position, so no template to go by. I was recently told that next year I will be the math/science curriculum coach for our entire district k-12. Immediately I was overwhelmed because I have only taught Elementary. Though I know what good teaching looks like, the math content in secondary is something I am not familiar with. What advice do you have for this situation other than the number one piece of advice, which is building relationships?

    1. Congratulations!! Since the coaching piece is pretty much the same, you’re going to need to know the content also. If you don’t already have Van de Walle’s book, I’d suggest getting it. It goes through middle school. Be transparent with the teachers that you are NOT the content expert and that you are learning from them. You can do this!! Good luck.

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