Four Ways to Support Learning Coaches More Effectively
By John Willis
As we approach the three-year mark since schools in North America closed their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19, a lot of attention is being given (and rightfully so) to supporting the mental health not only of students, but also of teachers and principals.
Educators and administrators have been under a great deal of stress since the pandemic began, and this stress has taken a significant toll on their wellbeing.
Nearly three-quarters of teachers and 85 percent of principals say they experience frequent job-related stress, an Education Week survey revealed, compared with just a third of adults in other professions. Fifty-nine percent of teachers and 48 percent of principals say they’re burned out, compared with 44 percent of other workers.
The accumulated stress from adapting instruction to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, making up for lost learning opportunities, and tending to students’ social and emotional needs—all while defending COVID-related policies to a deeply divided public—has prompted many lifelong educators to quit the profession they love.
As school systems consider how to support the well-being of teachers and administrators more effectively, leaders shouldn’t overlook the needs of learning coaches as well. The professionals charged with working alongside educators and helping them design high-quality lessons and improve their instruction face many of the same challenges as the teachers they support. Yet, their contributions and their struggles often go unnoticed.
Here are four ways school systems can change this by ensuring that learning coaches get the support they need to be successful during a time of unprecedented adversity.
Include learning coaches in teacher wellness initiatives
Whatever programs, services, and initiatives that K-12 districts establish to support the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and support staff should explicitly include learning coaches, too.
For instance, when you survey teachers to learn about their wellbeing and job satisfaction, make sure you collect information from learning coaches as well. Extend counseling and mental health services to learning coaches. Offer mindfulness sessions and other supporting resources to learning coaches. Include learning coaches in district decision-making.
This resource from the U.S. Department of Education includes ideas for how to improve staff wellbeing in schools.
Make sure coaches know the work they do is valued
Coping with stress and finding satisfaction in your job is much easier to accomplish when you feel like your efforts are fully appreciated.
Making sure that learning coaches feel seen and valued, listening to their concerns and feedback, acknowledging their hard work, and giving them public recognition when it’s appropriate can go a long way toward improving coaches’ morale and making them feel supported.
Provide the professional support that coaches need to excel in their jobs
Everyone wants to be successful in their professional role. As best-selling author Daniel Pink observes in his book Drive, mastery is a powerful motivator. Learning coaches are more likely to feel satisfied in their role when they believe they’re doing a good job and making an impact on teaching and learning. The most important thing leaders can do to foster this belief is to make sure learning coaches have the skills they need for success by providing high-quality professional learning experiences.
Learning coaches are chosen for that position because they’re highly effective teachers. However, being skilled at leading instruction in a classroom doesn’t necessarily mean someone knows how to coach other adults. There is a difference between teaching students and working with colleagues to improve their skills. Many learning coaches have a hard time when shifting into a dialogical peer coaching role, where they are no longer aiming to be the expert but instead are serving as a guide and a resource.
Give them the space to do their coaching work effectively
As K-12 school systems have been faced with considerable staffing shortages, many coaches have found themselves filling in for substitute teachers and assuming other roles besides their primary responsibility. This takes away from the time they have to interact with faculty, and it adds to the stress many coaches are already feeling.
K-12 leaders can support their learning coaches by finding other creative approaches to solving school and district staffing shortages and giving coaches the time, space, and resources they need to do their job well.
Learning coaches play a key role in enhancing teaching and learning. With school systems struggling to overcome lost instructional time and close widening achievement gaps in the wake of the pandemic, coaches occupy a vital part in these efforts. K-12 leaders can set up coaches for success by giving them the professional and personal support they need to do their job effectively.
About the author
John Willis is a veteran educator turned virtual coach. He has been in the education industry for nearly three decades. John served as a high school teacher for 17 years before becoming a district learning coach, then a learning coordinator. Now, he is a consultant and master coach for Sibme, a professional learning and coaching platform.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.