8 Things the Best Instructional Coaches Do, According to Teachers

Relationships between teachers and instructional coaches can sometimes be tricky to manage. When the relationship goes south, teachers can feel picked on or even spied upon—and coaches unheard or underutilized. Recently, educator Crystal M. Watson asked her Twitter followers about the best things their instructional coaches do, and we thought the responses were worth sharing.

Wondering “what the heck is an instructional coach?” You’re not alone! Many of the respondents to Watson’s thread said that they don’t have the role in their districts and aren’t familiar with it. Instructional coaches are subject matter experts who pair with teachers to help them develop their skills, set goals, and deepen strategies. For example, a reading coach might work with you on your small-group teaching on everything from setting up the groups to identifying benchmarks to planning activities for the groups you are not working with one-on-one. At their best, instructional coaches help you be your best for yourself and your students. Read on to see what teachers say great instructional coaches do.

1. They co-teach.

“Our instructional coach came into our classrooms as a co-teacher, planning with us before each class—allowing for differentiated instruction and small personalized groups!!!” —RockatWest

It’s a dream when instructional coaches actually serve as a co-teacher, assisting with lesson planning and differentiated instruction.

2. They cover classes so teachers can regroup.

“Ours provided a pre-planned lesson based on the culturally relevant book of our choice that SHE taught the class. I was given that time to go get coffee, take a walk … my time. It was so precious and appreciated.” —@MsSaraLopez

3. They don’t judge.

“Came into my room consistently (at my request) to observe and give feedback. He asks great questions, never judges, and is so supportive.” —@traci_mcaloose

4. They plan collaboratively.

“I have an instructional coach and the best support that I currently receive is a day-long collaborative planning session once a quarter. The entire grade-level department works together to plan for the next unit and to modify curriculum.” —@dmaclee

5. They take over some of the more tedious parts of the job.

“She helps me with tedious tasks in my lesson planning. For example, she will have me talk through an idea while putting together the bones of a slide deck I can use in my lesson as I talk, leaving me space to work out the details individually (which I prefer).” —rsaucedaedu

We love this example of an instructional coach putting together the basic structure of a PowerPoint for the teacher to flesh out later.

6. They know when to back off.

“Respected my time and mental energy when I told her that a constant stream of ‘do more/better/differently’ was too much given everything that was going on at the time. She backed off until I was ready to add a new thing.” —@ladymacshibby

Great instructional coaches realize when teachers need to hear feedback and when they don’t. None of us can handle an avalanche of ways we can improve—it’s best to tackle one or two things at a time.

7. They know that observing other teachers is the best form of PD.

“Instructional Coach here! My colleagues’ favorite thing is usually to take them to observe other colleagues at other schools as a form of PD. School pays for sub and I carefully plan 4-5 classrooms to observe and we talk on the drives between. Host teachers always agree to host.” —@tranewman

How great would it be to observe other classrooms with your team so you can compare notes and ideas you want to try?

8. They believe us.

“Most helpful thing was when they believed me about abuse at school. Sounds dramatic, but only 1/3 coaches believed me. Past coaches had a lot of agenda items, and I’d prefer the opportunity to ask for specific supports. Enjoyed when they could intro me to other collaborators.” —pnwscienceclass

Believe us, we know where we need help. Let us get the support we need first.

One thing that was clear in Watson’s X/Twitter thread is that too many teachers don’t have instructional coaches at all or find their support lacking.

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