I’ve been in the education game for twelve years. Hard to imagine. A hypothetical baby born the year I started teaching has grown into a smart-aleck 7th grader, smeared with lip-gloss and attitude. Metaphorically, if my teaching career were a child, this is a time of changes. I’m hitting my professional puberty and it’s kind of great, you guys.
This fall marked my first back-to-school season in which I had no classroom to decorate and no lesson plans to write. I have no papers to grade, no Google Classroom to manage — yet I’m still working in the middle/high school environment. So what am I doing, exactly?
A lot, it turns out! I’m splitting my time between two new positions, and a new student activity.
Technically speaking, my title is Instructional Design Strategist, or IDS, but I prefer the term Instructional Coach. My school follows a lot of the instructional coaching philosophies of coaching guru Jim Knight. The purpose of the position is to collaborate with teachers to help them improve their effectiveness in student learning using high-impact teaching strategies.
If you’re not in the education biz, I’ll give you some examples — this year I’ve helped teachers brainstorm beginning-of-class procedures to help with classroom management, put together reading lists, researched online resources for an upcoming unit, strategized a seating chart and interventions for a class with a lot of “personality,” and many more things I’m just forgetting to put here.
My fellow coaches and I refer to a framework we’ve come up with to describe three “levels” of coaching — resources, collaboration, and a coaching cycle. The resource level of coaching is just that — providing a teacher with resources to help them in any way (finding online reading comprehension texts, relevant magazine articles, etc). Collaboration is where the teacher and coach work closely together on co-planning lessons, brainstorming solutions to classroom management problems, basically pooling their resources with two brains being better than one. The third level, the coaching cycle, is truly unique and transformative. The teacher sets a goal that can be measured — like, say, 85% of kids demonstrate proficiency in noun identification and usage on a test, or students will be engaged in class for 85% of the time— and the coach and teacher collaborate to find a way to achieve that goal. This can involve co-planning, co-teaching, modeling, etc.
The goal is data-driven, so the coach comes to the classroom to collect that data throughout the process until the goal is reached. Changes are made to the plan for reaching the goal as necessary. When the goal is achieved, the coaching cycle is complete.
I adore all levels of coaching. I love the challenge of trying to help a teacher and make his or her life easier. The coaching cycle is particularly exciting because you get to pick one specific area of student achievement and really zero in on it, develop a tool to collect the data, and figure out how to pinpoint what you want the students to be able to do.
And the “street level” stuff like finding a frazzled teacher some pasteboard or running over to Dollar General to pick up skittles for an activity — I love that just as much. Covering classes once in awhile is great, too. It’s like being a grandparent — I get the kids for a little bit of time, but I get to send them back “home” at the end of the period!
IDS coaches also help plan professional development and act as a liaison between the teachers and the administration. I serve on the Building Leadership Team and the District Leadership Team. When I have time, I read professional articles and books and minimize/distill the information for an easy read for teachers. Anything I can do to make their jobs/lives easier!
When the second part of my position was described to me last year, there wasn’t really a name for it besides “at-risk” (meaning students who are at risk of not graduating on time). I’m not overly fond of that term, so I sort of re-named myself.
MTSS stands for the Multi-Tiered System of Supports, and describes a framework through which schools attempt to systematically intervene to ensure student success. There are three tiers of support in the Pyramid of Interventions, and each level has multiple tools in the toolbox that teachers/the school can try to get the student on track to graduate and be successful.
So, my job is to be one of those interventions. Thus I am an MTSS Interventionist.
Here are some of the things I’ve been doing with this role:
- Helping build and refine our list of who falls into the “at-risk” category based on several factors including school performance, absences, etc.
- Organizing a Homework Lab of students during our early out days. This includes communicating with teachers, parents, and students about attending this extra help time.
- I have students I meet with regularly to check in on homework and life in general. I help them with planning out how to attack missing work and strategies for improving performance.
- Working with students with prolonged absences and help them organize and prioritize missing work.
- Redesigning WIN (What I Need) intervention time during the school day to optimize its use (visiting teachers and getting caught up on homework).
- Observing students who might be struggling. I can tell a lot from social interactions and body language. Also talking to their teachers about what works/doesn’t work for that particular kid.
- Meeting with individual students to explicitly teach executive functioning skills.
- Gathering data from surveys about students feeling safe at school or a connection to an adult. Getting everyone in an entire school to take a google form survey takes a LOT of legwork!
- And probably a lot of other things I’m forgetting!
National Honor Society
I am now the faculty adviser for our chapter of the National Honor Society. Right now, my job is getting applications distributed and answering questions. I’ll be collecting reference letters and helping students who need some guidance with the application process.
The fun part is that I get to plan the induction ceremony! This means ordering flowers, finding some musicians, getting the speeches ready, ordering cupcakes, etc. The current NHS group (juniors last year, seniors this year) will help me decorate the library and throw a lovely ceremony for our new members.
Once we have our new chapter members, we begin our service projects to help in the community. I’m very excited to be part of that, and I think my school has a really exceptional group of kids in this organization.
Yep, I Love It
I thought I’d have a real problem leaving the classroom. I really did. Ask anyone in my life. I was apprehensive, I was negative, I was nervous. But that was all BS, because this job is amazing. It’s a perfect fit for me.
Every day is different, but each day allows me to flex all of my skills — my trained ethnographic observation techniques, my “Super Study” talents, and collaborating with adults while helping kids. The introvert in me loves that there is time in the day when I am silently working in my office, typing up documentation or reading and annotating books/articles about the latest in education and coaching. And then my extroverted side gets to collaborate with teachers, go to meetings, and help out students one-on-one.
I finally get to see the big picture of how a school works instead of being confined to one classroom. It’s fascinating to see the building as a living organism, or a hydra with many heads.
At first, I was incredulous. How could I like this so much? What’s the catch? What am I missing? Well, the first month of school is gone, and everything is still vital and electrifying and fascinating and absorbing with this new gig.
When the universe closes a door, she opens a window. She’s been doing a lot of shutting and opening with me lately. But now I’m outside, and, for now, I’m in the sun.