Professional Development

Coaching Teachers to Personal Bests


I started teaching in the classroom at age  23, and I’ve always felt a bit like I lacked an adequate worldview and would benefit from working in a variety of settings in order to be a more effective teacher. My best teachers did stuff before they became teachers, so I figured I shouldn’t be immune to this. Last year, I took on a job as School Partnership Curriculum Coordinator at a gap year/immersive cultural exchange program for a company based in Boulder, Colorado. In this job, I work with teachers and global studies coordinators to create, modify, and enhance classroom curriculum that will set them up for an additional travel component, which I also organize and create. I lead and instruct about 3 of the 20 international programs; otherwise we work with our instructors to staff and lead the courses. My job involves a high degree of detailed communication, translation, and empathy as I coordinate an immersive experience that meets the needs of the school, administrators, teachers accompanying students on the course, students, in-country instructors, in-country partners and community members, as well as the administration at my organization. Prior to reading the text this week, I wouldn’t have called myself a coach, but it seems that what I do is in fact quite a bit of coaching. I wonder how I might employ this coaching method more effectively and with which constituents.

This week, I organized a meeting with a few of those constituents. The purpose of the meeting was to get on the same page as a united leadership front for an upcoming course to China. Ensuring that the leaders are in agreement with norms and policies, and that they are able to get along and provide a high level of respect to one another not only makes a more pleasant leadership experience, but gives our students a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment where they can thrive as they navigate a new and challenging cultural landscape.  This was a delicate dance– slightly reminiscent of a Thanksgiving dinner with extended family. My role was to facilitate the meeting and empower everyone, although the range of expertise with respect to student travel and facilitation was quite varied. In the field, instructors necessarily adapt a role as a mentor, rather than a chaperone; this isn’t second nature to the teachers that come on, as that level of student connection or relationship is foreign. Naturally a cheerleader and avoiding dissonant relationships at all costs, I found myself outlining the leadership expectations in ways that could make everyone feel “good” or “empowered.” I did this following individual introductions, where thankfully I took solid notes. I found myself naturally trying to highlight everyone’s strengths and what assets they might bring to the course. Following the reading, I found myself asking, did I appropriately and equitably engage all parties in that meeting? Where might power dynamics have existed most prevalently?

And, when in doubt, what better resource to turn to than a free resource from the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning? Using this as a guide, let’s explore.

Maybe because I still consider myself a teacher, I still approach them as equals, peers, etc. Beyond that, however, I began to wonder how I might be able to use these pillars as I work with field instructors. At times, instructors can roll their eyes at teachers, who tend to be conservative when it comes to risk management and often times much more uncomfortable than students on these programs. However, Pillar 1 resonated with me with respect to a partnership approach (doubly fitting, as I am in the Partnership Department at my company). In bringing teachers on these courses, we want them to develop as professionals, to challenge and expand their worldview, and to interact and mentor students in new ways that may inspire them further in the classroom. As such, it is important we make sure they feel respected, valued, and genuinely engaged in the process, as this pillar makes clear. I came away with many reflective questions with this reading:

  • How can I do this in an authentic way?
  • What if teachers simply don’t want to be on a course– how might I empower them to take ownership?
  • Who am I least appropriately coaching, and how might I improve that relationship?
    How can I take this information back to my staff (which consists of people superior to me) to perhaps implement some of these high impact strategies to a nontraditional teaching environment?
  • And, finally, as an employee, am I being coached appropriately? 


[Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash]