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“Mark, what does it mean that you’re an instructional coach? Please explain.”

Coachfavicon I taught for 15 years, and now I’m an instructional coach, which means that few people (especially outside education) know what I do.

Lately I’ve been practicing my answer to the inevitable “What do you do?” question that comes up at dinner parties and other events. In fact, someone in the yogurt aisle at Trader Joe’s asked me that question last week. There I was, ready to debate the merits of Fage (superior) vs. Chobani (inferior), but no, this person wanted to know about my job.

Here are a couple things I say:

+ “I help teachers teach better.”
Though it’s a bit presumptuous — after all, I try to show up as a colleague rather than an expert — this response gets the point across. The problem with this answer is that it assumes that the teachers with whom I work need to improve, which is not true. They’re already great.

+ “I help teachers like teaching more.”
I’ve met a lot of teachers, and they do it out of a deep love of learning, students, and social justice. But there’s also a lot of pain in teaching. My job is to mitigate that pain and to help teachers hold onto what’s in their heart. There should be plenty of joy.

+ “I help great teachers stay in teaching longer.”
This one is related to the one above. The teaching profession, especially lately, is not respected at all. It pays piddling. The work is excruciatingly challenging. The current nationwide discourse on education makes teachers the scapegoat for our country’s ills. Despite the disrespect, the fact of the matter is that our young people need as many strong teachers to stay in the profession as long as humanly possible.

Where I work, my coaching colleagues and I talk about what we do, why we matter, and how we know whether we’re making a difference. Usually, we try to tie our efforts to student achievement, as in, we should see a link between our coaching and increased student learning. I think that’s important, but what I also think is a key metric is whether teachers feel effective, joyful, and alive — and whether they stay.

Which response do you like the most? Or, do you have a better answer? Please let me know your thoughts! Also, if you’re a teacher, I’m interested in whether you feel you’ve had a productive coaching relationship. My sense is that they are far and few between, and that’s partly why many school districts don’t yet invest too much money into coaching. favicon


  1. Marni Spitz

    You are the BEST instructional coach that ever was and make everyone around you better and want to be better. You have done all of the things you’ve listed and more, including (but not limited to), validating my love for Justin Timberlake. Having you as an instructional coach has been one of the best things to ever happened to my teaching. Seriously. I mean it. For reals.

Please share your brilliant insights!