November 30, 2022

What does it take to become a trusted instructional leader?

I sincerely believe in the power of coaching. I’ve written before about the need for teachers to embrace this practice with a growth mindset and shed any negative stigma attached to instructional coaching in order to realize its potential for improving our profession.

Now I would like to consider the impact of a leader’s role in the coaching process.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Melvin Love, Principal of Oxmoor Valley Elementary School at Birmingham City Schools in Alabama. He shared some first-hand experiences of his role as an instructional leader. During our conversation, he talked about the collaborative and supportive nature of educational coaching, the importance of strong teams, and most importantly, the need for trust.

Venola Mason: Do you consider yourself an educational leader in your building?

Dr. Melvin Love: Certainly, I do. There is the management component, which is a day-to-day operation, but there is also the teaching component to ensure that quality teaching takes place in each of the classrooms. It is necessary to coach teachers so that they have confidence in your leadership and want to follow you.

Anyone can be coached, even a school principal – coaching and development happens to me every day. But as an instructional leader, I need to identify resource-based strategies and integrate them into the classroom, making sure the rigor of a lesson is where it needs to be.

When you walk into the classroom, you want to let the teacher know that it’s not a “trapped” moment. It’s part of the coaching process to make you better.

Part of the role of an instructional leader is to review your school’s data, including attendance and assessments, and make informed decisions to ensure teachers are meeting student needs. You view progress reports, notebooks, and even lesson plans to provide the levels of support teachers need to bring that instruction to the home.

How do you build buy-in from your teachers so that they accept you as an instructional leader and are open to your feedback?

The most important thing in building trust as an instructional leader is that you must have a vision—that you want students and all of your teachers to succeed—and that vision must be achieved.

When I came to this school in 2015, our Alabama State data showed eight percent fluency in reading from third through fifth grade. So, of course, I had to have tough conversations with the building teachers and then provide the professional development to improve. Thanks to this development, we exited the state’s failing school list in one year and continue to move forward.

See HMH’s blended professional learning research findings here.

I like the way you phrase this: to help teachers, you have to provide the vision.

Okay, and it’s also important that your instructional leadership team—for me, it’s my instructional coach, my math coach, my literacy specialist, and my vice-principal—knows about this vision and your instructional plan. I tell my team, “You are an extension of me.” As a pedagogical leader, it is essential to recruit people who have the pedagogical expertise necessary to be effective while providing support to teachers.

How do you and the coaches work together to set expectations for what teacher development will look like in your building?

We use our district’s priorities as a lens and strategically review our teacher data to make informed, side-by-side decisions to coach teachers. It is important to create a constructive coaching atmosphere, to continuously move from development to application and innovation. I make sure that our teachers understand that the educational coaches are not administrators – they are there for coaching purposes.

You raise such a good point; Sometimes teachers wonder if the principal is in the classroom wearing an administrator’s, evaluator’s or coach’s hat. How do you straddle that line with your teachers?

We have our formal evaluation process, which is multifaceted and very structured. However, we also have a more informal process where we ‘walk through’ classrooms looking for evidence of student engagement and rigor in teaching. Using the data from these visits, we can mentor teachers to the top. To be clear on expectations, I will let teachers know when I’m on the PA system during morning announcements about what areas I’m focusing on at any given time.

How do you know if coaching is effective?

When I go into the classrooms, I see the glow on the faces of the students learning; when I see the “aha” moment of teachers looking at their data and saying, “Okay, I think the things we’re doing are working.” When I see teachers think outside the box and do things that make students great and productive citizens in society, I know things are working.

Education as we know it has changed and will continue to demand more of our educators and students. With instant access to a coach, plus tools to share, store, and review student learning artifacts, teachers in your district can be more supported than ever. HMH’s certified professional coaches provide the right support at the right time, live, online or through asynchronous learning.

Build your knowledge on topics such as SEL, equity and access or differentiation in your classrooms.

Learn more about the full range of HMH coaching services. You can also sign up for a free trial of the HMH Coaching Studio, which offers services online, in person, or in a blended format.