Like fields affecting public safety, instructional leadership in public education contains occupational risks that can blind side – whether one serves as a coach, mentor or administrator. We should examine a few risks.
A mistake many in education made in the past was failing to recognize the significant role politics play in any school, school district and community. Before initiating work that will disturb the status quo, it is wise to consider first the capacity of the organization itself to withstand change. Gauging capacity is critical if coaching is to result in sustainable growth; a lack of capacity will risk tanking the efforts. Second, it helps to analyze the specific political issues affecting the school or school district. Will a focus on teaching behaviors be viewed as an effort to compete with a vendor favored by the school board (or an individual school board member)? Are teachers reluctant to participate in a coaching project? What are the political factors and constraints surrounding the school and the teacher for whom you may be providing coaching services? Key questions need to be asked: How can the politics help you in your work, hurt you in your work, or affect the pace of your work? Are the answers to these questions unique or typical? It is important to know as much as you can about the political environment before diving into that environment in an instructional leadership/coaching role.
It appears that one of the biggest professional hazard we face as Instructional Leaders – regardless of whether we serve as a coach, mentor, or administrator – is an inability to hold deep competency in virtually all of the specific content areas being taught within the school sites at which we do our work. It is humanly impossible to be an expert in all fields, and that requires us to rely on a multiplicity of others to ensure fidelity to curriculum and rigor. That said, there are things we can – and should be – doing: limiting our coaching to those content areas in which we do hold deep knowledge; researching and maintaining awareness of best practices at the levels and in the content areas in which we serve; and developing a strong basis in the coarse work of teaching, learning, pedagogy, leadership and coaching.
Certain issues arise whenever one takes on extra instructional leadership and coaching responsibilities in addition to his or her other duties – time away from family and other personal-life obligations, for example – and sometimes the work can feel overwhelming. But coupled with these risks are some extraordinary benefits; personal satisfaction and personal contribution to the professional growth of others to name two.