Carolyn Felux answered the following question about working with a math coach.
Q. My district has begun using a math coach model, and now I have a full-time math coach in my building. What should I expect the math coach to do, and how should I work with, and support, her?
A. Having a math coach at your school is an excellent way to support teachers and explore best practices for improved math instruction. While the role of a math coach may vary at both the district and the school level, the common thread of a clearly defined partnership between principals and coaches is the cornerstone for successful classroom coaching.
As with any new relationship, the best way to begin is to learn as much as you can about each other. Share information about your respective backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences with teaching and learning math. Here are some suggestions for teaming up with your new math coach:
Establish a relationship.
- Arrange informal discussions in which you can exchange your philosophies about, and approaches to, instruction. It’s important that the two of you share a similar vision about what happens in classrooms, how teachers are expected to prepare lessons, and how they are expected to actively facilitate instruction.
- Give your coach a thorough history about the school, the teachers, the curriculum, and the types of support that are already in place.
- Go on a walk-through together, and use this as a context to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching practice.
- Discuss your plans for implementing curriculum by reviewing the school’s educational plan together. Talk about the math curriculum that is currently in place, and ask for input on its ability to provide effective direction for instruction, schoolwide.
Devise a way to learn together.
Your math coach will soon become your eyes and ears in the classroom, helping you understand more fully the requirements to address your standards and the strategies that will best support instructional improvement at your school. Likewise, she will be learning how to model best teaching practices and assess instruction. Take this time in the beginning to map out a plan for learning collaboratively. Here are some suggestions:
- Observe a classroom together that is working exceptionally well. Afterward, ask your coach to share her perceptions: What aspects of good teaching stood out? What makes this class successful? Use her perspective as a lens through which to better understand math instruction.
- Set regular meetings and come prepared with questions; for example, What do you see in the school that’s going well and why do you think it’s working? What ongoing issues need attention? What progress are we making on identified goals? How can I help?
- Attend inservice events that focus on teaching and learning math. Use the experience as a platform to learn more about each other’s views and as a context to talk about math instruction in your school.
- Read a common article, book, or both. Math: Facing an American Phobia is an accessible book to begin with. Leading the Way, a collection of stories written by administrators, gives food for thought about creating and implementing a plan for systemic change.
Together, create a vision for the role and begin to make it real.
The most important role of the math coach is to support the instructional program. That’s best accomplished with direct and ongoing work with teachers and in classrooms. As you and your coach embark upon a partnership, keep the following in mind:
- Begin small and with a focus. Work with your coach to determine where to begin—focus on a grade level or two. Determine which teachers are eager for instructional support in mathematics.
- Early in the year, accompany your math coach to grade-level meetings to explore ways teachers can strengthen their mathematics instruction. Use these visits as an opportunity to communicate to faculty the kind of support they can expect to receive from their math coach. Explain that the math coach will be:
- Meeting with them to collaboratively plan instruction
- Supporting their need to learn more mathematics
- Modeling instructional strategies as a context for conversation and discourse
- Observing and reflecting upon their instruction
- Helping them link assessment and instruction in order to strengthen student learning
- Protect your coach’s instructional focus and responsibility. With so much to do, it is easy to see the coach as an extra pair of hands. But don’t—instead, encourage your coach to concentrate on classroom work, supporting instruction.
Set expectations for working as a team.
Early on in the relationship, it is imperative that you clearly define the role of your math coach and that you demonstrate your full support of her position. Communicate your expectations and keep her informed as they evolve.
- Keep track of her goals and progress. Ask your coach to come to your meetings prepared by charting the course of her work—complete with agendas, action plans, and ongoing assessments of progress and results. Remember to celebrate achievements!
- Rely on your math coach as a resource. Allow your coach to be your go-to and support person. Your math coach will play a crucial role in helping you broaden your understanding of math learning and the mathematics instructional program provided in your school.
As the coach executes the plan you built together, you will gain access to information that will help you as an instructional leader and provide insight into how to facilitate your teachers’ professional development.
Encourage your coach to survey teachers to gather information that will help determine needs and how to address them. Here are a couple of ways she might begin:
- Conduct an informal meeting with teachers to discuss concerns about the curriculum and instructional resources. Elicit ideas for how you and the coach can offer support.
- Work with teachers to correlate any new curriculum materials with your mathematics content and process standards. Find out if the two align or if gaps exist that need filling.
- Be receptive. The math coach is intent on improving instruction and will advocate on behalf of the teachers. Keep an open mind when requests—time for staff development, lesson demonstrations, grade-level planning—arise.