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What I Do as Instructional Coach

My position at UPrep is as a full-time coach, but I still see the role as a partner teacher, and draw on my past teaching experiences to ground my work. As an instructional coach, my goal is to support teachers on their own learning paths and trajectories.

Veronica McGowan, Instructional Coach

What is an instructional coach?

Instructional coaches are teaching peers. In many schools, instructional coaches are called TOSAs or “teachers on special assignment,” and they split time between teaching and working in partnership with colleagues. My position at UPrep is as a full-time coach, but I still see the role as a partner teacher, and draw on my past teaching experiences to ground my work.

What are your goals?

As an instructional coach, my goal is to support teachers on their own learning paths and trajectories. When I observe teachers in the classroom, I hope to use these observations as a springboard for future planning and goal setting. We’re lucky to be at a school like UPrep that encourages faculty to pursue professional development within and outside of the classroom through the ITIP (Individualized Teacher Improvement Plan) program. This is one of the many things that drew me to this position and the school.

How do coaches support teachers?

Instructional coaching is based on partnership, confidentiality, mutual trust, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Coaching is, at its core, a conversation about classroom practices and student outcomes. As an instructional coach, I have the extra hands, eyes, and time to gather data and materials to support those discussions in meaningful ways. The faculty at UPrep are experts in their content areas and have close relationships with their students, and this is what makes coaching here so fun. I love being able to think expansively about instruction, and I’ve been inspired by the creativity and passion teachers here bring to their classrooms.

What experiences have prepared you for being an instructional coach?

I spent many years as a classroom teacher and have taught preschool, middle school, and undergraduate classes in political science, biology, and education. I also worked as a researcher at the University of Washington, where I supported large-scale, research-practice partnerships between the university and several area school districts and community partners.

Why are coaches becoming more common in schools?

The field of teaching and learning has grown considerably in the past decade. It was once assumed that teachers rapidly developed expertise and then hit a professional plateau after five years in the classroom. We now know that teaching, like many practice-oriented professions, is a lifelong learning process, and expertise develops and changes each step along the way.

What impact does coaching have?

There is strong evidence that quality coaching improves both classroom practices and student outcomes in schools. Traditionally, teacher professional development has followed a model of learning where teachers learn practices in a certification program or at a workshop, then translate them to their own contexts. There are a lot of flaws with that model.

Schools and classrooms are highly contextualized, and applying best practices to a particular context requires a lot of adaptation, which should be principled and focused. Once faculty are in schools, it can be challenging to find the time and support to make those adaptations work. As a coach and classroom partner, I am able to support faculty through the translation and adaptation process in a way that feels fun and safe.

As a teacher and coach, I like to think of teaching as a design-based field, meaning that there is no one right way to teach or learn, but rather one that best fits for any particular time, place and community. I love working with faculty to find these “best fits” in an environment such as UPrep where students and teachers feel like they can take risks and stretch outside of their comfort zone as part of the learning process.

Do coaches go through coaching as well?

Absolutely! Professional development is important for all faculty and support staff, and I have a lot to learning to do for this new role. I currently meet with coaches from other independent schools in the greater Seattle area to learn more about established programs. I also participate in the state OSPI coaching roundtable workshops that meet on a monthly basis, and will be participating in a similar roundtable with NWAIS. As a researcher, I continue to review literature, and present and publish my own independent research about teaching and learning across settings.



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