Coaching Tip of the Month

June 1, 2021 - 6 minutes read

June 2021 Coaching Tip of the Month

In a recent conversation with Jason DeRoner, Co-founder/CEO of TeachBoost (, he asked me if instructional coaching was a painkiller or vitamin.  It is a business analogy which I had not heard before but it makes perfect sense to me… in many ways, instructional coaching is both!

Vitamins are “nice to have,” but not “need to have” and are mostly preventative. We want to believe they work but I don’t think we ever really know if the vitamins have impacted us (just my opinion). Painkillers, however, are a “must have” and are needed to make progress. In the world of instructional coaching, we need to change the thinking that instructional coaches are like vitamins – nice to have but not necessary to exist. That happens when the school community thinks of coaching as a deficit model or “fix it model.” They believe it is a silver bullet that will change thinking, practice, and schools without uncovering the root issues of how students learn and how their teachers teach. If we don’t understand how students learn, we can’t identify or support instructional practices that are designed to help them grow. If we think implementing one practice, one strategy, or one technique will change student outcomes, we are missing the critical element about teaching and learning. We are missing the idea that teaching and learning are process driven. It takes a team approach to create a growth mindset that honors and values how we learn. It is a process that cannot afford the luxury of “nice to have”; rather it is critical that we understand that working one-on-one or in small groups to personalize learning; collecting, analyzing, and using data; applying evidence-based literacy practices across all content areas; and reinforcing reflective and non-evaluative practice for the feedback loop are critical to address consumers’ (our students and teachers) needs. Those are the ways in which our consumers’ needs should be differentiated and subsequently addressed in a risk-free environment where the stakeholders are responsible and accountable for their actions as they grow their practice once they are given the space to do so.

I’m not so sure there is anything special about vitamins, especially multi-vitamin ones although they make the consumer feel as if taking one pill solves all their health issues ranging from raising one’s metabolism to slowing the effects of aging… oh, how I wish that were true! Yes, some vitamins provide support when proper nutrition is not followed but making miracles… I’m not so sure that can happen. There seems to be a beginning but not so much an ending when it comes to taking vitamins. We take them for years and do we get the results for which we are searching?

On the other hand, why are painkillers important? Well, if you’ve ever had a tooth ache, surgery, or migraine, you know why painkillers are critical for survival!

Instructional coaching needs to fill a void in the teaching and learning domain. It needs to build awareness for how it can help the school community. First, we need to recognize what a teacher professional learning framework looks like and how designing a framework that focuses on teacher growth and support will help teachers implement effective instructional practices. That’s the painkiller… localize the pain and then work together to develop the painkiller. Put into practice the steps that will address the pain and diligently go back to the drawing board to re-evaluate what is causing the pain. It may be a moving target but the point is, teaching is not stagnant; it is dynamic. Investing in building and re-building the blueprint ensures that the painkiller concentrates on the real issues and provides alternate methods to alleviate the pain once it is identified.

In some schools and districts, instructional coaching tries to solve a customer issue. The difference, of course, is that instructional coaches work with their “customers” to co-solve an issue; they don’t solve it for the customer. They don’t “promise” a miraculous recovery. They do promise, however, that colleagues working together and talking about practice will transform the environment. They promise that instructional coaching can become the painkiller because instructional coaches work with their colleagues to establish and sustain effective relationships that impact outcomes. Together, they identify the “customer issues” and co-construct ways to adopt and adapt ways to tackle them. It starts with the relationships and moves forward from that point onward. The outcomes are clear with painkillers… they zero in on the pain, block it, give time for “repair” and allow the individuals to successfully carry on!

My tip…be a painkiller; it should be #11 on JoEllen Killion’s list of coaching roles!