In the dynamic world of education, instructional coaches are essential in shaping the professional environment for teachers. Beyond their traditional support functions, effective coaches recognize the profound influence of teacher time and well-being on student success. A recent professional learning session hosted by Digital Promise’s Powerful Coach Community put a spotlight on cultivating a culture valuing autonomy, connection, and inclusivity and skill development.
Before exploring strategies, it’s important to understand the science behind mindfulness. Deep breathing, a cornerstone of mindfulness practice, activates the vagus nerve, triggering the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for relaxation and healing. This physiological response plays a key role as we explore ways instructional coaches can advocate for teacher time and energy, emphasizing the conservation, mindful use, and renewal of these precious resources.
Let’s explore how instructional coaches can creatively influence three key aspects that enhance teacher satisfaction and effectiveness.
Autonomy sits at the core of effective teaching. Coaches can advocate for teacher autonomy by encouraging decision-making and flexibility, fostering a sense of ownership and professional satisfaction. “Teacher autonomy [is] something that can be energizing,” expressed Powerful Coach Community member, Helene Adams. Along with revitalizing energy, autonomy empowers teachers to make decisions about their classrooms, express creativity, and navigate their careers with a greater sense of control. By strategically coaching up toward leadership, coaches create the conditions for teachers to thrive.
“Connectivity and efficiency is so important. [Shifting] from traditional, large groups allows for conversations where everyone can contribute, share resources, and take part in learning walks… our time is spent focusing on the actual needs of the people sitting around the table.” – Tasia King, Technology Integration Specialist
Teaching can often feel isolating, and the importance of connection cannot be overstated. Instructional coaches can facilitate opportunities for teachers to collaborate, share experiences, and support one another. Powerful Coach Community member Anna Curtis reflected on the significance of intentional connections, sharing, “Something I’ve focused on lately is who I surround myself with… who [I] choose to get closer to.” Coaches can foster these relationships through facilitated activities such as regular team building, peer observations, or establishing boundaries.
“We had a Coaching Center with a professional library, some chocolate, and at least one thinking partner…[this] created a culture of collaboration and trust [making] it easier to engage in deeper conversations and solve complex issues with a fail forward approach without judgment.” – Sephali Thakkar, Executive Director at NSELA
Additionally, coaches can promote reflective practices that create brave spaces for teachers. By championing a culture of mindfulness and infusing gratitude into formal and informal moments of recognition, coaches contribute to a sense of belonging and appreciation for teachers’ contributions.
Belinda Karge shares, “One of the ways I create environments where our teachers and colleagues feel resourced, impactful, and connected is to open meetings with something unrelated to the content.” Helene Alaouf adds, “Share what is going well so we can celebrate our successes and little wins and thus inspire each other and begin positively.” – Belinda Karge, Professor Doctoral Programs at Concordia University Irvine and Helene Alaouf, Instructional Coach
Inclusivity extends beyond student diversity. Coaches can advocate for inclusivity by guiding leaders to actively seek diverse perspectives in decision-making, ensuring everyone feels heard, respected, supported, and valued. This involves promoting diverse perspectives and designing professional learning opportunities that help teachers develop the skills and awareness needed to create an inclusive classroom environment. Instructional coaches can also advocate for ongoing professional development opportunities customized to individual teacher needs and goals. This might include providing resources for self-directed learning, organizing workshops, or connecting teachers with mentorship programs. Professional learning session attendee, Eva Sullivan, emphasized the value of tailoring support by sharing, “I’m always looking for different ways to help teachers—sort of do a temperature check to see where they are.” Coaches serve as catalysts with teachers and administrators to cultivate an inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging.
By incorporating mindful practices into coaching strategies and influencing leadership to embrace these approaches, coaches can significantly contribute to a culture that values the conservation, mindful use, and renewal of teachers’ time and energy. As we navigate the ever-evolving educational landscape, let us recognize the transformative potential of mindfulness in fostering a resilient and thriving teaching community. As leaders within the education ecosystem, instructional coaches can leverage their influence to create a more positive and sustainable environment for teachers, ultimately benefiting students and the educational system as a whole.
Want to know more about nurturing teachers’ well-being? Find more resources here:
By Emma Mills