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  • Sherry St. Clair

How Coaches Make the Most of Summer

Hint: it includes unplugging and taking a much needed break.



I am a believer in taking breaks—we burn out if we don’t restore. This is especially true for people whose work is supporting others, as is the work of instructional coaches. I encourage all of you to carve out time this summer to relax and rejuvenate. The way this school year ended was stressful, to say the least. I hope you all take a well-earned break this summer.


Summer also does provide the opportunity to engage in ongoing learning at a slower and more comfortable pace and with fewer (professional) interruptions. Just as coaches redefined know how and when we need to unplug and restore, we also know that we must keep our skills sharp. Summer is a great time to develop skills so we will be stronger and that much better prepared for those we serve during the school year. This is part of our promise to coaches.


When coaches ask how is best to focus their learning time in summer, here is what I suggest:


1. Conduct a slower-paced listening tour. 


If you are to coach in a way that meets the specific needs of your teachers, their students, and the school at large, you must first identify those needs. The heart and soul of being a coach redefined is recognizing that teachers can only grow so much if the school system they’re in eventually thwarts them. Coaching redefined unlocks a virtuous cycle of growth potential at both the school and individual levels.


This approach to coaching requires an awareness of issues big and small that could impede individual growth. The most productive way to uncover sticking points or frustrations some in the school might be feeling is to talk to people from all key stakeholder groups. This includes teachers, administrators, students, students’ families, and members of the community. People from each of these groups hold invaluable insights that can help you pinpoint root causes of issues and create targeted solutions. Information gleaned from a listening tour can be a game changer—not just for your school and everyone in it but also for your coaching practice.


I dedicate a chapter in my book to the logistics and best practices of conducting a listening tour. At the start of a school year, I suggest dedicating no more than two weeks to it. The beauty of doing a tour over the summer is you can complete it at a much more relaxed pace and benefit from more post-tour reflection time and strategizing for the upcoming school year.


If conducting the listening tour is too much for summer, consider simply proactively planning your fall tour. When will you conduct your tour? What questions will you ask? What stakeholders will you include? What will you do with the information you learn?


2. Practice instructional skills.


In chapter 2 of Coaching Redefined, I explain the nine real values of coaches—guiding principles that remain our constants amid constant change. They include ideas such as “listening to learn,” “deep thinking,” and “compassion.” The last real value is “commitment to instructional skill building,” which encompasses instructional planning skills, research-validated instructional skills, data skills, vision casting skills, differentiated coaching skills, and system-building skills.


Summer is an excellent opportunity to focus on a skillset where you could benefit from more research and practice. Lean on your PLNs for ideas, tools, and support. 


3. Grow with your tribe.


Two ultimate goals of your coaching work is to release the educators whom you coach to their own lifelong learning and to build a learning organization. A learning organization is one that has intentional systems in place to support ongoing individual learning and team learning so that everyone in the organization is always developing new skills and expanding upon existing ones. 


Building a system of learning takes help—from people in your “tribe.” Your “tribe” includes colleagues you identify as having leadership potential and a desire to help you create a learning system and/or serve as teacher leaders. If you have already identified these people, summer can be a nice time to meet virtually on a casual timeline and develop plans for the upcoming school year’s professional development. This can include coaching educators to lead PD, thinking through the logistics and operations of team learning, updating PD tools or curricula, coaching teacher leaders to spot the hallmarks of team learning and offer additional support as needed, and so on. 


I would also encourage you to grow your virtual tribe. Through social media, I have not only been able to make strong professional connections, I’ve also been able to make them all over the world. Coaching can be isolating work, and places like Twitter and Facebook can make it less lonely. On several occasions, new online contacts have generously opened up their professional networks to me, and I have been able to do the same for others. I routinely turn to social media to seek opinions of people I’ve come to trust, problem solve together, and stay abreast with recent research or new, useful resources.


4. Learn from leaders. 


This is one of my summer favorites, as it is the type of learning that can happen in a hammock or on a walk. Instructional coaches are leaders. And leaders are always learning and working to become more effective. Podcasts, books, and websites are an excellent way to learn directly from leaders and those who share their platforms with leaders. I credit such resources to transforming my own coaching practice and teaching me how to elicit far more growth from educators than I could before I understood my role and potential as a leader.


I share a list of my favorite leadership resources in this blog post. Tap into your PLNs and ask your colleagues for recommendations as needed. Make use of the scores of high-quality, free resources online for coaches. For example, Jim Knight offers a series called “Coaching Conversations,” in which he interviews various leaders in the area of instructional coaching. I had the great privilege of being invited to join Jim in a conversation. I’ve had the even greater privilege of learning from his other guests. I would highly recommend this series to anyone wanting to learn more about instructional coaching.  


5. Step away from work and let your mind relax.


In 2019, the World Health Organization named burnout an official medical condition. It is real, as are its potential harmful effects on our health. If it was that bad in 2019, we know it’s much worse in 2020.


We coaches can only support others to the extent we support ourselves. Please take time to decompress this summer. Do things that are not work related and bring you joy. Yes, I know many of the things that bring us joy are not available to us as we remain socially distanced and quarantined. It is all that much more important that we strive to engage in rejuvenating activities—whether it’s reading books for pleasure, going on long walks, getting lost in movies, doing a puzzle, playing games and cards with family members, please prioritize this as highly, if not higher, than your ongoing coaching work this summer. Consider it medicine, an antidote to a challenging time. You deserve it, and you need it.


How can I help you? Please connect with me to share your own concerns or ask for assistance. We truly are all in this together.

Twitter: @Sherrystclair

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Website: Reflective Learning, LLC

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