Shady Grove Elementary School’s Teresa Mather loved being a teacher and making a difference in the lives of her students, so leaving the classroom was the last thing on her mind. She had done it before as a reading recovery specialist before coming to Burnet, but returned to the classroom when the opportunity presented itself.
“I love teaching. I love being in the classroom with the kids,” Mather said. “I didn’t think I’d ever leave it again.”
But she did again last year to become Shady Grove’s instructional coach. While Mather and other Burnet Consolidated Independent School District instructional coaches aren’t assigned a classroom, their impact is felt across their campuses.
“An instructional coach is a tremendous support service for our students,” said Shady Grove Principal Tasha Briseño. “Teresa literally is a coach. She works with the teachers to help them find ways to become better teachers. She’s able to dig down with other teachers to find solutions, solve problems, come up with ideas and strategies that help the teachers and students.”
BCISD created the instructional coach positions for the 2019-20 school year. The district initially planned for two, an elementary and a secondary specialist. But district administration and the board of trustees saw the value in having an instructional coach at every campus.
“I think that says a lot about the commitment our administration and board has for the teachers and students,” Mather said.
Districts have used instructional coaches for years to offer teachers advice and assistance in a number of areas.
“Every day is a new day, every moment brings something new,” Mather said.
One of Mather’s tasks is to examine new requirements, strategies, or curriculum shifts coming down the line and then develop ways to help classroom teachers implement them.
She also helps teachers set goals for themselves or teach a subject topic with which they might struggle. As an educator of more than 20 years, Mather has much personal experience from which to pull, but she also knows some of the best experts are down the hall. If a teacher is struggling with a topic, Mather can connect them with another who excels at it.
This could mean Mather covers the first teacher’s class so they can watch the other teacher work. The teacher can then “model” those methods in their own classroom. Mather can even go into a classroom and model techniques and strategies for the teacher as well.
Mather explained she doesn’t want a teacher to copy another’s techniques.
“I tell them, ‘You need to make it your own now,’” Mather said. “That’s when it becomes so much more effective, when a teacher learns something new and adapts it to their teaching style and their classroom.”
Sometimes, teachers turn to Mather to just talk, bounce ideas around, and figure things out in a stress-free environment.
While a campus administrator such as the principal or assistant principal can handle some of these roles, Briseño said, with all the other demands placed on them, it’s hard to find the time to tackle the things an instructional coach can provide.
Plus, the instructional coach has a different relationship with teachers than an administrator. When an administrator steps into a classroom, it might be for an evaluative process, or at least feel like it to the teacher, even if it’s an observation or for assistance. When the instructional coach steps in, she’s not evaluating, and the teacher knows it.
“It’s a different role I have than an administrator,” Mather said. “But we all work together for the students. It’s a collaborative effort.”
When Mather returned to her hometown of Burnet about seven years ago after teaching at Taylor and Round Rock, she settled back into the classroom at Burnet Elementary School and then Shady Grove. And she had no intention of leaving it again.
But when the instructional coaching spot came up, former BCISD Elementary Curriculum Director Shelley Reavis encouraged Mather to consider it.
“She said imagine the impact you’ll have on not just the students in your classroom but in every class on campus,” Mather said. “And she’s right, because I get to help teachers and students here every day in a way I didn’t in my own class.
“But I’m still close enough to the students where I see them every day,” she added with a grin. “I’m not going anywhere. As long as I can keep helping the teachers and the students, this is where I’ll stay.”