How to Prepare for (and Crush!) an Instructional Coach Job Interview

I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing for several coaching positions, and I’m here to share the knowledge I acquired through the process. Interviewing is something that new teachers are officially prepared to do given lots of scaffolding and support provided through their education program. However, it is not something a veteran teacher typically plans to do, and we definitely don’t get any guidance, support, or feedback. We are usually out of practice, low on confidence, high on anxiety, and worried we’ve been “out of the game” for too long. I’m here to hopefully help you come up with a game plan and access the confidence you need for a positive experience.

Gathering Materials

Before even looking for vacancies, there are a few documents that you’ll need to pull together. I gathered:

  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • A current Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • PDF copies of all of your college transcripts
  • PDF copies of all of your teaching license(s)
  • A personal statement / cover letter

In terms of Letters of Recommendation, I would encourage you to ask colleagues who have seen you in leadership roles. It may not always been feasible to ask a direct supervisor, but when possible, seek out people with whom you have collaborated on important projects. When people ask me to write them a letter of recommendation, I will often ask them to provide me a bulleted list that can include their professional qualities, accomplishments, team memberships, and a list of pride points. Consider doing the same for the persons from you elicit a letter, even if you never wind up offering the list (it will help you organize your thoughts and build your confidence!). Be bold and ask people in administrative positions. The worst that can happen is that they say no, or that they write you a letter that is more about what the school or district is currently working on in general without talking about you in specific (that’s my telltale sign that either they don’t know you well, or they don’t have anything positive to say).

A great free platform for making a resume is Canva. Previously, I have used Microsoft Word and Pages, but it’s 2023 for gosh sakes! We can do better! And… it’s free. I’d recommend finding a minimalistic design and removing the picture element. You’ll look so modern and polished! You’ll need a section about your professional teaching experiences, teaching certifications and other professional trainings, and your educational background. I’d also recommend including a section on professional skills. Here’s my big secret for this part – a great place to get ideas is by looking at other job postings! An example of some professional skills from my own resume include:

  • Advocate for all learners, believing in the positive value of diversity
  • Highly motivated to use technology to enhance instruction, engagement, and access

You may also choose to have a section for any publications you’ve made, teams you are on, work experience outside of education that contribute to your professional impact on the community, coursework or seminars or networks that you participate in, etc.

Next, plan ahead for getting your hands on your transcripts. This process can take time (and sometimes money), so request them ASAP.

Finally, clear your mind and schedule and give yourself space to craft a powerful personal statement. A personal statement is a vehicle for pulling your thoughts together, explaining why you want/love to be a coach, and arguing for why you are an incredible candidate and valuable member of any team. Remember that bulleted list I mentioned above for your LoRs? It can come in handy here! You get about 3/4 of a page to really sell yourself. Tell about your professional journey, why you love the field of education, what makes you stand out, and the personal philosophies that guide you. This can also be somewhat of a draft that you can use for a cover letter. Those are trickier to write ahead of time, as you’d want to tailor it to the position or district to which you are applying, but having some key talking points or paragraphs pre-written is very advisable.

Once you have all these items pulled together, you’re ready to look for vacancies.

Searching for Vacancies

I have been an instructional coach for the past 6 years, and I have absolutely loved every minute of it. I knew it was a job that was tailor-fit to my interests and skills, and I am positively certain I want to continue in this leadership role. ‘Teacher Coaching’ has many faces and many names, and it seems that different districts have different definitions, expectations, and nomenclature for the position. In fact, even in my 6 years, my position has been revisioned and renamed at least 3 times. That is par for the course, and part of what makes that position so effective; you have to have the flexibility and growth mindset to engage in continuous improvement and adjusting to meet the needs in front of you.

The variety of philosophies, expectations, and terms used to describe an Instructional Coach can turn searching for a vacancy into a fun scavenger hunt. I’ve had success with all of the following terms: Instructional Coach, Literacy Coach, Teacher Leader, Teaching and Learning Coach – as well as different combinations and iterations of any of the following terms: staff development, coordinator, specialist, learning, coach, instruction, literacy, leader.

In Wisconsin, we utilize a platform called WECAN: Wisconsin Education Career Access Network. It is a one-stop-shop for posting vacancies, applying for positions, and recruiting. You upload all of the afore-mentioned documents, and you can apply to a school district directly on the site. Even thought WECAN is popular and widely used, not all districts use it as their primary touchpoint for publicizing vacancies or recruiting future employees. Be sure to check district websites in your area and look for an “Employment Opportunities” page. Even better, you may know someone in your desired district that has access to an internal job postings page, and they can update you on what is coming available. Don’t be afraid to network!

Preparing for an Interview

So you’ve applied for your dream position, and the team has reached out to invite you to an interview. How exciting! Great job!! When you make the appointment, be sure to ask if they’d like you to prepare anything. In the past, these are items I’ve been asked to bring:

  • A 10-minute presentation of self (Slidedeck on who I am as a person, professional, and what makes me the best candidate)
  • A 10-minute video answering specific questions such as 1. What are your top professional strengths? 2. What are the key features of an effective instructional coach? 3. What are key look-fors in literacy/math instruction?
  • We will provide you with a scenario, and we’d like you to role play and coach a teacher through this specific situation

Other times, I’ve just been invited to show up for a conversation. Let me let you in on a big secret here though: Never, ever show up empty handed or unprepared. It is very possible, and highly effective, for you to prepare for an interview and never go in blind.

In the instance where nothing was asked of me ahead of time, I still spent a good deal of time preparing for the interview by closely reading through the job posting. Look for sections where they list duties and responsibilities, key skills and abilities, position goals, qualifications, etc. Now imagine the interview team turning each of these bullet points into an interview question. Are you prepared to answer it and provide evidence and specific examples to bolster your claim? Start gathering your ideas, make notes or lists, rehearse some of your answers out loud, and get ready to glide in with your head held high.

Here is an example of what I mean. If the job posting says, “Collaborate with school and district literacy teams to develop and provide professional development,” I turn that into several sub questions such as:

  • Provide examples of times you have effectively collaborated with teams.
  • What are the key features of effective long-term professional development?
  • Talk about teams that you belong to and how you go about setting and reaching goals
  • How do you work effectively with various educators, from paraprofessionals to classroom teachers to administration?

In addition to this strategy of harvesting interview questions from the school district’s own words, you can also plan on being asked some pretty popular or standard coach interview questions. Here are some I have encountered multiple times:

  • Please give an example of a time you coached a teacher or team around a specific goal. (Be prepared to talk about coaching models or resources you use).
  • What role does data play in your professional practice?
  • How do you stay sharp/current in your field?
  • How would you respond to a student who is significantly behind their peers, or who is exhibiting disruptive behaviors in class?
  • How do you engage in continuous improvement?
  • Talk about a time when you handled conflict / pushback from a coworker.
  • What do you like to see when you walk into a classroom?

It is also very important to do you homework on the district, if you haven’t already. Look at their district website for indicators of any initiatives, a list of curricular resources the district uses (which could provide insight into their education philosophies), and be sure to reach out to anyone you know who is a member of the district. Ask them why they love working there!

Sometimes, you may get a question about your long term life or career goals. Where do you see yourself in X years? Is coaching your end game, or do you have higher career aspirations? And in your current coaching role, how do you plan to grow or extend your own learning (think about your PPG goals you’ve written for this question).

And lastly, you know that every interview ends the same way. “What questions do you have for us?” Always have a preloaded question. My go-to questions are typically aimed at better understanding any district philosophies or initiatives I learned about in my district research. You might ask about any ongoing longterm professional development that the staff are engaged in, or any specific professional learning goals that the school has already identified on the horizon for next year. I also love to ask what coaching models they use, or what a day-in-the-life of an instructional coach might look like. Remember interviews are two way streets, and you also want to make sure they are the right fit for you.

Extra Credit

If you’ve followed all my advice above, you will be in excellent shape for your application and interview process. Since you are a high achieving individual and up for big challenges, I’m also going to suggest some extra credit options to really push you to be your best.

  1. Check out local job fairs. I know what you’re thinking; these are for student teachers and recent college graduates. True, that’s who you’re mostly going to see there. However, I can’t think of a better way to get out there, network, meet people, and learn about districts in your area. You’ll likely get a few on-the-spot practice interviews as well to help you warm up. And my favorite part is that when you visit each table, you’ll probably walk away with a one-page flyer that has all the insider info on the district. You’ll get all of their stats, initiatives, pride points, and great material for preparing for your interview and cover letter. Bring plenty of copies of your resume. Before you go, make sure you’ve practiced a firm handshake. If you aren’t sure, ask your dad or grandpa!
  2. Practice coaching with a colleague. Invent a scenario in which an educator is resistant, confused, unconfident, or not in alignment with a best practice or district initiative. Hold a mock conversation and practice coaching moves and strategies you would use to help that educator move past the obstacle.
  3. Listen to this phenomenal podcast on Confidence. I have listened to it multiple times, and each time, I learn new tools for training my thoughts. As humans, we often tend to garner confidence by looking for evidence in our past experiences, actions, or results we achieved. For example, I know I’m excellent at pouring a glass of water because I’ve been doing it successfully for decades – I am very confidence in my ability to pour water. But what happens if I get asked to pour something into a glass I’ve never poured before, like gasoline? Can I be confident in my ability to do so, without any past experiences or results to point to? This is what it can feel like in an interview when you get lobbed a question about something you’ve never done before. You might have a moment of shock or fear, and your confidence might start to slip away. Just remember that confidence doesn’t need to come from evidence, it can come from within you. Have faith in your ability to learn, adapt, try, and not give up. Have confidence in your process, your resources or tools, in your personal drive, and in your ability to problem solve. Take a deep breath, and be the boss of your brain. You’ve already got all the tools you need to solve this, and have confidence in that!
  1. Don’t forget to dress the part. I don’t know if this can be understated. At the job fairs I visited, I was really taken aback at what our newest educators felt constituted professional attire. I fully realize this makes me sound old and crusty, like the “get off my lawn” guy. However, I was not emotionally prepared for the jeans, t-shirts, flannels, tennis shoes, strapless short dresses, flip flops, and unkempt appearances I saw. Personally, I feel best in black slacks, a blouse, and a blazer. And yeah, even saying those 3 words made me feel old, but I still stand by them. I am sure to bring a pad of paper to take notes (even though I prefer to take notes on my phone, I don’t want to look as if I’m distracted by technology). I add some power earrings and nice lipstick, and I feel powerful and confident. Here I am at a recent job fair:

Remember, you’ve got this!! I’d love to hear any ideas or feedback or tips you have for preparing, applying, and interviewing. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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2 Comments on How to Prepare for (and Crush!) an Instructional Coach Job Interview

  1. Chrisse
    April 28, 2024 at 11:25 pm (2 months ago)

    I have an interview soon for instructional coach position and have to do a 10 min Professional development presentation. Any thoughts on a topic?

    Reply
    • kdembro
      April 29, 2024 at 7:49 am (2 months ago)

      Who is your audience? Is it all staff, or a specific department? I’d investigate any initiatives they are currently undertaking. Here are some new initiatives that are popular in my area: MTSS (or MLSS), PLCs, equity, inclusion, data literacy, Act 20, Universal Design for Learning, Teaching with Clarity, depth of knowledge

      Reply

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