The following is a notice supplied to a recently hired new teacher.
Congratulations on joining the teaching ranks. In order to receive your certification, you will need to provide your transcripts and praxis scores. You will be assigned a mentor for your first three years in the profession and you must complete 30 hours of professional development before being issued a continuing license.Prior to your first day, you will need to have a complete physical and a criminal background check. Our expectation is that you will attend the new teacher orientation, provide two weeks of lesson plans and have your room decorated before students arrive. By the way, since your application stated that you were willing to coach, you have been appointed a JV volleyball coach – congratulations! Practice starts tomorrow!
This may sound familiar. Wouldn’t it be great if our novice coaches had the resources and support that a first-year teacher receives? Unfortunately, many administrators find themselves in the position of selecting coaches not on ability, skill or experience, but rather the willingness of a new teacher to accept the position. No one would ever dream of placing someone in the classroom without providing a mentor and making sure that the teacher understood the curriculum and how it should be delivered.
In far too many instances, however, coaches are hired without the toolbox necessary to be successful and, to make matters worse, many administrators place little value on coaches’ professional development. It is understandable that the first responsibility of principals and superintendents is to hire the best possible person for classroom instruction. However, many also agree that the playing field, gym and auditorium are extensions of the classroom. This means a coach’s selection, preparation and continued professional development is equally as important as novice teacher preparation.
How do we accomplish this goal without breaking the budget?
First, there needs to be a plan to educate administrators. Today’s principal is faced with the pressure to improve student test scores and close achievement gaps. New principals or those under constant pressure from their district office may fail to appreciate or even see the important connection between extracurricular activities and student performance in the classroom.
Another issue that impacts this understanding is that there are fewer teachers going into administration. The current trend is for a teacher to spend between three to five years in the classroom, whatever the minimum requirement is for licensure prior to becoming an administrator. This leaves little time or desire to coach.
In our district with 12 building principals, only two have had any coaching experience at the high school or middle school levels. This creates a dilemma of having individuals responsible for hiring potential coaches who have never coached and may not understand what to look for when hiring one.
As a result, we have our high school and middle school administrators take NFHS Learning Center courses. This not only helps in hiring coaches but provides administrators with other sports-related issues such as First Aid, Concussions, Engaging Effectively with Parents to name a few. We also encourage and support our administrator’s involvement in the state athletic association by serving on committees, taking part in workshops and attending the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s annual meeting.
The second step is to involve experienced coaches in the recruitment and hiring of new, young ones. The athletic director and current coaches should be empowered by the principal to identify staff members who have an interest in coaching or have the potential to coach. Recently in our district with a high school of more than 2,000 students and a competitive athletic program, only four people applied to our posting of a head baseball coaching position.
There were similar issues in filling coaching positions at the junior varsity and middle school levels. While we expected a larger pool of candidates, the quality of those who did apply can be attributed to the work done by our athletic director and other coaches. While principals should have the final say, the athletic director and experienced coaches should be involved because they understand the nuances needed to work with students and parents in an athletic setting.
Over the years, we have witnessed rules modified, improvement in equipment, advancement in the field of sports medicine, evolvement of our student-athletes and a change in parental expectations. What hasn’t occurred is the commitment to supporting professional development for coaches.
Therefore, the essential third step is allocating the necessary resources in the budget to support the professional development of coaches. The most cost effective way to do this is to have coaches get
involved in the NFHS Learning Center. The variety of courses at minimal expense makes it the ideal professional development approach. New coaches should be required to view the core coaching courses and sport-specific courses. They can familiarize themselves with the latest rules changes and learn how to deal with parents.
It is great that these courses are offered; however, they should be mandated. As a result, the district should pay the nominal amount for each coach. Just as coaches have to attend a rules clinic prior to the season, they also need to take these courses.
Since so much of coaching involves the human element, the development and support of coaches must include this aspect. Coaches must have a mentor just as developing teachers. Yet finding a sport-specific mentor may be a challenge. A state association may provide the necessary assistance by setting up a support system involving retired coaches and veteran coaches who could listen and be available to discuss issues or conduct clinics in how to deal with specific situations.
Administrators can also advance professional development opportunities by utilizing the building and district-level professional in-service days as a way to provide athletic-specific professional development opportunities led by coaches and athletic directors. These in-service opportunities will not only educate, they may also serve as a tool for fostering an interest in coaching among other staff members.
By educating administrators, empowering the athletic director and not only supporting but requiring professional development for coaches, a learning environment that will benefit all our students will be created.
The superintendent who understands and appreciates the positive impact that athletics and extracurricular activities can have on classroom performance, is a superintendent who values and supports “the teacher on the field” – the coach.
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald is superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware and a member of the NFHS Board of Directors.