As one of only two first-year teachers at Ballou High School, Natalie Hinds felt isolated in her classroom. “I knew I was destined to be an educator,” Ms. Hinds said, but making the transition to education from her career in marketing and public relations in the fashion and entertainment industries was challenging. Fortunately for Ms. Hinds, she was assigned a coach--then called a master educator--who observed her teaching and provided guidance. Her coach invited Ms. Hinds to join a professional learning community where she could see teachers in various schools and learn from them as well. “She took me under her wing,” Ms. Hinds recalled. “We met weekly and spent time in each other’s classrooms. It was great.”
After Ms. Hinds came to IDEA, she had the opportunity to work with another coach. The difference between the first coaching experience and the second, Ms. Hinds explained, was a shift from more directive coaching to facilitative. “Directive is ‘I’m going to tell you what to do because you’re learning,’ while facilitative coaches help you arrive at your own conclusion but using prompts that help you get there. At IDEA I’d been teaching for four years so I was refining my practice, trying new strategies. My coach helped me be really reflective.”
Now Ms. Hinds is an instructional coach herself--providing teachers at IDEA with the same opportunity to refine their teaching practices. “Back then I told myself I would love to be for other teachers what my coaches had been for me,” she said.
To reach that goal, in 2018 Ms. Hinds enrolled in a master’s program in education with a concentration in teacher leadership at the University of Delaware. She continued working as an English teacher at IDEA while she worked toward her master’s degree. “I learned all the intricate details of being a teacher leader,” she explained. “I had experiential classes where I had to apply my learning in a real setting, and record myself, and share it with my peers.”
One of the pivotal moments in her graduate studies was learning about active listening from Elena Aguilar’s book The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. “People often listen just so they can respond,” Ms. Hinds said. “Especially when you’re in disagreement, you’re not really hearing what the other person is saying. With active listening, you listen to what the other person is saying and repeat it back, so you have an understanding of what they mean before you offer your response. Everyone has a lot to say, and this technique is a game changer. I apply it in all aspects of my work, in interactions with teachers and with students.”
Ms. Hinds graduated with her master’s degree from the University of Delaware in May 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school’s graduation ceremony was canceled. “I was really disappointed,” Ms. Hinds recalled. “I had ordered my cap and gown, so on graduation day I put it on and my fiance bought me flowers in the Delaware colors, and took pictures of me in our yard.”
After earning this credential, Ms. Hinds was offered the position of instructional coach at IDEA, where she focuses entirely on coaching teachers and designing professional development sessions. Under the leadership of Principal Nicole McCrae, all IDEA teachers have coaches. Members of the IDEA leadership team provide coaching to the rest of the faculty.
“Teachers like having someone in their classroom who is consistently observing and providing feedback,” Ms. Hinds said. “Teachers said my coaching has helped them refine their practice. They’ve become a little more intentional. At times I’ve helped teachers plan and then they implement what we’ve discussed.”
Ms. Hinds recognizes that her diverse career experiences have made her a better educator. “Educators should never stop exploring. It makes you a well-rounded culturally relevant person who inspires others. Go out and explore what you're passionate about and bring it back to other people.”