Coach Karen Ross is not blowing a whistle or pacing up and down a field motivating players.

She coaches and trains teachers to work through life struggles, hectic family schedules and obstacles to prepare to lead challenged schools.

I met Ross, a 25-year educator, former principal and now Iberville Parish school administrator, in January during an Advance Innovative Education commencement ceremony. Ross and her colleagues were there to support the 19 teachers who’d completed a year-long, BESE-approved principal alternative certification program.

Ross coaches using prayer, text messaging, a phone call or even a bag of snacks to keep overwhelmed teachers on track.

“The key was helping everybody make it,” Ross said. “We help each other get through so many things.”

Many participants in the program are full-time teachers and educators with families. She encouraged one teacher to continue the principal certification program while caring for an ailing parent.

“We will get you through it,” she said, and prayed constantly with her trainee.

Ross helped them to develop belief and trust in their own capabilities.

Teachers, like players, learn by doing, she says, and the program includes team meetings; a residency that immerses teachers into education policies and programs; attending discipline hearings, parent meetings, school field trips and helping teachers learn about their communities.

“They came in as teachers and started thinking as administrators,” she said.

Director of Advance Innovative Education Michael Eskridge, who hired Ross and other administrative coaches, is an educator and former school principal. His Redesigning Lessons, Re-envisioning Principals certification program provides 90 percent of its resident teachers with community funding and grants, two years of coaching and mentoring support following graduation.

“This is a hands-on learning program that centers around real-life leadership issues that teachers face at their schools,” Eskridge said.

Newly certified graduate Vanessa Cade, a former Southern University Lab English and language arts teacher, is now directing the Lab’s virtual school.

“I feel prepared,” Cade said. “You can’t get better than that.” College professors can provide some information, “but our mentors have been principals and they teach you how to handle difficult people and situations.”

It is only through practice, that a ball player succeeds. Ross, Eskridge and others are coaching their teacher-to-leader trainees, too, preparing them to handle, thrive and successfully run schools.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at