By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes (Peter Drucker).

Sometimes, we must be reminded that doing what’s right is not always doing what is popular. In fact, sometimes, it is quite the opposite. I think we all fall into the category of wanting to be so helpful that we forget there are goals for change that need to be attained. Layer the fear of losing one’s job, i.e., instructional coach, on top of wanting to please, and we get a lot of “niceness” and not enough data that indicates change is taking place. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not talking about collecting data that is directly related to student achievement… we know that there is no direct correlation unless the only support is instructional coaching. We do know, however, that the association between improved student outcomes and direct teacher support can be attributed to instructional coaching and mentoring.

So, what does that mean? It means that instructional coaches should be personable, friendly, respectful, sensitive, and a host of other attributes. But it also means that instructional coaches need to help teachers identify which practices need to be strengthened and subsequently changed in order for student outcomes to shift. And, this can’t be done by being likeable. Sometimes, those difficult conversations must be initiated.

“My concern about being over-focused on ‘likeability’ is that this becomes a prescription for just being ‘nice in the workplace’, and while being nice, and being civil is a good thing, it is not how to be a good leader”  says Karen Cates of the Kellogg School of Management (What’s Not to Like? www.iedp.com/articles, December 17, 2019). In fact, she goes on to say, “Likeability is a good thing to have in your leadership toolkit, but it shouldn’t be the biggest hammer in the box.”

The coaching role is messy and knowing the areas of strength and areas of need for your teaching colleagues and addressing those necessities will make a difference in changing practice. That’s leadership!

What’s the biggest hammer in your coaching toolbox?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Over the last few days, I’ve experienced what countless others have experienced – a great feeling of grief. This blog is more personal than professional. Not only are we mourning Kobe and his beautiful daughter Gianna, but the other seven passengers as well. Each one of them was a child, parent, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, friend, associate, a person. These horrific deaths remind us that nothing is promised – not today or tomorrow.

Of course, we all talk about Kobe because he was famous. For me, he played ball in gym class with my son. For others, they knew “of him” like they knew “of” the seven other casualties of this fatal flight. Whatever your relationship is/was with the deceased, the one thing for certain is that death may knock on anyone’s door at any time.

At the same time, these deaths have galvanized classrooms nationally and internationally. I’ve been reading about how teachers are using this tragedy as a way for their students to reach out to their peers to give and get support. What a positive impact on our students! Teachers are making time, not finding time, for their students to mourn these losses. They are giving their students a voice in the healing process.

One quote of Kobe was especially meaningful to me, “I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it is sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot.” What great advice to the world… never stop doing whatever you can to accomplish your goals, individually and collectively.

So while we all mourn this devastating loss, may Kobe’s words of wisdom resonant for all future generations. Rest in peace: Kobe and Gianna Bryant; Alyssa, Kerri, and John Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Sarah and Payton Chester; and Ara Zobayan.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Back in November 2019, I wrote a blog (http://cultureofcoaching.blogspot.com/) about energy “givers” and energy “drainers.” I think it resonated with teachers and instructional coaches and is something we need to give ourselves permission to address… work with the willing and recognize when change is needed.
The December 17 SmartBrief blog by Anese Cavanaugh addresses a similar topic- “energy vampires” who attack your heart, soul, and pocketbook.
Think about your meetings… how many of you agonize over creating agenda items, designing engaging activities, planning for the whole, differentiating for some, sharing the facilitation, and preparing for the new “naysayers” who offer complaints without really thinking about the goals of the meeting? We all do because we want our meetings to be well-received.
Instructional coaches can relieve that stress…coaches understand adult learning and as a result, they help to create an environment that is conducive for change, welcome all participants as learners, and present relevant and timely resources in a collaborative space. And, as coaches establish trusting relationships with colleagues and honor all voices, the positive vibes become contagious rather than the negative ones.
I do think there’s a balance that’s needed… how much venting do we allow before we realize the harmful effects of it?
Cavanaugh offers five pointers to help leaders successfully move the vampires from being “Debby Downers” to being “Debby Doers”:
1.      Be aware of negativity
2.      Shift the negativity
3.      Respond to the negativity but don’t succumb to it
4.      Stay healthy and focused
5.      Keep the goals front and center
How do you address the “negative Nellies” in your work?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Last week, a coach emailed me with an interesting question… “Do I only offer suggestions, or can I tell a teacher s/he is required to make certain changes?” Although tempting, change is voluntary, not compulsory!

Instructional Coaching doesn’t work if it is a mandated directive. If the administrator requires the teacher to work with a coach, it’s that administrator’s role to enforce that, not a coach. The coach needs to establish and build trust with his/her teaching colleagues. Working together, they collaborate and discuss beliefs and philosophies about teaching and learning. Through ongoing conversations, asking questions, and identifying goals that influence student outcomes, teachers and coaches discuss effective instructional strategies and how to make adjustments in teaching so that the goals are met. 
Coaching works most effectively when teachers recognize where their strengths are, and which skills need to be strengthened. That recognition comes through reflection; that reflection creates change.

On the other hand, honest and open communication is what makes the difference between heavy and light coaching. Susan Scott (Fierce Inc. and contributing columnist to Learning Forward) says that “honest conversations are the cornerstone to building a culture of excellence” (JSD, December 2013). She believes that the most powerful practice to transform schools comes from ongoing conversations, the dialogue that either makes or breaks what happens in schools. Talking about practice in deliberate and intentional ways provides ample opportunities for colleagues to collaborate and learn from each other. Sometimes, the conversations are easy; sometimes, they are not. Either way, the ongoing conversations help teachers to continually grow and improve their craft.

What are some questions you ask your teaching colleagues to help them recognize their strengths and areas of need? How do you “pat and push” while “nagging and nurturing” your teaching colleagues?


Friday, November 15, 2019

Do you ever wonder about the amount of energy expended on matters that don’t really matter? How many times have you heard, “Work smarter, not harder?” Or, how about the book, Never Work Harder Than Your Students…? Sage words that we should all remember! But, do we?

I just read a blog from the EBLIN Group (eblingroup.com/blog) entitled, “Put Limits on Your Energy Drainers.” The blog is a great reminder that oftentimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees in our daily work. We tend to get swept up in the moment and try to do everything or be everything for each person with whom we work. We want to do the “right” thing and ensure that we provide our colleagues with as much support as they need. But, we can’t confuse giving support with helping our colleagues find their own voices. To do that, we must be clear on what we are doing, why we are doing “it,” and how we should go about getting “it” done. And that’s what Scott Eblin says is the “optimal mix of energy.”

His three tips for maximizing your energy:

1. Assess your energy “givers” and your energy “drainers.” If your energy is sapped every time you        think of something you must do or someone with whom you must do “it,” that’s a drain and you          need to re-assess the endeavor. If you are energized by thinking about a topic or person, that’s              where you want to spend your time;

2. Spend time with those energy boosters; they fill your bucket!

3. Make realistic goals when working with those energy “sappers.” Give those topics and colleagues
    some of your time and energy but save the real investment for those energy “givers.” And, over
    time, maybe those energy “drainers” will become some of your energy “givers!”

How do you differentiate your support to both the energy “givers” and energy “drainers” in your coaching experiences?

Friday, November 1, 2019

In the October 22, 2019 issue of Education Week Teacher blogs, Madeline Will talks about “Putting the Professional Back in Teacher Professional Development” – a topic close to my heart and soul!

This year, our theme is Enhancing and Sustaining Professional Learning because we believe that every teaching colleague has a responsibility to not only build his/her own capacity but to also build student agency as well. And, to do that, one must recognize the power of collaboration and how instructional coaches promote the notion that learning is social.

So, yes, we want to put “Professional” back into the idea of teachers taking ownership of their learning but first we must value that everyone is a member in a community of learning and practice. We must also recognize three things:

  1.  Coaches are not experts but either are their teaching colleagues; there is always room to learn more and being an expert implies that they "know it all." Coaches are, however, skilled practitioners who understand the science of adult learning and how that translates into effective practice;
  2. Professional development does not influence teaching and learning unless and until the “stuff” we share with our teaching colleagues transfers into professional learning which can only be accomplished when there is ongoing, consistent follow up to the PD;
  3. The professional learning sessions must be relevant, useful, ongoing, engaging, evidenced-based, and respectful to the adult learners.

When schools and districts recognize the strength of teaching colleagues thinking, planning, and working together, that’s when there will be a change in teaching practices that will influence student outcomes.

How do you reinforce teacher and student agency?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The never-ending struggle to meet with teachers seems to be foremost on many coaches’ hearts and minds… how do they meet and follow the BDA cycle of coaching if they are inundated with all kinds of other “non-coaching” duties? How do they encourage teachers to meet with them if teachers are carrying a full schedule of classes and may have a period or two of extra non-teaching duties? Not everyone has time to meet so how do we communicate if time is limited?

All important questions and none with such easy answers.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. If a coach is actively coaching more than 8-10 teachers (and most are), the coach needs to design a cohort coaching approach so that each group of teachers can receive coaching support in a “buddy” system. For example, group “A” is the first cohort for 6-8 weeks and then becomes the buddy support for the next group “B” cohort of teachers, etc. 
  2. Coaches need to assess the needs of the teachers they coach. Some teachers may need intermittent support on a “as needed basis;” some may need regular weekly support; and some may need more intensive support. Once this is determined, the coach can plan the kind and frequency of the support provided; 
  3. If the communication is the issue: blend the approach so that there is virtual and F2F support. For instance, an email from the coach to the teacher asking what kinds of topics/issues/instructional techniques the teacher would be interested in exploring is a viable “before the before.” That would be followed by a F2F “before” where specifics are discussed, i.e., what are the goals for this lesson; what role do we each play; what kind of data should we collect; and when will we meet for the debriefing. From there, the “during” classroom visit (not observation) is scheduled and followed with the pre-determined debriefing or “after” session. Email communication is most often a set of questions that can be answered and then referenced at the time of the “before” and/or “after.” I would caution a coach to facilitate a virtual “after” as many ideas and thoughts flow from the F2F conversation. (The emails could get very lengthy if every question is asked virtually!)
Coaches typically try a variety of ways to interact with their teaching colleagues. Blending an approach is a solid way to incorporate both the learning and the communication styles.

How do you blend your approach to foster communication with your teaching colleagues?