By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?




Tuesday, October 1, 2019

I recently received an email with a question about a situation that I think we have all encountered. The question was, “How do I keep things in perspective and stay positive?”

Many of us struggle with negative thinking. It happens in our personal lives and in our professional lives and manifests itself in different ways. Some of us experience anxiety and stress while others experience depression and lack of confidence. Regardless of how it reveals itself, we all need to be aware that an intervention is sometimes necessary to help us break out of a negative pattern and recognize the positivity in our experiences.

I am a great believer in lists… I have lists everywhere and sometimes even my lists have lists! The point is that when I feel overwhelmed, I make a list of what needs to be done with columns: one column lists the task; the second column identifies if I actually can influence the outcome; a third column asks for specifics about the task, e.g., time constraints, people involved, etc.; and a fourth column asks for strategies that I think will help me achieve my goal. It sounds unwieldy but it’s not. It helps me put into perspective what I need to do, what I can do, and ideas about how to accomplish the task.

It would be an unrealistic if I didn’t admit that sometimes, I just add to the list and not address what’s there. But, even in those cases, I feel like I can be positive about my tasks because I’ve recognized them and haven’t ignored what I need to do in hopes that they will go away! They don’t become bigger than they already are.

Especially at the beginning of a year, take time to re-assess your goals, needs, and habits. Make those lists and practice reflection. Be clear about perception and reality. Rome wasn’t built in a day and sometimes, “No” is the right answer.

How do you stay positive and spread that positivity to the teachers you coach?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ah… so the new school year is in swing… so many things to do… so little time to do them!

Take a breath and make a list!

As a coach, take a minute to refresh your memory about the school’s goals for school wide improvement. I’m sure changes have been made to last year’s goals… maybe the goals have been enhanced; maybe the goals have been changed; maybe there are new goals to meet the needs of all students. However the goals were determined and shared with staff, take a moment to reflect on the goals and what you need to do in preparation for working with teachers so they support them.

Build on the strengths of each previous year and remember to honor the teachers’ voices. You are not the expert; you are creating a culture where collaboration is the norm and collective problem-solving is the theme for the year. Every teacher has something valuable to contribute to the conversation; bring your teaching colleagues together so that the learning is shared, questioning is encouraged, and practice is discussed – all without risk!

Coaches visit, not observe. Leave that to the administrators. Focus on creating a place where you model positive and valuable relationships, understanding that instructional coaching is not a cookie cutter model…  not everyone is ready at the same time for the same amount or level of instructional coaching support. You need to take time and assess what the teachers need which generates what you need to prepare for a productive school year.

How do you reflect “on, in, and about” your coaching role in preparation for working with your teaching colleagues?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

As the school year begins, our goals are sort of like New Year’s Resolutions… we make them in good faith but then life intervenes! So, what can we do about making realistic goals that both support and challenge our instructional coaching roles?

First things first… think about last year’s accomplishments and build on them. Maybe you accomplished all you set out to do. Or, maybe you only achieved a few of the goals on your list. Either way, re-focus your energies and review the goals you set. If your goals were met, great. Move on with enhancing and building your previous goals. If your goals were not met, take a moment and reflect on why not. Were they specific enough, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely? What exactly did I want to achieve? How did I plan on achieving them? Did I have the right people on the bus with me to accomplish those goals? Was my timeline appropriate and doable? Did I have alternative ways to achieve the goals throughout the course of the commitment? What got in the way of attaining these goals? Did I talk to a trusted colleague about these goals and share possible strategies for reaching them? Remember, two heads are better than one!

As you begin this year, review your role with teachers and administrators so you can continue to promote the culture of professional learning throughout the year. Collaborate with your teaching colleagues and gather the collective wisdom of your group to help develop this year’s coaching toolbox of professional learning offerings. Go back to goal setting and encourage your colleagues to co-create the professional learning plan with you for the year. Plan smart and work smarter!

Have a great year!

What are your first steps in setting goals for the year?