By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Part III…What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

Continued from November 1…

Step six… write an action plan about how you will move practice forward.
Your action plan needs to include a short-range goal, a mid-range goal, and a long-range goal. Use the plan as a self-assessment tool and take the pulse of where you are at each point. To help create the action plan, look at the Levels of Intensity for Coaches (detailed LOI and summary LOI) for guidance as you plan your schedule and activities. If you created a needs assessment as suggested previously and have that information, use it to populate the topics for your mini professional learning sessions. 

These mini professional learning sessions will generate the coach’s one-on-one conversations and the BDA (before, during, and after) cycle of coaching is born!

Step seven…
Rome was not built in a day! Welcoming a coach into a teacher’s classroom is not automatic. It takes time and work to build awareness and a shared understanding of what instructional coach is and is not. Think about the teachers with whom you will be working… what kind of support will they need and what preparation do you need to provide them with ongoing support. One-on-one visits can be challenging if the coaching relationship is not strong. Take the pulse of the situation and remember that instructional coaching is not a “fix it” model; it’s an opportunity for colleagues to work together in ways that strengthen instructional practice.

Work with the willing and build on the previous year’s successes. Remember, a coach is a partner, not a supervisor, administrator, whistle-blower, or evaluator. Keep reminding the staff through your actions and words that the coaching/teaching relationship is non-evaluative and risk-free. It’s a place where mistakes are encouraged so that learning takes place. You are not an expert and together, you and your colleagues will understand that two heads are definitely better than one! Establish those relationships first and then begin to move practice forward slowly and surely!

What strategy has worked for you in transitioning from a teaching position to a coaching position?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Part II…What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

In the last blog entry, I suggested three initial steps for coaches to move into the coaching role from a teaching position in the same school. The key to remember is that coaches are not experts; they are learning collaborators in a partnership and must maintain confidentiality to gain and sustain trust which is the most important quality in the teaching/coaching relationship. Remember, most teachers have experienced the administrator observing practice; they are not experienced with the idea of having a colleague visit (not observe) classrooms with the purpose of talking about practice. This is not a common practice in places without instructional coaches.

Once the coach and leadership team have shared the expectations with the staff and the coach has begun the ongoing process of engaging colleagues in conversations about school wide improvement, the focus shifts… slowly at first but in very deliberate ways.

Step four… the coach needs to “outfit” a coaching space so that conversations with teachers can be private and inviting. This is space where the teacher feels comfortable meeting with the coach and have resources for the teachers to explore and to exchange ideas and promising practices with each other. It is a risk-free environment that shouts, “collaboration is the norm!” The coach needs to plan a schedule so that the teachers know the coach’s availability. This schedule needs to incorporate the teacher’s schedules as well so that the coach offers an opportunity for all teachers to have access to the coach.

Step five… once the coach has walked around the building and engaged in conversations about the school wide goals and co-constructed a needs assessment, the coach has an idea of the kinds of topics to offer for mini professional learning sessions. Go back to the source… the teachers… and invite colleagues to co-facilitate/co-present on topics of interest. You may or may not have some “early adopters.” Start small… once or twice a month offer mini sessions multiple times during the day so that teachers can “float” into the coaching space to share that professional learning with you. This is especially effective if a teaching colleague joins the coach. Next time, ask each participant to bring a friend! Rome wasn’t built in a day so the first few times may feel like you are talking to yourself but don’t give up… it will catch on!

To be continued…
What strategy has worked for you in transitioning from a teaching position to a coaching position?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

At our October professional learning conference facilitated by the PIIC mentors, coaches, and, I asked coaches to submit questions they had about their practice and moving teachers forward. The questions were wonderful and really get to the heart of coaching. In the next few blogs, I will answer some of these questions and hope that my answers generate lots of conversations between and among coaches, mentors, and teachers.

What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

This question is a really important topic for coaches who have become a “senior among their peers” and moved from teaching to coaching in the same building. The coach is not really a “senior among peers” but many colleagues may perceive the new coaching position as a “promotion” even though there is no salary increase for it. This may be because the teaching staff is not aware of the coaching model, role, or expectations. As a result, the relationship in the building must be re-negotiated (in a positive way).

First things first… the coach and administrative team need to be on the same page and share a vision about instructional coaching. That means that the communication needs to be transparent and explicit about how coaching can help the school achieve its goals for school wide improvement. The coach needs to be prepared and understand the role so that it can be discussed and communicated clearly to the administrative team and staff. It is important for the administrative team and coach together to “roll out” the coaching model to the staff with the expectations shared. That way, there is no misunderstanding about what the coaching role involves. At that time, the idea of confidentiality between the coach and teacher must be shared along with the understanding that the coach and administrative team will communicate regularly about school wide goals, not about performance or evaluation. If you started the year without this mutual understanding, you need to get on the agenda for the next faculty meeting and share this with the staff.

Second step… talk to the “emissaries of good will” aka, your friends on staff, and ask them how they feel about instructional coaching, e.g., what makes them comfortable/uncomfortable with the idea of instructional coaching; would they like to co-facilitate a mini professional learning session with you; can you “practice” the before conversation with them, etc. Notice that I did not say to offer a co-teaching or modeling session. That comes after the coaching interactions and solid working relationships are established.

Step three… collaborate with your colleagues and co-construct a needs assessment, i.e., how do you think the school wide goals for improvement can be accomplished; what would you like to know more about; what kind of topics would be helpful to offer as mini professional learning sessions, etc. This way, the teachers’ voices can be heard. Be sure to tailor the “ask” so it is not a venting session!

To be continued…How did you re-negotiate your role in your building?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

About 8 weeks into the new school year and the question I’ve been asked most often is, “How can I create a schedule where I can support every one who needs it?”

Great question, especially if a coach is struggling to support every teacher. Just remember, not every teacher needs or wants the same kind of support. That’s why instructional coaching is a differentiated approach to teacher and school support.

Ever think of the cohort approach? In order to create this kind of structure, the coach needs to first analyze, not evaluate, the kind of support the teacher needs. For instance, coaches can support teachers according to three different levels. Some teachers need intensive support; they may be new teachers or teachers who are teaching new content. They want the coach to support them frequently and give them the confidence they need to move their practice forward. Some teachers need strategic support; they are able to move their students forward but need some support for a defined period of time. And, some teachers are independent and want to share some ideas with you but do not necessary want or need to follow the BDA cycle of consultation more than once or twice a semester.

In a cohort approach, the coach might group teachers together who don’t need the same kind of support which would allow the coach to provide a differentiated approach to the varied needs. Or, perhaps the coach groups the teachers according to content or grade level. Then, the coach could ask teachers to “buddy up” and the collaboration is built into the cohort work. This is not a PLC necessarily but could be thought of as one, especially if the group shares a vision and goals for their work.   

Regardless of the type of support needed, the coach must really think about the needs of the students and how the teachers can meet those needs. This will help define the kind of support the coach provides.

How do you generate your schedule to provide support to the teachers you coach?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

What is the difference between the “art” and “craft” of  teaching?

Ever wonder how some teachers just “get it” and some don’t? Some teachers can have their students eating right out of their hands while others struggle with the same students?

That’s what I call the “art of teaching.” Some may know their content (the science of teaching) and not be able to share their knowledge with their students while others just have the knack for engaging their students.

I like to think of the “art of teaching” as the teacher’s personality and the ethos of caring. Some teachers certainly understand the social-emotional fragility of students. They understand what their students need “outside” of the eligible content. These are things a test can’t measure.

Take for instance the teacher from Waddell Language Academy in North Carolina. He asked parents to hand write a note to their child so that on a particularly difficult day, the child could take out the note and read a wonderful, loving, positive message from a parent. This teacher wanted his 7th grade students to hear their parents’ voices in their moments of stress and anxiety.

I call this the “art of teaching.”

It is critical that coaches help teachers connect emotionally to the school community and really get to know their students and families. That doesn’t mean home visits and phone calls every night are necessary; it does mean, however, that teachers need to know what triggers their students’ stress and anxiety. They need to know that when students suffer, they cannot learn until those stresses and anxieties are relieved.

Those are the coaching interactions that are not based on demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy; these are conversations based on coaches helping teachers establish a culture in their classrooms of respect, rapport, and most of all, safety. Those are the conversations that get to the heart of teaching and learning and answer the question, “What are the obstacles that prevent my students from learning?”

What are some of the ways coaches help teachers understand, cope, and relieve their students’ anxieties?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Coaches often ask me about modeling in class and its effectiveness. I think a lot about this question because I’ve been there! For several years in my beginning coach career, I modeled classes several times a day in a block schedule. I loved it because it kept me in touch with the students, but did it help the teachers? Not a bit. For a long time when I visited, I couldn’t understand why the teachers were not modeling and replicating what I did.

I clearly didn’t understand the idea of “gradual release of responsibility” and didn’t get that I was “modeling” without co-constructing goals for the lesson. The teachers also didn’t understand the expectations because we never discussed them prior to me agreeing to model in their classes. We had limited conversations that started with, “What do you want me to do?” and ended with me saying, “Great, I love to teach that content!” VoilĂ … I was modeling!

 What didn’t I understand? I didn’t understand that modeling was purpose driven.

I didn’t have a purpose… at least not a valid one. I wanted to stay in touch; helping teachers grow their practice was not my focus. I thought it was; after all, we talked about me “showing” how to teach a unit lesson. I expected the teachers to just “model” what I did in their classes. Wasn’t that the purpose of modeling?

Coaches have a responsibility NOT to take over but that’s not to say they do not engage in a co-teaching situation. That’s a very different role and purpose and needs to be clearly discussed, deliberated, and delivered. It demonstrates the collaborative nature of coaching; shows the students that learning together is important; and it removes the temptation for a student to say, “You’re not my teacher” or “I wish you were my teacher” both being equally as embarrassing for the teacher and the coach.

So, don’t be shy to model; be prudent, though, in co-constructing the purpose and goals in the before; share the responsibilities in the during; and be equally as involved in the after because that process is truly collaborative.

When do you co-teach and when do you model?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Coaching is deliberate… that means that every coach and teacher need a collaborative plan to work together. The plan needs to be intentional and clearly indicate the targeted goals for the work. Because time is precious, and teachers need every minute they have to plan, prepare, and practice, the time spent together must be dedicated and devoted to setting the goals, addressing the goals, putting the goals into action, and then reflecting on the strength of those goals and if the intended outcomes were met. Every coaching interaction is purposeful and planned.

This is not to say that coaches should not knock on a teacher’s door and give a cheery greeting. In fact, starting the day with the coach circulating around the building greeting the staff is a wonderful way to begin. However, that’s not a coaching interaction; that’s a salutation, not the way to facilitate a conversation about practice. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a quick conversation provides maximum support… it doesn’t.

So, what does that mean?

It means that coaches need to engage in an internal planning process for each colleague… coaches need to think about how they will work with their teaching colleagues and decide what questions they will ask as they begin their instructional coaching journey with those colleagues. Each colleague is different and each one will have different goals depending on the students they teach. The coach’s role is to help the teacher “sort out” the kinds of goals they think are important for helping their students reach their fullest potential.

That means that the coach has to prepare in advance (“before the before”) and then ask the kinds of questions in the “before” that will help the teacher move students forward. At the same time, the coach is helping the teacher move his/her practice forward as well. In the “during” phase, the coach and teacher both have a job to do as identified in the “before.” Determining if the goals yielded the expected outcomes is discussed in the “after.” These phases are premeditated (in a good way!) and each phase has a plan with definitive steps to follow.

Don’t confuse a quick “hello” with the more purposeful conversation that occurs about practice. The distinction is clear… a greeting is one thing; talking about practice is engaging in communication that speaks to effective instructional delivery and collective problem-solving.

What’s your plan for engaging in ongoing conversations with your teaching colleagues?