By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, April 6, 2020

Do you think of yourself as a change agent helping others to change? Better yet, do you think of yourself as being able to change? “If you’re shackled to who you are now, you can’t recognize -or reach for – who you might become next” (McKinsey & Company. January 2020 article).

In this article, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Zafer Gedeon Achi claim that “…we systematically fall for optical illusions and how our loss-aversion reflex biases our choices.” That is true… our beliefs and philosophies certainly influence how we think and the actions we take. Some of us are risk takers and some are risk averse. Where are you?

I often say that instructional coaching must be ego-less and peppered with mistakes. This article, however, reminds me that it is human to protect one’s ego and identity, especially if we are threatened as can be the case when we receive feedback. So ego happens. Perhaps the goal must be that once ego rears its head, it is the individual’s responsibility to dig deeper and see what it is that causes the fear of knowing and admitting.

They called this the “identity mindtrap” where we are blinded to growth opportunities because we are fixed in our beliefs and actions. While we want to think about staying relevant in an ever-changing world, we actually focus on protecting who we are and not who we might become. In essence, we are trapped by our own egos making change near impossible.

Be mindful… don’t fall into the trap and prevent yourself from growing and learning. How can you encourage others to grow if you have a fixed mindset and won’t step out of the box? That level of “civil discomfort” may cause a frustration that results in a positive evolution of self.

How do you ensure your growth and forward thinking?


Saturday, March 21, 2020

I think Charles Dickens was on to something when he wrote, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

As I sit in my house self-isolating, I vacillate between fear and uncertainty, and the "this, too, shall pass" hopes. And, I marvel at the wonderful way several people have offered to purchase food for the elderly, pick up prescriptions, and deliver necessities to those who are unable to do these tasks. I applaud those who are adhering to the social distancing behavior that is necessary for containment. At the same time, I wonder about those who do not recognize the severity of the health emergency and continue to ignore the warnings.

Let this be an awakening for all of us to reflect and answer these questions that a colleague sent to me from a Facebook post:
  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
  3. What expectations of "normal" am I letting go of today?
  4. How am I getting outside today?
  5. How am I moving my body today?
  6. What beauty am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
So, it is truly the worst of times we have ever seen but let's all hope and pray that the best in us will shine and help each other through this catastrophic crisis.

Stay healthy!

Friday, March 6, 2020

I just read a report entitled, “Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development” out of the UK Department for Education. This report has determined the following standards for schools:
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

Although we have embraced professional learning rather than professional development as our standards, these are relevant for our work. Each standard provides clarity of what should be recognized as effective professional development.

For example, #1 above indicates that effective PD has explicit relevance to participants; individual activities link logically to the intended pupil outcomes; and the PD involves ongoing evaluation of how changes in practice impact student outcomes. #2 includes effective PD develops practice and theory together; links pedagogy to content; has an evidentiary trail to support it; is supported by those with expertise and knowledge to help participants improve their understanding of evidence; and challenges teachers’ beliefs and expectations about teaching and learning. # 3 suggests collegial problem solving; discussions about practice and supporting students with similar needs; challenging existing practices to elicit multiple perspectives; and support from someone in a coaching and/or mentoring role to provide modeling and challenge. #4 above suggests that PD is iterative and needs ongoing support and follow up; may include singular activities as part of a PD plan; and includes opportunities for experimentation, reflection, feedback, and evaluation. #5 suggests leadership of PD needs to be clear about how student outcomes are improved; clear curriculum and vision are transparent, modeling PD is an expectation for all; time and resources are available to support the PD; and that priority and professional trust are critical for success.

Wow… sounds like a recipe for effective instructional coaching and mentoring.

What do you think?

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?