By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In the December 2017 issue of The Learning Professional, Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh reiterates what we know about collaboration and adult learning; that is, learning is social and learning together makes a difference. Unfortunately, just getting together without clear goals and actionable items, does not make a collaborative approach particularly useful or effective.

Stephanie suggests five important fundamentals to integrate when developing the standards for collaborative work: 1) Clarity of purpose where teachers can share intentional goals for the learning and make deliberate plans to work together towards achieving these goals. A shared vision creates a community. These goals are meaningful and not amorphous. They lead towards action; 2) Norms of collaboration where colleagues respect one another and collectively decide what is important and how the goals will be achieved; 3) Resource allocation is critical and where administration plays an important role. Teacher teams need to be given ample opportunities to work together in an environment that welcomes creativity and collective problem solving. The teachers’ voices need to be heard and honored in a non-evaluative setting; creative problem-solving where a variety of perspectives are shared helps encourage “thinking out of the box”; 4) Facilitation and support are essential in keeping the flow of the meeting moving in a positive direction; the place for venting is different than a place for making recommendations for school wide improvement. Facilitation is a skill and it is different from presenting a professional development session; 5) Accountability for results is important when collective responsibility is the norm and all staff are considered members in a community of learning and practice… one for all and all for one!

As a coach, which of these fundamentals are you able to encourage in your school wide collaborative planning?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My son recently sent me a few blogs about the growth of technology companies and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the attributes the managers of the tech companies seek in their employees and the striking similarities to the field of instructional coaching. They want employees who can handle freedom (take initiative), accept personal accountability (be at the right place at the right time), and possess a constructive measure of humility (they appreciate learning from others).  I would venture to say that these attributes are closely aligned to what we believe is important for instructional coaches and implementing an effective instructional coaching model.

I was intrigued by the companies who intentionally design their top-level management structures to include ways to break down the silos that force separation of information. It appears they are trying to help their employees create collaborative environments that encourage shared thinking around data so that all perspectives can be taken into consideration when designing company-wide improvements and identifying industry trends. They are highlighting the merits of the team approach and collective responsibility, all the while keeping the “client or customer” front and center.

If that doesn’t sound like what we are trying to accomplish with instructional coaching, I don’t know what does!

What are some strategies you have encouraged in your school to enhance collaboration and shared thinking? How does this collective thinking help achieve your school wide improvement goals?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ever the English teacher, I’m drawn to articles, blogs, and commentaries about what amazing things happen in the English classroom where students are reading the literature that set my heart on fire so many years ago (and continues to do so!) as a student in a large urban school district. In fact, I’m drawn to anything and everything that shares innovative ideas that engage students, regardless of the content areas!

I’ve been reading a lot about how schools can help students engage more in their learning. Of course, we all want students to take ownership of their learning and try to offer them multiple opportunities for self-directed learning. We want them to WANT to learn; we want them to LIKE school. Unfortunately, some students are disenfranchised, and their teachers might not know how to pull them back into a learning mode. They might not know a variety of ways to provide “peak moments” (borrowed from Education Week, January 18) in learning. You know, peak moments like the one I experienced when our book was published! (I will never forget that celebratory moment.)

Students can experience those peak moments if their teachers are able to create ongoing instances for those moments to occur. Here’s why instructional coaching is so critical… instructional coaches create the circumstances where colleagues collaborate and talk about practice. The more teaching colleagues talk about teaching and learning, the more likely it is that those “peak moments” can become the norm in classrooms. Sharing ideas and multiple ways to approach effective instructional delivery is essential for student and teacher success.

As a coach, how do you help teachers create those “peak moments” that define the classroom experience?

Monday, January 15, 2018

We just returned from another amazing 3-day Professional Learning Conference from the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). This is the only conference that I know about where the presenters and facilitators are the practitioners in the schools represented at the conference! They truly show that the collective wisdom of any room where they are collaborating is chock full of incredible talents, insights, and multiple skill sets. The power in those sessions with such skilled coaches, mentors, and other school leaders was palpable. It was an interactive, collegial atmosphere where no one feared what they didn’t know… everyone just absorbed and shared their learnings in rooms full of like-minded professionals.

Every experience level from novice to advanced was represented in our 24 breakout sessions. The sessions were all geared to helping instructional coaches help teachers move their students forward while moving their own practice forward. It was a time and place for the coaches and their colleagues from across the state to talk about practice and how to navigate statewide initiatives for which they are responsibly supporting. It was a time and place for all the participants to discuss what they were doing, how to do “it,” and share ways to continue learning and growing.

One thing that was clear during the mini discussions I had with coaches was that in schools where the coaching role and model were not discussed prior to implementation and a shared vision for school wide improvement made visible, the struggle with helping the staff understand how coaching can help the school community accomplish the school wide goals for improvement continues to be a barrier to effective implementation.

If your school has not shared the vision with the staff, it’s not too late. In fact, a mid-year review is a perfect time to remind, or in some cases build awareness, of how instructional coaching is a job-embedded professional development/learning model for teachers. Don’t let the rest of the year go by without reminding the staff what you do, how you do “it,” and why you do “it.”

How do you continually remind the staff of your role and your instructional coaching responsibilities?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year! As we embark on this new year, I bet we all have resolutions that if we are lucky, we haven’t broken yet! Several of my friends talk about getting in shape and being healthy. Of all the people who talk about resolutions, however, no one ever said to me that the goal was to work harder in school! Imagine that!!

But, I do get a lot of “What am I supposed to do” and “How do I do ‘it’ when so many other things cry for attention.

It’s all about priorities and a shared vision for school wide improvement. What do the stakeholders in your school think about student achievement and building teacher capacity? What do they think about the notion of teachers working together to plan, deliver, and debrief their instructional practices?

First things first… how do we define instructional coaching? Have we made our school staff aware that Instructional coaching is a sustainable teacher professional development model designed to help teachers get better at what they do? Have we reminded them that coaching is part of a whole-school improvement strategy that fosters collective problem-solving and offers highly targeted professional development embedded in teachers’ daily work. Have we demonstrated how Instructional coaches provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders focused on classroom practices to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity and improve student learning? It’s mid-year… take some time to remind your staff why instructional coaching is so important to the health of your school.

There is a joint ownership for student and staff learning. Coaches help create and support this idea. Changing perceptions can be challenging though and coaches need to practice and advocate how non-evaluative practices are collaborative, confidential, and critical to success. They must show that changing practice creates a change in belief. It’s a great time of year to re-adjust our thinking and actions.

How do you help the stakeholders in your school understand what you do and how you do “it”?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Compliance vs. engagement… so what does that mean? I actually think of these terms in similar ways as I do about cooperation vs. collaboration. Sure, compliance is agreement but is that all we want from our work with teachers? Is that all they want when working with their students? 

I don’t think so… I think instructional coaches want to engage the teachers with whom they work in productive, analytical, and thought-provoking conversations that yield changes in practice. I think they want more than teachers who just cooperate; I think they want to work with teachers in ways that promote questioning, quiet disruption, and inquiry.

The coaches that I’ve met want to ensure that their work with teachers is relevant, tied to practice, demanding, and at the same time, culturally sensitive, differentiated according to need, and creates a culture of learning for all students. They want to take ownership and be the architects of their own learning; they want to help build their students’ capacity as learners as well.

So, is that compliance or is that engagement? How do I help teachers move from compliance to engagement so that their students can move from simple obedience to premediated, purposeful learning? How do coaches navigate their coaching roles when they are forced to use a checklist and be the “enforcer” or compliance “police”?

I think compliance means that the group goes along with the “flavor of the day” and hope that “this, too, shall pass.” I think engagement means that each stakeholder has an integral part in creating a shared understanding, learning, and support system because the collective and individual responsibilities are recognized.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

In a recent Learning Deeply Education Week blog entitled, “What’s Behind the Plateau in Test Scores?” Robert Rothman comments on the reasons why test scores have remained stagnant despite the multitude of instructional practices implemented at all levels. Of course, trends are identified over a period of time and practices can be adjusted to address those trends. We just have to collect the appropriate data that gives us the information we need. Then, we must identify ways to appropriately apply the data that we collect.

So, test scores plateau… what about teacher practices?

According to Jane Hannaway, an Urban Institute researcher, teacher performance plateaus at four years. “Teachers work in isolation. They learn what they learn and then they plateau. They get no valid input.”

In the same opinion piece, the director of PISA for OECD said what is needed to sustain a steady pattern of growth “… is a greater investment in improving teaching.”

Mr. Rothman further states that “To improve performance overall, schools need to enable more students to demonstrate deeper levels of learning--to be able to apply their knowledge to think critically and solve complex problems. That takes a different kind of instruction--one that provides students with opportunities to reflect on their learning, to take part in extended projects, and to produce real products for real audiences.”

Instructional coaching provides multiple opportunities for teaching colleagues to collaborate and talk about promising practices that help teachers focus on continuous improvement. Coaches encourage their colleagues to continuously reflect and engage in conversations that focus on teaching and learning, not just on one activity or one tool that is a means to an end. “Attaining high levels of learning for all students is not a matter of doing more of the same. It will take a different kind of teaching.” I believe that it takes instructional coaching working with colleagues and reflecting in, on, and about practice that will make a difference in classrooms.

So, how can instructional coaches and mentors be proactive and prevent the plateaus that impact both student and teacher performance?