By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Although coaching is situational and contextual, we all experience some common “interruptions” to the coaching cycle. Those commonalities or similarities in coaching interactions help us define trends and offer various ways to address these situations when they occur.

We call those disruptions problems of practice and we all face them in our coaching practice. To tackle these, we must make time for reflection. We must identify the challenges, the root issues, and behaviors necessary to address them while moving towards positive outcomes. Remember, however, that coaches help their teaching colleagues resolve their own issues through the art of effective questioning, not by telling their colleagues what to do. It’s all about coaches asking the right questions so that their teaching colleagues reflect and share their thinking, offering multiple opportunities to talk things through to resolution.

In a recent ASCD SmartBrief (July 14, 2016), a survey from ED PULSE found these results in answer to the question, “What is the most common problem of practice you face as a teacher leader?” Coaches, take note… the number one problem of practice is establishing relationships with colleagues and creating a collaborative culture. Interesting… coaches cannot coach unless the environment (physical and emotional) is conducive for change.  That can only happen through the development of trusting relationships.

Relationships with colleagues/collaborative culture
Effective use of structured meeting times
Navigating difficult conversations
Current structures to utilize leadership capabilities
Facilitating effective teams
Building trust (colleagues and administration)
Knowledge of adult learning/working with adults

What is the most common problem of practice that surfaces in your coaching interactions?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Welcome back! The new school year has begun with teachers, coaches, administrators, students, and parents asking what happened to the summer?? Now think back to last April and May when your thoughts were hovering on the impossible, “I wish I had done …” or “I wanted to do this but didn’t get around to it.” You were probably agonizing over what you didn’t do instead of celebrating the successes of your teaching colleagues.

August is the start of a new school year. (Unless, of course, you worked all summer thinking, planning, wondering, hoping, and actually getting your room ready; sound familiar?) The excitement, energy, and promise to make changes and new commitments take possession of your body and soul. You are ready to jump in with both feet and hit the ground running. You’ve learned many things last year and want to ensure that this year begins on solid footing, supporting a shared vision that builds on previous years’ accomplishments.

So, here are some words of wisdom:
                 1) Remind your teaching colleagues of the “coaching habit” and BDA process of
                     consultation; the conversations are where reality surfaces and change occurs.
                 2) Organize your work and plan your schedule of coaching support; remember, the
                      coaching process is deliberate, targeted, non-evaluative, and descriptive.
                 3) Provide feedback: “nice” is sweet, like candy, but it doesn’t change practice; make
                      sure your feedback is specific, descriptive, intentional, reflective and data driven;
                 4) Focus on a systems approach to school improvement; how can coaching help
                     schools accomplish the goals for school wide improvement;
                 5) Be productive: engage your teaching colleagues in ongoing conversations about
                     teaching and learning and move them to the next level of attainment.

What are your goals for the new year? How will you build on last year’s accomplishments?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thinking about and planning for a new school year is refreshing, energizing, challenging, and anxiety producing, all at the same time. As instructional coaches, we’ve tried to shut down our brains for the summer but that doesn’t work. We continuously wonder how to help teachers get better at their craft and encourage them to explore new ways to engage students. We want to throw teachers a lifeline to keep them connected to each other, to the school community, and to the teaching profession.

Did you know that after the first year, 15% of new teachers leave the profession and another 14% change schools (Ingersoll & Smith, 2003; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004)? That is staggering. With instructional coaching, that rope is extended and becomes a safety net for all teachers, not just for the newly appointed ones.

All teachers need to feel valued, appreciated, understood, and recognized for the strengths they bring to the classroom. Instructional coaches sustain the momentum, break down the walls of isolation, and ensure that teachers practice with each other.

As you create your action plan to support teachers, focus on the questions that will change practice: “What am I doing as a coach to help teachers change and improve their practice” and “What am I doing as a coach to help teachers increase student engagement and influence learning?”

Lead by example, preserve ways to collaborate, foster open communication, and support teachers in implementing literacy practices across all content areas. Be respectful, persistent, goal-oriented, and focused on helping teachers reach their fullest potential and improve learning for all.

See you in September!

How are you planning for the new school year?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

By now, you have started your summer vacation... rest, relaxation, rejuvenation! This is a wonderful time to think about all the ways you've helped your teaching colleagues become more reflective practitioners and how your coaching practices have changed as well. Take time to think and plan new ways to re-connect with your colleagues in September. Enjoy the sun and surf! See you in late August for more blogs about instructional coaching!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In my previous blog, I wrote about administrators and teachers participating in the same professional development sessions. Since that time, I’ve had several conversations (about 12) with teachers, coaches, and administrators asking them their views about sharing their learnings while attending the same sessions.

The views expressed were very interesting. Out of 5 administrators, 4 indicated that they were more comfortable learning about what was shared after the sessions rather than learning with their coaches or teachers at the same sessions. They felt that their presence might hinder the learning because the teachers or coaches might not ask important questions for fear of appearing needy or unqualified for their jobs. One administrator was shocked that I asked her the question. She felt it was very important to show her staff the importance she placed on a shared vision for continuous learning.

Of the 7 teachers/coaches to whom I posed the question, 2 were also uncomfortable with having their administrators present during the same professional development session. They felt that their administrators might think less of their performance if they asked questions. However, these same two teachers were comfortable if their school administrators were present during a session where information was shared by their district administrators because those sessions were more “information dumping” sessions than sessions that required some “product.” Also interesting was that these two teachers would have no qualms if administrators other than their own attended the same professional development sessions as they did.

The 5 remaining teachers/coaches shared a much more collaborative approach to joint participation. They felt that their administrators would want to share in their learning and they would welcome their participation. They thought that was one way to ensure that they were all on the same page and the expectations from those sessions were heard by all. Only one of the 5 teachers said that he could see both sides of the issue and felt that the decision about sharing the learning should be determined by the content, e.g., talking about something specifically addressing school climate should be a joint session but that talking about effective lesson design should be targeted to teachers only to remove the feeling of any potential inadequacy. 

What are the advantages or disadvantages of teachers and administrators attending the same professional development sessions?
Peter DeWitt’s opinion about why administrators and teachers don’t (or won’t) attend the same professional development sessions (Education Week blog May 5) really hit home. So many times, it feels like the professional development is provided because the staff “needs” it but those that lead do not. That is, the leaders can tell us what to do because we need it but not engage in the learning with us because that might be “beneath” their status in schools. After all, isn’t a leader supposed to know everything there is about teaching and learning? How can a leader work side-by-side with teachers and admit that the information shared is either new or not easily understood?

That’s funny… I always thought that learning next to my neighbor was a very effective way to ensure that we all heard the same message and that the ensuing conversations about what we heard and how we would use it was the real learning. I never thought that professional development was “leveled” according to the job title that was held. If so, collaboration and engaging in professional dialogue would definitely be out of the question!

One of the critical attributes of effective school environments is that administrators support the notion of ongoing learning and continual improvement. This cannot happen if the administrators do not think attending the professional development and learning with the staff are important. Or, that professional development is important enough to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to learn and practice together. It’s all about the partnerships and the effectiveness of team learning, team work, and team conversations.

How do the administrators in your school promote and practice the notion that all staff, including themselves, have ample opportunities to learn together?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Every instructional coach faces the dilemma of wanting to help teachers refine their practices and understanding that not every teacher wants to change. Once recognized, the coach must balance the outreach with a little nagging and nurturing, and lots of patience. Just because the coach “sees” something from the outside does not necessarily mean that the teacher does too!

Yes, coaches want to help teachers identify effective instructional strategies and practices but not every teacher acknowledges that going from good to great means reflecting on practices and deciding which ones need to be slightly tweaked, which ones need to be strengthened, and which ones need to be eliminated from their teaching toolboxes.

Over time, coaches experience these situations: 1) early adopters who want to go from “good to great”; 2) silver-bullet adopters who want a coach to immediately try and “fix” their practices; 3) resistant adopters who claim, “I already do that so what else can you show me”; and 4) reluctant adopters who emphatically state, “That’s not what we do here because our students are different.”

Ah, the never-ending battle with the good, bad, and ugly of instructional coaching!

Coaches really have to think about the appropriate approaches to their teaching colleagues and realize that coaching is not a cookie cutter process. Not one size fits all… in fact, coaches very often need to try several approaches with each individual as they navigate the different teaching environments. And, what works one time may not work a second or third time. That’s the beauty of a differentiated structure created to establish relationships and foster healthy transparent communication between and among colleagues. Every significant coaching situation is unique and results in shared learning for all. But because the coach and teacher are coming together with slightly different motives, the coach needs to remember that not every teaching colleague understands what change really means and how to embrace it. Coaches need to tread lightly initially while helping teachers focus on school wide improvement and building their students’ capacity for growth.  

What approaches have you used to address those who want you to engage in the “fixit” model of instructional coaching or who have “dared” you to help them try something new?