By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

To send or not to send… that is the question… how do we figure out the answer to this highly politicized and polarizing question? What are we sacrificing either way?
The New York Times, July 23 offered these three suggestions:

  • 1    Establish “Pandemic pods” otherwise referred to as “microschools.” This option provides an opportunity for families to hire private teachers, tutors, or “instructors” to teach a group of children in someone’s home or other controlled environment. Of course, this will continue to widen the gap between the “haves” and “have nots.” Again, the racial divide rears its ugly head. One NY University professor suggests that these privileged families invite other children from families who cannot afford to buy this service on their own into their “pod”;
  • 2      Rethink the configuration within a building. Schools will need much more space if the number of students is halved so that social distancing can be followed. More room means the need to “repurpose gyms and cafeterias.” Or, holding classes outside in portable structures where space is not an issue. Think for a moment when classrooms without walls was the trend… we all taught in hallways, lobbies, or in those huge cafeterias along with several other teachers. This time, the placement would need to be deliberate to prevent the transmission of the virus. Of course, these students still leave their classrooms and travel back home where distancing may not be a reality;
  • 3      Design a hybrid model. This hybrid is not necessarily that students have a combination of attending F2F and virtual school. This is where some students stay in their homes and connect virtually while their classmates who do not have that capability would go to buildings/classrooms converted for virtual use so that everyone connects virtually. A variation of this theme is to have all high school students engage in distance learning and the elementary students work F2F in buildings that have been repurposed for elementary use.
Each district’s decision is certainly a unique one. I applaud all school communities that are making these incredibly difficult decisions to offer remote, F2F, and/or the blended approach as we move into the next school year. Certainly, this is new territory for all of us and may clear heads and hearts prevail.

As a coach, what are some of the strategies you will employ to promote ongoing communication and help teachers navigate the new school term?

Friday, July 17, 2020

I’ve said many times that you can’t change a culture in a school through emails, newsletters, or memos. Those are all necessary, however, to keep the communication going but it doesn’t really change anything. I think the same thing is true about providing resources and tools… they don’t really help to make long-term changes in thinking although they may add another small dimension to something that is happening in the classroom.

Culture is changed through conversation and communication. And, conversation is dependent on building relationships that are established through ongoing communication.

Think of your own family… does anything really change in the long term unless you talk about “it” in person? (And many times, the talking about “it” must happen frequently and consistently to make sure whatever you are trying to change gets heard! 😊)

Relationships change culture. But how are those relationships built?

Instructional coaches are incredibly adept at understanding adult learners and their needs. Coaches are trustworthy, respectful, understanding, experienced, deliberate, reflective, and focused on helping teachers reach their full potential and take ownership of their actions. One conversation at a time is how coaching starts and it continues by supporting teachers and keeping the lines of communication open. These conversations, even in the time of COVID-19, are confidential and non-evaluative, encouraging teachers to make data-driven decisions that will make a difference in their students’ learning.

So, instructional coaches, even though you have spent from March until June in the distance learning world and you may start the year in a remote environment again, you’ve learned a tremendous amount about helping teachers meet the needs of their students. Some things will remain the same either in a F2F environment or a remote one. One of those things is to keep that communication going via phone calls, Zoom calls, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, or other modes of remote F2F communication. Do not let the environment make you forget what helps to create a culture… talk, talk, talk!

What is your communication plan as you work with teachers this coming school year?


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

In a recent Edutopia issue (June 26), the topic is about mentoring new teachers in a remote environment. The author offers six tips to build teacher capacity, promote teacher agency, and support the classroom focus. I think we all recognize that these three goals are critical in supporting teachers either virtually or in person. Are they really that different in a virtual environment? Haven’t instructional coaches always worked to help teachers grow and take ownership of their own learning? I think these goals are the same; how they are implemented is the difference.

While the six tips are essential for establishing a culture of collective growth, building and sustaining relationships is probably the most important, especially since many of us feel disconnected to our students and to each other during this unprecedented time. It’s a lonely place to find oneself only connected through a digital platform; the loss of control and fear of the unknown fuels the stress levels.

So, here are the six strategies for mentoring (and certainly for instructional coaching) remotely:

  1.   Meet weekly in a live platform; it’s helpful to see each other in real time.
  2.  Continue to plan your meetings consistently; keep your routines.
  3.  Take time to reflect on the year’s action plans; how will they need to change for next year?
  4.  Let videos be your friend…direct instruction videos can be uploaded to UTube and reviewed with the coach. Or, schedule the “during” to visit and view a part of the teacher’s class lesson, especially one where the coach and teacher planned together in the “before.” Feedback through videos can be very helpful.
  5.  Focus on building and sustaining relationships; it is difficult to start coaching virtually if you and the teacher have not established a trusting relationship. One word of caution…contact many but do not expect to establish a relationship virtually that you have not done in person.
  6. Reach out to the teachers you coach and/or mentor to remind them that although you are practicing social distancing in a remote environment, you are there to support teaching and learning wherever they occur.

What tips can you add to this list?


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” says George Bernard Shaw. Can you argue with that? I don’t think so… in fact, I believe that communication will either make you or break you.

And, before the world as we know it changed, we might have been annoyed with the social media blitz that has permeated our microcosm of society – our schools. But now, that social media blitz, Google Meets, Skype, and Zoom, etc., are keeping us all connected to each other.

Before the pandemic, I started writing about the assault of cyber bullying and the sharing of personal pictures for the world to see. Now, I’m grateful for the myriad ways our teachers, instructional coaches, students, and parents have stayed connected ensuring they are kept “in the loop” for all things Covid-19 related.

To say that this coronavirus has changed our current environs is an understatement. It has changed more than our lives… it has changed us for the future. But, that is not all a bad thing. There are unseen benefits, aka silver linings, in every experience and this one is no exception.

In talking with a number of instructional coaches and teachers, we’ve discovered many new learnings have emerged from our virtual world. Here are some of the positives they both mentioned:

1)      More frequent contacts and engagement with instructional coaches

2)      Deeper questions about content

3)      Increased desire to learn more about technology tools

4)      Multiple opportunities to discuss integrating technology into instruction

5)      More time spent in planning for instruction

6)      More time spent in reflecting about instruction

7)      Heightened understanding about student engagement and its importance in student achievement

8)      Extended time for teachers to work with students who need support

9)      Flexibility to plan extension activities to enhance their students’ learning 

10) Ongoing practice using technology

There were, however, a few negatives:

1)     Lack of personal contact and seeing students F2F

2)     Not being able to answer questions in real time unless the session was LIVE

3)     Not being able to “single” out students who needed the extra ‘touch’ of recognition

4)     Learning is social and without F2F contact, students, teachers, and instructional coaches are less social

5)      Absence of synchronous collaborative learning and collegial sharing

Clearly, the positives outweigh the negatives. But my burning questions are, “What have we learned that will help us prepare for the next school year? What am I taking with me as the next year begins?

So, what have you learned about teaching and learning through this pandemic?



Thursday, May 14, 2020

Larry Ferlazzo, a blogger for EdWeek Teacher wrote an interesting blog on May 13. “Districts can use the remaining weeks for intense work with at-risk students or for training teachers” is the title. He suggests that “we might be going about this whole ‘distance learning’ thing all wrong.”

 

Not many would admit to doing the wrong thing, yet teachers are doing “emergency teaching” and asking parents to do the same thing. Is what they are doing effective? Is it wrong? Most are inundated with creating YouTube videos, screencasting lessons, zoom morning and afternoon meetings, and a plethora of other things to ensure that students participate, are engaged, and motivated in their own learning.

 

But Larry reminds us that the end of the year is always a tricky time… after statewide testing, collecting books (if they are used), spring break, early finals, and the general feeling that the year is over, what’s important in keeping students involved? What do we offer students to keep their interest? Is it the grades, the activities, the social piece? Can we use this time more sensibly?

 

He also reminds us what the data say "… students learn at twice the rate in the first semester as in the second semester" (Kuhfeld, Megan, and James Soland. (). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University). How must our teaching change in the second half of the year?

So, knowing what we know and are experiencing, how effective are schools now in finishing the year instead of being proactive and planning for the next one? His final question captures it all: “…What could the next two years look like if educators spent several weeks now learning and planning instead of ending the year, as many will, drained and discouraged?” Can our time be better spent being proactive rather than reactive? I think we know the answer.

But in the meantime, kudos to all the teachers, parents, students, coaches, mentors, and administrators… you are rock stars!

As a coach, how are you planning and preparing for a school year that will start very differently this September than September 2019?


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

At an alarming rate, more and more of us are suffering with our biggest rival – time! We “fill our plates” with so many things that need to be done that we sometimes forget that “less is more” and the importance of being deliberate and intentional in our work. And, of course, instructional coaching and mentoring are dependent on the time we need to provide a blended approach to support our teaching colleagues. That is, making time for F2F and virtual communication not only to answer questions but to really help our colleagues reach their fullest potential and to become more reflective practitioners. We need to work smarter, not harder, and not fall into a rut.

A recent SmartBrief on Leadership publication included an article from a Forbes newsletter by CDC Foundation President and CEO, Judy Monroe. In the article, Dr. Monroe shared five ideas for a successful professional career. And although not specific to education, I think these five are applicable to any and all professions:

1)     Step out of the box and embrace new opportunities that may bring unexpected results. Sometimes, we rely on the old tried and true and continue in that same pattern because we’ve always “done it that way.” Don’t waste time on something that doesn’t yield the intended outcomes; try something new and enjoy the learning;

2)     Take a risk and give yourself permission to learn as you go. Here she mentions that she learns from her own mistakes as well as from others’ mistakes… that makes my heart sing!

3)     Pay attention to the big picture and not just the details… what do you want to accomplish at the end of the day… not just the checklist of minutiae;

4)     Recognize the reality of work-life-integration since balance may not be a consistent practicable goal;

5)     Practice making time to disconnect, not just finding time to detach from workplace madness!

I would add one more thing…be honest to yourself and your colleagues. You are ONE person… remind yourself that collaboration and team building are even more important when time or lack of time is an issue. Strive for a shared vision for schoolwide improvement… that makes a difference!

What can you add to the above list for a successful workplace environment?


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Each morning as I dry my hair, I notice the gray coming in stronger and stronger. But the color is only secondary to the fact that I am sorely in need of a haircut! I am quite sure we are all in the same boat. Each day is like Groundhog Day and I’ve never been quite so happy to go to the senior hour at the grocery store to buy the items that will last two weeks. All kidding aside, the current state of the world is daunting and overwhelming when we think about where we are now and how things used to be.

That leads me right to the path of the teachers, students, parents, coaches, mentors, and administrators who are doing a yeoman’s job in creating a culture and climate that is conducive for distance learning. I am in awe at the work you are doing to try and provide a consistent and productive learning environment for the students – many of whom do not have the equipment, facilities, skills, or knowledge to complete their digital learning requirements. I am in awe of the determination you have in providing remediation, enrichment, and planned instruction support to teachers. This is truly an example of differentiation and how coaches are not only integral to the process but critical to the process of teaching and learning.

Thank you for all you are doing now and for your future work as you navigate through your own teaching challenges, support your own families, and ensure that our students and teachers are managing the best they can under these extraordinary circumstances. Be mindful and “in the moment” when talking with teachers; keep the lines of communication open; be kind and understanding; and be a good listener… all tools in your toolbox! Stay positive, safe, and healthy.

Do you have any tips? Please share them.