By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Welcome to the new school year!

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. We want to make sure we help them answer these questions: “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 improve student outcomes.”

But what looms in front of us is the staggering rate at which new teachers leave the profession.

44% of new teachers leave teaching within five years ( and often leave at a higher rate than many other professions. And, they leave for a variety of reasons.

In 2018, teachers surveyed (as reported in Education Week, Dec. 2018) indicated that 18% said that leadership is key in job satisfaction while 17% said salary considerations were a factor. 17% also said school climate was a factor in staying or leaving the job. Different reasons but the same outcome. So, how do we address this issue and sustain the teaching staff so that every student is in a classroom with a highly effective teacher?

Teacher retention is not just about salary; it’s about a change in culture, climate, beliefs, and practices so that teachers feel supported. All teachers need to feel valued, appreciated, understood, and recognized for the strengths they bring to the classroom.

Enter the instructional coach!

Instructional coaches sustain the momentum, break down the walls of isolation, and ensure that teachers practice with each other. Make sure you 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. Ensure that your coaching interactions are in that “judgement free” zone that supports reflection and mid-stream adjustments in teaching. Help teachers plan, review their plans, and revise them where needed. Be that “elbow to elbow” learning partner and provide that lifeline for all teachers, not just the novice ones.

How are you planning for the new school year?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Are you a coach or a consultant?

What an interesting question… this topic surfaced when I was recently talking with one of our instructional mentors, aka the coach’s coach, in the work she was doing. So, I decided to do a little thinking about the business sector to see the definition of each and if I agreed.
Initially, I thought about how I would define the two terms and realized that to the inexperienced, the two terms probably seem interchangeable. But, they really are not… in coaching, there is no expert. The coach’s role is to help the “coachee” reach his/her fullest potential by being a learner and deciding the goals and direction to pursue. The coach helps the learner be the architect of the learning; they don’t “tell” the individual what is needed or identify the goals for him/her. There is no “should” in coaching; there is only, “what if” in a coaching interaction. There is a partnership that is formed for the purpose of resolving issues so that practice can move forward. The coach’s goal is targeted on the individual, i.e., how the coach helps the teacher enhance practice.
In consulting, an outsider is brought to the table to identify the “errors” and to “fix” the situation. There is no experimentation; they are there to make the right decisions and to give the answers so the problems are solved. The consultant’s goal focuses on the task at hand; that is, here is the problem and here is the solution… do it! They are not there to encourage collaboration; they are there to present solutions to an exposed problem.
Forbes states that “Coaching can help turn an entrepreneur into a great leader. Consulting provides that much-needed expertise and assistance. Oftentimes, the lines between coaching and consulting can get blurred, creating a situation that is not effective at providing what the client actually needs.”
What are you… a coach or a consultant?

Monday, May 20, 2019

I love it… this is exactly the message we want to convey to teachers, administrators, students and other school leaders… “failure is a part of teaching…” and it’s also a part of learning.

The April 19 EdWeek blog says it all… Lory Peroff expresses the good, the bad, and the ugly about teaching. She bears the pain and the joy of her experiences and shares them in a way that is recognizable to every teacher. After all, teaching gives us the “highest highs” and the “lowest lows” possible… the lights go on and it’s the best day; no lights shine, and we hang our heads in shame.

I used to say that I wished my last two classes were my first two classes. I learned so much from my students during the day that I was definitely a different teacher by the end of the day and I felt that I shortchanged my morning students on many days that I started a new unit or used new resources!

But, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be that way. What was I thinking when I hid my discomfort? What did I deny my students when I didn’t reach out for support? Why didn’t I think my professional growth was important? I know why… I didn’t have the luxury of working with a trusted colleague, aka an instructional coach.  I was too much like Lory trying to be the perfect teacher, one that others could come to for support but not willing to ask anyone else for support; I was not willing to admit what I didn’t know.

Lory’s advice is what we all need and should commit to following: reflect – in, on, and about action enables problem-solving; make a plan and follow it while reflecting on what worked effectively; find support – learning is social; try it out – practicing with an instructional coach makes a difference; be real and admit when change is needed.

Word of caution… for those schools that claim, “Failure is not an option,” think about how to change that attitude… failure is the only option that creates change.

How do you promote the idea of learning from your failures?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I just read a blog from EdTech titled, “How K-12 Schools Should Define and Act on Digital Learning” (April 11, 2019). The gist of the article was about blending traditional learning with digital learning thus transforming a traditional classroom. The author, Brian Seymour, reminds his readers that defining the term “blended” is critical before the “blending” process begins.

His phrase, tradigital, refers to his district’s “hybrid version of the traditional classroom and a digital learning environment.” Good to know… I think that this definition accurately describes the merging of the two styles of teaching. But, is this an accurate description of the learning that takes place when the teaching styles are fused?

I don’t agree with his comment that a traditional teacher usually begins teaching as a lecturer, using digital tools infrequently and data only when expedient. I think when a traditional teacher, whatever that might mean, starts out working with an instructional coach and together they identify goals, what follows is a deliberate conversation that recognizes priorities, emphasizes open and transparent conversation, creates multiple opportunities for collaboration, and reinforces the notion that everyone is a learner – all in a safe environment. Resources and materials are determined according to the goals and priorities set. The tool doesn’t drive the conversation; the goals drive the conversation.

Yes, he mentions that learning needs to be more facilitator/learner centered and addresses individual needs. He also mentions how important data driven decisions are to ensure students are assessed appropriately. I agree.

Can this happen in every class? Probably not but what can happen is making sure that instructional coaches are at the heart of every conversation so that all students are in classrooms with highly effective teachers who understand how to help students make meaning out of text, traditional or non-traditional, digital or non-digital and deepen the learning for all.

As a coach, how are you able to help teachers “blend” their environment so that students are exposed to both traditional and non-traditional teaching styles?

Monday, April 15, 2019

In continuing the conversation from our April 1st blog, this study states that “teacher coaching is able to improve student outcomes because of the interventions’ specific attention to teachers’ core classroom practices” ( Teacher Coaching, Kraft & Blazar).

That’s the good news! 

Yet, I find the word “intervention” antithetical to my thinking. An intervention is something that interrupts or disrupts a practice or routine – maybe even an invasion of sorts. That is quite negative and very often is single focused. The purpose may be positive – to change a behavior – but the connotation and even the practice is pretty grim from my perspective.

Instead, I think coaching is a positive introspective and reflective process that does not have a beginning and end. Rather, it is an ongoing, persistent involvement and connection to something that becomes more and more effective as time goes on. While the coaching interaction begins with the end in mind, e.g., increase student engagement, the process gets stronger each day and reinforces the notion that professional learning is continual.

Teacher engagement and school climate: Bringing coaching to scale likely would include a prescriptive approach, requiring teachers who may be hesitant or resistant to engage in the coaching process to take part. This may be understandable given an expanded emphasis on linking scores from classroom observation rubrics to high-stakes job decisions. However, coaching is unlikely to be successful without teachers’ openness to feedback and willingness to adapt their practice. Here, school leaders have a key role to play in creating a culture of trust and respect among administrators and staff in order to ease teachers’ concerns and increase their willingness to actively engage. 

Absolutely… if coaching is mandated, the resistance will be insurmountable. The administrative team and the coach need a shared vision of what instructional coaching is and isn’t. This must be shared with the staff so that everyone is on the same page. When the vision and expectations are explicit, the goals are clear and misunderstanding is minimized. Of course, the administrative team, coaches, and staff must uphold the parameters of the instructional coaching model and remain supportive, confidential, and working towards the same goal – building teacher capacity and influencing student growth.

Coaching interactions are not “fixit” situations. Coaches and their teaching colleagues work together to find the balance that works for them. A blended approach, e.g., F2F and virtual, has merit, especially if the stakeholders meet together and plan what support is F2F and what support is virtual. Either way, I stand strong… coaching is not an intervention; it’s a way of life to help all stakeholders, students and their teachers, to go from “good to great!”

How is coaching in your building more than just an intervention for increasing student engagement and changing school climate?

Monday, April 1, 2019

In July 2018, Ed Week published a blog entitled, “Instructional Coaching Works, Says a New Analysis. But There’s a Catch” (Madeline Will, Teacher Beat). The researchers, Matthew A. Kraft and David Blazar, tried to answer the questions, “Does one-to-one coaching help teachers get better?
If so, how powerful a strategy might this be to improve teacher practice and student outcomes?

I encourage you to read the study here and see what kind of conclusions you would draw from their meta-analysis. I selected some findings that I thought were interesting. More will follow in the next blog.

But, before you look at this study, remember our research in 2016…FHI360 conducted teacher surveys and found: 89% of the teachers changed their practices as a result of the coaching they received; 100% reported that these changes had a positive impact on student engagement; and 97% reported that these changes had a positive impact on student learning. Our teachers were supported by their coaches and mentors over a three-year period.

This is some of what Kraft and Blazar reported:

Scale: With coaching, the quality of teachers’ instruction improves by as much as—or more than—the difference in effectiveness between a novice and a teacher with five to 10 years of experience, a more positive estimated effect than traditional PD and most other school-based interventions.
However, larger coaching programs are less effective than smaller ones, raising questions about whether coaching can be brought to scale in a way that preserves its impact (Taking Teacher Coaching to Scale, Education Next Fall 2018, Vol. 18, No 4).

As in most cases, just scaling up without a plan to provide the necessary supports for the coaches would diminish the effectiveness of the coaching… if I coached 10 teachers in a cohort approach and now coach 40 teachers with the same amount of time allocated for that coaching, how can I continue my effectiveness?

Coach quality: A fundamental challenge to scaling up coaching programs is finding enough expert coaches able to deliver these services. After all, coaches are the intervention. Most of the studies we examine had only a handful of coaches, many of whom were key program staff or even program developers. Scaling up from a small corps of coaches to a large staff requires new systems for recruiting, selecting, and training coaches. These systems are still largely underdeveloped in most contexts. Research that seeks to understand the characteristics and skills of effective coaches (such as teaching/coaching experience, content knowledge, and rapport with teachers) can aid in the development of these systems.

I think the first misconception here is that coaches are experts. Instructional coaches are skilled and knowledgeable, just like their teaching colleagues. To assume that the teachers are deficient in their skills and need coaching to “fix” them implies that teachers do not have content knowledge. I believe that instructional coaching is more about the instructional delivery across all content areas rather than about the deficits in teachers' content knowledge. Coaches honor the expertise of the teachers and together they remind us that everyone is a member in a community of learning and practice. They learn together and practice together.

The second misconception is that coaching is an intervention which implies a beginning and end. Effective instructional coaching is meant to be ongoing, just like learning. Why do many skilled vocalists, instrumentalists, artists, athletes, and executives continue to work with coaches? They want to continue growing and learning with a thought partner who pushes them to the next level. Coaching is and should be a “way of life” and “way of work” that supports ongoing learning for the teachers and their students.

What are your thoughts about intervention, scale, and coach quality?

Stay tuned for our continued conversation in mid-April!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

It's not about the tool… it’s about the conversation!

Technology is great when it works and even greater when there is an instructional coach in the mix.

Sure, shiny tools and “state of the art” equipment attract like a magnet. But the coaching conversations and interactions that initiate and sustain those dialogues are what make the difference in an effective instructional coaching environment.

The February 14 ASCD Express issue shares some thoughts about integrating technology and coaching. Of course, I like to think that instructional coaches are inclusive; that is, they offer a broad range of support in many different areas with technology as part of and not separate from the big picture. For instance, I wouldn’t take a book or primary source document to a teacher and start the conversation about that resource any more than I would take a type of software to start the conversation. The goals and needs must drive the conversation, not the tool for implementation.

Teachers need to be clear about what they want to teach, why they want to teach “it” and how they will deliver instruction; coaches need to understand the same things, what the teachers need in order to accomplish their goals, and together they discuss the various ways to achieve the intended outcomes. This conversation or series of conversations happen before talking about materials or technology tools. It’s really the “before the before” planning stage.

I believe that the coach’s tools are their ears, heart, and soul… all are needed to understand the myriad complexities of teaching and learning.

The article does clearly list six important elements for successful technology coaching integration: developing coaches, recognizing effective instruction, offering multiple kinds of support, understanding the coaching role, planning for sustainability, and being a learner. Certainly, all effective instructional coaching models need these component parts.

Where are you and your school in the technology/coaching integration support system?