By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Confidentiality and responding to principals will always be issues if the principal does not understand the role, rules, and responsibilities of effective instructional coaching.

One question just emailed to me is, “How do I get my principal to jump onboard and understand that coaching is to support a teacher, not to be used to gain information about a teacher the principals thinks is weak?”

Right from the get-go, the principal is breaching confidentiality by telling the coach there is a weak teacher. Those kinds of discussions are best left to the administrative team whose role and function is to evaluate a teacher’s performance. The minute a principal tells a coach to work with “that weak teacher,” the coaching relationship is compromised. And, here’s a news flash… most teachers in a school are well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching staff! If the coach is mandated to work with “that weak teacher,” the others have already figured out that coaching means working with someone whose practice is considered anemic.

Don’t plunge into that trap.

But, how does a coach avoid that pitfall?

First and foremost, a coach and principal must share a vision and definition of effective instructional coaching. Both have to be on the same page and revisit this definition and vision periodically so the communication is transparent and the goals are front and center.

Second, this vision must be shared with the staff and also revisited so that there are no misunderstandings about the role and expectations of the coaching model. Always refer to school’s plan for improvement and align the coaching goals with those. No one can argue with the idea that effective coaching brings the school closer to accomplishing the goals when those goals are widely disseminated, discussed, and revisited.

If a coach finds him/herself in this predicament, an effective way to handle the situation is to remind the principal that coaching is confidential, an “offstage” dimension in their work. You are happy to share the topics of professional learning that are planned and/or have taken place but sharing a teacher’s performance with the coach is the teacher’s choice, not a coach/principal driven decision. A more promising way for the principal to handle this is to remind the teacher that there is an instructional coach on staff who is happy to help the teacher identify goals, strategies, and effective instructional practices that will yield positive results in teaching and learning.

How do you handle a situation that breaches confidentiality?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

In a recent conversation I had with a relatively new coach, she mentioned that she was worried abut losing “teacher buy-in” with some teachers at this mid-point of the year. I asked why she thought she was “losing” them? What were the signs that made her feel like their coaching interactions were over?

She kept saying that she just “felt” the lack of engagement and commitment from some of the teachers with whom she worked. So, we needed a little soul-searching to get to the bottom of this feeling.

First, we talked a lot about how she was feeling… as you can imagine, she was feeling overwhelmed, under productive, compliance driven, and definitely, “earless.” When I questioned that description, she said that she felt she had no time to listen and that her mandate from the principal was to get into the classrooms and produce (whatever that meant). Hmm… red flags for sure.

All of these feelings are the cumulative effect of not really understanding the role, function, and goals of instructional coaching – from all points of view. It appears that the principal doesn’t really know what to expect from coaching and needs a mid-year refresher course; (I wonder what kind of roll out was provided so that the vision could be shared and questions could be asked) the teachers probably need some reminders as well about the role of the coach and how coaching is designed to help teachers achieve the school wide goals for improvement. And, more importantly, the coach needs to take the pulse of the school’s needs and prioritize what can be accomplished through short range, mid-range, and long-range planning.

Without goals and planning, the acute fear of not producing is paralyzing and overpowering. But remember, coaches are not “bean counters.” Their value is not in the number of teachers they “service” but rather in the ways teachers learn to collaborate and become architects of their own learning so that change occurs. Having a master plan gives direction, design, and data.

We have engaged in a series of our own BDA’s. At this point, the coach is planning three things: 1) chat and chews with the topic of the week; 2) mini contests modeled after March Madness to spark mid-year teacher rejuvenation; and 3) offering raffles for items from local places as “bell ringers” during a mini PD/PL session. These inspired her engagement! These are just the short-range “get involved” kinds of things. The more important conversations about teacher engagement are ongoing and require deep reflection, commitment, and the realization that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

What are some strategies you use to ensure continued teacher engagement in your coaching interactions?  

Monday, December 17, 2018

Be a thought partner, not a micromanager or absentee manager.

In the recent SmartBrief on Leadership issue, there is an interesting blog from Radical Candor. I hadn’t previously read anything published by Candor so this is new for me. I tend to shy away from anything labeled, “Radical” given the nature of our work!

What was interesting in this blog was the question asked, “How can you determine where you fall on this spectrum, so you can learn how to move in the right direction?”

It’s no surprise that Candor suggests that people on your team are more engaged when partnering exists. That’s the mantra of an instructional coach… partner, not dictate; collaborate, not tell, even when the advice is under the guise of guidance.

This blog recommends these actions to ensure a partnership approach:
·  Hands-on, ears on, mouth off
· Displays curiosity and recognizes when more knowledge is needed;
· Listens to problems, predicts problems, brainstorms solutions, and asks why;
· Asks about relevant details;
· Is informed because of a hands-on approach;
· Leads collaborative goal-setting;
· Removes obstacles and defuses explosive situations (coaches are oftentimes intermediaries and

   liaisons minimizing the possibility of any volatile situation)

I agree with most of the above list but the one that sticks out to me in a negative way is the “predicts problems” phrase. Coaches do not predict problems; coaches ask questions that help their teaching colleagues share the “what if” kinds of scenarios. Predictions may become someone’s prophecies; coaches avoid telling a colleague that a problem will occur even if they suspect it will happen. Instead, coaches are thought partners who help their colleagues think through instructional practices, discuss about multiple perspectives and ideas, co-plan strategies to address a myriad of classroom and instructional efforts, and collectively problem solve to find multiple ways to approach teaching and learning.

Are you a micromanager, absentee manager, or a thought partner?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Part III…What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

Continued from November 1…

Step six… write an action plan about how you will move practice forward.
Your action plan needs to include a short-range goal, a mid-range goal, and a long-range goal. Use the plan as a self-assessment tool and take the pulse of where you are at each point. To help create the action plan, look at the Levels of Intensity for Coaches (detailed LOI and summary LOI) for guidance as you plan your schedule and activities. If you created a needs assessment as suggested previously and have that information, use it to populate the topics for your mini professional learning sessions. 

These mini professional learning sessions will generate the coach’s one-on-one conversations and the BDA (before, during, and after) cycle of coaching is born!

Step seven…
Rome was not built in a day! Welcoming a coach into a teacher’s classroom is not automatic. It takes time and work to build awareness and a shared understanding of what instructional coach is and is not. Think about the teachers with whom you will be working… what kind of support will they need and what preparation do you need to provide them with ongoing support. One-on-one visits can be challenging if the coaching relationship is not strong. Take the pulse of the situation and remember that instructional coaching is not a “fix it” model; it’s an opportunity for colleagues to work together in ways that strengthen instructional practice.

Work with the willing and build on the previous year’s successes. Remember, a coach is a partner, not a supervisor, administrator, whistle-blower, or evaluator. Keep reminding the staff through your actions and words that the coaching/teaching relationship is non-evaluative and risk-free. It’s a place where mistakes are encouraged so that learning takes place. You are not an expert and together, you and your colleagues will understand that two heads are definitely better than one! Establish those relationships first and then begin to move practice forward slowly and surely!

What strategy has worked for you in transitioning from a teaching position to a coaching position?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Part II…What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

In the last blog entry, I suggested three initial steps for coaches to move into the coaching role from a teaching position in the same school. The key to remember is that coaches are not experts; they are learning collaborators in a partnership and must maintain confidentiality to gain and sustain trust which is the most important quality in the teaching/coaching relationship. Remember, most teachers have experienced the administrator observing practice; they are not experienced with the idea of having a colleague visit (not observe) classrooms with the purpose of talking about practice. This is not a common practice in places without instructional coaches.

Once the coach and leadership team have shared the expectations with the staff and the coach has begun the ongoing process of engaging colleagues in conversations about school wide improvement, the focus shifts… slowly at first but in very deliberate ways.

Step four… the coach needs to “outfit” a coaching space so that conversations with teachers can be private and inviting. This is space where the teacher feels comfortable meeting with the coach and have resources for the teachers to explore and to exchange ideas and promising practices with each other. It is a risk-free environment that shouts, “collaboration is the norm!” The coach needs to plan a schedule so that the teachers know the coach’s availability. This schedule needs to incorporate the teacher’s schedules as well so that the coach offers an opportunity for all teachers to have access to the coach.

Step five… once the coach has walked around the building and engaged in conversations about the school wide goals and co-constructed a needs assessment, the coach has an idea of the kinds of topics to offer for mini professional learning sessions. Go back to the source… the teachers… and invite colleagues to co-facilitate/co-present on topics of interest. You may or may not have some “early adopters.” Start small… once or twice a month offer mini sessions multiple times during the day so that teachers can “float” into the coaching space to share that professional learning with you. This is especially effective if a teaching colleague joins the coach. Next time, ask each participant to bring a friend! Rome wasn’t built in a day so the first few times may feel like you are talking to yourself but don’t give up… it will catch on!

To be continued…
What strategy has worked for you in transitioning from a teaching position to a coaching position?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

At our October professional learning conference facilitated by the PIIC mentors, coaches, and, I asked coaches to submit questions they had about their practice and moving teachers forward. The questions were wonderful and really get to the heart of coaching. In the next few blogs, I will answer some of these questions and hope that my answers generate lots of conversations between and among coaches, mentors, and teachers.

What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

This question is a really important topic for coaches who have become a “senior among their peers” and moved from teaching to coaching in the same building. The coach is not really a “senior among peers” but many colleagues may perceive the new coaching position as a “promotion” even though there is no salary increase for it. This may be because the teaching staff is not aware of the coaching model, role, or expectations. As a result, the relationship in the building must be re-negotiated (in a positive way).

First things first… the coach and administrative team need to be on the same page and share a vision about instructional coaching. That means that the communication needs to be transparent and explicit about how coaching can help the school achieve its goals for school wide improvement. The coach needs to be prepared and understand the role so that it can be discussed and communicated clearly to the administrative team and staff. It is important for the administrative team and coach together to “roll out” the coaching model to the staff with the expectations shared. That way, there is no misunderstanding about what the coaching role involves. At that time, the idea of confidentiality between the coach and teacher must be shared along with the understanding that the coach and administrative team will communicate regularly about school wide goals, not about performance or evaluation. If you started the year without this mutual understanding, you need to get on the agenda for the next faculty meeting and share this with the staff.

Second step… talk to the “emissaries of good will” aka, your friends on staff, and ask them how they feel about instructional coaching, e.g., what makes them comfortable/uncomfortable with the idea of instructional coaching; would they like to co-facilitate a mini professional learning session with you; can you “practice” the before conversation with them, etc. Notice that I did not say to offer a co-teaching or modeling session. That comes after the coaching interactions and solid working relationships are established.

Step three… collaborate with your colleagues and co-construct a needs assessment, i.e., how do you think the school wide goals for improvement can be accomplished; what would you like to know more about; what kind of topics would be helpful to offer as mini professional learning sessions, etc. This way, the teachers’ voices can be heard. Be sure to tailor the “ask” so it is not a venting session!

To be continued…How did you re-negotiate your role in your building?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

About 8 weeks into the new school year and the question I’ve been asked most often is, “How can I create a schedule where I can support every one who needs it?”

Great question, especially if a coach is struggling to support every teacher. Just remember, not every teacher needs or wants the same kind of support. That’s why instructional coaching is a differentiated approach to teacher and school support.

Ever think of the cohort approach? In order to create this kind of structure, the coach needs to first analyze, not evaluate, the kind of support the teacher needs. For instance, coaches can support teachers according to three different levels. Some teachers need intensive support; they may be new teachers or teachers who are teaching new content. They want the coach to support them frequently and give them the confidence they need to move their practice forward. Some teachers need strategic support; they are able to move their students forward but need some support for a defined period of time. And, some teachers are independent and want to share some ideas with you but do not necessary want or need to follow the BDA cycle of consultation more than once or twice a semester.

In a cohort approach, the coach might group teachers together who don’t need the same kind of support which would allow the coach to provide a differentiated approach to the varied needs. Or, perhaps the coach groups the teachers according to content or grade level. Then, the coach could ask teachers to “buddy up” and the collaboration is built into the cohort work. This is not a PLC necessarily but could be thought of as one, especially if the group shares a vision and goals for their work.   

Regardless of the type of support needed, the coach must really think about the needs of the students and how the teachers can meet those needs. This will help define the kind of support the coach provides.

How do you generate your schedule to provide support to the teachers you coach?