By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the June 20, 2016 Education Week Teacher section, Amy Shapiro, a math teacher wrote about her experiences teaching math and science and how those experiences changed her thinking and ultimately, her instructional practices. She came to an amazing realization: “I believe that the key to creating a classroom environment with a true symbiotic relationship between teaching and learning is writing, so next year, my students will be doing a lot of it.”

She mentions in her blog that she recognizes the importance of students learning to solve problems and to talk to one another about those solutions but more importantly … “to teach them to write about their strategies and thought processes, or they will always struggle to exhibit their mathematical understandings.”  She also reflects and realizes that she must assess her students’ strengths and needs appropriately and prepare herself to meet the changing demands of her students by examining their progress and addressing their needs in ways that will help them become successful.

Wow, where have you heard that… “using evidence-based literacy practices” in all content areas?

Writing is part of literacy. Instructional coaches remind teachers about the importance and necessity of writing across the curriculum. They help teachers collaborate so that talking about writing becomes the norm, not the exception. They help dispel the myth that writing only occurs in English class.

Remember to build in ample opportunities for teachers to work collaboratively and cooperatively around the integration of writing in every class, every day. Help them understand the significance of writing to learn; scaffold ways to help them integrate writing into their work through John Collins writing, “Do Nows,” Tickets Out/In the Door, and other strategies to increase the amount of daily writing. Help teachers work with students to talk about their writing and what they’ve learned through the writing process.

What are some of the ways you work with teachers to help them enhance their students’ writing skills?

Friday, October 7, 2016

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.” Washington Irving

Coaching has often been symbolized as a stagecoach, depicting the journey between stations. Much the same can be said about instructional coaching; it is the journey of a scaffolded approach to teaching and learning. Instructional coaches work with their teaching colleagues to promote growth and identify ways to grow as a learner and reflective practitioner. And, it is often accompanied by some bruising; that is, the recognition that some instructional practices are not effective and need to be adjusted. Or, what I thought I did, in fact, was not what really happened.

This kind of “bruising” is critical to making changes in practice, the primary function of an instructional coach. Yes, coaches help teacher collect data; yes, coaches help teachers identify professional goals for growth; yes, coaches help teachers navigate curriculums, standards, assessment tools, and many other elements of effective instruction. But none of this is done in isolation or without ongoing dialogue.

I think most people want change but don’t want to be the first one to experience it. You know, “You go first!” Our teaching colleagues may know something must change but not know how to make those changes. So, while one bruise may supplant another, rest assured that every instructional decision creates a “shift in position” that will lead to another bruise. But, with time and continued conversations, being proactive and addressing those changes will result in fewer “bruises” and more practitioner driven resolutions!

What kind of “bruising” have you noticed in your coaching interactions? How have the practitioners with whom you work tackled their bumps and bruises?

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?