By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Coaches often ask me about modeling in class and its effectiveness. I think a lot about this question because I’ve been there! For several years in my beginning coach career, I modeled classes several times a day in a block schedule. I loved it because it kept me in touch with the students, but did it help the teachers? Not a bit. For a long time when I visited, I couldn’t understand why the teachers were not modeling and replicating what I did.

I clearly didn’t understand the idea of “gradual release of responsibility” and didn’t get that I was “modeling” without co-constructing goals for the lesson. The teachers also didn’t understand the expectations because we never discussed them prior to me agreeing to model in their classes. We had limited conversations that started with, “What do you want me to do?” and ended with me saying, “Great, I love to teach that content!” VoilĂ … I was modeling!

 What didn’t I understand? I didn’t understand that modeling was purpose driven.

I didn’t have a purpose… at least not a valid one. I wanted to stay in touch; helping teachers grow their practice was not my focus. I thought it was; after all, we talked about me “showing” how to teach a unit lesson. I expected the teachers to just “model” what I did in their classes. Wasn’t that the purpose of modeling?

Coaches have a responsibility NOT to take over but that’s not to say they do not engage in a co-teaching situation. That’s a very different role and purpose and needs to be clearly discussed, deliberated, and delivered. It demonstrates the collaborative nature of coaching; shows the students that learning together is important; and it removes the temptation for a student to say, “You’re not my teacher” or “I wish you were my teacher” both being equally as embarrassing for the teacher and the coach.

So, don’t be shy to model; be prudent, though, in co-constructing the purpose and goals in the before; share the responsibilities in the during; and be equally as involved in the after because that process is truly collaborative.

When do you co-teach and when do you model?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Coaching is deliberate… that means that every coach and teacher need a collaborative plan to work together. The plan needs to be intentional and clearly indicate the targeted goals for the work. Because time is precious, and teachers need every minute they have to plan, prepare, and practice, the time spent together must be dedicated and devoted to setting the goals, addressing the goals, putting the goals into action, and then reflecting on the strength of those goals and if the intended outcomes were met. Every coaching interaction is purposeful and planned.

This is not to say that coaches should not knock on a teacher’s door and give a cheery greeting. In fact, starting the day with the coach circulating around the building greeting the staff is a wonderful way to begin. However, that’s not a coaching interaction; that’s a salutation, not the way to facilitate a conversation about practice. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a quick conversation provides maximum support… it doesn’t.

So, what does that mean?

It means that coaches need to engage in an internal planning process for each colleague… coaches need to think about how they will work with their teaching colleagues and decide what questions they will ask as they begin their instructional coaching journey with those colleagues. Each colleague is different and each one will have different goals depending on the students they teach. The coach’s role is to help the teacher “sort out” the kinds of goals they think are important for helping their students reach their fullest potential.

That means that the coach has to prepare in advance (“before the before”) and then ask the kinds of questions in the “before” that will help the teacher move students forward. At the same time, the coach is helping the teacher move his/her practice forward as well. In the “during” phase, the coach and teacher both have a job to do as identified in the “before.” Determining if the goals yielded the expected outcomes is discussed in the “after.” These phases are premeditated (in a good way!) and each phase has a plan with definitive steps to follow.

Don’t confuse a quick “hello” with the more purposeful conversation that occurs about practice. The distinction is clear… a greeting is one thing; talking about practice is engaging in communication that speaks to effective instructional delivery and collective problem-solving.

What’s your plan for engaging in ongoing conversations with your teaching colleagues?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Summertime and the living is easy… at least until now when we all go into hyper mode and try to capture our thoughts about a new school year, our new classes, many new celebrations, and expected new challenges. And, along with these new beginnings, probably comes some thoughts about change, especially accepting what can and cannot be changed.

 As September rolls around, think about those changes and how you can embrace them. Take your time and reflect on these simple 10 tips adapted from

1. Don’t just do something; sit there…reflect in, on, and about action;
2. Mother yourself a little… let someone else be the decision-maker;
3. Ignore your inner reptile…be trusting and trustworthy;
4. Silence your inner know-it-all… you are not the expert;
5. Seek out new perspectives… tolerance and understanding go a long way;
6. Try something new and slightly scary… think outside of the box;
7. Be skeptical of common wisdom… wisdom is not common…either is common sense!
8. Learn to live with uncertainty… doubt makes you think more and make a plan “B”;
9. Say “really?” a lot… help others make their thinking visible;
10. Shed your old skin… out with the old and in with the new… except for old friends and colleagues!

Think about all the ways you will promote change in your buildings. Remember, coaches and mentors are “change agents.” Ask yourself these two questions every day: 1) What am I doing to help teachers change and improve their practice; and 2) What am I doing to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes?

How will you promote change?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hello, school year 2018. To celebrate the new school year, The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC) has launched. Please follow us as we, too, begin our new journey!

Summertime and the living is easy… at least until August when we go into hyper mode and try to capture our thoughts about new beginnings, a new school year, our new classes, many new celebrations, and expected new challenges. Our bodies may not be ready to go back to school but our hearts and minds never really left in June… the plight of all educators! We continue to think way past the end of the school year.

Knowing that we need to continue driving the movement for improved teaching and learning, please keep Zeus and Skiffington’s inspiration words in mind, “Coaching is a conversation, a dialogue, whereby the coach and the individual interact in a dynamic exchange to achieve goals, enhance performance and move the individual forward to greater success” (Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools, May 2017 pg. 97). So, whether you are a new coach or a veteran, let these words be your guide as you begin your coaching interactions for the year.

Think about these things:

1.      Schedule time to meet with the administrative team to revisit the plan for school wide improvement and how coaching helps to achieve those goals.
2.      Think about reminding the staff about instructional coaching and your role.
3.      Design a coaching cohort approach for the teachers with whom you work, especially if you are working with several teachers.
4.      Create a needs assessment by walking around and talking to your colleagues; the needs will have changed from last year so build on those successes.
5.      Plan some mini professional learning sessions to start the year and generate your one-on-one and small group BDA cycles of consultation.
6.      Create a schedule for support around the BDA cycle, e.g., what is the school schedule for PD days; when and where can you meet each PLC, department, grade level, or individual teachers; when are prep periods, lunch periods, and early dismissal days, etc.?
      Remember, be transparent and always reiterate your role as a non-evaluative, confidential learning partner. I know you'll have a wonderful year!

What are your first steps for the new school year?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

School is almost out for the summer! I bet you can’t believe it’s mid-June already… how time flies when you are having a good time! Or, how fast the days fly as you lament how much more you need to do..

That’s good news and bad news… the bad news is that the year is over and what didn’t get accomplished or addressed this year won’t get done; the good news is that you now have to time to really think about your practices and catch up on the reading you’ve neglected all year.

Wherever you are in the “end-of-year” mode, take the next 8 weeks to relax, rejuvenate, rejoice, and replenish the empathy, integrity, fidelity, and creativity that you need for the 2018-2019 school year. Have a wonderful summer… I’ll still blog but only between reading the books that have made my never-ending list. 

Enjoy the summer and see you in August!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Last month, I wrote a blog about facilitating collegial classroom visits while the coach covers the visiting teacher’s classes. I wanted to continue the thread because I think there’s more to be said. The question I asked at the end of the blog was how could coaches facilitate visitations to foster ongoing conversations about practice? It must have hit home because I’ve had some email inquiries asking me how that process could be accomplished without coaches becoming a substitute for those teachers visiting others.

It really is a challenging issue and a conundrum… coaches want to promote professional growth for all and how can they do that if they are not willing to cover classes? If that were only the case, I could answer it in a few words. But asking that question makes me wonder about the shared understanding of the coaching role. Does the staff understand that coaching is not an “extra pair of hands” but rather a deliberate process that involves thinking, planning, collaboration, facilitation and presentation, and debriefing? Do they understand about collective problem-solving, clear communication, and confidentiality?

Every coach I know would gladly cover classes in an emergency. We all would… all hands-on deck! But for a planned event, e.g., a classroom visitation, that’s not an emergency. When planning visitations, a schedule is needed just like any other planned trip. After all, are coaches expected to cover classes when a field trip is scheduled? If that’s the case, I fear that the coach as a valuable resource is misunderstood, misused, and just plan missed!

So, how does a coach help a teacher visit other colleagues? 1) Bring teachers together to discuss how to schedule visitations and make a plan. 2) If they are willing, perhaps visiting during a prep period works, especially in a block schedule where the visit can be part of the class period; 3) Ask teachers if they are willing to trade coverage periods, e.g., I’ll cover for you if you cover for me; 4) See who else in the building is available, e.g., a counselor who wants to see students in action, a coordinator who doesn’t get a chance to see how students work together, perhaps a librarian who would love to take some time and do a library scavenger hunt with students, or an administrator who wants to get back in touch with students. None of these suggestions are perfect but they could work if the coach and teachers collaborate, discuss the goals of the visitation, and plan a course of action.

How do you or coaches you know schedule classroom visitations in your building?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

One of the responsibilities that some coaches have assumed is offering to cover classes of teachers who want to visit other classrooms. While I think the offer is well intentioned, covering classes is not. Here’s why… when an instructional coach and teacher talk about practice and suggest visiting another colleague’s classroom to see the practice in real time, both parties need to see the same thing at the same time or the translation of what happened will only be seen through one person’s eyes. The feedback will be one-sided, leaving no opportunity for the coach to ask the kinds of questions that promote deep reflection because the coach wasn’t there to bring attention to something that might be overlooked by the visiting teacher.

The undeniable benefit of working with a coach is to talk about the practice viewed by both parties where both have goals for watching that practice. If one of the two is not present, the “analysis” of what happened in that classroom is translated rather than experienced firsthand. The actions are shared via a filter of the person saying what happened. If a teacher tells the coach what happened rather than the coach seeing it firsthand, is the interpretation of events unconsciously biased?

The other issue about one colleague visiting another colleague’s class is the idea of a visit without a “before” conversation. Does the visiting teacher participate in a “before” with the colleague to become acquainted with the lesson’s goals or does the teacher visit without that benefit? How does the visiting teacher know the goals and reflect upon whether the classroom goals were met if there was no pre-visit conversation?

As professional practitioners, we want to share our learning. How we do so is critical. If an administrator assigns a sub to cover a class or colleagues exchange visits so that the coach can accompany each person involved in the visitation schedule, that’s a much more effective way to encourage classroom visits and provide opportunities for the coach to engage in ongoing conversations about practice in a truly collaborative environment.

How can coaches facilitate the opportunity for colleagues to visit their peers in order to foster conversations about classroom practice and student growth?