By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?
Peter DeWitt’s opinion about why administrators and teachers don’t (or won’t) attend the same professional development sessions (Education Week blog May 5) really hit home. So many times, it feels like the professional development is provided because the staff “needs” it but those that lead do not. That is, the leaders can tell us what to do because we need it but not engage in the learning with us because that might be “beneath” their status in schools. After all, isn’t a leader supposed to know everything there is about teaching and learning? How can a leader work side-by-side with teachers and admit that the information shared is either new or not easily understood?

That’s funny… I always thought that learning next to my neighbor was a very effective way to ensure that we all heard the same message and that the ensuing conversations about what we heard and how we would use it was the real learning. I never thought that professional development was “leveled” according to the job title that was held. If so, collaboration and engaging in professional dialogue would definitely be out of the question!

One of the critical attributes of effective school environments is that administrators support the notion of ongoing learning and continual improvement. This cannot happen if the administrators do not think attending the professional development and learning with the staff are important. Or, that professional development is important enough to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to learn and practice together. It’s all about the partnerships and the effectiveness of team learning, team work, and team conversations.

How do the administrators in your school promote and practice the notion that all staff, including themselves, have ample opportunities to learn together?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Every instructional coach faces the dilemma of wanting to help teachers refine their practices and understanding that not every teacher wants to change. Once recognized, the coach must balance the outreach with a little nagging and nurturing, and lots of patience. Just because the coach “sees” something from the outside does not necessarily mean that the teacher does too!

Yes, coaches want to help teachers identify effective instructional strategies and practices but not every teacher acknowledges that going from good to great means reflecting on practices and deciding which ones need to be slightly tweaked, which ones need to be strengthened, and which ones need to be eliminated from their teaching toolboxes.

Over time, coaches experience these situations: 1) early adopters who want to go from “good to great”; 2) silver-bullet adopters who want a coach to immediately try and “fix” their practices; 3) resistant adopters who claim, “I already do that so what else can you show me”; and 4) reluctant adopters who emphatically state, “That’s not what we do here because our students are different.”

Ah, the never-ending battle with the good, bad, and ugly of instructional coaching!

Coaches really have to think about the appropriate approaches to their teaching colleagues and realize that coaching is not a cookie cutter process. Not one size fits all… in fact, coaches very often need to try several approaches with each individual as they navigate the different teaching environments. And, what works one time may not work a second or third time. That’s the beauty of a differentiated structure created to establish relationships and foster healthy transparent communication between and among colleagues. Every significant coaching situation is unique and results in shared learning for all. But because the coach and teacher are coming together with slightly different motives, the coach needs to remember that not every teaching colleague understands what change really means and how to embrace it. Coaches need to tread lightly initially while helping teachers focus on school wide improvement and building their students’ capacity for growth.  

What approaches have you used to address those who want you to engage in the “fixit” model of instructional coaching or who have “dared” you to help them try something new?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

This year, tax day was April 18 because Washington, D.C. was celebrating Emancipation Day on April 15. That gave you three extra days to collect all of your paperwork and file your return. Three extra days to either continue scrambling around or relaxing before you mailed your returns at midnight! So, what how is this related to instructional coaching?

The tax season is a time for reflection, gathering not only your receipts but also gathering your thoughts about the receipts you misplaced, accidentally discarded, or decided were not usable.  It’s a time to think about what is owed to you, what you owe, or what deductions you should have thought about making, recording, and submitting.

Okay… so it’s a stretch to connect taxes to coaching but let’s think for a moment… this is the time of year that the statewide testing cycle rears its spring time head and consumes many of our coaches’ daily lives. PSSA test administration began April 11 and finishes with the make-up exams in early May. Keystone Exams begin in May and then are administered again in August. Teachers are worried about their students’ performance and ultimately, their own. They worry if they have “taught” the information that will be included in these statewide student performance assessments.

Time to reflect and time to answer “What have you done as a coach to help teachers change and improve their practice” and “What are you doing as a coach to help teachers increase student engagement and improve student learning”?

Following the before, during, and after (BDA) cycle of consultation provides the structure and focus when reflecting with teachers. Remember, you are on the side of helping teachers become more reflective practitioners and to really think about the instructional decisions they make. Some states have content focused coaches; some states have grade-level coaches; and other states have coaches who focus on technology integration and digital learning. Regardless of the targeted focus, instructional coaches should all follow the BDA cycle and engage their teaching colleagues in coaching conversations that change practice. That means that “pushing in” and working with the adults is what changes practice, not the “pulling out” and working with students who need extra support in understanding a specific content. (I do, however, think tutoring students is very important but that’s not coaching.)

Fidelity, ubiquity, and dosage… stay true to the BDA coaching cycle and engage your teaching colleagues in meaningful dialogue; offer to collaborate with all of your teaching colleagues, differentiated to meet their needs; and provide ample opportunities to work with your colleagues consistently and continuously.

How have your reflections helped you plan strategically and how have the teachers with whom you work reflected with you and become more deliberate in their instructional decisions?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Improving professional development is always a key topic for our nation’s educators. But how do we expand the professional development to become professional learning and why do we need to do that?

A US Department of Education analysis of 49 state equity plans found that improving or expanding professional learning was the most common identified strategy for eliminating equity gaps (U.S. DOE Office of State Support, 2015). Since worker training in the U.S. is a $400 billion industry (Carnevale & Smith, 2013), perhaps now is the appropriate time to look at the planning and designing of professional learning outside of education. That’s exactly what Learning Forward and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders did. They collaborated and co-published a recent report entitled, “Looking Outside Education: What School Leaders Can Learn About Professional Learning from Other Industries. 

Here are the “best” practices from other professions that school leaders can adapt to meet their schools’ needs:
• Growth mindset: Fostering a culture that values continuous improvement;
• Deliberately developmental organizations: Reinforcing the notion that learning from mistakes is valuable;
• Simulations: Crafting scenario-driven practice for “real time” responses;
• Video review, reflection, and coaching: Using virtual and digital communications to blend the approach for ongoing support;
• Ongoing, role-specific training and support: Preparing for changes in future roles and/or positions with proactive thinking and learning;
• Context-relevant training and support: Providing learning that is current, relevant, tied to practice, and data;
• Mentoring and sponsorship: Offering continuous encouragement and time for reflective practice through ongoing support
• Employee resource groups: Creating groups with similar interests/job-alike roles who support each other  

What do you think? Can educators learn how to improve professional learning from those “outside” of the education world? Which of the above are doable in your school or district?