By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?

Friday, May 4, 2018

In a recent webinar about asking the right kind of questions in a coaching interaction, one participant suggested this question, “What are you struggling with right now?” As much as I think that question might open a dialogue, I’m concerned because it sounds like the interviewer (coach) assumes the person (teacher) with whom s/he is engaged in conversation is struggling with something.  That sounds like a deficit model to me and that’s the antithesis of effective instructional coaching.

Not every conversation is based on a struggle… a challenge, maybe, but not necessarily a struggle. For instance, I may be engaged in a conversation with an art teacher who wants to expose her/his students to multiple artists from the same time period who use different approaches in their work. Does that mean I’m struggling with something specific or does that mean that I’m interested in discussing a variety of ways to approach the goals for the lesson? I say it’s the latter… I want to engage in a conversation with the coach around multiple perspectives with a multitude of artists… not necessarily a struggle.

Coaches need to demonstrate and model that conversations are borne out of interest and need, not just need. It is a balance between thinking about what we want to do and debriefing about what just happened. We want to establish relationships with our teaching colleagues that offer opportunities to engage in conversation around effective instructional practices, not just those practices that may be indicative of struggle. Remember, coaching is not a deficit model; it’s a model that focuses on helping teachers get better at their craft, not a “fixit” model to correct something that is wrong.

So, be mindful that conversations in the planning stage, or the “before” are not always about problems; conversations, however, in the debriefing or the “after” are always related to the data collection and classroom visit co-planned by the teacher and coach.

How do you balance the questions you ask so that they are not focusing on specific challenges but rather on conversations that focus on data to improve practice?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Going to an international conference is awesome. We just returned from presenting at the ASCD Empower 18 Conference in Boston and met so many like-minded practitioners… it was incredible to see how many coaches and administrators were at the conference. Instructional Coaching is truly becoming a household word! And, we almost sold out of our book!!

What really struck me was the variety of definitions for instructional coaching. I always say if you put 10 people in a room and ask them to define the instructional coaching role, there would be 10 different definitions… my thinking was confirmed!

The variations ran the gamut… coaches pulling out students for tutoring, discipline, and missed assignments to coaches described as helping hands so they duplicate materials, go on trips, sit in on IEPs as the teacher on record, and “judge” various school contests, all part of their “coaching” roles. Some coaches do not get a chance to meet one-on-one with their teaching colleagues because coaching is voluntary, and some teachers still think the coach’s visit is an observation. (That’s why we differentiate between coach visits and administrative observations.)

What’s clear to me about the cloudy description of the coaching role is that we need to ensure that everyone in the school community understands what instructional coaching is, how it can benefit the students, teachers, and school. We need to focus on how coaching can help the school community achieve individual and collective goals. We need to build awareness and then remind our “investors” that instructional coaching is a job-embedded teacher professional development model that is a confidential, safe, non-evaluative way to help student learning and teacher practice grow. It’s not a deficit model but rather a model that honors both the students and teachers by providing ample opportunities for learning to take place at all levels, every day, all day. 

We need to remind ourselves that each and every day, coaches help teachers change and improve their practice and increase student engagement and outcomes. If we do that every day, we are on the right path.

How do you ensure that your school community understands how instructional coaching helps achieve school wide improvement and recognizes your coaching role in that process ?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

How do you handle an angry or negative response to a question you asked? This question surfaced at a recent webinar.

That never happens, right? WRONG! This situation can absolutely happen, especially if the coaching relationship has not been established and the coach is not viewed as a trusted colleague. How the coach handles the situation makes all the difference in establishing a healthy coaching relationship.

If the coach is not familiar with the teacher’s beliefs and practices, then most likely, there has not been a conversation about how those beliefs influence practice. Without that conversation, how does the coach know which approach to the coaching interaction will “feel” appropriate? If there has not been a conversation about how students learn and grow, then the questions the coach asks could be perceived as intimidating and threatening. To avoid this situation, coaches must establish relationships with their teaching colleagues and help them understand the role and function of an instructional coach before they engage in conversations about practice. That's the "before the before" conversation!

How about this…If the coaching conversation is mandated by the principal, the teacher’s response might not be warm and fuzzy. After all, how many teachers are comfortable being forced to have a conversation about their teaching skills when they don’t know if the coach is evaluating them and reporting to the principal? The coach must build trust before asking questions. On the other hand, if the coach’s role has been shared and made explicit to the staff with the coach making his/her expectations visible and then the principal suggests that the teacher contact the instructional coach for support, that would most likely result in a positive response.

Remember, coaching is not a “fixit” model. Coaches are not there to “fix” what’s wrong with anyone’s instructional delivery. The coach is there as a trusted colleague, an experienced practitioner who helps teachers recognize their full potential and take ownership of their own learning. The coach helps guide; the teacher does the rest. 

How have you handled a response that was angry or negative? How did you turn that around into something positive?