By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” says George Bernard Shaw. Can you argue with that? I don’t think so… in fact, I believe that communication will either make you or break you.

And, before the world as we know it changed, we might have been annoyed with the social media blitz that has permeated our microcosm of society – our schools. But now, that social media blitz, Google Meets, Skype, and Zoom, etc., are keeping us all connected to each other.

Before the pandemic, I started writing about the assault of cyber bullying and the sharing of personal pictures for the world to see. Now, I’m grateful for the myriad ways our teachers, instructional coaches, students, and parents have stayed connected ensuring they are kept “in the loop” for all things Covid-19 related.

To say that this coronavirus has changed our current environs is an understatement. It has changed more than our lives… it has changed us for the future. But, that is not all a bad thing. There are unseen benefits, aka silver linings, in every experience and this one is no exception.

In talking with a number of instructional coaches and teachers, we’ve discovered many new learnings have emerged from our virtual world. Here are some of the positives they both mentioned:

1)      More frequent contacts and engagement with instructional coaches

2)      Deeper questions about content

3)      Increased desire to learn more about technology tools

4)      Multiple opportunities to discuss integrating technology into instruction

5)      More time spent in planning for instruction

6)      More time spent in reflecting about instruction

7)      Heightened understanding about student engagement and its importance in student achievement

8)      Extended time for teachers to work with students who need support

9)      Flexibility to plan extension activities to enhance their students’ learning 

10) Ongoing practice using technology

There were, however, a few negatives:

1)     Lack of personal contact and seeing students F2F

2)     Not being able to answer questions in real time unless the session was LIVE

3)     Not being able to “single” out students who needed the extra ‘touch’ of recognition

4)     Learning is social and without F2F contact, students, teachers, and instructional coaches are less social

5)      Absence of synchronous collaborative learning and collegial sharing

Clearly, the positives outweigh the negatives. But my burning questions are, “What have we learned that will help us prepare for the next school year? What am I taking with me as the next year begins?

So, what have you learned about teaching and learning through this pandemic?



Thursday, May 14, 2020

Larry Ferlazzo, a blogger for EdWeek Teacher wrote an interesting blog on May 13. “Districts can use the remaining weeks for intense work with at-risk students or for training teachers” is the title. He suggests that “we might be going about this whole ‘distance learning’ thing all wrong.”

 

Not many would admit to doing the wrong thing, yet teachers are doing “emergency teaching” and asking parents to do the same thing. Is what they are doing effective? Is it wrong? Most are inundated with creating YouTube videos, screencasting lessons, zoom morning and afternoon meetings, and a plethora of other things to ensure that students participate, are engaged, and motivated in their own learning.

 

But Larry reminds us that the end of the year is always a tricky time… after statewide testing, collecting books (if they are used), spring break, early finals, and the general feeling that the year is over, what’s important in keeping students involved? What do we offer students to keep their interest? Is it the grades, the activities, the social piece? Can we use this time more sensibly?

 

He also reminds us what the data say "… students learn at twice the rate in the first semester as in the second semester" (Kuhfeld, Megan, and James Soland. (). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University). How must our teaching change in the second half of the year?

So, knowing what we know and are experiencing, how effective are schools now in finishing the year instead of being proactive and planning for the next one? His final question captures it all: “…What could the next two years look like if educators spent several weeks now learning and planning instead of ending the year, as many will, drained and discouraged?” Can our time be better spent being proactive rather than reactive? I think we know the answer.

But in the meantime, kudos to all the teachers, parents, students, coaches, mentors, and administrators… you are rock stars!

As a coach, how are you planning and preparing for a school year that will start very differently this September than September 2019?


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

At an alarming rate, more and more of us are suffering with our biggest rival – time! We “fill our plates” with so many things that need to be done that we sometimes forget that “less is more” and the importance of being deliberate and intentional in our work. And, of course, instructional coaching and mentoring are dependent on the time we need to provide a blended approach to support our teaching colleagues. That is, making time for F2F and virtual communication not only to answer questions but to really help our colleagues reach their fullest potential and to become more reflective practitioners. We need to work smarter, not harder, and not fall into a rut.

A recent SmartBrief on Leadership publication included an article from a Forbes newsletter by CDC Foundation President and CEO, Judy Monroe. In the article, Dr. Monroe shared five ideas for a successful professional career. And although not specific to education, I think these five are applicable to any and all professions:

1)     Step out of the box and embrace new opportunities that may bring unexpected results. Sometimes, we rely on the old tried and true and continue in that same pattern because we’ve always “done it that way.” Don’t waste time on something that doesn’t yield the intended outcomes; try something new and enjoy the learning;

2)     Take a risk and give yourself permission to learn as you go. Here she mentions that she learns from her own mistakes as well as from others’ mistakes… that makes my heart sing!

3)     Pay attention to the big picture and not just the details… what do you want to accomplish at the end of the day… not just the checklist of minutiae;

4)     Recognize the reality of work-life-integration since balance may not be a consistent practicable goal;

5)     Practice making time to disconnect, not just finding time to detach from workplace madness!

I would add one more thing…be honest to yourself and your colleagues. You are ONE person… remind yourself that collaboration and team building are even more important when time or lack of time is an issue. Strive for a shared vision for schoolwide improvement… that makes a difference!

What can you add to the above list for a successful workplace environment?


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Each morning as I dry my hair, I notice the gray coming in stronger and stronger. But the color is only secondary to the fact that I am sorely in need of a haircut! I am quite sure we are all in the same boat. Each day is like Groundhog Day and I’ve never been quite so happy to go to the senior hour at the grocery store to buy the items that will last two weeks. All kidding aside, the current state of the world is daunting and overwhelming when we think about where we are now and how things used to be.

That leads me right to the path of the teachers, students, parents, coaches, mentors, and administrators who are doing a yeoman’s job in creating a culture and climate that is conducive for distance learning. I am in awe at the work you are doing to try and provide a consistent and productive learning environment for the students – many of whom do not have the equipment, facilities, skills, or knowledge to complete their digital learning requirements. I am in awe of the determination you have in providing remediation, enrichment, and planned instruction support to teachers. This is truly an example of differentiation and how coaches are not only integral to the process but critical to the process of teaching and learning.

Thank you for all you are doing now and for your future work as you navigate through your own teaching challenges, support your own families, and ensure that our students and teachers are managing the best they can under these extraordinary circumstances. Be mindful and “in the moment” when talking with teachers; keep the lines of communication open; be kind and understanding; and be a good listener… all tools in your toolbox! Stay positive, safe, and healthy.

Do you have any tips? Please share them.


Monday, April 6, 2020

Do you think of yourself as a change agent helping others to change? Better yet, do you think of yourself as being able to change? “If you’re shackled to who you are now, you can’t recognize -or reach for – who you might become next” (McKinsey & Company. January 2020 article).

In this article, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Zafer Gedeon Achi claim that “…we systematically fall for optical illusions and how our loss-aversion reflex biases our choices.” That is true… our beliefs and philosophies certainly influence how we think and the actions we take. Some of us are risk takers and some are risk averse. Where are you?

I often say that instructional coaching must be ego-less and peppered with mistakes. This article, however, reminds me that it is human to protect one’s ego and identity, especially if we are threatened as can be the case when we receive feedback. So ego happens. Perhaps the goal must be that once ego rears its head, it is the individual’s responsibility to dig deeper and see what it is that causes the fear of knowing and admitting.

They called this the “identity mindtrap” where we are blinded to growth opportunities because we are fixed in our beliefs and actions. While we want to think about staying relevant in an ever-changing world, we actually focus on protecting who we are and not who we might become. In essence, we are trapped by our own egos making change near impossible.

Be mindful… don’t fall into the trap and prevent yourself from growing and learning. How can you encourage others to grow if you have a fixed mindset and won’t step out of the box? That level of “civil discomfort” may cause a frustration that results in a positive evolution of self.

How do you ensure your growth and forward thinking?


Saturday, March 21, 2020

I think Charles Dickens was on to something when he wrote, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

As I sit in my house self-isolating, I vacillate between fear and uncertainty, and the "this, too, shall pass" hopes. And, I marvel at the wonderful way several people have offered to purchase food for the elderly, pick up prescriptions, and deliver necessities to those who are unable to do these tasks. I applaud those who are adhering to the social distancing behavior that is necessary for containment. At the same time, I wonder about those who do not recognize the severity of the health emergency and continue to ignore the warnings.

Let this be an awakening for all of us to reflect and answer these questions that a colleague sent to me from a Facebook post:
  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
  3. What expectations of "normal" am I letting go of today?
  4. How am I getting outside today?
  5. How am I moving my body today?
  6. What beauty am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
So, it is truly the worst of times we have ever seen but let's all hope and pray that the best in us will shine and help each other through this catastrophic crisis.

Stay healthy!

Friday, March 6, 2020

I just read a report entitled, “Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development” out of the UK Department for Education. This report has determined the following standards for schools:
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

Although we have embraced professional learning rather than professional development as our standards, these are relevant for our work. Each standard provides clarity of what should be recognized as effective professional development.

For example, #1 above indicates that effective PD has explicit relevance to participants; individual activities link logically to the intended pupil outcomes; and the PD involves ongoing evaluation of how changes in practice impact student outcomes. #2 includes effective PD develops practice and theory together; links pedagogy to content; has an evidentiary trail to support it; is supported by those with expertise and knowledge to help participants improve their understanding of evidence; and challenges teachers’ beliefs and expectations about teaching and learning. # 3 suggests collegial problem solving; discussions about practice and supporting students with similar needs; challenging existing practices to elicit multiple perspectives; and support from someone in a coaching and/or mentoring role to provide modeling and challenge. #4 above suggests that PD is iterative and needs ongoing support and follow up; may include singular activities as part of a PD plan; and includes opportunities for experimentation, reflection, feedback, and evaluation. #5 suggests leadership of PD needs to be clear about how student outcomes are improved; clear curriculum and vision are transparent, modeling PD is an expectation for all; time and resources are available to support the PD; and that priority and professional trust are critical for success.

Wow… sounds like a recipe for effective instructional coaching and mentoring.

What do you think?