By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, October 14, 2013


Many coaches are struggling with the practicality of keeping notes about their work with colleagues. It’s not that they don’t want to keep appropriate and professional notes; it’s more about the time it takes and the kind of notes that cause the coaches to anguish over how to complete that kind of process. It’s certainly not easy to do yet the rewards for taking the time to maintain records is crucial to a coach’s success.

What many practitioners do not understand is that coaches do not walk into school and announce, “Oh, what should we do today?” Coaches plan and prepare for their work with teachers every day. So, how do they know what they need to do in preparation for their work with teachers? They keep notes so they can differentiate their support to teachers; they keep notes so they know where they are, where they want to go, and plan the steps it takes to get there.

Coaches need to document not only what/how they work with colleagues but also what their next steps are to provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development to them. However, coaching is confidential so the documentation stays in the hands of the coach and the teacher(s) being coached. Coaches and teachers work together and co-construct the “look fors” (before) in their collaborative consultation. When the coach visits the classroom (during), the coach uses the co-constructed form to document what happened in the classroom. This form is again used as the coach and teacher reflect and debrief (after) the lesson.  This kind of documentation is record keeping, a way for both the coach and teacher to keep track of their work together. This is one kind of documentation.

The more deliberate and thought-provoking kind of documentation is reflecting about the practice. Some questions include: How do you know the students were engaged in the work? Why were specific decisions made? How do you know that the students reached the intended outcomes? How can this practice be improved? What are the next steps to improve learning? These are great conversation starters that encourage deep thinking and contemplation, critical for ongoing discussions about student learning.

At the same time, coaches need to reflect on their work with teachers and ask the questions, “What am I doing to help teachers change and improve their practice? What am I doing to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes?” Their relationships are developmental as is the process for reflecting and determining next steps. Coaches need to know what kind of support is necessary and if resources are required. They need to reflect on the conversations, actions, and thinking throughout the BDA cycle of coaching. They need to prepare themselves for the work they want to accomplish with their colleagues. They need to review their goals and objectives and determine if they have achieved what they set out to do. This process is continual and strengthens practice. How can that happen if the only thing to rely on is memory?

6 comments:

  1. Love this post! I am new to Coaching this year and have created a Google Form for myself. I use this to hold myself accountable, see where I am spending my time during the day, and to reflect. I am able to take a step back and really reflect, not try and remember what I did and how I felt at the time. I look forward to growing from it and reading more of these posts!

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  2. Hi Nicole. The first year coaching certainly presents many challenges, especially if you are new to the school and coaching is new in the school. Reflection is a critical component for change. Please access a free resource guide, www.instituteforinstructionalcoaching.org, for coaching tips and a variety of other resources designed by the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching. Also, feel free to forward any questions about your practice and we will try to make helpful suggestions.

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  3. Ellen,
    I am a second year coach but I am new to PIIC. My challenge is being more deliberate in the journal-ling process. I can totally see how a good journal can become a tool of differentiation for us but taking the needed time has got to be a habit we build. It really is like going to a gym or taking a daily walk in that we don't have time to do it but we can't afford not to do it. If we want our coaching to grow and be more productive, we need to build that writing discipline just like we build our body capacity in a physical workout. Do you feel there is a "right" amount of reflection required?

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  4. Hi bakerbg! I love your analogy about building the habit of reflecting. As you’ve probably heard me say before, “making time” is far more effective than trying to “find time” to reflect. Remember, finding time is usually interrupted by the crisis of the moment or day; making time is deliberate and intentional. You need to give yourself permission to reflect every day. How else will you plan your next steps? You need to think about where you are, how you got there, and where you are going next. That comes through measured and purposeful conversation with yourself. (My internal monologues are some of my best conversations!) However, life intervenes and sometimes time slips away. So, you need to pick a time to reflect daily (think prescribed times) and jot down your actions, thoughts, notes, and plans. Since that time may be limited each day, you need to also plan a time to revisit what you wrote. That way, your notes are truly reflective and not just a report about what you did and who you saw. There is no “right” amount of reflection; there is only your “right” to capture your thoughts about your day and how you are helping teachers change and improve their practice. I hope this helps.

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  5. Keeping notes and records and reflecting is very valuable in our coaching lives. However, the time it takes is what I think is what keeps us from doing it. That being said, the benefits are too important to use that as an "excuse". I am going to work on a weekly structure so that I can do more with my notes and be more reflective. The idea of using the notes and reflections for next steps is very important and I need to work it into my weekly activities.

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  6. Documenting my work with teachers is something that needs to become a regular part of my week. However, the actual documentation is only valuable, when I return to it between my work with the coach. When you move from teacher to teacher in any given day, it is sometimes hard to remember what you planned to work on with them next time! Reflecting on my notes also gives me time to think about how deep my work with the teacher is and how I might be able to deepen it.

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