By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

Last week was a wonderful learning experience for me. The PA Institute for Instructional Coaching hosted the first of three professional learning conferences of 2014. This is a multi-day statewide conference with coaches, mentors, administrators, and other school leaders as participants. The three-day conference focused on the theme of listening as a critical element of instructional coaching and school change. Coaches need to be fully “present” and must be great listeners to help their colleagues identify areas of strength and areas of need in order to move forward with their teaching goals and school wide improvement.

Listening helps coaches give “permission” to their teaching colleagues to discuss problems of practice, to collectively problem-solve, and to help each other become critical friends. When one listens to another person without being judgmental or opinionated, the conversation is respectful, mutual, and without ego. No one is right; all points of view are respected, voice and choice are exercised, and achieving goals are the primary objectives.

Remember when you first started teaching? You were a student teacher and had the support of your cooperating teacher. How often did your cooperating teacher remind you not to talk over students, not to answer for the students, and not to ask another question until the students finished answering what you just asked? The same scenario is recognizable when instructional coaches work with teachers. Ask probing questions that give teachers the opportunity to think about their thinking and the classroom decisions that they make. Allow them time to delve into their own thinking and question their own motives for teaching specific content and for the instructional delivery of that content. Give them opportunities to reflect.

Coaches need to ask themselves questions as well: 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 improve student engagement and outcomes? Coaches cannot answer these questions unless and until they engage in several moments of silence where they just listen and support as they guide the practice that happens in each classroom. Two ears and one mouth… listen twice as much and say half as much!!

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