By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Teacher leaders are essential for school change. They are, as Marcie Craig Post (executive director of the International Reading Association) says, “galvanizers for school change, always positive, inspirational role models, getting us to think in new ways, encouraging creative and novel thinking, and challenging us to greater intellectual achievements.” That being said, coaches need broad shoulders and thick skin to be the constant cheerleaders, the nurturer, and the vocal consciousness-raising, non-judgmental voice of reason. All this in a day… that is, every day!

Notice that nowhere did I mention that coaches need to be the experts in everything. This is a topic that surfaces every year… as a coach, shouldn’t I know everything so I can tell the teachers what they need to know?

Coaches are highly skilled, experienced professionals but they are not the experts. They may know more about adult learning because they work with adults but they don’t know more about content than the content specialists in the classroom. They can share many instructional strategies that support effective teaching and provide opportunities for teachers to meet regularly and on common ground. Most important, they work towards helping teachers connect with each other, co-work on shared topics of interest, and collaborate with each other to reach goals that keep students in the center and school-wide improvement up close and personal.

Dennis Sparks agrees. He says, “Leaders who pretend to know everything disempower others. As a result problem-solving abilities atrophy rather than grow.” As a coach, coming across as a “know-it-all” is arrogant and self-serving. In fact, this attitude can create more problems than collaborative solutions. The teachers who are being coached may feel quite uncomfortable and their opinions dismissed because the “expert” coach has spoken.

Coaches, administrators, teachers, mentors, and students are all members in a community of learning. We are all learners and need to help each other co-construct ways to improve student learning, build teacher capacity, and increase student engagement. We can’t do that if we are worried about who knows more or who has the right answer. We help create change by discussing ways that enhance learning and to collectively problem-solve. As coaches, we don’t tell anyone anything; we help our colleagues find their voices and work together to support our individual and school-wide goals.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Welcome back...summer is over but I bet you are like me and have thought all summer long about how to help teachers increase student engagement, build their repertoire of teaching skills, and refine your own coaching practices at the same time. Of course, this sounds much easier said than done. After all, it probably took all of June and most of July to decompress and then all of August to start thinking about effective instructional practice, the variety of ways to help teachers meet the needs of their students, and how your coaching practices need to be differentiated according to the needs of the teachers you coach.

As a coach, the most important thing you can do is to listen to teachers and help them identify their needs, wants, and hopes for change. You are not in the position to tell them what to do or to pass judgment on what they do. Your role is to help them become more reflective practitioners and to think about their thinking in ways that will help them make changes to their practice. You need to provide them with ample time to talk together and discuss how students learn. You need to ensure that there are ongoing opportunities to collaborate with one another.

As Joellen Killion states, coaches are “catalysts for change” and are “visionaries who are never content with the status quo but rather always looking for a better way.” As you listen to your teaching colleagues, remember that your role is to ask questions and help your colleagues ask questions about how to refine their practice. You are not the expert who knows the answers; you are the one who helps colleagues question what happens in classrooms and schools. You are the one who disrupts the status quo by helping colleagues understand there is always “more” to learn about instructional practice. You are there to engage teachers in conversations where students are at the center and effective instructional practice is the focus of those conversations.

Best wishes for a wonderful school year. Be strong, be committed, and be collaborative. Together with your teaching colleagues, you can make a difference in your school community.