By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Supervision vs. coaching… how many times has the question emerged… can a coach be a supervisor or principal of the school?

That’s a really important question and deserves some discussion. While it is true that some principals do coach, they still have the responsibility for holding teachers accountable for making changes that the principals suggest.

Cathy Toll has a clear distinction between coaching and supervising. She says that a coach is “One who helps teachers to recognize what they know and can do, assists teachers as they strengthen their ability to make more effective use of what they know and do, and supports teachers as they learn more and do more.”  Her definition of supervisor is also to the point. A supervisor is, “One who ensures that teachers meet the requirements of their positions at a satisfactory level and continue to do so over time.”

Here’s where I disagree with Cathy. She also says that when supervisors move teachers beyond satisfactory demonstration of their work, they are coaching. I’m not convinced… whether they are evaluating the teacher’s work in real time or helping them understand ways to improve their practices for future work, a supervisor “tells” more than “listens” and that differs greatly from how coaches work with teachers.

Yes, I think principals can give sage advice about teaching and learning. However, they still wear the hat of evaluator and know that whatever they suggest to teachers needs to be followed. Coaches are more likely to help teachers make their thinking visible and discuss what worked well in classrooms. The coach’s influence is more subtle and grows over time, helping teachers take ownership of their learning and building confidence, skills, and content knowledge; a principal or supervisor’s influence may be more observable, requiring the teacher to make immediate changes as “suggested” by the principal.

Have you experienced any situations where the coach is also a supervisor as well? How are those two roles kept separate?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The second semester is always a challenge for teachers and instructional coaches. T’is the season for testing… enough said!

Well, maybe not enough said! School communities know the pressure placed on the stakeholders for students to be successful in these standardized tests, even if the scores only reflect a snapshot in time for the actual test taking procedures. Certainly, the tests are supposed to reflect the students’ knowledge base and how they can apply their learning. We know that increased testing does not always accurately indicate what the students know and are able to do. And, I can’t help to think that if I wanted to lose weight, getting on the scale five times a day would not help me do that… portion control and exercise would.  Testing should adopt the same philosophy… increased testing doesn’t equate to better scores for students; it just creates more frustration, fear, and anxiety.

Helping teachers become highly qualified practitioners and helping them use effective instructional practices with their students are ways that coaches become the lifeline of support. You are the ones helping teachers think about their goals and objectives, their practices, their instructional delivery, and their reflections about what worked well in classrooms. You are the ones having ongoing conversations and collectively problem-solving with teachers to help them make data driven instructional decisions. That’s your role and why it is so important. You are a change agent working with teachers to change practice; meeting regularly with teachers to talk about practice is the only way to accomplish that goal.

So, if you are inundated with the testing administration and other test prep kinds of things, think about “inviting” others from the school to join you on a testing committee. The responsibilities could be shared among several people if they are on staff, i.e., counselors, librarians, coordinators, curriculum support folks, etc.  In fact, I’m wondering if there are folks at the IU that might be able to help out as well and become part of the testing committee.

At any rate, you’ve probably tried this already. But if not, try to ask for some help so the process doesn’t all fall on your shoulders and prevent you from working with teachers whose instructional practices in classrooms have the impact of helping students become more successful learners. That’s what makes the difference, not increased testing situations.


How is the testing process handled in your building?