By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Just came back from another wonderful 3-day professional learning conference with the instructional coaches, instructional mentors, regional mentor coordinators, school-based administrators, and other school leaders who participated in our PIIC statewide professional development. Wow! The sharing, collective wisdom, and learning from the group was amazing… where else can you get 160+ educators in an environment that honors teacher voice, choice, and expertise with the only goal being to share your learning???

A hot topic of conversation was the reauthorization of the ESSA act and its improved definition of professional development. The definition says that the professional development must be “sustained, (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom focused... .” This is exactly how instructional coaches support and maintain differentiated teacher professional development… they are onsite and provide ongoing opportunities for teachers to collaborate in a no-risk environment, sharing and learning together about content that is relevant, tied to teacher practice, data driven, standards based, and student focused.

Highly skilled educators, a.k.a. coaches, who work with their teaching colleagues to exchange ideas, share effective instructional practices, and explore new technologies create an environment that shouts, “Learning is important and everyone can learn!” That learning, however, does not exist in a vacuum nor does it exist as a series of unrelated workshops or sessions where teachers are grouped together like a pick-up basketball game in the playground. No, ongoing learning is effective when teachers and coaches are resolute in their plans to regularly collaborate and strategize about ways to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity, and improve student learning. Learning is effective when it is deliberate, focused, and meaningful.

What are some of the ways you plan to provide ongoing professional development that is differentiated, relevant, and sustainable in 2016?

Monday, January 4, 2016


Happy New Year! In this time of renewed reflection and conviction, I’ve been thinking about the differences between coaching and mentoring and have come to the conclusion that while similar, there are definite differences. The differences are not so much in the qualities and attributes of the people but rather in the actual roles, responsibilities, and requirements.

A coach’s role is to help teachers implement effective instructional practices in non-evaluative ways. They help teachers identify their strengths and together, strategize ways to bolster practice. They help teachers recognize their voices and take ownership of their learning. They must coach on any given topic, not just in the coach’s area of expertise. They work directly with teachers at the level that makes a difference… the classroom. Sometimes, they are mistakenly identified as “fixers” even though they are not in the medical field! Many administrators think that coaches are the silver bullet addressing all the issues that plague our educational system. Boy, if that were true, we could bottle it and sell it! Some even think that because teachers went to college they don’t need coaches. What an ill-informed opinion!

In our instructional coaching world, mentors help coaches develop the skills necessary to support teachers in a collaborative and non-supervisory way. Mentors must be analytical and strategic in helping the coach. They need to help the coach understand adult learning and why not all teachers teach in the same way. They support the “overall” being of an individual and need to think about the coach’s learning style and how the coach can help the teachers. All of this is “from a distance” because the mentor is not on staff or “elbow partners” with the coach.

For us, a mentor is the coach’s coach, one who supports the coach’s learning and by extension, the teachers’ learning as well. They both work to ensure that effective instructional practices are implemented every day in every class; their roles are interconnected and provide an integrated approach to school wide improvement by working with the individuals and not just programs (although understanding programs and initiatives are part of coaching and mentoring). It is a multi-tiered approach with each “participant” component, i.e., students, teachers, coaches, administrators, and mentors, providing support and apprenticeship with the shared vision of building teacher capacity, increasing student engagement, and improving student outcomes.

In your experience, how are coaches and mentors similar? What are the differences in their roles and responsibilities?