By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I just had an interesting “end-of-year” conversation with a 2nd year coach from a middle school outside of Pennsylvania. She called to ask me about the gradual release of responsibility and what that meant to her role as a coach. She had two questions: 1) if I encourage teachers to teach without me modeling, what will I do for them; and 2) if they don’t need my anymore, won’t I move myself out of a job?

First things first… I asked her to define instructional coaching and her understanding of the instructional coach’s role. Then I asked her to make three columns: 1) how does she regularly engage with teachers; what are the administrator’s expectations of an effective instructional coaching model; and what do the teachers understand about instructional coaching? From there, we moved onto what each column has in common, where do the expectations align with the realities, and what does she spend the majority of her time doing.

I’m simplifying the conversation but you get the gist… by asking some important questions, the coach began to realize that what she thought she should do and what the teachers and administrator thought she should do were really not in sync. In fact, she realized that the teachers expected her to model without the benefit of the “before” and the “after” and the administrators expected her to raise student standardized test scores even though the tests were summative and by the time she saw those results, the students would no longer be with the same teachers.

So, the question was really not about the gradual release of responsibility but rather about sharing a vision and implementing an effective instructional coaching model that focused on school wide improvement and addressed teacher needs so student learning could be impacted.

Ask the right questions and the answers are so revealing.

As a coach, how do you ensure that the questions asked are really the questions that should be asked?

Monday, June 5, 2017

In the May 23, 2017 ASCD K-12 Leadership Brief, an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review titled, “What to consider before taking on extra work” discusses decision making and three important questions to help you commit to something new: What is my motivation? Does it align with my values? And, do I have a choice?

These questions sound so easy to answer yet there really is no simple answer to these in the roles assumed by instructional coaches and their mentors. In fact, I marvel at the amount of juggling it takes for a mentor to balance the role as an instructional mentor and “life” in their respective intermediate units. And, I think the same struggle exists with teachers and coaches in their buildings. There is a challenge to saying, “Yes” as well as to saying, “No!”

One of the things for which I was recently reminded is to think about the time it takes to complete a task well and to be deliberate in deciding what is a “must” and what is “nice” to do. I have trouble with that… I think I have time for everything when, in fact, that’s further from the truth than I’d like to admit.

Some folks don’t want to disappoint anyone or create the image that they might not be able to finish a task. And, if they feel like their job is dependent upon agreeing to complete tasks, that’s another story. I have also learned that we always “go to the well” when we want something done and have faith that the people we ask won’t say no.

So, what to do? I think setting goals from the beginning and sharing those goals with staff who may be requesting the tasks is a start. I also think bringing others “into the fold” and collaborating with staff can also be incredibly helpful. Two heads are better than one and that removes the pressure that it’s all on one person. That’s what we call the “team approach!”

Food for thought as you are reflecting on this year and making plans for next year.  

How do you manage your responsibilities and take on new experiences in your role? What happens if what you are asked to do by your supervisor doesn’t align with your values?