By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC)

Friday, July 16, 2021

 As we move back into our bricks and mortar buildings, I can’t help to wonder about the trust factor… can we trust that another pandemic won’t happen again? I don’t think we can answer that just yet. But, if it does happen again, can we trust the system to work better than it worked in the past? Or, can individuals be trusted to learn from their “intelligent mistakes” and be better prepared in the future? I think so, especially when instructional coaches are in the mix.

Instructional coaches are even more critical than ever. They will truly need to access every role they played before AND re-negotiate the expectations of coaching. Having said that, I’m worried that schools will expect instructional coaches to close the achievement gap, address learning losses, and be held accountable for teacher performance to a greater extent than before. I’m worried that the fear of “not being able to catch up” will dictate how learning is paced and teacher performance will be determined by the coach’s influence in creating change regardless of the school’s variables. I’m worried that building trust will be neglected as teachers scramble to ensure student growth.

In our continued journey, we should not forget how and why trust is important for the learning process.

Instructional coaches have spent much time in substantiating their credibility. They have skills and competencies they have developed over time working with their teaching colleagues. They focus on adult learning theories to shape their work and honor their partners’ voices. They recognize what effective classrooms look like. Co-workers can trust that instructional coaches understand teaching and learning.

Relationships are built on trust and instructional coaches have modeled the importance of reflection, integrity, and confidentiality. They know when to “nag and nurture” with a “pat and push” so their teaching colleagues are always moving in the right direction, and they hold themselves accountable to do what they say they will do.

Instructional coaches share the same goals with their teaching partners… to help each other and their students reach their fullest potentials. They are consistent, insistent, and persistent when it comes to being change agents and implementing effective instructional practices. They can be trusted to make sure that all students are in classrooms with highly effective teachers. They can be trusted to make sure that professional learning is an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle. We can’t predict the reality of another pandemic, but we can predict that schools with the appropriate and realistic understanding of instructional coaching can move practice forward.

What are some of the things you worry about as school reopens in September?

Friday, June 4, 2021

How many of us question learning from our failures? Do we learn from them or learn about them? What exactly do we gain from making mistakes that create our failures?

In a recent blog writer by Angela Duckworth (media@characterlab.org), she highlights research conducted by a postdoctoral fellow suggesting that success is not born of failure. In fact, the postdoctoral student and her colleague found the opposite. They found that failure “thwarts learning.” 

The researcher and her colleague worked with 300+ telemarketers with 10 questions on customer service. They found the telemarketers learned from their successes but not from their failures. The researchers contend that when people fail, they become disenfranchised and apathetic, thus preventing them from learning. Their failure does not inspire or motivate them to learn from their mistakes.

Interestingly, they also indicate that the participants actually learned from the failure of others saying that those instances became teachable cases rather than learning from their own failures. I wonder if there is some ego involved in learning from others’ failures instead from one’s own. Is it a question of acceptance that failure occurred or is it an ego-driven response?

The researchers end with this opinion: focus on the successes by softening the failures rather than amplifying them. I think another way of saying this is to focus on the positives and hope others can replicate those instead of emphasizing the failures because we don’t want those to be repeated. While I can stand behind the notion of highlighting successes, I think we can all learn from those on whose shoulders we stand so that we can follow John Dewey’s advice, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks, learns quite as much from his [their] failures as from his [their] successes.”

What are some of the important lessons you learned from your “failures”?

Monday, May 10, 2021

In a recent blog post from Steve Barkley, he mentions Niall McShane’s book Responsive Agile Coaching and what McShane calls “across” or “down” coaching. The “across” coaching is when the coaching recipient (teacher) is ready for some coaching and the “down” coaching is when the coaching recipient is not ready to hear any suggestions.  Hmm… I have to say… I think instructional coaching works better when coaches ask questions that help the recipients come to their own conclusions rather than giving advice or suggestions about what to do. Steve does both; he makes a conscious effort to ask what the teacher is thinking before he shares his thinking. That’s a protocol to follow!

Although there seems to be some helpful pointers in McShane’s book, I hesitate to label coaching “across” or “down.” At some level, it feels like the coach is evaluating the teacher rather than assessing the teacher’s needs. That’s the one tip I would share with my coaching colleagues… assess the needs but don’t ever evaluate the performance!

In this same post, Steve also says coaching is “…like jazz or improv”; the coach has to decide “what is next.” In our instructional coaching experience, we like to ask three things: What, Now What, and So What. These questions get to the heart of practice and that’s just where we want to be! These are asked throughout the before, during, and after (BDA) cycle of consultation and helps the coaching recipient think through the various steps needed to move practice forward. The coach needs to be prepared to ask questions that are reflective and thought provoking so that the conversation is not really improv; the conversation is based on asking the right kinds of questions that drive intentional practice. That just sounds like improv and not knowing exactly which direction the conversation can turn. It's really very deliberate, though, with the instructional coach shifting the thinking to collective problem-solving and collaboration!

What are you reading now that helps inform your practice?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

 I just read an interesting blog titled, “Feedback Coaching: How to Get Results with Tough Love published online by InPower Coaching (www.inpowercoaching.com). In this blog, Dana Theus says, “…one thing I notice… particularly those women and men who have what research might call a ‘feminine leadership style’ is that too much empathy can get in the way of the other person’s ability to understand what you really would like them to do.” I’m not even going to address the label for this type of leadership style mentioned!

First of all, in a truly effective instructional coaching role, a coach doesn’t expect a teaching colleague to do something the coach wants the colleague to do. That misses the entire point of effective coaching relationships. Coaches are not experts; they engage in collaborative conversations that are contagious! They engage in coaching interactions that are reflective and confidential, enabling both parties to delve into their practices in ways that are revealing and sometimes uncomfortable. And, the most promising conversations are messy, authentic, and generated by the questions asked, not by the participants being told what to do. Tough love or not… the most effective conversations are not full of praise or pity… they are based on getting better at the craft they are practicing by identifying the needs and ways to refine those practices.

I will admit that further in the blog, the writer does suggest that “Coaching feedback doesn’t tell someone how to do something but creates a safe space within which they can try, fail and succeed to figure it out themselves.”  That’s more of the message that I would convey in describing effective coaching interactions. Of course, in any coaching situation, the conversations are non-evaluative and non-judgmental. It doesn’t matter what the coach thinks is important; it matters what the partnership looks like, what the goals are, and multiple opportunities for the ongoing collaborative conversations that focus on moving practice forward – all with the absence of ego!

What is your experience with the “tough love” notion of feedback?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

As the vaccination process moves forward enabling school staff to be vaccinated, I wonder about the folks in the school buildings who will not get vaccinated. I’m sure there is a plethora of reasons why someone doesn’t go that route, e.g., religious, health, fear, herd mentality, etc. Not getting vaccinated definitely impacts the school environment.

For instance, if other immunizations are necessary before entering a school building, will the COVID 19 vaccination be mandatory as well? Can someone lose a job because they refuse to get vaccinated? What happens if a student lives at home with someone who has a compromised system? Can that student transmit COVID to a family member if his/her/their teachers are not fully vaccinated?

What about teacher sick leave? If a staff member refuses to get vaccinated, contracts COVID 19, and is out of work indefinitely, does that person have the same amount of sick leave time as someone who has been vaccinated and is protected from contracting the virus? Are there levels of protection for the staff member who has not been vaccinated regardless of the reason why s/he/they chose not to get the vaccine?

What about hiring practices? Can a school declare that all hires going forward must be vaccinated? I know a person cannot be asked why s/he/they chose not to be vaccinated but can that be a prerequisite for being hired as if it is a credential for employment?

Is vaccination status publishable? What happens if a student and his/her/their family refuses to be in a classroom with an unvaccinated teacher? Is that legal? Is that information that can be shared? Does anyone have the right to know if someone is or isn’t vaccinated?

Until we reach herd immunity or a complete control of COVID 19 reactions, these questions are part of our educational landscape. But, regardless of the vaccination status, our schools still must address learning loss and plan for a demanding in-class program; there must be strong remote access and challenging distant learning programming “just in case”; appropriate data driven decision-making with recovery plans are a “must”; strong implementation of effective instructional delivery with appropriate assessment measures are critical regardless of the venue. And, as with all of the above, a viable on-going teacher professional learning model with the support of an instructional coach continues to be a promising practice for a successful learning environment. Many questions ... fewer answers but the one thing we know for sure ... instructional coaches are needed now more than ever!

What do you need to know as you prepare for the new school year?

Monday, March 15, 2021

Social media is a good news/bad news story. For instance, when reports about available vaccines are posted, we are thrilled with getting that information in a timely manner along with helpful hints to secure them. On the other hand, when reports are based on opinion rather than facts, being a discerning reader and critical viewer are critical for understanding and acceptance.

Now, take this one step further… what are educators posting and can the information be misconstrued or misunderstood? What is posted becomes one’s identity and forever associated with that person. Can something with an innocent intent be heard in a not so innocent way? (Think tone in an email!)

Especially in times of this pandemic, virtual or digital communication has been the only way to survive. In fact, not being totally prepared for the digital presence thwarted early learning opportunities. Teachers and students were thrust into each other’s living rooms, ready or not.

Students connect to their own classmates and beyond their classroom walls. They are super sleuths and can discover much about their peers, family friends, and their teachers by what is written on their social media platforms. And, we know that prospective employers check social media for any insight into their potential hires.

So while the article mentioned below is about colleges and universities, I think the lessons shared are universal.

Online posts and opinions must be carefully planned and executed; perception is reality. How one’s thoughts are perceived will follow that person indefinitely. As a result, educators have another obligation to fulfill… being responsible digital citizens because their reach is without boundaries.

“For so many students, educators not only instruct about curricula. They offer life: a living example of productive citizenship, ethical decision-making, and the continuous quest for knowledge and innovation” (EdSurge.com, “Are You a Digital Threat to Your College?). Who you are becomes crystal clear from your online messaging. As Gandhi says,

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

And in the digital world, these live forever.

What is your advice for digital messaging?

Friday, March 5, 2021

To date, about half of American students are still learning virtually. Some teachers have received their vaccines but others are uncertain about when they will be vaccinated. Some are ready to go back now albeit with masks and socially distancing; some are holding tight. Some teachers’ unions are fighting efforts to return their members to crowded hallways; some are keeping their fingers crossed and going back. The issues to balance are unprecedented… should we or shouldn’t we go back to school? Some school administrators, city politicians, and parents feel the profound pressure to open schools, especially for those students who struggle academically and/or emotionally. Some are committed to waiting until some semblance of normalcy can return. But, when will that happen? Everyone wants the school community to be safe... we just all want to know when we can expect that to happen.

Schools will safely re-open eventually. I wish that were the only issue… ensuring that the school community is vaccinated against this deadly disease. That’s only one part of the equation. We are, thankfully, moving towards vaccinating everyone who wants a vaccine. And, vaccines for our teenagers are on the horizon as well.

What about our new learnings? What have we learned about our leaders, e.g., school, societal, political, religious, etc., and their commitment to change and the preparation needed to ensure that learning takes place regardless of the venue? Where is our guarantee that, “… model of education is the one that will best serve both our children and young people, as well as the educators who work with them: an education system that focuses on learning culture and nurturing of individual skills, knowledge, talents, interests and dispositions rather than being a factory standardized knowledge” (Jim Knight, Educate for Change, LinkedIn.com). And he continues, “… we need to rethink how we educate and ‘grow’ our children, especially as we come through and beyond Covid-19.”

We know there will be some learning loss so how will we address that? Do we start the year with the assumption that our students won't know "that" and immediately ignore what they have learned? Or, will we plan to start the year on the grade level the year reflects and then differentiate our work to address the multiple skill levels our students will demonstrate?

How will we be prepared for the future?

Where will you be?