By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The start of any school year is stressful… teachers want to make sure they are well planned; they make plans to implement strategies that will engage all students; they research a variety of resources that they can use to support learning; they reach out to parents to ensure that their students feel part of the classroom “family”; they explore new and innovative ways to share the learning; they prepare how to help students “catch up” and then move them forward; and let’s not forget about addressing their students’ social-emotional states as in-person school becomes steady but so does the Delta variant. The list of stressors goes on and on as teachers prepare to nourish and grow their students. Such a daunting task yet teachers are expected to accomplish it all.

Numerous accounts have documented how teachers feel and what they want/need. I think we probably know what is needed.

According to an essay published in EdWeek (Madeline Will, September 14, 2021, EdWeek Research Center), 60% of teachers indicated they suffered from job-related stress either frequently or always. And now, even though teachers are vaccinated and students are getting vaccinated, the fear and threat of another surge in cases, especially around the holidays, heightens the stress. Add that to the continuing concern about bridging the achievement gap and trying to address all the needs of the students and that’s the recipe for educator burnout, and more importantly, educator fatigue.

In May 2021, EducationWeek published a report on research compiled in March. They found that 54% of teachers are either somewhat or likely to leave the profession as compared to 34% to the same question pre-pandemic. 84% said that teaching is more stressful now than in the past.

The pandemic, however, is not the only stressor.

This same report indicated that teachers and administrators have different opinions about what impacts early teacher retirement. 11% of teachers felt that administrator support was key to retention; 35% of the administrators believed their support was central to retention. Only 27% of those administrators felt that reducing the ancillary “administrivia” was critical while 43% of the teachers felt those burdens substantially contributed to their early retirement plans.

Obviously, there are other factors that impact teacher hiring practices and retention. And, we do know that natural attribution plays a role but my point here is that if administrators can reduce the burdens that consistently plague teachers and offer them a life line to stay engaged, involved, and committed to the continued growth of the students, that sounds like a systems approach to me rather than a band aid approach to build teacher capacity. It’s a “win-win” situation for all!

So, instructional coaches, your role is front and center!

What are some strategies you can suggest to your administrators about "lightening the load" for teachers?

Monday, August 16, 2021

To wear a mask or not… that is the question…Hamlet’s questioning skills are spot on!

As our schools navigate opening in a few weeks, the question remains for many students, parents, teachers, and administrators… will masks be mandated or will the school community opt to wear masks (even those who are vaccinated) to help curb this uptick in the Delta variant? Will the school community take a stand and encourage all to wear masks so that we walk the talk about providing safe havens for our students, families, and communities? Will students and teachers be ostracized or worse, bullied, for wearing masks and keeping the health and welfare of the school community front and center?

As if schools haven’t faced enough discrimination and racial disparity…

Sure, we all want schools to reopen. But, we must insure that schools are opening safely AND proactively plan for the event that they might be forced to delay in-person learning for a bit. Do I think that’s a possibility? Absolutely! Have I been saying all along to learn from the last two school years and develop action plans that have a Plan A, B, and C? You bet!

Wearing masks has become such a polarizing political crisis that it’s hard to believe some still doubt the science behind the practice. For everyone, but especially the school community, how can this even be an issue? Haven’t our voices been heard about how the pandemic has affected the social-emotional learning for everyone? Don’t we want to provide every opportunity for our students and families to re-connect with each other and get back to school business? I know schools will look different going forward and that’s the silver lining of the pandemic… students and their teachers have learned a tremendous amount about agency, technology, flexibility, instructional delivery, and a new culture of learning to name a few. Let’s capitalize on the new learning and move forward.

So, what does this mean for instructional coaching? Well, instructional coaching may look different in different buildings. Our coaches may continue to work with teachers but also have their own classrooms to manage since there is a teacher shortage in some areas. Here’s the thing… continue to support teachers with ongoing conversations and resources, provide opportunities for collaboration, open your classroom as a demonstration site, and above all, be safe and don’t wait for a mandate… plan for progress and promote the culture and climate that is respectful, accepting, and concerned… take care of each other and begin the school year with a growth mindset and continued desire to make a difference in our students’ lives.

What are your first instructional coaching steps as you re-ignite the teachers with whom you work?

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 (, 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 ( 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?