By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

At the end of each month, I look back at what I accomplished and either hang my head or give myself a “high five” (more the former than latter). I tend to make long “to do” lists that sound very doable at the time of creation. I then reflect and say to myself, “What was I thinking??” When I review my lists, I notice that my original list has multiplied into about 10 additional lists, each subsequent list becoming more and more detailed about what I want to accomplish. This reflection is perfect for December as we think about the inevitable… what’s this year’s New Year’s resolution and how will I sustain the momentum as I move forward personally and professionally?

Looking back, I want to remind myself what I’ve learned about teaching, learning, and coaching… teacher quality is the most significant factor affecting student achievement; teachers who are supported by instructional coaches are more likely to implement newly learned instructional strategies; follow up support to effectively implement new learning and scaffolding encourages reflective practice and instruction; teachers want to talk to their colleagues about effective instructional strategies; collaboration and open communication make a difference in teaching and learning; teachers and coaches who collectively problem solve around problems of practice are more likely to identify effective strategies that work to address those issues; and most importantly, teachers really like to talk to other practitioners who are non-evaluative listeners with a shared vision about how to help their students grow while improving their own instructional practices.

As I move forward in my practice, I am also reminded about the daily questions coaches, mentors, and administrators must ask themselves: what am I doing as a coach, mentor, or administrator to help teachers change and improve their practice, and what am I doing to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes? I ask myself the same questions about helping others improve their coaching practices. How can I help coaches and mentors work one-on-one and in small groups to support teachers, coaches, and other school leaders? Providing ongoing opportunities to engage in professional learning and to share new learning with others is fundamental to my own learning.

Janus, the two-faced (in a good way) ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions, looks to the future and to the past. He looks after passages, causes actions to start and presides over all beginnings. I think the role of the coach mirrors Janus’ role. Coaches certainly disrupt the status quo and foster conversation. Remember your journey and the goals you have set out to accomplish. Celebrate the small accomplishments and remember that Rome was not built in a day…look behind you to see how far you have come and look ahead to see what innovations are possible. This is a journey of change and it takes courage, tenacity, diligence, frustration, and acceptance to stay the course.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season. Rest, relax, and rejuvenate your body and soul. All good things in the New Year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Susan Scott (Fierce Inc. and contributing columnist to Learning Forward) says that “honest conversations are the cornerstone to building a culture of excellence” (JSD, December 2013). She believes that the most powerful practice to transform schools comes from ongoing conversations, the dialogue that either makes or breaks what happens in schools.

As an instructional coach, honest and open communication and ongoing conversations are what makes the difference between heavy and light coaching. Of course, a coach is a resource provider and often provides articles, templates, reports, and other useful items to teachers who do not have the time to peruse google or other search engines to find the latest in research or current trends to inform practice. This, however, is not coaching if there is no follow up about using those resources. The issue is not only about which resources to use; it’s about how to transform the written word into action and then discuss how that action influences learning.

“Shoulder-to-shoulder” support makes a difference when there is conversation about the practice. That’s one of the shortcomings of consultant driven support that occurs at the introduction of the resource and not again until the resource has been used for a period of time. I don’t think it’s a very effective model to provide all the bells and whistles of wonderful resources with no one onsite to help plan how to use the resources, or to work together at the time the resources are used, or to reflect after they are used to determine how useful the resources were to help the teachers reach a specific learning goal with their students. In fact, offering this kind of support without training or sustained conversation is what Dennis Sparks calls, “educational malpractice.” (That’s why so many beautiful PowerPoint slide presentations stay hidden and unused; without talking about the context, the materials are useless.)

Talking about one’s practice makes a difference. It’s like the dress rehearsal before the grand opening. It makes such good sense for teachers to talk to each other about what they want to teach, how they want to teach “it,” how they will know if the desired outcomes are reached, and what to do in the event that the instructional goals are not met. These kinds of conversations must occur in deliberate and intentional ways. That being said, I think the conversations can occur through a blended approach… they must be face-to-face and may have an electronic component as well, e.g., virtual or written conversations. I am not convinced that the conversations can be effective via electronic communication alone although I do recognize the constraints of time and location.

If we want to make a difference in the way students learn and help them become lifelong learners, we need to ensure that every student is taught by a highly qualified teacher. That’s not just through a teacher earning a degree from a college or university. It’s through offering the teacher the ongoing support needed to ensure that every student benefits when teachers talk to each other, learn together, and regularly engage in collaborative practices. We need to offer teachers the opportunities to nourish their own professional growth through talking with other practitioners, seeing how they practice, and collectively problem solving about things that impact student growth.

It sounds like such a common sense approach to encourage teachers to talk to one another about effective instructional practices and how to help each other reach their full potential so they can help their students reach their fullest potential. But, then again, common sense is not so common, is it?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I recently heard the tail end of an interview on the radio with Malcolm Gladwell. When asked about his impact on his readers, he said that he liked to “…disrupt their way of thinking.” He continued by saying that he likes to “upend the individual’s understanding of things.”  Interesting… I think that’s just what coaches do… they help move individuals from one level of comfort and understanding to another level of learning. Usually, that next level is not one that fits like an old shoe!

The teachers I meet are passionate about what they do. In fact, I haven’t met a teacher yet who doesn’t want to do a better job of teaching. The truth is that teachers want to influence their students in ways that will make a difference in their lives. However, the conditions under which they teach and the economic times make it difficult to think outside of the box and try innovative things that challenge their students. Teachers are incredibly patient and supportive of their students. They all pursued teaching because they wanted to change the world by making it a better place to live; they wanted their students to reach their full potential and be the next generation of world leaders.

But, is that enough in today’s world? I don’t think so… knowing the curriculum or knowing the core content is just part of the equation. Knowing how to deliver the content to students and drawing connections to real life situations that are meaningful and relevant to students while helping them to take ownership of their own learning is where the power rests. It’s like creating the perfect lesson plan:  the goals are identified, the materials available, the core standards addressed, and appropriate student learning groups designed to meet the diverse needs of the students. Wouldn’t it be great if the teacher could practice the delivery before the actual class to ensure that the goals, assessments, and outcomes were aligned?

That’s the beauty of working with an instructional coach. Through the BDA cycle of consultation, the coach and teacher work together to plan, think aloud, and collectively problem solve so that every student benefits from the non-evaluative scaffolding of collaboration.

Instructional coaching is a courageous endeavor… the good news is that coaches help teachers rethink what they teach in ways that they didn’t know existed previously… the bad news is that with this newfound knowledge comes some unease and tension in trying new things. Coaching disrupts the status quo. It involves professional conversations about teaching and learning; it requires two or more people coming together to discuss learning, student engagement, and teacher capacity. It entails colleagues working together and sharing opinions, insights, feedback, and a fair amount of self-reflection. It means that the individuals must think about their own thinking and make some deliberate decisions about what they do, why they do “it,” and how they do “it.”

Very often, teachers are either falsely competitive or work in isolation. What I mean is that in certain situations, teachers compete with each other for being the “best” teacher in x grade or they close their doors and work completely isolated from their colleagues. Either way, the results are the same… no opportunities to spread the learning, share the expertise, or broadcast the wealth of experience that no doubt lives in each professional learning community.

Instructional coaches shift thinking and change action by creating environments that are conducive to discourse and ongoing communication. They engage in deliberate and intentional conversations that result in professional growth. After all, talking about one’s practice surely invites reflection and innovation.  Coaches re-ignite the passion for learning by reinforcing the notion that it’s okay to ask questions about teaching and learning; what’s not okay is to do nothing about what one learns.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Coaches, indeed, have a very special role. They are not classroom peers nor are they administrators. They have one “foot” in each world, however, as they work with teachers in non-evaluative ways and work with administrators to help them understand that they are in a community of learners and must not expect coaches to breach confidentiality about their work with teachers.

Coaches need a variety of expertise… they need to have a skill set that is responsive and directive at the same time; they need to understand strategic planning and have a “game” plan for getting work accomplished; they must also be familiar with resources and tools that help shape the coaching relationship and support learning at all levels.
When asking several coaches to identify the most critical attributes for successful coaching, these five qualities emerged as high level necessities: ability to build trusting relationships, model great listening skills, “look” with a non-judgmental eye; ask meaningful questions, and create an environment conducive for relevant and specific feedback. All of these characteristics come with one important thing missing… EGO!

The coaches with whom I work have positioned themselves in ways that are supportive and collaborative with teachers and administrators. They are clear about their coaching roles and share that understanding with the staff they support. They acknowledge that this is not a “who’s right” situation. They follow the teacher’s lead when appropriate and know when to nag where necessary. They recognize that addressing individual learning needs is just as important as program fidelity or results oriented coaching. They try to be as responsive as possible, being flexible and understanding in constructing relationships that are developmental. They differentiate their support and offer “side-by-side” encouragement so that teachers can collectively problem-solve and engage in critical thinking so that changes in instruction, practice, and student learning are the expected outcomes. At the same time, they realize that some conversations are more challenging than others.

Effective instructional coaches do not “tell” teachers what to change; they regularly meet with teachers both individually and in small groups to be part of the process for change. The co-plan, co-facilitate, co-teach, and then debrief about practice. They talk about instruction in ways that build their own capacity for learning which ultimately transforms practice. 

This transformative practice works well when administrators and coaches “partner” together in ways that are non-evaluative, community oriented, participatory for all teachers (coaching is not a deficit model), and collaborative. The goals and process are transparent as are the outcomes. As coaches have explicitly stated: we help our teaching colleagues set goals and a purpose for teaching a lesson/unit/concept; we listen and collaborate as they identify strategies and techniques for effective instructional delivery; we ask some probing and clarifying questions to ensure that the content, instruction, assessment, and outcomes are aligned; we “pat and push” when we have to guide them in a different direction; we share their in-class experiences in non-evaluative ways; and we help them become reflective practitioners and recognize both the strengths and areas of need in classroom practices. Coaches listen more than talk and do not need to share everything they know about a particular idea. Coaches start and end each day asking, “What am I doing as a coach to help teachers change and improve their practice? What am I doing as a coach to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes?” This is truly the coaches’ mantra!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Many coaches are struggling with the practicality of keeping notes about their work with colleagues. It’s not that they don’t want to keep appropriate and professional notes; it’s more about the time it takes and the kind of notes that cause the coaches to anguish over how to complete that kind of process. It’s certainly not easy to do yet the rewards for taking the time to maintain records is crucial to a coach’s success.

What many practitioners do not understand is that coaches do not walk into school and announce, “Oh, what should we do today?” Coaches plan and prepare for their work with teachers every day. So, how do they know what they need to do in preparation for their work with teachers? They keep notes so they can differentiate their support to teachers; they keep notes so they know where they are, where they want to go, and plan the steps it takes to get there.

Coaches need to document not only what/how they work with colleagues but also what their next steps are to provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development to them. However, coaching is confidential so the documentation stays in the hands of the coach and the teacher(s) being coached. Coaches and teachers work together and co-construct the “look fors” (before) in their collaborative consultation. When the coach visits the classroom (during), the coach uses the co-constructed form to document what happened in the classroom. This form is again used as the coach and teacher reflect and debrief (after) the lesson.  This kind of documentation is record keeping, a way for both the coach and teacher to keep track of their work together. This is one kind of documentation.

The more deliberate and thought-provoking kind of documentation is reflecting about the practice. Some questions include: How do you know the students were engaged in the work? Why were specific decisions made? How do you know that the students reached the intended outcomes? How can this practice be improved? What are the next steps to improve learning? These are great conversation starters that encourage deep thinking and contemplation, critical for ongoing discussions about student learning.

At the same time, coaches need to reflect on their work with teachers and ask the questions, “What am I doing to help teachers change and improve their practice? What am I doing to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes?” Their relationships are developmental as is the process for reflecting and determining next steps. Coaches need to know what kind of support is necessary and if resources are required. They need to reflect on the conversations, actions, and thinking throughout the BDA cycle of coaching. They need to prepare themselves for the work they want to accomplish with their colleagues. They need to review their goals and objectives and determine if they have achieved what they set out to do. This process is continual and strengthens practice. How can that happen if the only thing to rely on is memory?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Two interesting related questions that I’ve been asked more and more frequently are how to explain the coach’s role to a staff not familiar with instructional coaching and how to describe or publicize what coaches do and how they do “it.”

First things first… how do we define instructional coaching? Instructional coaching is a sustainable teacher professional development model designed to help teachers get better at what they do. Coaching is part of a whole-school improvement strategy that fosters collective problem-solving and offers highly targeted professional development embedded in teachers’ daily work. Instructional coaches provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders focused on classroom practices to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity and improve student learning. Especially in this era of educator effectiveness, coaches are in the perfect position to help teachers implement effective instructional practices. That is their role. Some schools have ongoing faculty meetings and share the school’s plan for school wide improvement at every meeting; some schools rely on the coach to re-negotiate their role and start talking about the new ideas for school wide change; some schools started the previous year to gather the collective wisdom of the staff and create focus groups to talk about school wide change with instructional coaching as one intervention; some schools “hit the ground running” and are changing the tires on a moving car! No matter how the coaching model and role are “rolled out” in schools, consistency in practice and language are the best ways to ensure a shared understanding of what and how coaches work with teachers and administrators.

The coach’s role needs to be shared in several ways, e.g., in print, in practice, and in perception. So, what do I mean? Coaches ought to informally gather some data from his/her colleagues and identify relevant and meaningful topics via a print or electronic assessment survey of what the school needs to improve. This organic list is generated by the staff so the teachers’ voices are clearly heard. After a list is generated, the coach needs to circulate the list and identify teachers with whom to work. Sometimes coaches ask for volunteers; sometimes they ask their friends to be their emissaries of good will and spread the good word; sometimes coaches are asked to work with all new teachers or specific grade level teachers. Remember, coaching is not a deficit model so working only with those teachers identified by the principal as needing support defeats the purpose and goal of an effective instructional coaching model. However, if the principal “assigns” the coach to work with teachers who are identified as needing help, the coach must broaden his/her scope of work to include other teachers as well. (The coach is following the principal’s directive and is including other teachers to join the process in ways that support whole school improvement.) Share with the staff ways that you can help support effective instruction. Here’s where “show and tell” are your friends!

Working one-on-one is the best way to work with teachers. However, that is not always the reality of a coaching situation. If a coach is a former staff member, s/he must elicit the support of friends and begin to co-plan and co-facilitate some small group learning. An example of small group learning is to offer mini professional learning on the use of evidence-based literacy practices or questioning techniques as topics to demonstrate collaborative practice. Coaches and teachers working together and showing how their work is planned and facilitated speaks volumes. Helping teachers strengthen their reflective practice encourages them to be innovative, especially when they know that coaches are non-evaluative. This can be accomplished through a professional learning community where vision, support, and understanding are shared. If there is a school newsletter or “Coach’s Corner,” share stories of success written by teachers who have seen changes in classroom practice and student engagement as a result of the school’s adoption of an instructional coaching model.

Building relationships take time. Coaches understand adult learning strategies and honor the teachers’ voices and choices. They demonstrate the BDA cycle of consultation, collaboration, collective problem-solving, and confidentiality. Their practical experiences, classroom habits, and coaching protocols demonstrate a clear understanding of goals, objectives and professionalism. There is a joint ownership for student and staff learning with mutual respect evident. Changing perceptions can be challenging. The best way to do that is to show how non-evaluative practices are collaborative, confidential, and critical to success. Show that changing practice creates a change in belief. You can do it!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The energy for September is palpable… new students, new classes, new materials and best of all – new thoughts. All of us start the year extending our thinking and trying our best to make plans that make sense, are doable, and focus on how to help students grow. It’s also the time of year that instructional coaches, teacher leaders, and administrators think about how to help teachers grow professionally. Administrators, especially, are looking for ways to engage their staff members with meaningful professional learning and not minutiae that must be presented to staff. Instructional coaches can be incredibly helpful in designing effective professional development plans that address the needs of the group and offer opportunities for staff to nourish their own professional growth.

In her book, Elena Aguilar says that “…what distinguishes effective coaching from other kinds of professional development activities is that coaching is an ongoing effort focused on developing a specific and agreed-upon set of skills or practices.” This couldn’t be truer!

Instructional coaches are in the perfect position to elicit feedback and input from staff about their past professional learning sessions and which ideas need to be expanded. In most schools, instructional coaches have the pulse of the school and have a pretty good idea of what folks want to know more about and how they can collectively problem-solve around common issues, goals, and grade level/content area points of interest. They know the kinds of skills or practices that should be shared and understand how to help staff members collaborate with each other, not just cooperate with each other. Coaches understand how collaboration creates connections that result in shared learning. And they know that learning is continual and goes beyond one staff meeting.

Coaches work one-on-one and in small groups to promote learning. They build relationships with their peers and provide ongoing support, not “drop-in” support. Be available to help teachers where there is a need. For instance, if you were a coach in the building last year, begin this year with a review of last year’s accomplishments and remind everyone about their role in making those accomplishments so successful. Collect some school wide data and design some mini professional learning sessions around the data that shows where support is needed. Partner with one of the teachers you coached and co-plan/co-facilitate some of those mini sessions. You’ll need to be creative; offering those sessions is always an issue. Some coaches I know offer those sessions before school; some offer them during school by repeating the mini sessions a few times so teachers can visit on their prep periods; and some offer time after school if possible. (Some schools have a budget for before or after school activities so explore those options.)

If you are new to the school and coaching is new, think about working with PLCs and finding some articles that address the goals of the PLCs. Established PLCs should have a mission and vision and through your support, help members share that vision. Having a shared vision brings people together, even for a short “chat and chew” session with coffee and donuts. When you bring people together and they start to talk about common interests and a joint mission, relationships begin to emerge. Those are the relationships that you want to cultivate. They are the relationships that take on individual and group ownership. Those are the folks with whom you can start a coaching relationship.

Getting into classrooms as a new coach is not the first thing that usually happens. Teachers want to improve their practices but they are not entirely comfortable with someone coming into their rooms without taking time to become acquainted first. This is not an arranged marriage and it just doesn’t happen automatically. Just saying a coach is non-evaluative is not enough for carte blanche in a classroom. Talk to the teachers; find out what they think needs to happen to help their students grow and to help the school be successful; give teachers a voice and choice about how you can help them. That’s a good start to opening the lines of communication. And as you open the doors, remember the three “Bs” of effective coaches: be trustworthy, be a good listener, and be a great learner.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

And so it begins…

Along with the excitement of meeting new students comes the anxiety about working with new administrators, navigating the Common Core, preparing for the educator effectiveness process and understanding a myriad of other initiatives that are either district-wide, school-wide or statewide. So, when I talked to several teachers and coaches, I asked them what caused the most angst with opening school.

They recognize that the beginning of the school year “gathers” all the hopes and expectations of offering students and their teachers a plethora of initiatives that are designed to help improve student outcomes. Sometimes the initiatives are structural, e.g., moving teachers’ rooms around to organize specific teams of teachers with their students or creating writing labs in former classrooms where teachers can take their students so that the atmosphere is conducive to great writing. You know what I mean about walking into school and seeing more than the floors waxed and new white boards installed. Those surprises are usually not met with much hope. After all, making physical changes does not guarantee that changes in instruction will follow.

Then these teachers I asked thought for a moment and talked about how busy their days were sure to be. They began decorating their rooms several days ago and arranging the classroom furniture in ways that would encourage thinking, talking, and learning together. They reviewed their class lists and started to think about how to group students. Some had last year’s data; most did not. Without the data, they focused on what kind of work the students would do in groups rather than how to construct the groups to maximize the students’ learning.

I asked them how they would go about working with other teachers and creating a camaraderie with both students and teachers so they could think about instructional practice. They rolled their eyes and said that the one thing they rarely, if ever, have time to do is just to talk to their colleagues about classroom “stuff” and share ideas. They all loved the notion of sharing ideas and techniques. Most said they talked to each other as they passed in the hallway, went to the mailroom, or while waiting in line to duplicate some papers in the office. Most said they were not optimistic about the kinds of professional development (not learning!) that they think has been scheduled for the grade level, content area, or large group meetings they were required to attend. Notice, they said “attend” and not “participate” in these meetings.

We know that students and teachers learn from each other. Learning is social. Start this year with a commitment to work together with your colleagues to collectively problem-solve, create lessons that can be shared, communicate regularly about issues that influence student learning, and collaborate in ways that engage each other in real talk, or accountable talk. Make deliberate time to honor each voice and recognize that teaching and learning is evolutionary… it happens over time through multiple collaborative opportunities and recurrent discussions.   

While this was a very small sample of teachers and coaches (8), I believe they are the voices of the field. I believe that they are making a difference in their universe… they want to engage their students, take time to think about their thinking, be reflective in their practice,  be innovative and creative, and implement effective instructional practices. This cannot be accomplished in a silo. Talk to one another!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Getting ready...
Well, school opening is right around the corner. I’ll bet most teachers are feeling pretty relaxed right about now. But, before you know it, the bells will start ringing, signifying the start of another school year. Yes, another year where teachers will be told that they need to do a better job and the way to accomplish that is through the evaluation system. Teachers will be told that they need to be “fixed” and that fixing the system will translate into improved student outcomes… is this really the way to improve student outcomes?

I don’t know… I still get excited buying school supplies and thinking about all the interesting ways to connect art, life and literature. I still think a lot about how I would approach using various novels and exposing my students to a multitude of techniques that would enhance their interest and engagement. I still think about creative ways to remember every student’s name and how to start the year with a positive and promising attitude for change. Until now, I really didn’t think too much about how teachers are evaluated and how that impacts their daily existence.

Along with the excitement of this new school year, comes the shift in my thinking. My thoughts have shifted away from sharing my love of teaching literature to students into sharing ways to collectively problem-solve and focus on where successful learning takes place… in the classroom with teachers and other school leaders. My beliefs have evolved to address a myriad of ways to think about helping teachers find their voices and affirming what they know works in classrooms. I want to think about a variety of ways that reinforce teachers’ “best practices” and their quest to go from “good to great” in their classroom habits.

Wouldn’t it be great if all schools could begin the year building on the previous year’s successes and focusing on how to apply effective instructional practices rather than beginning the year blaming folks on what changes were not made? If that were the case, imagine how productive staff members would feel if they knew that being a member in a community of learning and practice meant that the entire school community would start the year collaborating about the practices that worked well the previous year and strategizing ways to make continuous  improvements that influence student learning.

So, what do I think about the beginning of the school year? Here’s what I think… instructional coaches are in a perfect position to “remind” staff that capitalizing on the successes is a much more valuable way to encourage success. Coaches need to start the year with a plan that continues building on previous successes and moves practice forward. They need to think about ways to help teachers participate fully in collaborative learning experiences. Remember, teachers want to implement new learning in their instruction and having the support to do that, will likely result in changes with student performance. Coaches need to understand how to build content knowledge with teachers, focus on the skills needed to become more knowledgeable, think about the ways attitudes must change to make those adjustments and then think about the teacher behaviors that will demonstrate their understanding of change and the momentum change causes. Not so easy to do but oh, so constructive if done in a non-evaluative way.

I think coaches can make certain assumptions as they start the year: 1) teachers need to understand a variety of instructional strategies before they are expected to use them; 2) implementation of new strategies requires teacher resources, i.e., coaches to help build success through practice and support; 3) meeting teachers one-on-one and in small groups to discuss classroom practice is the most effective way to support teachers as they apply their new learning; 4) work together consistently and intentionally with teachers to recognize, understand, and use new practices in order to make the practices part of their teaching repertoire; and 5) professional growth of teachers must be nourished, valued, and supported regularly in order for change to take place. Change takes time. Coaching is a practice that will help ensure that teachers have the time to think about, reflect and make adjustments to their teaching. This small start will make a very big difference in teaching and learning.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What is instructional coaching?

I've thought long and hard about how to start a blog and whether or not I had something important enough to say so that others could respond. Well, today is the first time I am writing a blog and sharing my thoughts with others. Not because what I have to say is so important but rather because what I have to say may help others change their thinking, engage in open dialogue with colleagues, and explore ways of working together without the fear and risk of the dreaded word... evaluation.

I started teaching in 1973 and retired from the only school district where I ever worked in 2009. I was incredibly lucky... I loved every minute of teaching but not everything I was required to do. My career was varied: English teacher, English Department Head, school disciplinarian, cooperating teacher, curriculum writer, etc., with a host of other responsibilities like substitute teaching when my department colleagues were absent, supporting the office during inclement weather, and engaging regularly with parents who were unsure of their child(ren)'s path to success. Through it all, I never wavered from my goal of students being at the center and ensuring I was doing the best I could do to help them reach their greatest potential. Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that I needed someone to help me grow professionally so that I could "turn around" my lessons learned to help both students and colleagues. Again, I was lucky... my husband was also a teacher who loved his role as classroom supporter, instructional leader, and colleague who helped his students grow as learners. I now know that he was my first (and only) coach. He asked the right questions, incurred my anger several times, and helped me realize that talking about practice and "rehearsing" ways to engage students would facilitate my own growth and practice.

Well, here I am struggling with the same issues I experienced in my own classroom only now I'm focusing on helping others to love the art and science of teaching as I did albeit in a very different world with very different requirements. So bear with me as I share my thoughts and welcome your thoughts and questions as well.

Belief for today... So many thoughts, so many blogs, so many opinions about instructional coaching. So what is instructional coaching? Many think instructional coaching is when a colleague or administrator gives advice, an opinion, or a suggestion about how to teach a specific concept, book, mathematical equation, etc. You get my drift... when a teacher asks for help (or not), someone comes into the room or meets the teacher in the hallway or in the teachers' lounge and some question is answered. Sometimes, a "conversation" happens when a colleague comes to the classroom door and asks, "How are things? Is there anything I can get/do for you today?" This is not coaching, not even peer coaching. It's not even mentoring of teachers although I've seen this happen, especially where release time is an issue.

For me, instructional coaching happens when two people meet regularly to talk about the practice of teaching and learning. This can also happen in small groups; the difference between these two types of collaborations is that the conversations becomes more "global" in nature with a small group and not about a specific person's interactions with students and with the learning that takes place. In both scenarios, the conversations need to become routine; they need to become habits of the mind, practice, and belief. When the conversations occur one-on-one, however, they become more deliberate and more focused on an individual's customs and traditions that translate into classroom practice. Think about tennis lessons... does an individual "get" as much from a group lesson as a one-on-one with the tennis instructor?

Enough for one day... stay tuned and I'll continue to share my perceptions, views and reflections about instructional coaching.