By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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!