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?