By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

I took a quick poll from some newer coaches to ask them for a few questions they had about their practice which would have been helpful if answered before they began to coach. Some said that they didn't even know the questions to ask prior to becoming a coach. They made an assumption that their colleagues would just "open their doors" and welcome them into the classrooms. Once they began talking, the rest would follow. Unfortunately, this did not happen as often as expected. Several coaches commented that if they had a chance to start anew, they would focus on building awareness of the instructional coaching model for their faculties rather than jumping in with both feet and expecting to gain access to classrooms from the very beginning.

This is extremely important. First, the coach and the administrator(s) need to discuss the vision for school wide improvement and how instructional coaching can help the school achieve the goals for improved teaching and learning. Then, this shared vision must be communicated to the rest of the leadership team and the staff. The school staff must know the expectations about instructional coaching, understand the role of the instructional coach, and recognize how instructional coaches are on the side of helping teachers implement effective instructional practices.

Coaches and administrators need to work together to build awareness that instructional coaches are not "fixers" and instructional coaching is not a deficit model where coaches are "assigned" to work with teachers who have been identified by administrators as needing help. Instructional coaches provide a differentiated support system for teachers, administrators, and students to go from "good to great." They help teachers and administrators make instructional decisions that influence learning and help build sustainable structures. They must clearly communicate that instructional coaching is a non-evaluative process that fosters collaboration, collective problem-solving, and creative solutions to school wide challenges. The sooner this vision is shared, the sooner instructional coaches can work with their faculties to reinforce the plan for improvement.

Monday, January 13, 2014

So, it seems that blogs are best when they are short, sweet, and to the point. Having said that, I will make every effort to shorten my blog entries starting with this one!

Last week, we met with ~140+ instructional coaches at our multi-day professional learning conference. While many professional development/learning sessions were offered, what stood out for me were the incredible conversations about teaching and learning. Coaches and other school leaders engaged in conversations about relevant pedagogy, teacher practice, and collective problem-solving. They talked about planning and preparation, reflection and feedback. They talked about how collaborative coaching helped identify areas of strength and need, and helped strengthen their own instructional habits. They shared stories of growth and problems of practice, each adding to one’s own repertoire of rituals.

What is abundantly clear is that instructional coaching provides a different approach to the typical professional development model for teachers and other school leaders. Instructional coaches help teachers identify goals and help them implement effective instructional practices. They help teachers create an evidentiary trail (and create one for themselves as well) of their work as they apply powerful practices that yield positive outcomes. Coaches really help teachers rehearse the classroom “lesson” in a no-risk environment where the only expectation is for teachers to get better at what they do with a little help from their friends!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Instructional coaching is intended to reinforce teachers’ and administrators’ practices in ways that support schools so that instruction is rigorous, the delivery effective, and the assessment appropriate for student learning to improve. In some cases, instructional coaching helps expand both the teachers and administrators’ knowledge base; sometimes, the coaches help teachers and administrators use what they know and provide support about more effective instructional strategies, techniques, and delivery of instruction. Whatever the reason, instructional coaching influences what students learn, increases student engagement, builds teacher capacity, and helps both students and their teachers become more successful learners.

Instructional coaching should never be a, “What do you want to do today?” type of conversation. Coaches plan, prepare, sometimes “prescribe” and most times, practice, with their teaching colleagues in ways that are non-evaluative, non-threatening, and really not reportable. That’s the good news/bad news story… coaches work with teachers to change practice and because the work and the relationships are non-evaluative, teachers and coaches are in a unique position with each other. Coaches are not supervisors; they are not substitute teachers; sometimes they are not even classroom colleagues. So what are they?

Coaches are experienced teaching professionals who can understand the process of instruction, can recognize effective instructional practices, can assess data, and can engage in ongoing conversations that ebb and flow depending on “where” the participants are at the time of the conversation. They also understand that they are not experts; they are willing participants in a collaborative process that takes much time, consistent relationships, great leadership, and lots of humor!

Receptivity and responsiveness are situational. Not every person is reflective every time and thinks about his/her thinking. Nor is every person willing to engage in thoughtful problem solving. It can be a scary thing to confess that you don’t know something or to admit that you need help. After all, teachers went to college… why do they need help in teaching their students… they have a degree that says they are ready to teach??

As a coach, I think the single most important quality is the ability to build strong, collaborative relationships. No one knows everything about content even in one’s own area of certification; no one knows every strategy or instructional technique that promises to improve student outcomes; no one knows all there is to know about his/her students or school wide community. What a coach knows, however, is the power of collaboration and the tremendous influence collective problem solving has to improve the ongoing teaching and learning that must be present in order for students, the teachers, the administrators, and their schools to be successful and help prepare our students for society. Maybe it’s instinctive or intuitive; maybe it’s just the ability to talk, learn, laugh, and share together. Whatever it is… coaches have “it” and I’m glad they do!