By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When a group of new coaches met during a small group professional learning conference, I asked for some burning questions that they needed answered as they began their new role as instructional coaches. Hands down, the most frequently asked question revolved around the issue of confidentiality and how to answer an administrator who had good intentions but was asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what the administrator could do to support teachers, the administrator asked what happened between the coach and teacher during their planning consultation and subsequent classroom visit.

Administrators need to know what is going on in their building but must balance that with the sensitivity about confidentiality. They need to collect first-hand information about instructional delivery, classroom management, teacher needs, and student learning. This can be accomplished as they walk around the building and engage in classroom observations, teacher talks, and student focus group conversations. This data cannot be collected through conversations with the coach, even if the conversation boasts a positive description of what happened in an individual’s classroom.

So, how does a coach finesse this kind of conversation? First of all, building awareness of the coaching role as a confidential conversation between professionals is critical. The coaching model needs to be rolled out to the faculty with the coach and administrator side-by-side, each giving the other support and lending credibility about how coaching works. Next, the coach must reiterate to the teachers that the work between the coach and teacher will not be shared unless the teacher shares the conversation with the administrator absent the coach. Thirdly, the administrator must not ask the coach questions about any individual teacher’s performance, knowledge base, skill set, or instructional needs. Instead, the administrator should co-plan with the coach the kinds of professional development offered to all teachers and then make time to walk around the building to observe the level of implementation without involving the coach in the conversation.

When coaches do not directly answer administrators, they are not being insubordinate; they are being discreet, confidential, and respectful of their teaching colleagues. And, they are diplomatically reminding administrators to be visible and walk around their building.

Have you ever been asked to reveal some confidential information? How did you handle it?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Last week was a wonderful learning experience for me. The PA Institute for Instructional Coaching hosted the first of three professional learning conferences of 2014. This is a multi-day statewide conference with coaches, mentors, administrators, and other school leaders as participants. The three-day conference focused on the theme of listening as a critical element of instructional coaching and school change. Coaches need to be fully “present” and must be great listeners to help their colleagues identify areas of strength and areas of need in order to move forward with their teaching goals and school wide improvement.

Listening helps coaches give “permission” to their teaching colleagues to discuss problems of practice, to collectively problem-solve, and to help each other become critical friends. When one listens to another person without being judgmental or opinionated, the conversation is respectful, mutual, and without ego. No one is right; all points of view are respected, voice and choice are exercised, and achieving goals are the primary objectives.

Remember when you first started teaching? You were a student teacher and had the support of your cooperating teacher. How often did your cooperating teacher remind you not to talk over students, not to answer for the students, and not to ask another question until the students finished answering what you just asked? The same scenario is recognizable when instructional coaches work with teachers. Ask probing questions that give teachers the opportunity to think about their thinking and the classroom decisions that they make. Allow them time to delve into their own thinking and question their own motives for teaching specific content and for the instructional delivery of that content. Give them opportunities to reflect.

Coaches need to ask themselves questions as well: what am I doing as a coach to help teachers change and improve their practice and what am I doing as a coach to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes? Coaches cannot answer these questions unless and until they engage in several moments of silence where they just listen and support as they guide the practice that happens in each classroom. Two ears and one mouth… listen twice as much and say half as much!!