By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

The ASCD Express, Volume 11, issue 7 talks about mentoring for new teachers. In theory, that’s a very effective practice. But are they the only ones who need mentoring?

To me, that statement means that only novice teachers need the support to apply their new learnings. I disagree… we want all practitioners to go from good to great and to do that with the support of a skilled, experienced practitioner who understands adult learning, collaboration, collective problem-solving, and critical thinking. And, to do that in a non-evaluative environment where formative assessment and self-assessment are the norm and making mistakes is a rite of passage without fear of evaluation.

The article suggests that “… creating mentor programs to support new teachers can help them adjust to more than just procedures… and to help them become more confident” in their teaching. Wow… why wouldn’t we want to ensure that every staff member has the benefit of working with a trusted colleague?

In this article, the terms “mentor” and “coach” are actually interchangeable. Here, “mentor” is what we would call a “coach.” I, however, see them as two different roles with different responsibilities but both necessary for all learning communities, not just newly hired staff. Both share common qualities: being nonjudgmental, providing needed support, willing to work with different skill sets, and modeling reflective practice. While both are long-term relationships, coaching may be more performance driven while mentoring may be more development driven. Coaches tend to address the “needs of the day” in working with teachers and try to find ways to problem solve. Mentors tend to focus on being a facilitator and silent partner. Both need to ask essential questions so that the learning is with, not for and both need to provide timely and specific feedback for continuous improvement.

I’ve never met a teaching colleague who didn’t want to better his/her craft. What a shift in education if every teacher and administrator could work with a coach who works with a mentor to support the learning without risk of failure!

So, what do you think… should only new teachers have the benefit of a coach/mentor?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In the January 2016 issue of Educational Leadership, author Martha Sandstead compares working as an instructional coach to “cutting watermelons.” (If you are a former English teacher, you know that using a metaphor is a powerful way to illustrate a point that may seem like such an unlikely comparison at first glance.)

Ms. Sandstead reiterates what PIIC has espoused for quite some time… establishing relationships with colleagues is developmental and situational. She uses the metaphor of cutting watermelons as a way to help instructional coaches understand that the process of cutting the watermelon is almost more important than the pieces of watermelon offered to the picnic guests… don’t try to tell the host that s/he is cutting the watermelon incorrectly; engage in a conversation and explore the reasons why the watermelon is being cut in just that way.

She continues by reminding us that coaches “…begin relationships with teachers and work with them to discover their potential and bring about change in a way that respects them as professionals and as people.” The teaching colleagues with whom the coaches work have already established many things about their professional practice. The coach’s role is to help his/her colleagues identify those practices that are strong and those that need to be strengthened. They need to meet their colleagues “where they are” and talk about practices “as they are.” Those conversations morph into the heart of teaching and learning and how teachers can meet the needs of a diverse population. Effective coaching is neither a deficit model nor a “fix-it” model; teachers do not need to be “fixed.” They need an experienced, non-evaluative ear so that they can share their ideas about practice; teachers need their voices heard and their expertise validated.

“Being a coach is not about being the expert who knows it all; it’s about immersing yourself in teachers’ classrooms so you can learn about the work they have created and who they are as professionals” says Ms. Sandstead. I couldn’t agree more! Coaches need to be active listeners, supportive colleagues, and respectful learning partners.

What I don’t quite agree with in the article is the “Coaching from the Copy Room” idea. Coaches need to make time and not find time to meet with colleagues, learn about their teaching philosophies, goals, needs, and their “wish fors” as they move ahead in their own practice. While a quick “copy room” conversation may result in a definite time for the next meeting, it shouldn’t be the place where practice is discussed. Those conversations need to be confidential and deliberate, not “off the cuff” and freelance. Coaches need to help teachers think more deeply about their practices which is much more than just a quick conversation. Quick conversations are a start but they are not the “end all” or the optimum way to engage in professional conversations.

How can developing strong relationships make a difference in your coaching?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Providing opportunities for reflection and dialogue is critical for effective instructional coaching. In fact, it’s critical for growth in any organization.

In the education world, many teachers have only experienced the ‘gotcha’ factor… an administrator walking into a classroom without any prior communication, “observing” a lesson or snapshot in time, and then sending a checklist of what should be done in the classroom without suggestions for specific ways to make improvements.

Instructional coaching can change that paradigm. Coaches work with teachers and their administrators so that a mutually agreed upon vision of school wide improvement is shared with staff members. They work with administrators and help plan a strategic way to address student needs as a school wide endeavor, not as a plan for individual teachers who may be experiencing some classroom challenges. They help administrators give appropriate feedback that is specific and actionable, descriptive and timely.

Coaches collaborate with their teaching colleagues to plan, visit, and debrief about what happens in the classroom. They give feedback to their teaching colleagues and they also get feedback from them. It is a mirrored approach where the coaches model the teachable moments with their colleagues. Their feedback is descriptive, non-judgmental, timely, and specific helping teachers to identify what worked well in the classroom and what instructional practices need to be strengthened.

Instructional coaches ensure that the teachers with whom they work do not feel overwhelmed, ignored, misunderstood, or undervalued. They collectively problem-solve with teachers and provide individualized, personalized classroom support to the teachers with whom they work. They don’t just “tell” teachers what to do; they work together and “show” how instructional procedures continually improve through dialogue, demonstration, and practice.

How do you provide feedback to the teachers with whom you work?

Monday, November 2, 2015

In the October 20, 2015 Ed Week online commentary, Mike Schmoker comments that a transformation in teacher education will require the answers to two questions:  1) Are we training teachers in methods that are among the very best practices that exist today—those with the strongest, most enduring evidence base and pedigree; and 2) Are we observing those principles most essential to effective training that focuses on frequent monitoring, feedback, and follow-up training?

These two questions are very important for instructional coaches…are coaches and other school leaders sharing the most effective (I don’t think “best” is a wise word choice) instructional techniques, strategies, and practices with their teaching colleagues; are teachers receiving the support they need to ensure that the practices shared are appropriate to their students’ needs; and are teachers given the opportunity to practice what they learn and given feedback in real time?

As an instructional coach, you know the importance of bringing teachers together, honoring their voices, and providing opportunities for them to share their expertise. Remember what Urban Institute researcher Jane Hannaway said, “Teachers work in isolation. They learn what they learn and then they plateau. They get no valid input.”  You need to be the catalyst that ensures multiple opportunities for teachers to learn from each other. Students benefit when their teachers learn from their peers. As per the Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers study (Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009) … when the quality of a teacher’s colleagues improve, the students of that teacher benefit.

When teachers learn, share, and practice together, they become more knowledgeable in their content, more skilled in delivering that content, and more likely to engage in reflective practices which helps them make adjustments in their teaching to better meet the needs of their students.

Coaches are on the side of helping teachers implement effective instructional practices by helping them identify which practices are effective and which practices need to be strengthened.

How do you help teachers identify their most effective instructional practices and then help them collectively problem-solve and work collaboratively?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

As this year goes into full swing, think about helping your colleagues learn together. If you have not done so already, walk around the building where you coach and elicit some ideas from your teaching colleagues about themes that support student learning and how you can collaborate to concentrate on those themes.  Work with your colleagues and strategize ways that those themes can become some of the learning focuses for the year. As a coach, think about providing opportunities for colleagues to work together and address some of the learning needs shared. This is a powerful way for colleagues to learn from each other.

Taking the pulse of the school is a very effective way to stay “in touch” with your colleagues, giving them a voice. It is also a way to plan professional development around topics that are important to them.  It’s really a grass roots approach that captures not only the short term items that may be on several colleagues’ minds but can also be developed into a long term plan for school wide improvement. 

If you haven’t created a needs assessment yet this year, think about gathering the collective wisdom of your colleagues and generating one. If you have one from last year, revisit it and make any necessary adjustments so that you can use the assessment to make suggestions and plan ongoing professional development sessions that are relevant to the individual and collective needs of the school. 

Use the assessment as a planning tool for the year. This tool can be useful for whole school, small group, and one-to-one interactions. Your colleagues might even organize PLCs around some of the ideas that emerge from the needs assessment. In whatever ways you use this kind of tool, remember that the key here is taking those ideas and providing opportunities for your colleagues to work together and share their learning.  Great content for the BDA cycle of consultation!!

How have you used a needs assessment as a rich resource from your teaching colleagues in your building?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two weeks ago, the PIIC mentors met for their two-day statewide mentor meeting. They collaborated and designed a variety of professional development sessions that would be implemented throughout the year at their local, regional, and statewide professional learning conferences. This year, the focus is on “The BDA cycle in practice.”

You may remember reading about the BDA cycle of consultation in previous blogs: the “B” or before session is where the coach and teacher or group of teachers discuss and co-construct the agreed upon “look fors” as well as decide what the teacher’s and coach’s roles are when the visit takes place; the date and time for the debriefing are also scheduled at this time. The “D” or during session is the actual visit; this is the data collection stage with a list that was generated in the before session. The “A” or after session is the time for debriefing. This is where the coach and teacher reflect on what they saw or did (during) and align it to what they planned (before). Depending on the roles, both the teacher and the coach give/get feedback. This is where beliefs are discussed and ultimately where professional practice is changed.

In reality, not every teacher has the luxury of meeting his/her coach for each of the three sessions every time they work together. Every effort, however, should be made to meet for a complete cycle at least once or twice a quarter. When the full cycle occurs, the coach and teacher engage in a 3-pronged cycle that is collaborative, confidential, collective, and communal. Many part time coaches have blended their approach to the BDA cycle. They plan using an electronic tool, e.g., google docs, Crocodoc, NineHub, Wallwisher, or other collaborative tools when they do not have the opportunity to meet F2F. Unfortunately, there is no substitution for the “D.” A coach and teacher need to see each other in the classroom. That visit is the basis for the debriefing in the “A.” The conversation in the “A” can sometimes be virtual using Skype, google hangouts, GoToMeeting or similar tools.

Don’t let the shortage of time prevent you from meeting with teachers in planned and intentional ways.

How do you blend your approach and follow the BDA cycle of consultation in your coaching?

Monday, September 21, 2015

In the August 2015 issue of JSD, Learning Forward’s Director of Communications, Tracy Crow, reminds us that learning from one’s colleagues makes quite a difference in the “take aways” from those conversations. Whether formally or informally, the professional dialogue that emerges from conversations with one another helps to collectively problem-solve and to think “out loud” about problems of practice. These conversations are truly learning moments when colleagues share ideas, ask questions, reflect on practice, and focus on learning… one’s own learning.

When talking to my colleagues about what they value the most in a coaching relationship, the opportunity to talk to colleagues without fear of admitting their own weaknesses surfaces as the most valuable asset in the partnership. They readily acknowledge that their teaching peers have a wealth of information and are incredible resources in the learning environment. They recognize that gathering the collective wisdom from a group of experienced practitioners scaffolds their own learning and improves their practice by virtue of listening, sharing, collaborating, and discovering new ideas.

Instructional coaches are instrumental in creating environments that foster collaboration and long-term professional learning.  They help create a culture of change in learning communities and reinforce the notion that professional development is critical for school wide improvement and must be sustained. While not experts, coaches bring colleagues together so they can form partnerships, establish a critical friends’ learning group, and reflect on effective practices. They help their colleagues internalize what they learn and build on those ideas so that the learning becomes cumulative.

As a coach, what are some of the ways you can help your teaching colleagues take advantage of the greatest learning environment around… your building?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

For almost two years, the South African Department of Higher Education and Training along with their partner organizations have been communicating with us about instructional coaching as a job-embedded professional development model for their teachers. They want to provide a vehicle for supporting the teachers who work with students who are post-high school graduates but not quite ready for a 4 year college or university. These students attend TVET colleges which are similar to our community colleges. The government wants to provide the teachers of these students with every opportunity to improve their craft and address the needs of this student population.

So, four of us went to Johannesburg, South Africa, to provide a 5-day intensive professional development training to educate individuals who were selected to become coaches and mentors. As a “train the trainers” model, we worked with a small group of individuals who will now provide turnaround training for more potential coaches and mentors to the other TVET sites.

Our participants were receptive and responsive, absorbing all the lessons we have learned about working with adult learners, designing an instructional coaching model, building teacher capacity, and improving student engagement. They shared pieces of their culture with us and focused on our similarities rather than our differences. We modeled our 4-quadrant framework and our BDA cycle of consultation, helping them to understand why collaboration, communication, collective problem-solving, and critical friends groups are essential for change and school wide improvement. We talked about working one-on-one and in small groups to support teachers and school leaders; engaged in focused discussions about data collection and use; shared evidence-based literacy practices across all content areas; and conveyed the importance of reflection and non-evaluative practice for making sustainable change.

It is our hope that a team from South Africa will join us for our October PIIC Professional Learning Opportunity so they can see firsthand how instructional coaches collaborate and create safe environments. We want them to see how coaches are on the side of helping teachers implement effective instructional practices regardless of the student population or needs. We want them to see how the transparency and shared vision for helping students transcends culture and geography.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A survey recently conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation suggests that most teachers who regularly use digital tools in their instructional preparation are unhappy with the quality of the data collected or with the tools they use to collect the data.

Interesting… data are important to collect but not if these data are not used. A teacher and coach can certainly decide in the “before” conference which data to collect and then use a tool in the “during” to collect the agreed upon data. But, the real conversations take place in determining how that data are used with a follow up conversation in the “after” to debrief and review the initial goals and the purpose for collecting those data.

The report (Education Week Teacher, June 5, 2015) indicates that teachers completing the survey feel very uncomfortable and at a loss about data collection. They cite three reasons why: 1)teachers feel inundated with the data collection process vs. instructional preparation; 2) they want suggestions about using the data, i.e., so now what; and 3) they want more than just numbers in helping them guide the learning process for both themselves and their students. They want to know more about how students learn and what they can do to improve their practices.

Digital tools are really important. And, schools have a social responsibility to help prepare their students for 21st century learning by using a plethora of innovative tools. They also have a responsibility to help teachers understand which digital tools are appropriate for learning to take place without overwhelming the teachers with collection vs. usage.

How can instructional coaching support teachers and help them understand more about data collection, its use, and making learning more relevant, productive, and collaborative?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Last week, one of the PIIC coaches started an IU Instructional Coaching Chat on Twitter.  We were trying this communication thread to see how we can engage more coaches in conversations about their practices. This particular chat was about the coach’s reflection of the past year and strategies for summer engagement for coaches to initiate with teachers.

I must admit… I am a real neophyte (or dinosaur) when it comes to virtual communication. I am okay with email and text messages but not so much with Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram! I do know, however, that I could ask any tween or teenager to help me navigate social media and s/he could do it easily!

The first question of the chat ( asked coaches to think about the “year in review” and reflect about the coaching role. This is so similar to how I felt when I reflected on my teaching for the year. Were my goals realistic and attainable? Did I have short range, mid-range, and long range goals? Did I accomplish what I set out to do? If not, what were the obstacles that stood in my way? If I accomplished my goals, did I accomplish them in the ways I thought I would or to the extent that I projected I would? What should I have done differently or not at all? What changes can I make for the next year both in content and process? What have I learned about myself as a learner and about my students as learners? As a coach, what have I learned about my teaching colleagues as well?

To me, reflection equals change. And that change requires some action. Sometimes, minor changes are needed and sometimes, a major overhaul is needed. Either way, the important “note to self” is that every action takes planning, delivering, and debriefing. As a coach, this process can be accomplished with your own coach, the IU mentor, or with another trusted colleague. Make sure you take this step in reviewing your coaching work and preparing for your own professional growth. Remember, no change takes place without reflection and modification.

What are some of the things you have learned about your coaching work this year? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Two weeks ago, PIIC provided a wonderful three-day professional learning experience to coaches, mentors, administrators and other school/IU staff members. After great discussions about practice and the evolution of instructional coaching in their respective buildings, participants were asked to reflect and think about how coaching has helped move teachers from “information sharing” to “professional learning.”  You know the song, “It’s all about the bass?” Our PLO was “all about the practice!”

One coach remarked, “I have seen a shift from teachers just talking to each other to a major change in conversation being about strategies and ideas to use in the classroom.  This is a welcomed change in my building.” 

Professional development refers to the “staff development” that is typically offered to teachers. Been there; done that… we all know what happens when professional development in isolation is offered.  That’s not enough; providing PD means just sharing information and if the information is not relevant, that’s another issue.

The content offered in professional development may inform practice but it doesn’t change the practice. Practice changes when teachers talk together, plan together, and debrief together about what works well in classrooms; change occurs when the professional development is followed up with coaches and becomes professional learning that is consistent, ongoing, tied to teacher practice, standards, and research.

When coaches create a culture of collaboration and conversation, change occurs. And it is the coaches who are the first practitioners to notice those changes.

In what ways have you seen teachers move from information sharing to implementation of new information?

Friday, May 1, 2015

When talking about instructional coaching, very often the first thing mentioned is the cost to the district to hire a coach, especially in districts where the student population is plummeting and teachers may be furloughed. After all, how can a district justify hiring a coach who isn’t teaching his/her own students when the teaching staff is reduced and class size might increase as a result?

That’s a tough question and takes some very deliberate time to think about the needs of the school, talk through some options, and discuss the existing programs that are supported by the school and district leadership.

Instructional coaching is not an intervention or an “add-on.” Implemented well and effectively, it’s one of the only ways to ensure that “collaboration, inquiry, and reflection” (JSD, Apr 2015 vol. 36, No. 2.) are regularly integrated into the fabric of the school culture. Where else can teachers be honored for what they know and encouraged to work together for the purpose of improved learning for each other and their students? Where else can teachers’ learning be visible, meditative, and non-evaluative?

How to do coaching, however, is always the question.

Restructuring a school day and revising teachers’ schedules are ways to offer opportunities for schools to have instructional coaches on staff. The teachers are already there. Looking at schedules and a variety of responsibilities may yield some options. Yes, this is peer coaching… every instructional coaching model is a peer coaching model because colleagues work together and share their learning. A critical difference in coaching models, however, is the training, preparation, and support. Many peer coaches are not trained to be coaches; they offer to participate in a “peer coaching” initiative because they understand the benefits of working with their teacher partners. They want to support their colleagues as much as they want to be supported by them.

And, as we know, making time to meet with colleagues is critical for any coaching to be successful. That is one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome for colleagues working together without having daily release time devoted to working with each other. Without the identified time to do so, life intervenes and collaboration is not a priority.

What does your coaching schedule look like in your school?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Supervision vs. coaching… how many times has the question emerged… can a coach be a supervisor or principal of the school?

That’s a really important question and deserves some discussion. While it is true that some principals do coach, they still have the responsibility for holding teachers accountable for making changes that the principals suggest.

Cathy Toll has a clear distinction between coaching and supervising. She says that a coach is “One who helps teachers to recognize what they know and can do, assists teachers as they strengthen their ability to make more effective use of what they know and do, and supports teachers as they learn more and do more.”  Her definition of supervisor is also to the point. A supervisor is, “One who ensures that teachers meet the requirements of their positions at a satisfactory level and continue to do so over time.”

Here’s where I disagree with Cathy. She also says that when supervisors move teachers beyond satisfactory demonstration of their work, they are coaching. I’m not convinced… whether they are evaluating the teacher’s work in real time or helping them understand ways to improve their practices for future work, a supervisor “tells” more than “listens” and that differs greatly from how coaches work with teachers.

Yes, I think principals can give sage advice about teaching and learning. However, they still wear the hat of evaluator and know that whatever they suggest to teachers needs to be followed. Coaches are more likely to help teachers make their thinking visible and discuss what worked well in classrooms. The coach’s influence is more subtle and grows over time, helping teachers take ownership of their learning and building confidence, skills, and content knowledge; a principal or supervisor’s influence may be more observable, requiring the teacher to make immediate changes as “suggested” by the principal.

Have you experienced any situations where the coach is also a supervisor as well? How are those two roles kept separate?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The second semester is always a challenge for teachers and instructional coaches. T’is the season for testing… enough said!

Well, maybe not enough said! School communities know the pressure placed on the stakeholders for students to be successful in these standardized tests, even if the scores only reflect a snapshot in time for the actual test taking procedures. Certainly, the tests are supposed to reflect the students’ knowledge base and how they can apply their learning. We know that increased testing does not always accurately indicate what the students know and are able to do. And, I can’t help to think that if I wanted to lose weight, getting on the scale five times a day would not help me do that… portion control and exercise would.  Testing should adopt the same philosophy… increased testing doesn’t equate to better scores for students; it just creates more frustration, fear, and anxiety.

Helping teachers become highly qualified practitioners and helping them use effective instructional practices with their students are ways that coaches become the lifeline of support. You are the ones helping teachers think about their goals and objectives, their practices, their instructional delivery, and their reflections about what worked well in classrooms. You are the ones having ongoing conversations and collectively problem-solving with teachers to help them make data driven instructional decisions. That’s your role and why it is so important. You are a change agent working with teachers to change practice; meeting regularly with teachers to talk about practice is the only way to accomplish that goal.

So, if you are inundated with the testing administration and other test prep kinds of things, think about “inviting” others from the school to join you on a testing committee. The responsibilities could be shared among several people if they are on staff, i.e., counselors, librarians, coordinators, curriculum support folks, etc.  In fact, I’m wondering if there are folks at the IU that might be able to help out as well and become part of the testing committee.

At any rate, you’ve probably tried this already. But if not, try to ask for some help so the process doesn’t all fall on your shoulders and prevent you from working with teachers whose instructional practices in classrooms have the impact of helping students become more successful learners. That’s what makes the difference, not increased testing situations.

How is the testing process handled in your building?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In a recent Educational Leadership discussion forum, the discussion thread focused on teacher evaluation. The initial article, “Overcome Obstacles to Teacher Evaluation: High-Reliability Practices,” addressed the issue by proposing ways to defeat everyday challenges in implementing teacher evaluation systems along with some recommendations to avoid implementation snags. We know this topic is ever-present and ever-challenging.

Here are the common obstacles that need to be tackled and resolved in some way in order for implementation to be successful: develop a consistent definition of educator effectiveness; create a district-wide approach to instruction; provide adequate training for evaluators; and set and monitor standards for system implementation. So, what does Tony Davis, Consulting Director, The Center for Educator Effectiveness (McREL), suggest?

1. Fidelity, intensity, and consistency are critical. Effectiveness cannot be measured until we know
    what it looks like; everyone has to be evaluated using the same definition and objectives;
2. A district-wide approach to instruction ensures consistency in language and practice; this is
    necessary both within and across schools. (According to OECD in 2008, there was a 2.6 times
    great variation in student achievement across classrooms in the same schools than from school
    to school);
3. All evaluators must be properly trained to use the evaluation system and provide the appropriate
    feedback to educators; they must offer ways to strengthen practice;
4. Successful implementation of an evaluation system is a process and requires ongoing support
    and consistency to make it valuable.

As instructional coaches, you are in the position to help provide consistency, ubiquity, and fidelity to an instructional coaching process that builds teacher capacity, increases student engagement and improves student learning, all pieces of an effective evaluation system.

What are some of the strategies you implement to ensure consistency in practice and language in your coaching work?

Monday, March 2, 2015

So, I continue to reflect about how coaches can begin the BDA cycle of consultation. I know it sounds simple but it is far from simplistic. It’s a great framework to help begin the process of ongoing support. With the BDA cycle, the process is not just about the implementation of a specific concept or chapter analysis; it’s more about talking with colleagues and discussing instructional practices that are effective and make sense. That cannot occur in a quick hallway conversation although the start of it can certainly occur there. You know the song, “It’s all about the bass”… this time “It’s all about the conversation!”

There are several ways to start the process. For starters, I might do the following to build awareness about the BDA cycle of consultation:
  1. At a faculty/grade level/department meeting, reiterate your role as a non-evaluative classroom supporter and are on the side of helping teachers implement effective instructional practices. Share the BDA cycle of consultation, collaboration, and collective problem solving, all in a confidential setting; build awareness of why each part of the process is so important for achieving goals; (Coaches for athletes, performers, artists, even for weight control must “see” what happens and offer feedback about the practice.) If you don’t “see” what is practiced, you can’t offer valuable feedback;
  2.  Go around to your friends and ask what they think needs to happen for school wide improvement; this is a needs assessment kind of activity; once you get some ideas, go around again and see who will work with you to implement some of the ideas; as soon as you see something about classroom implementation, ask if you can co-plan with the teacher (before) and generate the “look fors,” model or co-teach (during) in the class using one of those ideas as the content, and then meet to debrief (after);
  3. Offer to model a “piece” of the lesson; in this case, the coach and teacher still co-construct the “look fors” (before) and the teacher watches how the coach teaches (during); and the conversation that follows is the debriefing (after).

Implementing the BDA cycle of consultation is much like planning an event. All the elements of the event are critical to the overall success of that event. The planning is essential so the “content” is carefully crafted and the event runs smoothly; participating in the event gives a clear picture of what worked well and what needs attention in real time; and the final stage is to reflect on the event to see if the initial goal and purpose of the event were accomplished, especially when the event is recurrent.

Just remember, coaching is situational. Not every teaching colleague is ready to pursue all three stages of this process. A coach’s role, however, is to make the process visible, inviting, and collaborative so that all participants are beneficiaries.

What are some of the successes as an instructional coach you have experienced around the BDA cycle of consultation?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

As a coach, it is important to recognize that coaching is situational and differentiated. While the BDA cycle of consultation is critical for transparency, transformation, and talking about instructional practice, not every teacher needs all three “prongs” of the BDA cycle of consultation each time they meet with the coach. The three “pronged” approach, however, should be followed at least a few times per quarter with each teacher.

The BDA cycle is a conversation between a coach and teacher to collaborate and communicate about their work together. It is an agreement for working together as partners. A new teacher may need more support than an experienced teacher or an experienced teacher may want more support because s/he is teaching new content. Either way, the coach and teacher must collaborate and decide the kind of support needed: intensive support means working multiple times with the same person; strategic support means working with teachers on a variety of specific instructional practices; and independent support means that the coach and teacher may work together less often because the needs can be met with less frequent time together.

The starting point for the process is the “B” or before conversation. Here the coach and teacher co-plan and discuss the goals for the class and how those goals will be achieved. The coach is a good listener here, asking probing or clarifying questions without giving an unsolicited opinion. The object is to ask the questions that encourage the teacher to think about why these goals are important and if the instructional delivery and resources identified will help the teacher meet the needs of the students. The teacher and coach co-construct the plan to collect evidence that reflect the agreed upon goals and they schedule a date to discuss that classroom visit giving themselves time to process the actual classroom visitation.

The during or “D” part of the cycle is where the action takes place. The coach may visit and collect the agreed upon data, may model a segment of the lesson, or may co-teach with the teacher. Regardless of the activity, the coach and teacher need this visit so they can reflect in, on, and about classroom practice. This is where the coach and teacher can “see” if what they wanted to do was accomplished.

The after or “A” part of the cycle is critical for transformation. This is the time where the coach and teacher are reflective and give timely, specific, descriptive, and non-judgmental feedback to determine what worked well and what practice needs additional support.

No matter how often coaches and teachers work together, following the BDA cycle of consultation is critical for ongoing communication and collective problem solving to take place.

Which phase of the BDA cycle is the most comfortable for your colleagues? Why do you think this is so?

Monday, February 2, 2015

The following question surfaced during one-on-one conversations with several coaches, some of whom coach and teach during the day and some of whom are full time coaches. Either way, they wanted to know how to engage teachers in a full BDA (before, during, and after) cycle of consultation so that they benefit from the ongoing collaboration. Here are some of my thoughts:

As a coach, you must build awareness and help others understand your role and the BDA process. They need to see the connections among the 3-pronged approach to school wide improvement which starts at the level that makes the most impact: the classroom. Usually, teachers want to co-plan with their coach (B) and set the tone for the class lesson. It’s the “D” and the “A” that may be challenging.

Coaches need to understand why teachers may be reluctant to invite them into their classrooms. Most teachers think that visitors in classrooms are there to observe. That’s where instructional coaching visits differ from administrative observations. Instructional coaches visit classrooms and work with teachers on a set of predetermined “look fors.”

In the planning or before session, “B,” the coach and teacher co-construct what the goals are and on which elements the teacher would like the coach to focus. They also schedule a time for debriefing which should occur after they both have a chance to reflect on the visit. The during, “D,” is where the coach and teacher see the elements discussed in the “B.” It is the “content” for the debriefing session. In the after session, “A,” the coach and teacher reflect on the goals and debrief about what was effective and what needs to be supported differently.

If the coach cannot see how the “B” goals are met, the “A” is not helpful. The reflections that must occur in the “A” cannot happen if no “D” takes place.

In my experience, teachers who are uncomfortable in the “D” do not understand that a coach’s role is non-evaluative and it is the very place to “rehearse” and “practice” a variety of instructional techniques with an opportunity for reflection and feedback in a no-risk environment. In my next two blogs, I’ll talk more about the BDA cycle and suggest some steps to encourage participation in the full BDA cycle of consultation by building awareness and comfort in the process.

How do you invite your colleagues to participate in the full BDA cycle?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I just spent three wonderful days sharing and learning with instructional coaches, mentors, and other school leaders from across Pennsylvania. We worked together and engaged in professional conversations around building teacher capacity, increasing student engagement, and improving student outcomes. A variety of strategies, instructional practices, and a multitude of ideas about teaching and learning were shared and discussed through the lens of instructional coaching. Colleagues collaborated with each other and reflected on, in, and about practice. Each session was facilitated by practitioners: the coaches and mentors. The collective wisdom of the group was awesome!

One of the things that surfaced during this statewide multi-day professional development was that not one coach, mentor, or other school leader called him/herself an expert. Each person defined his/her presence as being a member in a community of learning and practice, sharing expertise, experiences, and examples of working with their teaching colleagues. Every person felt comfortable and confident; each person understood that being in a safe environment, one that was non-evaluative and risk-free, was the way to practice with his/her coaching colleagues. There was no worry about making mistakes. This is the same climate that must exist when coaches work with their teaching colleagues.

One question that arose while working together was how to define an instructional coach. You know, the 30 second elevator speech that explains what coaches do. My answer… instructional coaches are “agents of change”; their role is to change instructional practice in a collaborative environment. If you need a paragraph explaining what coaches do, try this:
Instructional coaches engage in confidential, non-evaluative conversations with staff members helping them implement effective instructional practices. They work with teachers one-on-one and in small groups to reinforce that what is learned through theory, demonstration, and practice is successfully applied in classrooms. Their work is intentional and deliberate, providing real time support and specific feedback designed to improve practice. They offer differentiated, ongoing job-embedded professional development in a safe environment, focusing on school wide improvement, building teacher capacity, and increasing student engagement.”

How do you describe your role to your colleagues?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Every day, week, and month brings new challenges to the coaching role. Just when we think we “got” it, something else happens to make us doubt just what we are doing and how we are doing it. We read a ton of professional articles, journals, blogs, and tweets; we engage in all kinds of conversations with our colleagues; we design ongoing professional development for our schools; we prepare meeting agendas and materials for our teachers; and we model effective instructional practices so that our teachers will “see” what we are talking about when it comes to building new skills and changing practice. As much as possible, we anticipate the questions and concerns our teaching colleagues might have. What we don’t anticipate is the amount of time it takes for our colleagues to learn something new and feel comfortable implementing those new learnings in ways that make a difference in their instructional practice.

On average, it takes twenty (yes, 20) separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill (Joyce & Showers, 2002). We think by building a teacher’s knowledge base through a “drop-in” or one-time only professional development session, we are giving teachers what they need. That’s the issue… coaches don’t “give” teachers what they need; coaches and teachers work together to build the skills needed and provide continuous support so that they talk about practice through implementation and then talk about the implementation of the practice. It’s not just learning about a new skill; it’s learning a new skill and how that new skill will transform practice. It’s learning the skill, talking about when and how to use the skill, and then reflecting on whether the skill and the implementation were effective in achieving the defined goals. This not only takes time but also support from coaches so that working “side-by-side/shoulder-to-shoulder” helps teachers recognize what new skills are useful, how to deliver those new skills in effective ways, and then change their beliefs so that new practices are not discarded when the practice is not as successful as hoped. (As a teacher, I had a desk drawer full of “bells and whistles” that I had no idea how to use!)

What are some of the ways you share new skills and help teachers change their beliefs in a no-risk environment?