By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

At this time of the year, I look back at what I accomplished and try to determine if my accomplishments matched my goals.  This reflection is perfect for December as we think about the inevitable… what is this year’s New Year’s resolution and how will I sustain the momentum as I move forward personally and professionally?

Looking back, I 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.

Janus, the two-faced (in a positive way) ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions, looks to the future and to the past. He looks after passages, creates movement, and presides over all beginnings. I think the role of the coach mirrors Janus’ role. Remember your journey and the goals you have set out to accomplish. Celebrate the small accomplishments and remember change takes time…look behind you to see how far you have come and look forward to see what rests ahead. Coaching is a journey of change and it takes courage, tenacity, diligence, some frustration, and acceptance to remain on track.

Best wishes for a wonderful and safe holiday season. Rest, relax, and rejuvenate your body and soul. All good things in the New Year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whenever I have an opportunity to talk with instructional coaches about their practice, I feel lucky. It gives me a chance to ask them about what’s going on in schools and more importantly, it gives them a space to ask me some questions or voice their concerns about their coaching habits and routines. I can offer anonymity as they discuss their innermost feelings; I offer no opinions and they don’t expect them either.

In my most recent conversations with coaches, the predominant theme that surfaced was one related to doubt and uncertainty about their coaching roles and support to teachers. “How do I know that I am helping teachers move their practice forward?” was the most frequently asked question.

As practitioners, we all have those moments of doubt where we are not quite sure our practice is going in a productive direction. As coaches, we try to give our teachers the confidence they need and assure them that they are implementing effective instructional practices so that their students will reach their fullest potential. We do that by asking questions that generate deep thinking. At the same time, we need to reflect and ask ourselves those kinds of questions as well. We need to ask ourselves how we are helping teachers take ownership of their own learning so that their students will benefit. We need to ask ourselves how we are making a difference in teacher practice and how we are helping teachers make a difference in their own classrooms.

We know that the “before” conversations provide an opportunity to have these discussions with teachers and the “after” conversations promote reflection. The content of those conversations, however, is what makes the difference. Digging into practice and talking about the overall objectives and goals of both short term and long term practice is what transforms our classroom rituals and methods of instructional delivery. It’s not just a simple, “How should I teach this content” as much as it is, “What are some of the ways I can improve student engagement and understand more about how my students learn?”

Providing that ear (remember two ears and one mouth) as well as ample opportunities for teaching colleagues to collaborate and discuss practice will help you understand more about change and how practice moves forward.

How do you know that practice is changing in your school?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

In my earlier November post, I shared my thoughts about confidentiality and would love to hear your experiences with balancing a confidential relationship with your teaching colleagues and responding to your administrator when s/he indicates that a teacher is struggling and needs coaching support.

Of course, a coach cannot be insubordinate and refuse to respond to an administrator. There are, however, ways to respond to an administrator and not be disrespectful or damage confidentiality with your colleagues.

From my experiences, I think it’s more likely that an administrator doesn’t realize the importance of confidentiality or the thin line that separates a breach in confidentiality and the desire to help teachers improve their practice. That’s why it is so important for these things to happen at the onset of implementing an effective instructional coaching model:
          1) The administrator and coach must discuss their visions, expectations, and goals for school
          2) The school leadership team must also share the vision, goals, and objectives for school
          3) The administrative team and the coach must have a shared understanding of instructional
               coaching and the components of an effective model;
          4)  The administrator and coach must have a shared vision and understanding of
                confidentiality, support, and collective problem-solving;
          5) The administrator and coach must stand side-by-side and share this vision with the staff.

This shared understanding creates an atmosphere of transparency, support, collaboration, and ongoing communication that impact implementation and sustainability. Without these, neither the staff, the administrative team, nor the coach will be on the same page and that’s a recipe for disappointment, frustration, and disillusionment with instructional coaching. Remember, teachers want and need a safe environment. When everyone understands what an effective instructional model looks like and the importance of confidentiality in the relationships that coaches establish, the more likely the staff and administrative team will respect the essential components that develop a collaborative environment.

What are some of your experiences with the confidential nature of instructional coaching?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I don’t know if I worry more about confidentiality or accountability when thinking and talking about instructional coaching. It seems those two terms are intertwined yet they maintain their own individuality at the same time. For instance, it’s clear to me that a conversation between a coach and teacher is private; only the teacher can share the details with another person. But, what if the administrator asks about the coaching support? Shouldn’t that conversation be between the coach and teacher as well? Should administrators ask teachers to discuss or assess how the coach is supporting them? Where is the confidentiality there?

If the coach is held accountable and “responsible for growth” around the work s/he does with the teacher, what is confidential and who is accountable for changes in practice…the coach who maintains confidentiality and works to share effective practices with teachers or the teachers who need to integrate new learnings into their repertoire and then must demonstrate their understanding of their work with the coach so the administrators can evaluate effective instructional practices?

So accountability is troublesome… we are all accountable, individually and collectively, for student growth and school wide improvement but are we really responsible for growth or the lack of growth when there are so many variables for which we cannot claim responsibility? What if a student has been out of school for personal and family challenges and misses a tremendous amount of time? Are we responsible for that student’s performance when we cannot control his/her attendance? Teachers can give make-up work but how can the actual missed time be replaced? Can we expect a teacher to provide the work, time, and critical classroom conversations that a student misses? (Homebound instruction is not always available and doesn’t include the valuable classroom collaboration.)

The coach and teacher work together to share effective instructional practices, model and co-teach the content, reflect on the strengths of the lesson, and make changes for future instruction. Where does the accountability for student attendance and its impact on student performance enter this equation? If the student is out of school and his/her performance suffers, are the teacher and coach responsible? (Of course, there are school policies that must be followed with student attendance.) Tough call…

What are your thoughts about confidentiality and accountability?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the June 20, 2016 Education Week Teacher section, Amy Shapiro, a math teacher wrote about her experiences teaching math and science and how those experiences changed her thinking and ultimately, her instructional practices. She came to an amazing realization: “I believe that the key to creating a classroom environment with a true symbiotic relationship between teaching and learning is writing, so next year, my students will be doing a lot of it.”

She mentions in her blog that she recognizes the importance of students learning to solve problems and to talk to one another about those solutions but more importantly … “to teach them to write about their strategies and thought processes, or they will always struggle to exhibit their mathematical understandings.”  She also reflects and realizes that she must assess her students’ strengths and needs appropriately and prepare herself to meet the changing demands of her students by examining their progress and addressing their needs in ways that will help them become successful.

Wow, where have you heard that… “using evidence-based literacy practices” in all content areas?

Writing is part of literacy. Instructional coaches remind teachers about the importance and necessity of writing across the curriculum. They help teachers collaborate so that talking about writing becomes the norm, not the exception. They help dispel the myth that writing only occurs in English class.

Remember to build in ample opportunities for teachers to work collaboratively and cooperatively around the integration of writing in every class, every day. Help them understand the significance of writing to learn; scaffold ways to help them integrate writing into their work through John Collins writing, “Do Nows,” Tickets Out/In the Door, and other strategies to increase the amount of daily writing. Help teachers work with students to talk about their writing and what they’ve learned through the writing process.

What are some of the ways you work with teachers to help them enhance their students’ writing skills?

Friday, October 7, 2016

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.” Washington Irving

Coaching has often been symbolized as a stagecoach, depicting the journey between stations. Much the same can be said about instructional coaching; it is the journey of a scaffolded approach to teaching and learning. Instructional coaches work with their teaching colleagues to promote growth and identify ways to grow as a learner and reflective practitioner. And, it is often accompanied by some bruising; that is, the recognition that some instructional practices are not effective and need to be adjusted. Or, what I thought I did, in fact, was not what really happened.

This kind of “bruising” is critical to making changes in practice, the primary function of an instructional coach. Yes, coaches help teacher collect data; yes, coaches help teachers identify professional goals for growth; yes, coaches help teachers navigate curriculums, standards, assessment tools, and many other elements of effective instruction. But none of this is done in isolation or without ongoing dialogue.

I think most people want change but don’t want to be the first one to experience it. You know, “You go first!” Our teaching colleagues may know something must change but not know how to make those changes. So, while one bruise may supplant another, rest assured that every instructional decision creates a “shift in position” that will lead to another bruise. But, with time and continued conversations, being proactive and addressing those changes will result in fewer “bruises” and more practitioner driven resolutions!

What kind of “bruising” have you noticed in your coaching interactions? How have the practitioners with whom you work tackled their bumps and bruises?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Although coaching is situational and contextual, we all experience some common “interruptions” to the coaching cycle. Those commonalities or similarities in coaching interactions help us define trends and offer various ways to address these situations when they occur.

We call those disruptions problems of practice and we all face them in our coaching practice. To tackle these, we must make time for reflection. We must identify the challenges, the root issues, and behaviors necessary to address them while moving towards positive outcomes. Remember, however, that coaches help their teaching colleagues resolve their own issues through the art of effective questioning, not by telling their colleagues what to do. It’s all about coaches asking the right questions so that their teaching colleagues reflect and share their thinking, offering multiple opportunities to talk things through to resolution.

In a recent ASCD SmartBrief (July 14, 2016), a survey from ED PULSE found these results in answer to the question, “What is the most common problem of practice you face as a teacher leader?” Coaches, take note… the number one problem of practice is establishing relationships with colleagues and creating a collaborative culture. Interesting… coaches cannot coach unless the environment (physical and emotional) is conducive for change.  That can only happen through the development of trusting relationships.

Relationships with colleagues/collaborative culture
Effective use of structured meeting times
Navigating difficult conversations
Current structures to utilize leadership capabilities
Facilitating effective teams
Building trust (colleagues and administration)
Knowledge of adult learning/working with adults

What is the most common problem of practice that surfaces in your coaching interactions?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Welcome back! The new school year has begun with teachers, coaches, administrators, students, and parents asking what happened to the summer?? Now think back to last April and May when your thoughts were hovering on the impossible, “I wish I had done …” or “I wanted to do this but didn’t get around to it.” You were probably agonizing over what you didn’t do instead of celebrating the successes of your teaching colleagues.

August is the start of a new school year. (Unless, of course, you worked all summer thinking, planning, wondering, hoping, and actually getting your room ready; sound familiar?) The excitement, energy, and promise to make changes and new commitments take possession of your body and soul. You are ready to jump in with both feet and hit the ground running. You’ve learned many things last year and want to ensure that this year begins on solid footing, supporting a shared vision that builds on previous years’ accomplishments.

So, here are some words of wisdom:
                 1) Remind your teaching colleagues of the “coaching habit” and BDA process of
                     consultation; the conversations are where reality surfaces and change occurs.
                 2) Organize your work and plan your schedule of coaching support; remember, the
                      coaching process is deliberate, targeted, non-evaluative, and descriptive.
                 3) Provide feedback: “nice” is sweet, like candy, but it doesn’t change practice; make
                      sure your feedback is specific, descriptive, intentional, reflective and data driven;
                 4) Focus on a systems approach to school improvement; how can coaching help
                     schools accomplish the goals for school wide improvement;
                 5) Be productive: engage your teaching colleagues in ongoing conversations about
                     teaching and learning and move them to the next level of attainment.

What are your goals for the new year? How will you build on last year’s accomplishments?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thinking about and planning for a new school year is refreshing, energizing, challenging, and anxiety producing, all at the same time. As instructional coaches, we’ve tried to shut down our brains for the summer but that doesn’t work. We continuously wonder how to help teachers get better at their craft and encourage them to explore new ways to engage students. We want to throw teachers a lifeline to keep them connected to each other, to the school community, and to the teaching profession.

Did you know that after the first year, 15% of new teachers leave the profession and another 14% change schools (Ingersoll & Smith, 2003; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004)? That is staggering. With instructional coaching, that rope is extended and becomes a safety net for all teachers, not just for the newly appointed ones.

All teachers need to feel valued, appreciated, understood, and recognized for the strengths they bring to the classroom. Instructional coaches sustain the momentum, break down the walls of isolation, and ensure that teachers practice with each other.

As you create your action plan to support teachers, focus on the questions that will change practice: “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 increase student engagement and influence learning?”

Lead by example, preserve ways to collaborate, foster open communication, and support teachers in implementing literacy practices across all content areas. Be respectful, persistent, goal-oriented, and focused on helping teachers reach their fullest potential and improve learning for all.

See you in September!

How are you planning for the new school year?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

By now, you have started your summer vacation... rest, relaxation, rejuvenation! This is a wonderful time to think about all the ways you've helped your teaching colleagues become more reflective practitioners and how your coaching practices have changed as well. Take time to think and plan new ways to re-connect with your colleagues in September. Enjoy the sun and surf! See you in late August for more blogs about instructional coaching!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In my previous blog, I wrote about administrators and teachers participating in the same professional development sessions. Since that time, I’ve had several conversations (about 12) with teachers, coaches, and administrators asking them their views about sharing their learnings while attending the same sessions.

The views expressed were very interesting. Out of 5 administrators, 4 indicated that they were more comfortable learning about what was shared after the sessions rather than learning with their coaches or teachers at the same sessions. They felt that their presence might hinder the learning because the teachers or coaches might not ask important questions for fear of appearing needy or unqualified for their jobs. One administrator was shocked that I asked her the question. She felt it was very important to show her staff the importance she placed on a shared vision for continuous learning.

Of the 7 teachers/coaches to whom I posed the question, 2 were also uncomfortable with having their administrators present during the same professional development session. They felt that their administrators might think less of their performance if they asked questions. However, these same two teachers were comfortable if their school administrators were present during a session where information was shared by their district administrators because those sessions were more “information dumping” sessions than sessions that required some “product.” Also interesting was that these two teachers would have no qualms if administrators other than their own attended the same professional development sessions as they did.

The 5 remaining teachers/coaches shared a much more collaborative approach to joint participation. They felt that their administrators would want to share in their learning and they would welcome their participation. They thought that was one way to ensure that they were all on the same page and the expectations from those sessions were heard by all. Only one of the 5 teachers said that he could see both sides of the issue and felt that the decision about sharing the learning should be determined by the content, e.g., talking about something specifically addressing school climate should be a joint session but that talking about effective lesson design should be targeted to teachers only to remove the feeling of any potential inadequacy. 

What are the advantages or disadvantages of teachers and administrators attending the same professional development sessions?
Peter DeWitt’s opinion about why administrators and teachers don’t (or won’t) attend the same professional development sessions (Education Week blog May 5) really hit home. So many times, it feels like the professional development is provided because the staff “needs” it but those that lead do not. That is, the leaders can tell us what to do because we need it but not engage in the learning with us because that might be “beneath” their status in schools. After all, isn’t a leader supposed to know everything there is about teaching and learning? How can a leader work side-by-side with teachers and admit that the information shared is either new or not easily understood?

That’s funny… I always thought that learning next to my neighbor was a very effective way to ensure that we all heard the same message and that the ensuing conversations about what we heard and how we would use it was the real learning. I never thought that professional development was “leveled” according to the job title that was held. If so, collaboration and engaging in professional dialogue would definitely be out of the question!

One of the critical attributes of effective school environments is that administrators support the notion of ongoing learning and continual improvement. This cannot happen if the administrators do not think attending the professional development and learning with the staff are important. Or, that professional development is important enough to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to learn and practice together. It’s all about the partnerships and the effectiveness of team learning, team work, and team conversations.

How do the administrators in your school promote and practice the notion that all staff, including themselves, have ample opportunities to learn together?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Every instructional coach faces the dilemma of wanting to help teachers refine their practices and understanding that not every teacher wants to change. Once recognized, the coach must balance the outreach with a little nagging and nurturing, and lots of patience. Just because the coach “sees” something from the outside does not necessarily mean that the teacher does too!

Yes, coaches want to help teachers identify effective instructional strategies and practices but not every teacher acknowledges that going from good to great means reflecting on practices and deciding which ones need to be slightly tweaked, which ones need to be strengthened, and which ones need to be eliminated from their teaching toolboxes.

Over time, coaches experience these situations: 1) early adopters who want to go from “good to great”; 2) silver-bullet adopters who want a coach to immediately try and “fix” their practices; 3) resistant adopters who claim, “I already do that so what else can you show me”; and 4) reluctant adopters who emphatically state, “That’s not what we do here because our students are different.”

Ah, the never-ending battle with the good, bad, and ugly of instructional coaching!

Coaches really have to think about the appropriate approaches to their teaching colleagues and realize that coaching is not a cookie cutter process. Not one size fits all… in fact, coaches very often need to try several approaches with each individual as they navigate the different teaching environments. And, what works one time may not work a second or third time. That’s the beauty of a differentiated structure created to establish relationships and foster healthy transparent communication between and among colleagues. Every significant coaching situation is unique and results in shared learning for all. But because the coach and teacher are coming together with slightly different motives, the coach needs to remember that not every teaching colleague understands what change really means and how to embrace it. Coaches need to tread lightly initially while helping teachers focus on school wide improvement and building their students’ capacity for growth.  

What approaches have you used to address those who want you to engage in the “fixit” model of instructional coaching or who have “dared” you to help them try something new?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

This year, tax day was April 18 because Washington, D.C. was celebrating Emancipation Day on April 15. That gave you three extra days to collect all of your paperwork and file your return. Three extra days to either continue scrambling around or relaxing before you mailed your returns at midnight! So, what how is this related to instructional coaching?

The tax season is a time for reflection, gathering not only your receipts but also gathering your thoughts about the receipts you misplaced, accidentally discarded, or decided were not usable.  It’s a time to think about what is owed to you, what you owe, or what deductions you should have thought about making, recording, and submitting.

Okay… so it’s a stretch to connect taxes to coaching but let’s think for a moment… this is the time of year that the statewide testing cycle rears its spring time head and consumes many of our coaches’ daily lives. PSSA test administration began April 11 and finishes with the make-up exams in early May. Keystone Exams begin in May and then are administered again in August. Teachers are worried about their students’ performance and ultimately, their own. They worry if they have “taught” the information that will be included in these statewide student performance assessments.

Time to reflect and time to answer “What have you done as a coach to help teachers change and improve their practice” and “What are you doing as a coach to help teachers increase student engagement and improve student learning”?

Following the before, during, and after (BDA) cycle of consultation provides the structure and focus when reflecting with teachers. Remember, you are on the side of helping teachers become more reflective practitioners and to really think about the instructional decisions they make. Some states have content focused coaches; some states have grade-level coaches; and other states have coaches who focus on technology integration and digital learning. Regardless of the targeted focus, instructional coaches should all follow the BDA cycle and engage their teaching colleagues in coaching conversations that change practice. That means that “pushing in” and working with the adults is what changes practice, not the “pulling out” and working with students who need extra support in understanding a specific content. (I do, however, think tutoring students is very important but that’s not coaching.)

Fidelity, ubiquity, and dosage… stay true to the BDA coaching cycle and engage your teaching colleagues in meaningful dialogue; offer to collaborate with all of your teaching colleagues, differentiated to meet their needs; and provide ample opportunities to work with your colleagues consistently and continuously.

How have your reflections helped you plan strategically and how have the teachers with whom you work reflected with you and become more deliberate in their instructional decisions?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Improving professional development is always a key topic for our nation’s educators. But how do we expand the professional development to become professional learning and why do we need to do that?

A US Department of Education analysis of 49 state equity plans found that improving or expanding professional learning was the most common identified strategy for eliminating equity gaps (U.S. DOE Office of State Support, 2015). Since worker training in the U.S. is a $400 billion industry (Carnevale & Smith, 2013), perhaps now is the appropriate time to look at the planning and designing of professional learning outside of education. That’s exactly what Learning Forward and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders did. They collaborated and co-published a recent report entitled, “Looking Outside Education: What School Leaders Can Learn About Professional Learning from Other Industries. 

Here are the “best” practices from other professions that school leaders can adapt to meet their schools’ needs:
• Growth mindset: Fostering a culture that values continuous improvement;
• Deliberately developmental organizations: Reinforcing the notion that learning from mistakes is valuable;
• Simulations: Crafting scenario-driven practice for “real time” responses;
• Video review, reflection, and coaching: Using virtual and digital communications to blend the approach for ongoing support;
• Ongoing, role-specific training and support: Preparing for changes in future roles and/or positions with proactive thinking and learning;
• Context-relevant training and support: Providing learning that is current, relevant, tied to practice, and data;
• Mentoring and sponsorship: Offering continuous encouragement and time for reflective practice through ongoing support
• Employee resource groups: Creating groups with similar interests/job-alike roles who support each other  

What do you think? Can educators learn how to improve professional learning from those “outside” of the education world? Which of the above are doable in your school or district?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The approaching end-of-school year is always fraught with anxiety for the entire school community. Students worry about promotion and graduation; administrators worry about school profiles; teachers worry about whether their students “know” enough to score well on standardized tests; and coaches worry about whether they made a difference in teaching and learning by working with their teaching colleagues.

These things worry all of us but we need to put things into perspective. When we only worry about the evaluation part (how has one measured against others) and not worry about practice (how can I talk to my colleagues to make changes where needed), feedback takes a nosedive. And, frankly, without feedback and ongoing conversations about practice and student learning, no evaluation will be meaningful… required, yes; helpful, no.

We talk a great deal about giving formative assessments to students. After all, we want to help them grow so we don’t want the assessment to be the autopsy… after the work is completed; we want to give support in ways that will make a difference as the students are doing the work.

The same is true with teachers.

As coaches, we don’t want to give advice and claim that’s feedback. We want and need to work with teachers to discuss their goals and how they want to accomplish them. We want to engage in a long term relationship that results in ongoing conversations about teaching and learning, not about “how I did today.” We want to engage in conversation and talk about practice in specific, descriptive, timely, and non-judgmental ways. Remember, grades for performance are not feedback. Helping teachers identify areas of strength and how to make changes where needed is feedback.

In what ways do you solicit feedback about your own practice? How do you offer feedback to others?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

“Our business is about technology, yes. But it’s also about operations and customer relationships” so says Michael Dell.  This is an interesting quote and makes me again think about technology coaches and their role supporting teaching and learning.

What is a “technology” coach and how does that differ from an instructional coach? Are there really just “technology” coaches who do not work with their teaching colleagues about implementing effective instructional practices?

While I don’t intend to step on anyone’s toes, here’s what I think… if someone is skilled in the business of technology, e.g., how to use the technology, then I think that person is a technician, someone skilled in knowing how a piece of technology is used. If someone talks about instruction and how a technology tool can help accomplish the goals of that instruction, that person is an instructional coach, not a technician. After all, a technician is “a person employed to look after technical equipment.” Many offices hire technicians to maintain computers in their offices. Would you call that technician a coach?

One of the ways to change the mindset of our teaching colleagues is to call coaches, “instructional coaches” and not specify anyone as a “technology” coach even though helping someone understand how to use a computer may be one of the coach’s responsibilities. As a coach, I may help you decide which technology tool may be appropriate to achieve the instructional goals but the conversation needs to be around what instructional goals have been identified. The instructional goals drive the conversation, not the tools that might be appropriate to use. The coaching part is recognized as the coach and teacher collaborate and plan in the “before” conversation, decide on the data to collect in the “during” visit, and engage in non-evaluative dialogue in the feedback or “after” session. The coaching does not come from helping a colleague “plug” in a computer but rather engaging in conversations that lead to changes in practice. Everyone should be called an instructional coach when the role is to engage in confidential, non-evaluative conversations with staff members helping them implement effective instructional practices.

What do you think about coaches being called instructional coaches rather than technology coaches?

Monday, February 15, 2016

“It is impossible to work in information technology without also engaging in social engineering” says Jaron Lanier, an American artist. So, if we think of information technology as the use of computers, storage, networking, infrastructure, etc., to create and store all forms of electronic data and social engineering as negative networking, how is that related to instructional coaching?

This is a scary thought… social engineering is the intrusion by a hacker, a real threat to the individual. That’s not the social engineering to which I am referring. I am thinking about “social engineering” in a positive light… I’m thinking about social engineering as referring to the social nature of learning; that is, learning is social and all the technology in the world cannot replace the human and social element of collaboration, collective problem solving, and creativity.

And yes, to some extent it is “engineering” a conversation that might not ordinarily take place. For example, teachers tend to stay in their classrooms working on their plans, marking their papers, creating assignments, etc. They don’t have time in the day to talk to one another, to engage in professional conversations on an ongoing basis. Sure, a teacher might ask a colleague in passing, “How did you explain photosynthesis to your students? Or “How do your students demonstrate their understanding of complex text” but in reality, unless time is deliberate and intentional, those conversations do not take place.

To me, information technology is not just about computers and its family members; information technology is sharing how technology works and in our world, integrating that technology into the fabric of effective instruction through our coaching model so that students can experience both new and old things shared in new ways. It’s really not about the actual technology; it’s about how coaches interact with their teaching colleagues and engage in conversations around the use of technology. It’s the conversation that drives the instruction; not the technology that drives the instruction. The integration of technology cannot be accomplished effectively if the ensuing conversations about teaching and learning are not consistent, thoughtful, and sustainable. That happens through constructive social engineering and networking. That happens through the coach’s continued support.  

How do you use positive social engineering as a way to engage your teaching colleagues in ongoing conversations?

Monday, February 1, 2016

In the January 19, 2016 Education Week Teacher blog, Elena Aguilar recognizes what has been our belief (and one of our strengths) since the inception of the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC) as it evolved from our days with the Pennsylvania High School Coaching Initiative (PAHSCI for those who may remember).  She shares what she’s learned from working consistently with a coach and how working with a trusted colleague has made a difference in her practice. She mentions four big ideas: 1) coaches need to be heard; 2) coaching is a give and take process; 3) coaching needs to be safe; and 4) coaches need to care.

Well, these are the things that coaches learn and practice every day with PIIC. In our world, the coach has a trusted colleague, a.k.a. an instructional mentor, who works one-on-one and helps coaches shape their practice. The mentors are experienced practitioners who care about changing the landscape of teaching and learning. Their job is tough but so is the job of a coach… coaches have so much responsibility for not only another individual’s practice but the collective practice of the community and their own practice as well. It helps to hear another person’s perspective and to think about the answers to the kinds questions needed for making changes in classroom practice. It helps to have a reflective practitioner model what reflection is and what it looks like.

So, yes, coaching is scary but it is also incredibly rewarding. Where else can a teacher work with a colleague in a non-threatening environment to talk about practice and new learnings gained from the conversation? Where else can a teacher “rehearse” with a colleague and iron out the kinks of a new lesson making the kinds of mistakes from which one learns without fear of evaluation?

Where else can a group of professionals meet regularly to just talk about what’s going on in classrooms and how they can continue to make a difference in the lives of our most precious commodity… our children?

What do you think?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Just came back from another wonderful 3-day professional learning conference with the instructional coaches, instructional mentors, regional mentor coordinators, school-based administrators, and other school leaders who participated in our PIIC statewide professional development. Wow! The sharing, collective wisdom, and learning from the group was amazing… where else can you get 160+ educators in an environment that honors teacher voice, choice, and expertise with the only goal being to share your learning???

A hot topic of conversation was the reauthorization of the ESSA act and its improved definition of professional development. The definition says that the professional development must be “sustained, (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom focused... .” This is exactly how instructional coaches support and maintain differentiated teacher professional development… they are onsite and provide ongoing opportunities for teachers to collaborate in a no-risk environment, sharing and learning together about content that is relevant, tied to teacher practice, data driven, standards based, and student focused.

Highly skilled educators, a.k.a. coaches, who work with their teaching colleagues to exchange ideas, share effective instructional practices, and explore new technologies create an environment that shouts, “Learning is important and everyone can learn!” That learning, however, does not exist in a vacuum nor does it exist as a series of unrelated workshops or sessions where teachers are grouped together like a pick-up basketball game in the playground. No, ongoing learning is effective when teachers and coaches are resolute in their plans to regularly collaborate and strategize about ways to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity, and improve student learning. Learning is effective when it is deliberate, focused, and meaningful.

What are some of the ways you plan to provide ongoing professional development that is differentiated, relevant, and sustainable in 2016?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year! In this time of renewed reflection and conviction, I’ve been thinking about the differences between coaching and mentoring and have come to the conclusion that while similar, there are definite differences. The differences are not so much in the qualities and attributes of the people but rather in the actual roles, responsibilities, and requirements.

A coach’s role is to help teachers implement effective instructional practices in non-evaluative ways. They help teachers identify their strengths and together, strategize ways to bolster practice. They help teachers recognize their voices and take ownership of their learning. They must coach on any given topic, not just in the coach’s area of expertise. They work directly with teachers at the level that makes a difference… the classroom. Sometimes, they are mistakenly identified as “fixers” even though they are not in the medical field! Many administrators think that coaches are the silver bullet addressing all the issues that plague our educational system. Boy, if that were true, we could bottle it and sell it! Some even think that because teachers went to college they don’t need coaches. What an ill-informed opinion!

In our instructional coaching world, mentors help coaches develop the skills necessary to support teachers in a collaborative and non-supervisory way. Mentors must be analytical and strategic in helping the coach. They need to help the coach understand adult learning and why not all teachers teach in the same way. They support the “overall” being of an individual and need to think about the coach’s learning style and how the coach can help the teachers. All of this is “from a distance” because the mentor is not on staff or “elbow partners” with the coach.

For us, a mentor is the coach’s coach, one who supports the coach’s learning and by extension, the teachers’ learning as well. They both work to ensure that effective instructional practices are implemented every day in every class; their roles are interconnected and provide an integrated approach to school wide improvement by working with the individuals and not just programs (although understanding programs and initiatives are part of coaching and mentoring). It is a multi-tiered approach with each “participant” component, i.e., students, teachers, coaches, administrators, and mentors, providing support and apprenticeship with the shared vision of building teacher capacity, increasing student engagement, and improving student outcomes.

In your experience, how are coaches and mentors similar? What are the differences in their roles and responsibilities?