By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?