By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?