By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Be a thought partner, not a micromanager or absentee manager.

In the recent SmartBrief on Leadership issue, there is an interesting blog from Radical Candor. I hadn’t previously read anything published by Candor so this is new for me. I tend to shy away from anything labeled, “Radical” given the nature of our work!

What was interesting in this blog was the question asked, “How can you determine where you fall on this spectrum, so you can learn how to move in the right direction?”

It’s no surprise that Candor suggests that people on your team are more engaged when partnering exists. That’s the mantra of an instructional coach… partner, not dictate; collaborate, not tell, even when the advice is under the guise of guidance.

This blog recommends these actions to ensure a partnership approach:
·  Hands-on, ears on, mouth off
· Displays curiosity and recognizes when more knowledge is needed;
· Listens to problems, predicts problems, brainstorms solutions, and asks why;
· Asks about relevant details;
· Is informed because of a hands-on approach;
· Leads collaborative goal-setting;
· Removes obstacles and defuses explosive situations (coaches are oftentimes intermediaries and

   liaisons minimizing the possibility of any volatile situation)

I agree with most of the above list but the one that sticks out to me in a negative way is the “predicts problems” phrase. Coaches do not predict problems; coaches ask questions that help their teaching colleagues share the “what if” kinds of scenarios. Predictions may become someone’s prophecies; coaches avoid telling a colleague that a problem will occur even if they suspect it will happen. Instead, coaches are thought partners who help their colleagues think through instructional practices, discuss about multiple perspectives and ideas, co-plan strategies to address a myriad of classroom and instructional efforts, and collectively problem solve to find multiple ways to approach teaching and learning.

Are you a micromanager, absentee manager, or a thought partner?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Part III…What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

Continued from November 1…

Step six… write an action plan about how you will move practice forward.
Your action plan needs to include a short-range goal, a mid-range goal, and a long-range goal. Use the plan as a self-assessment tool and take the pulse of where you are at each point. To help create the action plan, look at the Levels of Intensity for Coaches (detailed LOI and summary LOI) for guidance as you plan your schedule and activities. If you created a needs assessment as suggested previously and have that information, use it to populate the topics for your mini professional learning sessions. 

These mini professional learning sessions will generate the coach’s one-on-one conversations and the BDA (before, during, and after) cycle of coaching is born!

Step seven…
Rome was not built in a day! Welcoming a coach into a teacher’s classroom is not automatic. It takes time and work to build awareness and a shared understanding of what instructional coach is and is not. Think about the teachers with whom you will be working… what kind of support will they need and what preparation do you need to provide them with ongoing support. One-on-one visits can be challenging if the coaching relationship is not strong. Take the pulse of the situation and remember that instructional coaching is not a “fix it” model; it’s an opportunity for colleagues to work together in ways that strengthen instructional practice.

Work with the willing and build on the previous year’s successes. Remember, a coach is a partner, not a supervisor, administrator, whistle-blower, or evaluator. Keep reminding the staff through your actions and words that the coaching/teaching relationship is non-evaluative and risk-free. It’s a place where mistakes are encouraged so that learning takes place. You are not an expert and together, you and your colleagues will understand that two heads are definitely better than one! Establish those relationships first and then begin to move practice forward slowly and surely!

What strategy has worked for you in transitioning from a teaching position to a coaching position?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Part II…What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

In the last blog entry, I suggested three initial steps for coaches to move into the coaching role from a teaching position in the same school. The key to remember is that coaches are not experts; they are learning collaborators in a partnership and must maintain confidentiality to gain and sustain trust which is the most important quality in the teaching/coaching relationship. Remember, most teachers have experienced the administrator observing practice; they are not experienced with the idea of having a colleague visit (not observe) classrooms with the purpose of talking about practice. This is not a common practice in places without instructional coaches.

Once the coach and leadership team have shared the expectations with the staff and the coach has begun the ongoing process of engaging colleagues in conversations about school wide improvement, the focus shifts… slowly at first but in very deliberate ways.

Step four… the coach needs to “outfit” a coaching space so that conversations with teachers can be private and inviting. This is space where the teacher feels comfortable meeting with the coach and have resources for the teachers to explore and to exchange ideas and promising practices with each other. It is a risk-free environment that shouts, “collaboration is the norm!” The coach needs to plan a schedule so that the teachers know the coach’s availability. This schedule needs to incorporate the teacher’s schedules as well so that the coach offers an opportunity for all teachers to have access to the coach.

Step five… once the coach has walked around the building and engaged in conversations about the school wide goals and co-constructed a needs assessment, the coach has an idea of the kinds of topics to offer for mini professional learning sessions. Go back to the source… the teachers… and invite colleagues to co-facilitate/co-present on topics of interest. You may or may not have some “early adopters.” Start small… once or twice a month offer mini sessions multiple times during the day so that teachers can “float” into the coaching space to share that professional learning with you. This is especially effective if a teaching colleague joins the coach. Next time, ask each participant to bring a friend! Rome wasn’t built in a day so the first few times may feel like you are talking to yourself but don’t give up… it will catch on!

To be continued…
What strategy has worked for you in transitioning from a teaching position to a coaching position?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

At our October professional learning conference facilitated by the PIIC mentors, coaches, and, I asked coaches to submit questions they had about their practice and moving teachers forward. The questions were wonderful and really get to the heart of coaching. In the next few blogs, I will answer some of these questions and hope that my answers generate lots of conversations between and among coaches, mentors, and teachers.

What is the best way to transition from a classroom teacher to instructional coach in the same building?

This question is a really important topic for coaches who have become a “senior among their peers” and moved from teaching to coaching in the same building. The coach is not really a “senior among peers” but many colleagues may perceive the new coaching position as a “promotion” even though there is no salary increase for it. This may be because the teaching staff is not aware of the coaching model, role, or expectations. As a result, the relationship in the building must be re-negotiated (in a positive way).

First things first… the coach and administrative team need to be on the same page and share a vision about instructional coaching. That means that the communication needs to be transparent and explicit about how coaching can help the school achieve its goals for school wide improvement. The coach needs to be prepared and understand the role so that it can be discussed and communicated clearly to the administrative team and staff. It is important for the administrative team and coach together to “roll out” the coaching model to the staff with the expectations shared. That way, there is no misunderstanding about what the coaching role involves. At that time, the idea of confidentiality between the coach and teacher must be shared along with the understanding that the coach and administrative team will communicate regularly about school wide goals, not about performance or evaluation. If you started the year without this mutual understanding, you need to get on the agenda for the next faculty meeting and share this with the staff.

Second step… talk to the “emissaries of good will” aka, your friends on staff, and ask them how they feel about instructional coaching, e.g., what makes them comfortable/uncomfortable with the idea of instructional coaching; would they like to co-facilitate a mini professional learning session with you; can you “practice” the before conversation with them, etc. Notice that I did not say to offer a co-teaching or modeling session. That comes after the coaching interactions and solid working relationships are established.

Step three… collaborate with your colleagues and co-construct a needs assessment, i.e., how do you think the school wide goals for improvement can be accomplished; what would you like to know more about; what kind of topics would be helpful to offer as mini professional learning sessions, etc. This way, the teachers’ voices can be heard. Be sure to tailor the “ask” so it is not a venting session!

To be continued…How did you re-negotiate your role in your building?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

About 8 weeks into the new school year and the question I’ve been asked most often is, “How can I create a schedule where I can support every one who needs it?”

Great question, especially if a coach is struggling to support every teacher. Just remember, not every teacher needs or wants the same kind of support. That’s why instructional coaching is a differentiated approach to teacher and school support.

Ever think of the cohort approach? In order to create this kind of structure, the coach needs to first analyze, not evaluate, the kind of support the teacher needs. For instance, coaches can support teachers according to three different levels. Some teachers need intensive support; they may be new teachers or teachers who are teaching new content. They want the coach to support them frequently and give them the confidence they need to move their practice forward. Some teachers need strategic support; they are able to move their students forward but need some support for a defined period of time. And, some teachers are independent and want to share some ideas with you but do not necessary want or need to follow the BDA cycle of consultation more than once or twice a semester.

In a cohort approach, the coach might group teachers together who don’t need the same kind of support which would allow the coach to provide a differentiated approach to the varied needs. Or, perhaps the coach groups the teachers according to content or grade level. Then, the coach could ask teachers to “buddy up” and the collaboration is built into the cohort work. This is not a PLC necessarily but could be thought of as one, especially if the group shares a vision and goals for their work.   

Regardless of the type of support needed, the coach must really think about the needs of the students and how the teachers can meet those needs. This will help define the kind of support the coach provides.

How do you generate your schedule to provide support to the teachers you coach?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

What is the difference between the “art” and “craft” of  teaching?

Ever wonder how some teachers just “get it” and some don’t? Some teachers can have their students eating right out of their hands while others struggle with the same students?

That’s what I call the “art of teaching.” Some may know their content (the science of teaching) and not be able to share their knowledge with their students while others just have the knack for engaging their students.

I like to think of the “art of teaching” as the teacher’s personality and the ethos of caring. Some teachers certainly understand the social-emotional fragility of students. They understand what their students need “outside” of the eligible content. These are things a test can’t measure.

Take for instance the teacher from Waddell Language Academy in North Carolina. He asked parents to hand write a note to their child so that on a particularly difficult day, the child could take out the note and read a wonderful, loving, positive message from a parent. This teacher wanted his 7th grade students to hear their parents’ voices in their moments of stress and anxiety.

I call this the “art of teaching.”

It is critical that coaches help teachers connect emotionally to the school community and really get to know their students and families. That doesn’t mean home visits and phone calls every night are necessary; it does mean, however, that teachers need to know what triggers their students’ stress and anxiety. They need to know that when students suffer, they cannot learn until those stresses and anxieties are relieved.

Those are the coaching interactions that are not based on demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy; these are conversations based on coaches helping teachers establish a culture in their classrooms of respect, rapport, and most of all, safety. Those are the conversations that get to the heart of teaching and learning and answer the question, “What are the obstacles that prevent my students from learning?”

What are some of the ways coaches help teachers understand, cope, and relieve their students’ anxieties?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Coaches often ask me about modeling in class and its effectiveness. I think a lot about this question because I’ve been there! For several years in my beginning coach career, I modeled classes several times a day in a block schedule. I loved it because it kept me in touch with the students, but did it help the teachers? Not a bit. For a long time when I visited, I couldn’t understand why the teachers were not modeling and replicating what I did.

I clearly didn’t understand the idea of “gradual release of responsibility” and didn’t get that I was “modeling” without co-constructing goals for the lesson. The teachers also didn’t understand the expectations because we never discussed them prior to me agreeing to model in their classes. We had limited conversations that started with, “What do you want me to do?” and ended with me saying, “Great, I love to teach that content!” VoilĂ … I was modeling!

 What didn’t I understand? I didn’t understand that modeling was purpose driven.

I didn’t have a purpose… at least not a valid one. I wanted to stay in touch; helping teachers grow their practice was not my focus. I thought it was; after all, we talked about me “showing” how to teach a unit lesson. I expected the teachers to just “model” what I did in their classes. Wasn’t that the purpose of modeling?

Coaches have a responsibility NOT to take over but that’s not to say they do not engage in a co-teaching situation. That’s a very different role and purpose and needs to be clearly discussed, deliberated, and delivered. It demonstrates the collaborative nature of coaching; shows the students that learning together is important; and it removes the temptation for a student to say, “You’re not my teacher” or “I wish you were my teacher” both being equally as embarrassing for the teacher and the coach.

So, don’t be shy to model; be prudent, though, in co-constructing the purpose and goals in the before; share the responsibilities in the during; and be equally as involved in the after because that process is truly collaborative.

When do you co-teach and when do you model?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Coaching is deliberate… that means that every coach and teacher need a collaborative plan to work together. The plan needs to be intentional and clearly indicate the targeted goals for the work. Because time is precious, and teachers need every minute they have to plan, prepare, and practice, the time spent together must be dedicated and devoted to setting the goals, addressing the goals, putting the goals into action, and then reflecting on the strength of those goals and if the intended outcomes were met. Every coaching interaction is purposeful and planned.

This is not to say that coaches should not knock on a teacher’s door and give a cheery greeting. In fact, starting the day with the coach circulating around the building greeting the staff is a wonderful way to begin. However, that’s not a coaching interaction; that’s a salutation, not the way to facilitate a conversation about practice. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a quick conversation provides maximum support… it doesn’t.

So, what does that mean?

It means that coaches need to engage in an internal planning process for each colleague… coaches need to think about how they will work with their teaching colleagues and decide what questions they will ask as they begin their instructional coaching journey with those colleagues. Each colleague is different and each one will have different goals depending on the students they teach. The coach’s role is to help the teacher “sort out” the kinds of goals they think are important for helping their students reach their fullest potential.

That means that the coach has to prepare in advance (“before the before”) and then ask the kinds of questions in the “before” that will help the teacher move students forward. At the same time, the coach is helping the teacher move his/her practice forward as well. In the “during” phase, the coach and teacher both have a job to do as identified in the “before.” Determining if the goals yielded the expected outcomes is discussed in the “after.” These phases are premeditated (in a good way!) and each phase has a plan with definitive steps to follow.

Don’t confuse a quick “hello” with the more purposeful conversation that occurs about practice. The distinction is clear… a greeting is one thing; talking about practice is engaging in communication that speaks to effective instructional delivery and collective problem-solving.

What’s your plan for engaging in ongoing conversations with your teaching colleagues?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Summertime and the living is easy… at least until now when we all go into hyper mode and try to capture our thoughts about a new school year, our new classes, many new celebrations, and expected new challenges. And, along with these new beginnings, probably comes some thoughts about change, especially accepting what can and cannot be changed.

 As September rolls around, think about those changes and how you can embrace them. Take your time and reflect on these simple 10 tips adapted from

1. Don’t just do something; sit there…reflect in, on, and about action;
2. Mother yourself a little… let someone else be the decision-maker;
3. Ignore your inner reptile…be trusting and trustworthy;
4. Silence your inner know-it-all… you are not the expert;
5. Seek out new perspectives… tolerance and understanding go a long way;
6. Try something new and slightly scary… think outside of the box;
7. Be skeptical of common wisdom… wisdom is not common…either is common sense!
8. Learn to live with uncertainty… doubt makes you think more and make a plan “B”;
9. Say “really?” a lot… help others make their thinking visible;
10. Shed your old skin… out with the old and in with the new… except for old friends and colleagues!

Think about all the ways you will promote change in your buildings. Remember, coaches and mentors are “change agents.” Ask yourself these two questions every day: 1) What am I doing to help teachers change and improve their practice; and 2) What am I doing to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes?

How will you promote change?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hello, school year 2018. To celebrate the new school year, The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC) has launched. Please follow us as we, too, begin our new journey!

Summertime and the living is easy… at least until August when we go into hyper mode and try to capture our thoughts about new beginnings, a new school year, our new classes, many new celebrations, and expected new challenges. Our bodies may not be ready to go back to school but our hearts and minds never really left in June… the plight of all educators! We continue to think way past the end of the school year.

Knowing that we need to continue driving the movement for improved teaching and learning, please keep Zeus and Skiffington’s inspiration words in mind, “Coaching is a conversation, a dialogue, whereby the coach and the individual interact in a dynamic exchange to achieve goals, enhance performance and move the individual forward to greater success” (Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools, May 2017 pg. 97). So, whether you are a new coach or a veteran, let these words be your guide as you begin your coaching interactions for the year.

Think about these things:

1.      Schedule time to meet with the administrative team to revisit the plan for school wide improvement and how coaching helps to achieve those goals.
2.      Think about reminding the staff about instructional coaching and your role.
3.      Design a coaching cohort approach for the teachers with whom you work, especially if you are working with several teachers.
4.      Create a needs assessment by walking around and talking to your colleagues; the needs will have changed from last year so build on those successes.
5.      Plan some mini professional learning sessions to start the year and generate your one-on-one and small group BDA cycles of consultation.
6.      Create a schedule for support around the BDA cycle, e.g., what is the school schedule for PD days; when and where can you meet each PLC, department, grade level, or individual teachers; when are prep periods, lunch periods, and early dismissal days, etc.?
      Remember, be transparent and always reiterate your role as a non-evaluative, confidential learning partner. I know you'll have a wonderful year!

What are your first steps for the new school year?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

School is almost out for the summer! I bet you can’t believe it’s mid-June already… how time flies when you are having a good time! Or, how fast the days fly as you lament how much more you need to do..

That’s good news and bad news… the bad news is that the year is over and what didn’t get accomplished or addressed this year won’t get done; the good news is that you now have to time to really think about your practices and catch up on the reading you’ve neglected all year.

Wherever you are in the “end-of-year” mode, take the next 8 weeks to relax, rejuvenate, rejoice, and replenish the empathy, integrity, fidelity, and creativity that you need for the 2018-2019 school year. Have a wonderful summer… I’ll still blog but only between reading the books that have made my never-ending list. 

Enjoy the summer and see you in August!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Last month, I wrote a blog about facilitating collegial classroom visits while the coach covers the visiting teacher’s classes. I wanted to continue the thread because I think there’s more to be said. The question I asked at the end of the blog was how could coaches facilitate visitations to foster ongoing conversations about practice? It must have hit home because I’ve had some email inquiries asking me how that process could be accomplished without coaches becoming a substitute for those teachers visiting others.

It really is a challenging issue and a conundrum… coaches want to promote professional growth for all and how can they do that if they are not willing to cover classes? If that were only the case, I could answer it in a few words. But asking that question makes me wonder about the shared understanding of the coaching role. Does the staff understand that coaching is not an “extra pair of hands” but rather a deliberate process that involves thinking, planning, collaboration, facilitation and presentation, and debriefing? Do they understand about collective problem-solving, clear communication, and confidentiality?

Every coach I know would gladly cover classes in an emergency. We all would… all hands-on deck! But for a planned event, e.g., a classroom visitation, that’s not an emergency. When planning visitations, a schedule is needed just like any other planned trip. After all, are coaches expected to cover classes when a field trip is scheduled? If that’s the case, I fear that the coach as a valuable resource is misunderstood, misused, and just plan missed!

So, how does a coach help a teacher visit other colleagues? 1) Bring teachers together to discuss how to schedule visitations and make a plan. 2) If they are willing, perhaps visiting during a prep period works, especially in a block schedule where the visit can be part of the class period; 3) Ask teachers if they are willing to trade coverage periods, e.g., I’ll cover for you if you cover for me; 4) See who else in the building is available, e.g., a counselor who wants to see students in action, a coordinator who doesn’t get a chance to see how students work together, perhaps a librarian who would love to take some time and do a library scavenger hunt with students, or an administrator who wants to get back in touch with students. None of these suggestions are perfect but they could work if the coach and teachers collaborate, discuss the goals of the visitation, and plan a course of action.

How do you or coaches you know schedule classroom visitations in your building?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

One of the responsibilities that some coaches have assumed is offering to cover classes of teachers who want to visit other classrooms. While I think the offer is well intentioned, covering classes is not. Here’s why… when an instructional coach and teacher talk about practice and suggest visiting another colleague’s classroom to see the practice in real time, both parties need to see the same thing at the same time or the translation of what happened will only be seen through one person’s eyes. The feedback will be one-sided, leaving no opportunity for the coach to ask the kinds of questions that promote deep reflection because the coach wasn’t there to bring attention to something that might be overlooked by the visiting teacher.

The undeniable benefit of working with a coach is to talk about the practice viewed by both parties where both have goals for watching that practice. If one of the two is not present, the “analysis” of what happened in that classroom is translated rather than experienced firsthand. The actions are shared via a filter of the person saying what happened. If a teacher tells the coach what happened rather than the coach seeing it firsthand, is the interpretation of events unconsciously biased?

The other issue about one colleague visiting another colleague’s class is the idea of a visit without a “before” conversation. Does the visiting teacher participate in a “before” with the colleague to become acquainted with the lesson’s goals or does the teacher visit without that benefit? How does the visiting teacher know the goals and reflect upon whether the classroom goals were met if there was no pre-visit conversation?

As professional practitioners, we want to share our learning. How we do so is critical. If an administrator assigns a sub to cover a class or colleagues exchange visits so that the coach can accompany each person involved in the visitation schedule, that’s a much more effective way to encourage classroom visits and provide opportunities for the coach to engage in ongoing conversations about practice in a truly collaborative environment.

How can coaches facilitate the opportunity for colleagues to visit their peers in order to foster conversations about classroom practice and student growth?

Friday, May 4, 2018

In a recent webinar about asking the right kind of questions in a coaching interaction, one participant suggested this question, “What are you struggling with right now?” As much as I think that question might open a dialogue, I’m concerned because it sounds like the interviewer (coach) assumes the person (teacher) with whom s/he is engaged in conversation is struggling with something.  That sounds like a deficit model to me and that’s the antithesis of effective instructional coaching.

Not every conversation is based on a struggle… a challenge, maybe, but not necessarily a struggle. For instance, I may be engaged in a conversation with an art teacher who wants to expose her/his students to multiple artists from the same time period who use different approaches in their work. Does that mean I’m struggling with something specific or does that mean that I’m interested in discussing a variety of ways to approach the goals for the lesson? I say it’s the latter… I want to engage in a conversation with the coach around multiple perspectives with a multitude of artists… not necessarily a struggle.

Coaches need to demonstrate and model that conversations are borne out of interest and need, not just need. It is a balance between thinking about what we want to do and debriefing about what just happened. We want to establish relationships with our teaching colleagues that offer opportunities to engage in conversation around effective instructional practices, not just those practices that may be indicative of struggle. Remember, coaching is not a deficit model; it’s a model that focuses on helping teachers get better at their craft, not a “fixit” model to correct something that is wrong.

So, be mindful that conversations in the planning stage, or the “before” are not always about problems; conversations, however, in the debriefing or the “after” are always related to the data collection and classroom visit co-planned by the teacher and coach.

How do you balance the questions you ask so that they are not focusing on specific challenges but rather on conversations that focus on data to improve practice?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Going to an international conference is awesome. We just returned from presenting at the ASCD Empower 18 Conference in Boston and met so many like-minded practitioners… it was incredible to see how many coaches and administrators were at the conference. Instructional Coaching is truly becoming a household word! And, we almost sold out of our book!!

What really struck me was the variety of definitions for instructional coaching. I always say if you put 10 people in a room and ask them to define the instructional coaching role, there would be 10 different definitions… my thinking was confirmed!

The variations ran the gamut… coaches pulling out students for tutoring, discipline, and missed assignments to coaches described as helping hands so they duplicate materials, go on trips, sit in on IEPs as the teacher on record, and “judge” various school contests, all part of their “coaching” roles. Some coaches do not get a chance to meet one-on-one with their teaching colleagues because coaching is voluntary, and some teachers still think the coach’s visit is an observation. (That’s why we differentiate between coach visits and administrative observations.)

What’s clear to me about the cloudy description of the coaching role is that we need to ensure that everyone in the school community understands what instructional coaching is, how it can benefit the students, teachers, and school. We need to focus on how coaching can help the school community achieve individual and collective goals. We need to build awareness and then remind our “investors” that instructional coaching is a job-embedded teacher professional development model that is a confidential, safe, non-evaluative way to help student learning and teacher practice grow. It’s not a deficit model but rather a model that honors both the students and teachers by providing ample opportunities for learning to take place at all levels, every day, all day. 

We need to remind ourselves that each and every day, coaches help teachers change and improve their practice and increase student engagement and outcomes. If we do that every day, we are on the right path.

How do you ensure that your school community understands how instructional coaching helps achieve school wide improvement and recognizes your coaching role in that process ?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

How do you handle an angry or negative response to a question you asked? This question surfaced at a recent webinar.

That never happens, right? WRONG! This situation can absolutely happen, especially if the coaching relationship has not been established and the coach is not viewed as a trusted colleague. How the coach handles the situation makes all the difference in establishing a healthy coaching relationship.

If the coach is not familiar with the teacher’s beliefs and practices, then most likely, there has not been a conversation about how those beliefs influence practice. Without that conversation, how does the coach know which approach to the coaching interaction will “feel” appropriate? If there has not been a conversation about how students learn and grow, then the questions the coach asks could be perceived as intimidating and threatening. To avoid this situation, coaches must establish relationships with their teaching colleagues and help them understand the role and function of an instructional coach before they engage in conversations about practice. That's the "before the before" conversation!

How about this…If the coaching conversation is mandated by the principal, the teacher’s response might not be warm and fuzzy. After all, how many teachers are comfortable being forced to have a conversation about their teaching skills when they don’t know if the coach is evaluating them and reporting to the principal? The coach must build trust before asking questions. On the other hand, if the coach’s role has been shared and made explicit to the staff with the coach making his/her expectations visible and then the principal suggests that the teacher contact the instructional coach for support, that would most likely result in a positive response.

Remember, coaching is not a “fixit” model. Coaches are not there to “fix” what’s wrong with anyone’s instructional delivery. The coach is there as a trusted colleague, an experienced practitioner who helps teachers recognize their full potential and take ownership of their own learning. The coach helps guide; the teacher does the rest. 

How have you handled a response that was angry or negative? How did you turn that around into something positive?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In the December 2017 issue of The Learning Professional, Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh reiterates what we know about collaboration and adult learning; that is, learning is social and learning together makes a difference. Unfortunately, just getting together without clear goals and actionable items, does not make a collaborative approach particularly useful or effective.

Stephanie suggests five important fundamentals to integrate when developing the standards for collaborative work: 1) Clarity of purpose where teachers can share intentional goals for the learning and make deliberate plans to work together towards achieving these goals. A shared vision creates a community. These goals are meaningful and not amorphous. They lead towards action; 2) Norms of collaboration where colleagues respect one another and collectively decide what is important and how the goals will be achieved; 3) Resource allocation is critical and where administration plays an important role. Teacher teams need to be given ample opportunities to work together in an environment that welcomes creativity and collective problem solving. The teachers’ voices need to be heard and honored in a non-evaluative setting; creative problem-solving where a variety of perspectives are shared helps encourage “thinking out of the box”; 4) Facilitation and support are essential in keeping the flow of the meeting moving in a positive direction; the place for venting is different than a place for making recommendations for school wide improvement. Facilitation is a skill and it is different from presenting a professional development session; 5) Accountability for results is important when collective responsibility is the norm and all staff are considered members in a community of learning and practice… one for all and all for one!

As a coach, which of these fundamentals are you able to encourage in your school wide collaborative planning?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My son recently sent me a few blogs about the growth of technology companies and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the attributes the managers of the tech companies seek in their employees and the striking similarities to the field of instructional coaching. They want employees who can handle freedom (take initiative), accept personal accountability (be at the right place at the right time), and possess a constructive measure of humility (they appreciate learning from others).  I would venture to say that these attributes are closely aligned to what we believe is important for instructional coaches and implementing an effective instructional coaching model.

I was intrigued by the companies who intentionally design their top-level management structures to include ways to break down the silos that force separation of information. It appears they are trying to help their employees create collaborative environments that encourage shared thinking around data so that all perspectives can be taken into consideration when designing company-wide improvements and identifying industry trends. They are highlighting the merits of the team approach and collective responsibility, all the while keeping the “client or customer” front and center.

If that doesn’t sound like what we are trying to accomplish with instructional coaching, I don’t know what does!

What are some strategies you have encouraged in your school to enhance collaboration and shared thinking? How does this collective thinking help achieve your school wide improvement goals?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ever the English teacher, I’m drawn to articles, blogs, and commentaries about what amazing things happen in the English classroom where students are reading the literature that set my heart on fire so many years ago (and continues to do so!) as a student in a large urban school district. In fact, I’m drawn to anything and everything that shares innovative ideas that engage students, regardless of the content areas!

I’ve been reading a lot about how schools can help students engage more in their learning. Of course, we all want students to take ownership of their learning and try to offer them multiple opportunities for self-directed learning. We want them to WANT to learn; we want them to LIKE school. Unfortunately, some students are disenfranchised, and their teachers might not know how to pull them back into a learning mode. They might not know a variety of ways to provide “peak moments” (borrowed from Education Week, January 18) in learning. You know, peak moments like the one I experienced when our book was published! (I will never forget that celebratory moment.)

Students can experience those peak moments if their teachers are able to create ongoing instances for those moments to occur. Here’s why instructional coaching is so critical… instructional coaches create the circumstances where colleagues collaborate and talk about practice. The more teaching colleagues talk about teaching and learning, the more likely it is that those “peak moments” can become the norm in classrooms. Sharing ideas and multiple ways to approach effective instructional delivery is essential for student and teacher success.

As a coach, how do you help teachers create those “peak moments” that define the classroom experience?

Monday, January 15, 2018

We just returned from another amazing 3-day Professional Learning Conference from the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). This is the only conference that I know about where the presenters and facilitators are the practitioners in the schools represented at the conference! They truly show that the collective wisdom of any room where they are collaborating is chock full of incredible talents, insights, and multiple skill sets. The power in those sessions with such skilled coaches, mentors, and other school leaders was palpable. It was an interactive, collegial atmosphere where no one feared what they didn’t know… everyone just absorbed and shared their learnings in rooms full of like-minded professionals.

Every experience level from novice to advanced was represented in our 24 breakout sessions. The sessions were all geared to helping instructional coaches help teachers move their students forward while moving their own practice forward. It was a time and place for the coaches and their colleagues from across the state to talk about practice and how to navigate statewide initiatives for which they are responsibly supporting. It was a time and place for all the participants to discuss what they were doing, how to do “it,” and share ways to continue learning and growing.

One thing that was clear during the mini discussions I had with coaches was that in schools where the coaching role and model were not discussed prior to implementation and a shared vision for school wide improvement made visible, the struggle with helping the staff understand how coaching can help the school community accomplish the school wide goals for improvement continues to be a barrier to effective implementation.

If your school has not shared the vision with the staff, it’s not too late. In fact, a mid-year review is a perfect time to remind, or in some cases build awareness, of how instructional coaching is a job-embedded professional development/learning model for teachers. Don’t let the rest of the year go by without reminding the staff what you do, how you do “it,” and why you do “it.”

How do you continually remind the staff of your role and your instructional coaching responsibilities?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year! As we embark on this new year, I bet we all have resolutions that if we are lucky, we haven’t broken yet! Several of my friends talk about getting in shape and being healthy. Of all the people who talk about resolutions, however, no one ever said to me that the goal was to work harder in school! Imagine that!!

But, I do get a lot of “What am I supposed to do” and “How do I do ‘it’ when so many other things cry for attention.

It’s all about priorities and a shared vision for school wide improvement. What do the stakeholders in your school think about student achievement and building teacher capacity? What do they think about the notion of teachers working together to plan, deliver, and debrief their instructional practices?

First things first… how do we define instructional coaching? Have we made our school staff aware that Instructional coaching is a sustainable teacher professional development model designed to help teachers get better at what they do? Have we reminded them that coaching is part of a whole-school improvement strategy that fosters collective problem-solving and offers highly targeted professional development embedded in teachers’ daily work. Have we demonstrated how Instructional coaches provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders focused on classroom practices to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity and improve student learning? It’s mid-year… take some time to remind your staff why instructional coaching is so important to the health of your school.

There is a joint ownership for student and staff learning. Coaches help create and support this idea. Changing perceptions can be challenging though and coaches need to practice and advocate how non-evaluative practices are collaborative, confidential, and critical to success. They must show that changing practice creates a change in belief. It’s a great time of year to re-adjust our thinking and actions.

How do you help the stakeholders in your school understand what you do and how you do “it”?