By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?