By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?