By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, December 9, 2019

Last week, a coach emailed me with an interesting question… “Do I only offer suggestions, or can I tell a teacher s/he is required to make certain changes?” Although tempting, change is voluntary, not compulsory!

Instructional Coaching doesn’t work if it is a mandated directive. If the administrator requires the teacher to work with a coach, it’s that administrator’s role to enforce that, not a coach. The coach needs to establish and build trust with his/her teaching colleagues. Working together, they collaborate and discuss beliefs and philosophies about teaching and learning. Through ongoing conversations, asking questions, and identifying goals that influence student outcomes, teachers and coaches discuss effective instructional strategies and how to make adjustments in teaching so that the goals are met. 
Coaching works most effectively when teachers recognize where their strengths are, and which skills need to be strengthened. That recognition comes through reflection; that reflection creates change.

On the other hand, honest and open communication is what makes the difference between heavy and light coaching. Susan Scott (Fierce Inc. and contributing columnist to Learning Forward) says that “honest conversations are the cornerstone to building a culture of excellence” (JSD, December 2013). She believes that the most powerful practice to transform schools comes from ongoing conversations, the dialogue that either makes or breaks what happens in schools. Talking about practice in deliberate and intentional ways provides ample opportunities for colleagues to collaborate and learn from each other. Sometimes, the conversations are easy; sometimes, they are not. Either way, the ongoing conversations help teachers to continually grow and improve their craft.

What are some questions you ask your teaching colleagues to help them recognize their strengths and areas of need? How do you “pat and push” while “nagging and nurturing” your teaching colleagues?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Do you ever wonder about the amount of energy expended on matters that don’t really matter? How many times have you heard, “Work smarter, not harder?” Or, how about the book, Never Work Harder Than Your Students…? Sage words that we should all remember! But, do we?

I just read a blog from the EBLIN Group ( entitled, “Put Limits on Your Energy Drainers.” The blog is a great reminder that oftentimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees in our daily work. We tend to get swept up in the moment and try to do everything or be everything for each person with whom we work. We want to do the “right” thing and ensure that we provide our colleagues with as much support as they need. But, we can’t confuse giving support with helping our colleagues find their own voices. To do that, we must be clear on what we are doing, why we are doing “it,” and how we should go about getting “it” done. And that’s what Scott Eblin says is the “optimal mix of energy.”

His three tips for maximizing your energy:

1. Assess your energy “givers” and your energy “drainers.” If your energy is sapped every time you        think of something you must do or someone with whom you must do “it,” that’s a drain and you          need to re-assess the endeavor. If you are energized by thinking about a topic or person, that’s              where you want to spend your time;

2. Spend time with those energy boosters; they fill your bucket!

3. Make realistic goals when working with those energy “sappers.” Give those topics and colleagues
    some of your time and energy but save the real investment for those energy “givers.” And, over
    time, maybe those energy “drainers” will become some of your energy “givers!”

How do you differentiate your support to both the energy “givers” and energy “drainers” in your coaching experiences?

Friday, November 1, 2019

In the October 22, 2019 issue of Education Week Teacher blogs, Madeline Will talks about “Putting the Professional Back in Teacher Professional Development” – a topic close to my heart and soul!

This year, our theme is Enhancing and Sustaining Professional Learning because we believe that every teaching colleague has a responsibility to not only build his/her own capacity but to also build student agency as well. And, to do that, one must recognize the power of collaboration and how instructional coaches promote the notion that learning is social.

So, yes, we want to put “Professional” back into the idea of teachers taking ownership of their learning but first we must value that everyone is a member in a community of learning and practice. We must also recognize three things:

  1.  Coaches are not experts but either are their teaching colleagues; there is always room to learn more and being an expert implies that they "know it all." Coaches are, however, skilled practitioners who understand the science of adult learning and how that translates into effective practice;
  2. Professional development does not influence teaching and learning unless and until the “stuff” we share with our teaching colleagues transfers into professional learning which can only be accomplished when there is ongoing, consistent follow up to the PD;
  3. The professional learning sessions must be relevant, useful, ongoing, engaging, evidenced-based, and respectful to the adult learners.

When schools and districts recognize the strength of teaching colleagues thinking, planning, and working together, that’s when there will be a change in teaching practices that will influence student outcomes.

How do you reinforce teacher and student agency?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The never-ending struggle to meet with teachers seems to be foremost on many coaches’ hearts and minds… how do they meet and follow the BDA cycle of coaching if they are inundated with all kinds of other “non-coaching” duties? How do they encourage teachers to meet with them if teachers are carrying a full schedule of classes and may have a period or two of extra non-teaching duties? Not everyone has time to meet so how do we communicate if time is limited?

All important questions and none with such easy answers.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. If a coach is actively coaching more than 8-10 teachers (and most are), the coach needs to design a cohort coaching approach so that each group of teachers can receive coaching support in a “buddy” system. For example, group “A” is the first cohort for 6-8 weeks and then becomes the buddy support for the next group “B” cohort of teachers, etc. 
  2. Coaches need to assess the needs of the teachers they coach. Some teachers may need intermittent support on a “as needed basis;” some may need regular weekly support; and some may need more intensive support. Once this is determined, the coach can plan the kind and frequency of the support provided; 
  3. If the communication is the issue: blend the approach so that there is virtual and F2F support. For instance, an email from the coach to the teacher asking what kinds of topics/issues/instructional techniques the teacher would be interested in exploring is a viable “before the before.” That would be followed by a F2F “before” where specifics are discussed, i.e., what are the goals for this lesson; what role do we each play; what kind of data should we collect; and when will we meet for the debriefing. From there, the “during” classroom visit (not observation) is scheduled and followed with the pre-determined debriefing or “after” session. Email communication is most often a set of questions that can be answered and then referenced at the time of the “before” and/or “after.” I would caution a coach to facilitate a virtual “after” as many ideas and thoughts flow from the F2F conversation. (The emails could get very lengthy if every question is asked virtually!)
Coaches typically try a variety of ways to interact with their teaching colleagues. Blending an approach is a solid way to incorporate both the learning and the communication styles.

How do you blend your approach to foster communication with your teaching colleagues?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

I recently received an email with a question about a situation that I think we have all encountered. The question was, “How do I keep things in perspective and stay positive?”

Many of us struggle with negative thinking. It happens in our personal lives and in our professional lives and manifests itself in different ways. Some of us experience anxiety and stress while others experience depression and lack of confidence. Regardless of how it reveals itself, we all need to be aware that an intervention is sometimes necessary to help us break out of a negative pattern and recognize the positivity in our experiences.

I am a great believer in lists… I have lists everywhere and sometimes even my lists have lists! The point is that when I feel overwhelmed, I make a list of what needs to be done with columns: one column lists the task; the second column identifies if I actually can influence the outcome; a third column asks for specifics about the task, e.g., time constraints, people involved, etc.; and a fourth column asks for strategies that I think will help me achieve my goal. It sounds unwieldy but it’s not. It helps me put into perspective what I need to do, what I can do, and ideas about how to accomplish the task.

It would be an unrealistic if I didn’t admit that sometimes, I just add to the list and not address what’s there. But, even in those cases, I feel like I can be positive about my tasks because I’ve recognized them and haven’t ignored what I need to do in hopes that they will go away! They don’t become bigger than they already are.

Especially at the beginning of a year, take time to re-assess your goals, needs, and habits. Make those lists and practice reflection. Be clear about perception and reality. Rome wasn’t built in a day and sometimes, “No” is the right answer.

How do you stay positive and spread that positivity to the teachers you coach?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ah… so the new school year is in swing… so many things to do… so little time to do them!

Take a breath and make a list!

As a coach, take a minute to refresh your memory about the school’s goals for school wide improvement. I’m sure changes have been made to last year’s goals… maybe the goals have been enhanced; maybe the goals have been changed; maybe there are new goals to meet the needs of all students. However the goals were determined and shared with staff, take a moment to reflect on the goals and what you need to do in preparation for working with teachers so they support them.

Build on the strengths of each previous year and remember to honor the teachers’ voices. You are not the expert; you are creating a culture where collaboration is the norm and collective problem-solving is the theme for the year. Every teacher has something valuable to contribute to the conversation; bring your teaching colleagues together so that the learning is shared, questioning is encouraged, and practice is discussed – all without risk!

Coaches visit, not observe. Leave that to the administrators. Focus on creating a place where you model positive and valuable relationships, understanding that instructional coaching is not a cookie cutter model…  not everyone is ready at the same time for the same amount or level of instructional coaching support. You need to take time and assess what the teachers need which generates what you need to prepare for a productive school year.

How do you reflect “on, in, and about” your coaching role in preparation for working with your teaching colleagues?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

As the school year begins, our goals are sort of like New Year’s Resolutions… we make them in good faith but then life intervenes! So, what can we do about making realistic goals that both support and challenge our instructional coaching roles?

First things first… think about last year’s accomplishments and build on them. Maybe you accomplished all you set out to do. Or, maybe you only achieved a few of the goals on your list. Either way, re-focus your energies and review the goals you set. If your goals were met, great. Move on with enhancing and building your previous goals. If your goals were not met, take a moment and reflect on why not. Were they specific enough, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely? What exactly did I want to achieve? How did I plan on achieving them? Did I have the right people on the bus with me to accomplish those goals? Was my timeline appropriate and doable? Did I have alternative ways to achieve the goals throughout the course of the commitment? What got in the way of attaining these goals? Did I talk to a trusted colleague about these goals and share possible strategies for reaching them? Remember, two heads are better than one!

As you begin this year, review your role with teachers and administrators so you can continue to promote the culture of professional learning throughout the year. Collaborate with your teaching colleagues and gather the collective wisdom of your group to help develop this year’s coaching toolbox of professional learning offerings. Go back to goal setting and encourage your colleagues to co-create the professional learning plan with you for the year. Plan smart and work smarter!

Have a great year!

What are your first steps in setting goals for the year?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Welcome to the new school year!

Thinking about and planning for a new school year is refreshing, energizing, challenging, and anxiety producing, all at the same time. As instructional coaches, we’ve tried to shut down our brains for the summer but that doesn’t work. We continuously wonder how to help teachers get better at their craft and encourage them to explore new ways to engage students. We want to throw teachers a lifeline to keep them connected to each other, to the school community, and to the teaching profession. We want to make sure we help them answer these questions: “What am I doing as a coach to help teachers change and improve their practice” and “What am I doing as a coach to help teachers increase student engagement and improve student outcomes.”

But what looms in front of us is the staggering rate at which new teachers leave the profession.

44% of new teachers leave teaching within five years ( and often leave at a higher rate than many other professions. And, they leave for a variety of reasons.

In 2018, teachers surveyed (as reported in Education Week, Dec. 2018) indicated that 18% said that leadership is key in job satisfaction while 17% said salary considerations were a factor. 17% also said school climate was a factor in staying or leaving the job. Different reasons but the same outcome. So, how do we address this issue and sustain the teaching staff so that every student is in a classroom with a highly effective teacher?

Teacher retention is not just about salary; it’s about a change in culture, climate, beliefs, and practices so that teachers feel supported. All teachers need to feel valued, appreciated, understood, and recognized for the strengths they bring to the classroom.

Enter the instructional coach!

Instructional coaches sustain the momentum, break down the walls of isolation, and ensure that teachers practice with each other. Make sure you lead by example, preserve ways to collaborate, foster open communication, and support teachers in implementing literacy practices across all content areas. Be respectful, persistent, goal-oriented, and focused on helping teachers reach their fullest potential and improve learning for all. Ensure that your coaching interactions are in that “judgement free” zone that supports reflection and mid-stream adjustments in teaching. Help teachers plan, review their plans, and revise them where needed. Be that “elbow to elbow” learning partner and provide that lifeline for all teachers, not just the novice ones.

How are you planning for the new school year?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Are you a coach or a consultant?

What an interesting question… this topic surfaced when I was recently talking with one of our instructional mentors, aka the coach’s coach, in the work she was doing. So, I decided to do a little thinking about the business sector to see the definition of each and if I agreed.
Initially, I thought about how I would define the two terms and realized that to the inexperienced, the two terms probably seem interchangeable. But, they really are not… in coaching, there is no expert. The coach’s role is to help the “coachee” reach his/her fullest potential by being a learner and deciding the goals and direction to pursue. The coach helps the learner be the architect of the learning; they don’t “tell” the individual what is needed or identify the goals for him/her. There is no “should” in coaching; there is only, “what if” in a coaching interaction. There is a partnership that is formed for the purpose of resolving issues so that practice can move forward. The coach’s goal is targeted on the individual, i.e., how the coach helps the teacher enhance practice.
In consulting, an outsider is brought to the table to identify the “errors” and to “fix” the situation. There is no experimentation; they are there to make the right decisions and to give the answers so the problems are solved. The consultant’s goal focuses on the task at hand; that is, here is the problem and here is the solution… do it! They are not there to encourage collaboration; they are there to present solutions to an exposed problem.
Forbes states that “Coaching can help turn an entrepreneur into a great leader. Consulting provides that much-needed expertise and assistance. Oftentimes, the lines between coaching and consulting can get blurred, creating a situation that is not effective at providing what the client actually needs.”
What are you… a coach or a consultant?

Monday, May 20, 2019

I love it… this is exactly the message we want to convey to teachers, administrators, students and other school leaders… “failure is a part of teaching…” and it’s also a part of learning.

The April 19 EdWeek blog says it all… Lory Peroff expresses the good, the bad, and the ugly about teaching. She bears the pain and the joy of her experiences and shares them in a way that is recognizable to every teacher. After all, teaching gives us the “highest highs” and the “lowest lows” possible… the lights go on and it’s the best day; no lights shine, and we hang our heads in shame.

I used to say that I wished my last two classes were my first two classes. I learned so much from my students during the day that I was definitely a different teacher by the end of the day and I felt that I shortchanged my morning students on many days that I started a new unit or used new resources!

But, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be that way. What was I thinking when I hid my discomfort? What did I deny my students when I didn’t reach out for support? Why didn’t I think my professional growth was important? I know why… I didn’t have the luxury of working with a trusted colleague, aka an instructional coach.  I was too much like Lory trying to be the perfect teacher, one that others could come to for support but not willing to ask anyone else for support; I was not willing to admit what I didn’t know.

Lory’s advice is what we all need and should commit to following: reflect – in, on, and about action enables problem-solving; make a plan and follow it while reflecting on what worked effectively; find support – learning is social; try it out – practicing with an instructional coach makes a difference; be real and admit when change is needed.

Word of caution… for those schools that claim, “Failure is not an option,” think about how to change that attitude… failure is the only option that creates change.

How do you promote the idea of learning from your failures?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I just read a blog from EdTech titled, “How K-12 Schools Should Define and Act on Digital Learning” (April 11, 2019). The gist of the article was about blending traditional learning with digital learning thus transforming a traditional classroom. The author, Brian Seymour, reminds his readers that defining the term “blended” is critical before the “blending” process begins.

His phrase, tradigital, refers to his district’s “hybrid version of the traditional classroom and a digital learning environment.” Good to know… I think that this definition accurately describes the merging of the two styles of teaching. But, is this an accurate description of the learning that takes place when the teaching styles are fused?

I don’t agree with his comment that a traditional teacher usually begins teaching as a lecturer, using digital tools infrequently and data only when expedient. I think when a traditional teacher, whatever that might mean, starts out working with an instructional coach and together they identify goals, what follows is a deliberate conversation that recognizes priorities, emphasizes open and transparent conversation, creates multiple opportunities for collaboration, and reinforces the notion that everyone is a learner – all in a safe environment. Resources and materials are determined according to the goals and priorities set. The tool doesn’t drive the conversation; the goals drive the conversation.

Yes, he mentions that learning needs to be more facilitator/learner centered and addresses individual needs. He also mentions how important data driven decisions are to ensure students are assessed appropriately. I agree.

Can this happen in every class? Probably not but what can happen is making sure that instructional coaches are at the heart of every conversation so that all students are in classrooms with highly effective teachers who understand how to help students make meaning out of text, traditional or non-traditional, digital or non-digital and deepen the learning for all.

As a coach, how are you able to help teachers “blend” their environment so that students are exposed to both traditional and non-traditional teaching styles?

Monday, April 15, 2019

In continuing the conversation from our April 1st blog, this study states that “teacher coaching is able to improve student outcomes because of the interventions’ specific attention to teachers’ core classroom practices” ( Teacher Coaching, Kraft & Blazar).

That’s the good news! 

Yet, I find the word “intervention” antithetical to my thinking. An intervention is something that interrupts or disrupts a practice or routine – maybe even an invasion of sorts. That is quite negative and very often is single focused. The purpose may be positive – to change a behavior – but the connotation and even the practice is pretty grim from my perspective.

Instead, I think coaching is a positive introspective and reflective process that does not have a beginning and end. Rather, it is an ongoing, persistent involvement and connection to something that becomes more and more effective as time goes on. While the coaching interaction begins with the end in mind, e.g., increase student engagement, the process gets stronger each day and reinforces the notion that professional learning is continual.

Teacher engagement and school climate: Bringing coaching to scale likely would include a prescriptive approach, requiring teachers who may be hesitant or resistant to engage in the coaching process to take part. This may be understandable given an expanded emphasis on linking scores from classroom observation rubrics to high-stakes job decisions. However, coaching is unlikely to be successful without teachers’ openness to feedback and willingness to adapt their practice. Here, school leaders have a key role to play in creating a culture of trust and respect among administrators and staff in order to ease teachers’ concerns and increase their willingness to actively engage. 

Absolutely… if coaching is mandated, the resistance will be insurmountable. The administrative team and the coach need a shared vision of what instructional coaching is and isn’t. This must be shared with the staff so that everyone is on the same page. When the vision and expectations are explicit, the goals are clear and misunderstanding is minimized. Of course, the administrative team, coaches, and staff must uphold the parameters of the instructional coaching model and remain supportive, confidential, and working towards the same goal – building teacher capacity and influencing student growth.

Coaching interactions are not “fixit” situations. Coaches and their teaching colleagues work together to find the balance that works for them. A blended approach, e.g., F2F and virtual, has merit, especially if the stakeholders meet together and plan what support is F2F and what support is virtual. Either way, I stand strong… coaching is not an intervention; it’s a way of life to help all stakeholders, students and their teachers, to go from “good to great!”

How is coaching in your building more than just an intervention for increasing student engagement and changing school climate?

Monday, April 1, 2019

In July 2018, Ed Week published a blog entitled, “Instructional Coaching Works, Says a New Analysis. But There’s a Catch” (Madeline Will, Teacher Beat). The researchers, Matthew A. Kraft and David Blazar, tried to answer the questions, “Does one-to-one coaching help teachers get better?
If so, how powerful a strategy might this be to improve teacher practice and student outcomes?

I encourage you to read the study here and see what kind of conclusions you would draw from their meta-analysis. I selected some findings that I thought were interesting. More will follow in the next blog.

But, before you look at this study, remember our research in 2016…FHI360 conducted teacher surveys and found: 89% of the teachers changed their practices as a result of the coaching they received; 100% reported that these changes had a positive impact on student engagement; and 97% reported that these changes had a positive impact on student learning. Our teachers were supported by their coaches and mentors over a three-year period.

This is some of what Kraft and Blazar reported:

Scale: With coaching, the quality of teachers’ instruction improves by as much as—or more than—the difference in effectiveness between a novice and a teacher with five to 10 years of experience, a more positive estimated effect than traditional PD and most other school-based interventions.
However, larger coaching programs are less effective than smaller ones, raising questions about whether coaching can be brought to scale in a way that preserves its impact (Taking Teacher Coaching to Scale, Education Next Fall 2018, Vol. 18, No 4).

As in most cases, just scaling up without a plan to provide the necessary supports for the coaches would diminish the effectiveness of the coaching… if I coached 10 teachers in a cohort approach and now coach 40 teachers with the same amount of time allocated for that coaching, how can I continue my effectiveness?

Coach quality: A fundamental challenge to scaling up coaching programs is finding enough expert coaches able to deliver these services. After all, coaches are the intervention. Most of the studies we examine had only a handful of coaches, many of whom were key program staff or even program developers. Scaling up from a small corps of coaches to a large staff requires new systems for recruiting, selecting, and training coaches. These systems are still largely underdeveloped in most contexts. Research that seeks to understand the characteristics and skills of effective coaches (such as teaching/coaching experience, content knowledge, and rapport with teachers) can aid in the development of these systems.

I think the first misconception here is that coaches are experts. Instructional coaches are skilled and knowledgeable, just like their teaching colleagues. To assume that the teachers are deficient in their skills and need coaching to “fix” them implies that teachers do not have content knowledge. I believe that instructional coaching is more about the instructional delivery across all content areas rather than about the deficits in teachers' content knowledge. Coaches honor the expertise of the teachers and together they remind us that everyone is a member in a community of learning and practice. They learn together and practice together.

The second misconception is that coaching is an intervention which implies a beginning and end. Effective instructional coaching is meant to be ongoing, just like learning. Why do many skilled vocalists, instrumentalists, artists, athletes, and executives continue to work with coaches? They want to continue growing and learning with a thought partner who pushes them to the next level. Coaching is and should be a “way of life” and “way of work” that supports ongoing learning for the teachers and their students.

What are your thoughts about intervention, scale, and coach quality?

Stay tuned for our continued conversation in mid-April!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

It's not about the tool… it’s about the conversation!

Technology is great when it works and even greater when there is an instructional coach in the mix.

Sure, shiny tools and “state of the art” equipment attract like a magnet. But the coaching conversations and interactions that initiate and sustain those dialogues are what make the difference in an effective instructional coaching environment.

The February 14 ASCD Express issue shares some thoughts about integrating technology and coaching. Of course, I like to think that instructional coaches are inclusive; that is, they offer a broad range of support in many different areas with technology as part of and not separate from the big picture. For instance, I wouldn’t take a book or primary source document to a teacher and start the conversation about that resource any more than I would take a type of software to start the conversation. The goals and needs must drive the conversation, not the tool for implementation.

Teachers need to be clear about what they want to teach, why they want to teach “it” and how they will deliver instruction; coaches need to understand the same things, what the teachers need in order to accomplish their goals, and together they discuss the various ways to achieve the intended outcomes. This conversation or series of conversations happen before talking about materials or technology tools. It’s really the “before the before” planning stage.

I believe that the coach’s tools are their ears, heart, and soul… all are needed to understand the myriad complexities of teaching and learning.

The article does clearly list six important elements for successful technology coaching integration: developing coaches, recognizing effective instruction, offering multiple kinds of support, understanding the coaching role, planning for sustainability, and being a learner. Certainly, all effective instructional coaching models need these component parts.

Where are you and your school in the technology/coaching integration support system?

Friday, March 1, 2019

Each teacher in a school can make a difference in a student’s life, even with the most disenfranchised and apathetic students. And, as a group of teachers together who all believe they can make a difference in a school, there is no doubt that student and teacher attitudes and achievement will positively change.

That’s what John Hattie calls “collective efficacy” (2016). It is a shared belief that through collective action, teachers can influence student outcomes. He believes that collective teacher efficacy is directly related to student achievement. If the teachers and school community believe they can help students achieve and move learning forward, they will.

Think of the little engine that could…a story of optimism, a “can do” attitude, and a growth mindset!

Godard, Hoy, and Hoy (2000) later reported that a stronger collective teacher efficacy has a deeper effect… a stronger collective teacher efficacy encourages individual teachers to use their skills more effectively. There seems to be a ripple effect and a cumulative effect… the more I learn from my peers, the better prepared I am as an individual.

Hattie’s research indicates that the effect of teacher efficacy is more than twice that of feedback and three times greater than classroom management (Hattie, J. The Applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education, 2016). Understanding this impact, school communities need to embrace the notion of ongoing professional learning as a job-embedded teacher talent development model. That is, develop the talent in the building individually and collectively.

This research on collective efficacy resonates loud and clear.

Instructional coaches move teachers into the role of architect. They help teachers find their voices, grow their voices, take control of their learning, and focus on professional learning that is designed to influence student achievement. They help teachers establish strong, trusting relationships with each other while building capacity and cultivating skills that yield growth. That means student growth and also teacher growth.

If everyone in the school community believed that each student, teacher, and administrator could individually and collectively influence student outcomes, what a world this would be!

How do you reinforce collective teacher efficacy in your school?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

I just read Stephen Barkley’s most recent blog about pre-conferencing. While our vocabulary is different, our thinking is very similar. He says something that really resonates with me. He says, “…a large part of what differentiates coaching from a supervisory model is that most frequently the coaching post-conference turns into a pre-conference.”

In his lexicon, he uses the term “observation” which we do not. The words may be different, but the cycle is similar. For instance, he believes in the pre-observation, the observation, and then post-observation conference. We believe in the before, during, and after, aka the BDA cycle of consultation. In our lexicon, coaches visit with teachers and classrooms and together they co-create goals, identify roles, and meet to discuss the visit a few days after the actual classroom visit.  His conferences are observational.

To our coaches, observations are conducted by administrators while observational learning is handled by the teacher. Coaches help build teacher capacity by collaborating with the teachers and helping them identify the needs which create the goals and the resources follow. The needs drive the conversation and the visits are a data collection tool. The coach is a colleague in the process, a thought partner, with a specific role and responsibility. There is no “observation” but rather a learning environment where partners are learning together to meet the co-constructed goals of the lesson or group of lessons.

I think the key here is to remember that talking about practice is what makes a difference in the practice. Talk before and talk after… keep the conversation going so that student learning is always at the center. Ongoing conversations support continuous learning and help teaching colleagues make the adjustments that are necessary for improved teaching and learning.

How do you remind your teaching colleagues that continuous conversations help create continuous learning?

Friday, February 1, 2019

So, what if you are working with a teacher on staff and another teacher wants to come by your room to talk? Am I breaching confidentiality if the teachers see each other and know that I am working with one and the other is requesting my help? Does that mean I have to meet teachers in a secluded place so no one knows that I am helping someone specific?

Wow… all good questions that came through my “Ask the coach/mentor” email… what to do?

Don’t get crazy… coaches need to project the image and demonstrate through their actions that coaching is not a deficit model and that everyone wants to go from good to great in their practice. Knowing that a coach is working with a teacher is not a breach if the teacher shares the information or makes a request in public. That’s a very promising way to support coaching… a public forum, e.g., a mini PD session, where teachers ask openly for the coach to begin a coaching interaction related to the topic at hand. When that coaching interaction is exposed as a way to offer opportunities for collaboration, the interaction changes from a “fix it” to a “let’s talk about it” kind of situation. How powerful is it if a coach meets with the whole team? Then, everyone on the team is part of the coaching process. And, if there is a cohort approach to working with a group of teachers, everyone on the team benefits from working with the coach.

Changing the paradigm about why instructional coaching is effective is the start. Coaches must dig deeply and discover all the hidden biases about instructional coaching. Be gentle… most teachers are accustomed to administrative observations and not coaching visitations. Some people think coaching is only about “observations” and going into a teacher’s room can be daunting for the teacher.  Sometimes, the coach must “undo” the skeptic’s beliefs, the naysayer’s comments, and even the “do gooder’s” desire to jump onboard and really get to the heart of why instructional coaching is such a valuable job-embedded teacher professional learning model. No one complains if their doctor engages in grand rounds when discussing a patient’s case. With many experienced doctors involved, the greater likelihood that the conversation is deep and productive. Why is it any different with instructional coaching?

Where do you meet teachers when you engage in coaching conversations? How do you maintain confidentiality?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Confidentiality and responding to principals will always be issues if the principal does not understand the role, rules, and responsibilities of effective instructional coaching.

One question just emailed to me is, “How do I get my principal to jump onboard and understand that coaching is to support a teacher, not to be used to gain information about a teacher the principals thinks is weak?”

Right from the get-go, the principal is breaching confidentiality by telling the coach there is a weak teacher. Those kinds of discussions are best left to the administrative team whose role and function is to evaluate a teacher’s performance. The minute a principal tells a coach to work with “that weak teacher,” the coaching relationship is compromised. And, here’s a news flash… most teachers in a school are well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching staff! If the coach is mandated to work with “that weak teacher,” the others have already figured out that coaching means working with someone whose practice is considered anemic.

Don’t plunge into that trap.

But, how does a coach avoid that pitfall?

First and foremost, a coach and principal must share a vision and definition of effective instructional coaching. Both have to be on the same page and revisit this definition and vision periodically so the communication is transparent and the goals are front and center.

Second, this vision must be shared with the staff and also revisited so that there are no misunderstandings about the role and expectations of the coaching model. Always refer to school’s plan for improvement and align the coaching goals with those. No one can argue with the idea that effective coaching brings the school closer to accomplishing the goals when those goals are widely disseminated, discussed, and revisited.

If a coach finds him/herself in this predicament, an effective way to handle the situation is to remind the principal that coaching is confidential, an “offstage” dimension in their work. You are happy to share the topics of professional learning that are planned and/or have taken place but sharing a teacher’s performance with the coach is the teacher’s choice, not a coach/principal driven decision. A more promising way for the principal to handle this is to remind the teacher that there is an instructional coach on staff who is happy to help the teacher identify goals, strategies, and effective instructional practices that will yield positive results in teaching and learning.

How do you handle a situation that breaches confidentiality?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

In a recent conversation I had with a relatively new coach, she mentioned that she was worried abut losing “teacher buy-in” with some teachers at this mid-point of the year. I asked why she thought she was “losing” them? What were the signs that made her feel like their coaching interactions were over?

She kept saying that she just “felt” the lack of engagement and commitment from some of the teachers with whom she worked. So, we needed a little soul-searching to get to the bottom of this feeling.

First, we talked a lot about how she was feeling… as you can imagine, she was feeling overwhelmed, under productive, compliance driven, and definitely, “earless.” When I questioned that description, she said that she felt she had no time to listen and that her mandate from the principal was to get into the classrooms and produce (whatever that meant). Hmm… red flags for sure.

All of these feelings are the cumulative effect of not really understanding the role, function, and goals of instructional coaching – from all points of view. It appears that the principal doesn’t really know what to expect from coaching and needs a mid-year refresher course; (I wonder what kind of roll out was provided so that the vision could be shared and questions could be asked) the teachers probably need some reminders as well about the role of the coach and how coaching is designed to help teachers achieve the school wide goals for improvement. And, more importantly, the coach needs to take the pulse of the school’s needs and prioritize what can be accomplished through short range, mid-range, and long-range planning.

Without goals and planning, the acute fear of not producing is paralyzing and overpowering. But remember, coaches are not “bean counters.” Their value is not in the number of teachers they “service” but rather in the ways teachers learn to collaborate and become architects of their own learning so that change occurs. Having a master plan gives direction, design, and data.

We have engaged in a series of our own BDA’s. At this point, the coach is planning three things: 1) chat and chews with the topic of the week; 2) mini contests modeled after March Madness to spark mid-year teacher rejuvenation; and 3) offering raffles for items from local places as “bell ringers” during a mini PD/PL session. These inspired her engagement! These are just the short-range “get involved” kinds of things. The more important conversations about teacher engagement are ongoing and require deep reflection, commitment, and the realization that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

What are some strategies you use to ensure continued teacher engagement in your coaching interactions?