By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?