By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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!