By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

In these times of remote, virtual, and/or hybrid learning, I wonder about the level of understanding connecting clear expectations and effective feedback. It may sound odd to you but I don’t think providing clear expectations means the same to everyone and then once the expectations are shared, what is the follow up? How do I know that what I said is understood in ways that make the outcomes realistic? Then, am I providing feedback that is linked to the expectations or are there some surprises there?

I actually don’t think this is endemic to just this pandemic panic; I believe that thinking about and delivering clear expectations and providing appropriate feedback should be the norm for all schools, all the time.

Edutopia recently published a piece on the topic of assessment and clear learning targets. In the article, John Hattie’s Visible Learning is referenced: “… self-assessment, feedback, and student clarity yield substantial growth in student learning.” We are reminded that understanding the expectations and asking students to reflect on their learning moves practice forward. Being able to provide specific, timely, descriptive, and nonjudgmental feedback has to be linked to the expectations. If students are not clear on what is expected, the outcomes will reflect their misunderstandings and perhaps the vagueness of the task. The directions may be clear in a teacher’s head but if it is not communicated appropriately and followed up to maintain clarity, the outcomes will not be aligned to the expectations. Remember, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” (Alan Greenspan).

So, then what happens? Misunderstanding, misinformation, misrepresentation, and probably lots of frustration because what you thought you said was not understood in the way you wanted it to happen. And, of course, the outcomes are not what you expected.

Here are three helpful hints for continuous implementation suggested in the Edutopia article: 1) Rubrics don’t tell the story so don’t rely just on them; share exemplars instead to model the expectations; 2) Ask clarifying questions so you’ll know if the expectations were understood and follow up with interval questioning so you can see in real time what needs more explaining; and 3) model and provide opportunities for students to give and get feedback which can be analyzed in real time so that the link between expectations and feedback makes sense. 

How do you ensure that your expectations are understood as they were meant to be?

Monday, December 7, 2020

 “I failed over and over again. But every time I got myself back up, and I dusted myself off, and I thought, ‘Okay, what do I need to change so that I can become better?’ So really, if you’re not willing to fail, you’re actually not willing to succeed. Because failure is just a part of the process of getting to success and facing those fears” says Siri Lindley, 2x World Champion triathlete (RealLeaders, Nov 1, 2020).

Wise words – not only for athletes but for all of us, especially in these challenging times.

No one is perfect. Pivoting back and forth from in-person to virtual and back again may make one feel like a ping pong ball, never really knowing what the next day may bring until the day is here. And, sometimes we don’t even know what will happen on a particular day because our times are so uncertain. And, yes, we will make mistakes as we move forward.

There is one thing, however, that needs to remain steadfast, confident, and authentic. That’s the support instructional coaches offer to teachers and other teacher leaders. We may not know if schools will re-open with in-person or remote instruction, but we do know that teachers still need to meet their students “where they are” and provide meaningful ways to engage in the learning process. And, if one or two engagement strategies are not working, “pivot” and try another one or two until a match is made. Be detectives and find the ones that work!

Teachers and students are trying their best to be effective stewards of the learning process. Some “classes” run more smoothly than others; some days are better than others. This happens in both remote and face to face environments. Teachers still have fears and anxieties about enabling their students to reach their fullest potential. But sometimes, those fears cause teachers to focus on things for which they have no control. This is especially true now, e.g., my students have sporadic internet connections, or my students don’t want their cameras activated because of their physical environment. These are things that teachers cannot control; they are worrisome, for sure, but the show must go on. Remember, creativity is the mother of invention (Poem on Life, Sha Azam Siddiqui). Collaborate with your teaching colleagues and collectively problem-solve around these issues of concern.

The goal is not to ignore that which can sideline our intentions; our goal is to focus on the effort, attitude, and authenticity to engage with students and help them learn. Be mindful of what we want students to learn, adjust our instructional practices so we can address their needs, and recognize that one size fits one! (We really don’t have a manual for this, do we?)

How are you staying “in the moment”?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the same experience, but I’m embarrassed to admit that when I was teaching, I often talked too much! Imagine that… I would ask a question but then didn’t recognize the idea of wait time to allow my students the opportunity to think about what and how to answer the question I asked. It took me quite some time to realize and admit why I was so impatient.

There were actually two reasons…1) I was nervous about letting the silence rule the moment; and 2) I was thinking about my next question rather than waiting to see if a teachable moment would follow student responses.

If I were teaching now, I’d like to think that I would remember to give ample wait time for my students to respond, regardless of my environment being virtual, in-person, or a hybrid. But I wonder… is it easier, the same, or more difficult to provide wait time in a remote learning setting?

I asked three teachers the same question and their answers were interesting. One teacher is a five-year veteran who is tech savvy and quite comfortable navigating most websites. She said that she and her class identified norms at the beginning of the year and one of the norms addressed being patient when questions were asked allowing the responder to take time to answer. She said she did the same thing in her F2F environment. She does admit, though, that she must remind her virtual students that waiting for a response doesn’t mean to move away from the computer and get something to eat!

The second teacher is a 20-year veteran and comfortable with a limited number of technology tools. What she knows, she knows well and integrates tools seamlessly into her classroom community. Wait time does pose some concerns because 50% of her students are virtual and the other 50% are F2F. So, the virtual students are seeing the lessons that she is providing to the F2F students. It’s easier for her to monitor the F2F students because she is in the room with them and there is no delay in transmission when students respond like there have been with some virtual transmissions.

The third teacher is a newly hired teacher. He taught for two years in a program and then found full time employment in 2019. Very shortly after being hired, the school went on lockdown and he found himself in a virtual environment for which he was unprepared. But, there is a silver lining here… he is very tech savvy and had no difficulty exploring tools that would complement his instructional practice. On the other hand, wait time became an issue because he concentrated so much on the tool that he forgot to focus on the content. It became clear to him that wait time wasn’t the problem; it was his instructional design! He admitted this would have been the case in a F2F environment as well.

So, regardless of the venue, if you are a coach and you see teachers struggling with wait time issues, what strategies have you offered to help navigate the wait-time is "think time" process?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

On October 21, 2020, The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC) offered a ½ day virtual conversation for participants from around the globe. By design, it was a conversation, not a conference, with topics generated from an action research project based on interviews with teachers and coaches (some of whom were parents, too) conducted in the spring. There was a general session, a facilitated breakout session based on topics, and a participant-selected problem of practice. Although there were several “takeaways,” the one that stood out the most was the desire for participants to continue collaborating with their colleagues in ways that promote changes in thinking and practice.

With that in my mind, I just read Karin Hurt and David Dye’s Let’s Grow Leaders Blog in the October 29th SmartBrief on Leadership. The writers share that their most often heard concern is all about sustaining relationships and keeping connected when working remotely. Surprising? Not at all. We found the very same thing in our virtual conversation… the necessity of keeping those relationships active and collaboration alive when teaching in a hybrid or virtual setting.

Being socially distant but emotionally connected does present a balancing act of great proportion. The key is to think about how those relationships were established and sustained in a face to face environment and recognizing what can be carried over to the remote teaching and learning one.

Hurt and Dye suggest the “virtual watercooler” idea as a place for sharing and caring. Instructional coaches can certainly launch a virtual time and place for this to happen. In fact, many coaches routinely schedule virtual office hours to work with colleagues that they can’t see during the day, especially if the coach and teacher have simultaneous teaching periods. The number of participants can determine if the group remains together or if individual breakout rooms are needed. Think virtual PLCs if enough participants can be grouped by interest or topic.

Just like the informal communication occurring in schools is incredibly powerful, the informal exchange of ideas, albeit in an intentional time and space, can bring colleagues together and help them stay in touch with each other. This is crucial in supporting the social emotional state of the community.

What “virtual watercooler” ideas have you tried that keeps you and your colleagues connected? 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Here we are in mid-October and we only know slightly more now than we knew prior to school opening. We know that we want our students and teachers to be in safe environments, engaged in meaningful work, and supported in every way possible. We don’t know when school will be fully F2F for all students in all buildings as they were in February 2020. So, what does that mean for us here and now?

Well, this is still a new year brimming with energy for new learning, a “rebirth” if you will. Of course, this “rebirth” is not the same as it’s been in the past but there are some things in common: 1) students still need to be engaged; 2) teachers still need ongoing and consistent professional learning opportunities; and 3) technology is the means of communication keeping us connected while we are maintaining our social distancing. We still need to become acquainted with our students, their needs, and learning styles. As coaches, we still need to familiarize ourselves with how teachers learn and what they think about how their students learn. We still need to ensure that our teachers have multiple opportunities to share ideas, “visit” each other in their workspaces, rethink what they are teaching, assess how they are teaching, and reflect on ways to improve teaching and learning. We still need to follow the BDA cycle to support professional learning. That hasn’t changed even though the instructional delivery may have changed.

On the other hand, we need to remind ourselves that we cannot approach the year with the same systems in place, the same personnel providing support for both F2F and virtual classes, the same rules and regulations, or the same plans to move learning forward. We need to reconsider our modus operandi and build on our previous successes in ways that continue to encourage growth, reimagine learning, collect data about how and what our students are learning, address the disparities that distance learning has highlighted, and restore our commitment to teaching and learning regardless of the venue. Students still need to learn and teachers still need to be supported. 

What did you do F2F that you can adapt and implement in a remote environment?

Monday, October 5, 2020

Learning the information, processing the information, and using the information swirl around our heads! So much is available to help teachers navigate distance learning. But, how much is too much and what do teachers do with the information they collect? Do we have systems in place that help teachers make sense of the resources they can access? How do we help them become critical users of the resources and then sustain their learning so that they don’t feel overwhelmed with the plethora of materials and the enormity of their tasks?

I know that questions are the currency of instructional coaching and usually evoke thinking that creates reflection and self-resolution. These questions persistently surface as we continue to navigate the different school settings. Each day brings a new way of thinking and a new set of circumstances. What can we do to streamline the process and create some steadiness for teachers? The "unknowns" continue to plague us but we are getting better at surviving and thriving through them.

First of all, I think “less is more” when it comes to offering technology tools to teachers. Instructional coaches tell me that when they work with teachers to define the lesson’s goals, suggest 2-3 tools that are appropriate to support and extend the learning, and identify how to use the tools, the teachers feel assured that they are enabling their students’ learning in effective ways. They feel confident that they can manage the tasks, replicate the learning, and enable students to use their learning in multiple contexts. The teachers’ understanding of the technology tools is manageable and does not overwhelm them. In fact, the coaches also feel more confident when they bring teachers together via zoom and the teachers share that they feel more in control of their instructional plans and delivery. It’s a win-win situation for all!

What is your "less is more" message?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

I don’t think any educator is surprised at the inequities highlighted through distance learning. The distance learning environment didn’t cause the inequities; the inequities have always been there. Some were “masked” while others were clearly noticeable. In face to face school, the absence of updated resources, technology limitations, and physical plant facilities are the first things one might notice. Too often, those insufficiencies give permission for lower expectations. After all, how can students be expected to achieve high levels of academic success if they don’t have the educational communities to support them? Those imbalances were ignored for the most part; schools “made do” with less so they were expected to “do less.”

But now, with the current environment of either a hybrid schedule or a full remote schedule, student inequities have exploded.

In a recent (August 21, 2020) Learning Forward blog, Melinda George reports that according to a Common Sense Media study, 30% of all public K-12 students have inadequate access to the internet. This is called the “homework gap” affecting more families of color and low-income households. No surprise there… if students do not have access to computers, the internet, or someone at home to help them navigate their remote work, where does that leave them? Far behind! If work must be completed using the technology at home and students don’t have that access, how are they expected to grow like the students who do not have these challenges? They are not expected to grow.

So, what happens? Students are given computers with the hope that they can catch up with their more affluent student counterparts. Unfortunately, this is not by osmosis… instructional coaches are even more necessary than before so they can help the teachers plan lessons, collaborate with their colleagues, and engage in ongoing professional learning so that they raise the bar for every student and every teacher. And, probably the most valuable learning experience is the opportunity to meet regularly with colleagues to talk about effective instructional practices. Be a team! Above all, don’t let the common planning time disappear from the day… take the practices that worked so well face to face and amend them to work in a remote environment.

What’s your plan to meet virtually with your colleagues?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

As we move into our second week of school in some communities, students are going back to school in a combination of venues: F2F, remote, or hybrid. No matter the environment, teachers and parents all over the globe are anxious about how the students and their teachers will reach each other. Many teachers have made videos and posted them to a YouTube channel, Vimeo, maybe a class Facebook page, Hippo Video, Animoto, Flixtime, or on a variety of other online platforms. Teachers know how important it is to engage their students from the onset and parents know how important it is to support the learning in this challenging time.

As you continue to plan (and worry), remember that many things accomplished in a F2F environment can be replicated in the remote world as well. The content must be strong and the delivery targeted. Preparing students for their learning this year really does mean a fresh new start for everyone. Regardless of the content, the cues for engagement must be recognized, reiterated, and practiced by teachers and parents.

For instance, students still need back to school “stuff” either at home or in their schools. They still need books, either in print or online; they still even need pens and pencils; they need a place to organize their work; and they need routines to get started each day. They need to be reminded that although school will be different, the attention to their work is as critical as ever.

The mindset of each student, teacher, and parent is vital to a successful start. Students need a sense of belonging, purpose, and relevance which supports their growth. They need to know that their voices, perspectives, and work are honored, and that authentic learning is the goal. Reach out to your students, call out their names, welcome their thoughts, understand they may be unsure of the anticipations, and provide consistency and high expectations; this year may be different but valued just the same.

What three strategies have you implemented so far this year that are similar to last year but may be delivered differently this year?

Monday, August 17, 2020

What do you think is the indispensable attribute that schools and districts are looking for in teacher candidates? Is it technology skills, experience with distance learning solutions, understanding the standards, or none of the above?? That’s right… according to the top school jobs this week in EdWeek July 28, 2020, the most sought-after quality is not in that list; it’s being empathetic!

Much has been said and written with respect to the social-emotional lens of learning. We’ve all read the articles and journals… sustain the connection not only between teacher and student, but also teacher to teacher and student to student. We have all heard about and most likely experienced the void in remote learning… our students and their teachers missed the day to day contact and real time support with feedback. They missed seeing each other and getting the personalization they craved. Yet, the tools drove the learning, not the conversation around the learning.

In far too many instances, technology became the focus even though student access to technology presented almost insurmountable issues. (Let’s not minimize teacher inexperience as a factor as well). Either the hardware was unavailable, or the connectivity was unavailable. Add to that the potential limitations of home support to use the technology. So, the digital divide widened, and student access continued to be inequitable. Teachers scrambled because their teaching was emergency teaching with stop gap measures rather than measured teaching that followed their plans. Sending learning packets with worksheets became the norm in many places. These were the kinds of things that gained attention. What was missing…the ability to communicate regularly with the school community and the plan to ensure that happened.

The communication between and among school aged children, families, and the school community highlighted the gap and raised issues that needed (and still needs) immediate attention. How that communication was “delivered” became a source of anxiety and shifted the focus for teaching. This August, the communication and start of the year may be different from last August but the concept and the importance of establishing effective relationships has not changed. Students need to feel connected to each other and their teachers. And, teachers need to feel connected to their students and each other as well.

Instructional coaches know first-hand the importance of establishing and sustaining relationships. The virtual learning environment compounds relationship building because when schools start, the teachers will not know their students and will need to establish those relationships differently than in the past. But make no mistake… those relationships must be forged and making a plan to do that is critical for a successful school opening. That will “set the tone” about how students and teachers will work with each other.

So, here are some thoughts to ponder:
  1. Think about the possibility of teachers beginning the new school year with their former students for about 2 weeks to reconnect with students and give them some sense of “normalcy” before they break into their current classrooms;
  2.  Send digital postcards to each new student with your picture and something about the new school year;
  3. Create some type of class FB page or Instagram account so you can connect with individual      classes; post questions and ask students to respond;
  4. Create a classroom newsletter and ask for students to submit some topics for inclusion. Perhaps students can use an online collaboration tool and write short pieces for the newsletter. Maybe a  parent could submit something short to publish as well.
  5. Make beginning of the year phone calls and introduce yourself to the students and their parents. Ask for something to note about each student from the parent’s point of view and from each student, e.g., what’s one thing the student wants you to know about them;
  6. Ask students to create a “badge” or video about themselves and post them using an online tool  like Lino.It; Scrumblr, or Flipgrid (or one of the many others available);
  7. Create a Kahoot game about something they learned last year or some trivia facts;
  8. Start using Seesaw so you can have a portfolio of student work;
  9. Schedule weekly “town meetings” with students to talk about life, not academics;
  10. Schedule one-on-one meetings to personalize your time with each student.
Regardless of where the learning takes place, make sure that personal connection is reinforced with each student and your teaching colleagues.

How will you ensure that empathy is every bit as important as learning content?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

To send or not to send… that is the question… how do we figure out the answer to this highly politicized and polarizing question? What are we sacrificing either way?
The New York Times, July 23 offered these three suggestions:

  • 1    Establish “Pandemic pods” otherwise referred to as “microschools.” This option provides an opportunity for families to hire private teachers, tutors, or “instructors” to teach a group of children in someone’s home or other controlled environment. Of course, this will continue to widen the gap between the “haves” and “have nots.” Again, the racial divide rears its ugly head. One NY University professor suggests that these privileged families invite other children from families who cannot afford to buy this service on their own into their “pod”;
  • 2      Rethink the configuration within a building. Schools will need much more space if the number of students is halved so that social distancing can be followed. More room means the need to “repurpose gyms and cafeterias.” Or, holding classes outside in portable structures where space is not an issue. Think for a moment when classrooms without walls was the trend… we all taught in hallways, lobbies, or in those huge cafeterias along with several other teachers. This time, the placement would need to be deliberate to prevent the transmission of the virus. Of course, these students still leave their classrooms and travel back home where distancing may not be a reality;
  • 3      Design a hybrid model. This hybrid is not necessarily that students have a combination of attending F2F and virtual school. This is where some students stay in their homes and connect virtually while their classmates who do not have that capability would go to buildings/classrooms converted for virtual use so that everyone connects virtually. A variation of this theme is to have all high school students engage in distance learning and the elementary students work F2F in buildings that have been repurposed for elementary use.
Each district’s decision is certainly a unique one. I applaud all school communities that are making these incredibly difficult decisions to offer remote, F2F, and/or the blended approach as we move into the next school year. Certainly, this is new territory for all of us and may clear heads and hearts prevail.

As a coach, what are some of the strategies you will employ to promote ongoing communication and help teachers navigate the new school term?

Friday, July 17, 2020

I’ve said many times that you can’t change a culture in a school through emails, newsletters, or memos. Those are all necessary, however, to keep the communication going but it doesn’t really change anything. I think the same thing is true about providing resources and tools… they don’t really help to make long-term changes in thinking although they may add another small dimension to something that is happening in the classroom.

Culture is changed through conversation and communication. And, conversation is dependent on building relationships that are established through ongoing communication.

Think of your own family… does anything really change in the long term unless you talk about “it” in person? (And many times, the talking about “it” must happen frequently and consistently to make sure whatever you are trying to change gets heard! 😊)

Relationships change culture. But how are those relationships built?

Instructional coaches are incredibly adept at understanding adult learners and their needs. Coaches are trustworthy, respectful, understanding, experienced, deliberate, reflective, and focused on helping teachers reach their full potential and take ownership of their actions. One conversation at a time is how coaching starts and it continues by supporting teachers and keeping the lines of communication open. These conversations, even in the time of COVID-19, are confidential and non-evaluative, encouraging teachers to make data-driven decisions that will make a difference in their students’ learning.

So, instructional coaches, even though you have spent from March until June in the distance learning world and you may start the year in a remote environment again, you’ve learned a tremendous amount about helping teachers meet the needs of their students. Some things will remain the same either in a F2F environment or a remote one. One of those things is to keep that communication going via phone calls, Zoom calls, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, or other modes of remote F2F communication. Do not let the environment make you forget what helps to create a culture… talk, talk, talk!

What is your communication plan as you work with teachers this coming school year?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

In a recent Edutopia issue (June 26), the topic is about mentoring new teachers in a remote environment. The author offers six tips to build teacher capacity, promote teacher agency, and support the classroom focus. I think we all recognize that these three goals are critical in supporting teachers either virtually or in person. Are they really that different in a virtual environment? Haven’t instructional coaches always worked to help teachers grow and take ownership of their own learning? I think these goals are the same; how they are implemented is the difference.

While the six tips are essential for establishing a culture of collective growth, building and sustaining relationships is probably the most important, especially since many of us feel disconnected to our students and to each other during this unprecedented time. It’s a lonely place to find oneself only connected through a digital platform; the loss of control and fear of the unknown fuels the stress levels.

So, here are the six strategies for mentoring (and certainly for instructional coaching) remotely:

  1.   Meet weekly in a live platform; it’s helpful to see each other in real time.
  2.  Continue to plan your meetings consistently; keep your routines.
  3.  Take time to reflect on the year’s action plans; how will they need to change for next year?
  4.  Let videos be your friend…direct instruction videos can be uploaded to UTube and reviewed with the coach. Or, schedule the “during” to visit and view a part of the teacher’s class lesson, especially one where the coach and teacher planned together in the “before.” Feedback through videos can be very helpful.
  5.  Focus on building and sustaining relationships; it is difficult to start coaching virtually if you and the teacher have not established a trusting relationship. One word of caution…contact many but do not expect to establish a relationship virtually that you have not done in person.
  6. Reach out to the teachers you coach and/or mentor to remind them that although you are practicing social distancing in a remote environment, you are there to support teaching and learning wherever they occur.

What tips can you add to this list?

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” says George Bernard Shaw. Can you argue with that? I don’t think so… in fact, I believe that communication will either make you or break you.

And, before the world as we know it changed, we might have been annoyed with the social media blitz that has permeated our microcosm of society – our schools. But now, that social media blitz, Google Meets, Skype, and Zoom, etc., are keeping us all connected to each other.

Before the pandemic, I started writing about the assault of cyber bullying and the sharing of personal pictures for the world to see. Now, I’m grateful for the myriad ways our teachers, instructional coaches, students, and parents have stayed connected ensuring they are kept “in the loop” for all things Covid-19 related.

To say that this coronavirus has changed our current environs is an understatement. It has changed more than our lives… it has changed us for the future. But, that is not all a bad thing. There are unseen benefits, aka silver linings, in every experience and this one is no exception.

In talking with a number of instructional coaches and teachers, we’ve discovered many new learnings have emerged from our virtual world. Here are some of the positives they both mentioned:

1)      More frequent contacts and engagement with instructional coaches

2)      Deeper questions about content

3)      Increased desire to learn more about technology tools

4)      Multiple opportunities to discuss integrating technology into instruction

5)      More time spent in planning for instruction

6)      More time spent in reflecting about instruction

7)      Heightened understanding about student engagement and its importance in student achievement

8)      Extended time for teachers to work with students who need support

9)      Flexibility to plan extension activities to enhance their students’ learning 

10) Ongoing practice using technology

There were, however, a few negatives:

1)     Lack of personal contact and seeing students F2F

2)     Not being able to answer questions in real time unless the session was LIVE

3)     Not being able to “single” out students who needed the extra ‘touch’ of recognition

4)     Learning is social and without F2F contact, students, teachers, and instructional coaches are less social

5)      Absence of synchronous collaborative learning and collegial sharing

Clearly, the positives outweigh the negatives. But my burning questions are, “What have we learned that will help us prepare for the next school year? What am I taking with me as the next year begins?

So, what have you learned about teaching and learning through this pandemic?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Larry Ferlazzo, a blogger for EdWeek Teacher wrote an interesting blog on May 13. “Districts can use the remaining weeks for intense work with at-risk students or for training teachers” is the title. He suggests that “we might be going about this whole ‘distance learning’ thing all wrong.”


Not many would admit to doing the wrong thing, yet teachers are doing “emergency teaching” and asking parents to do the same thing. Is what they are doing effective? Is it wrong? Most are inundated with creating YouTube videos, screencasting lessons, zoom morning and afternoon meetings, and a plethora of other things to ensure that students participate, are engaged, and motivated in their own learning.


But Larry reminds us that the end of the year is always a tricky time… after statewide testing, collecting books (if they are used), spring break, early finals, and the general feeling that the year is over, what’s important in keeping students involved? What do we offer students to keep their interest? Is it the grades, the activities, the social piece? Can we use this time more sensibly?


He also reminds us what the data say "… students learn at twice the rate in the first semester as in the second semester" (Kuhfeld, Megan, and James Soland. (). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University). How must our teaching change in the second half of the year?

So, knowing what we know and are experiencing, how effective are schools now in finishing the year instead of being proactive and planning for the next one? His final question captures it all: “…What could the next two years look like if educators spent several weeks now learning and planning instead of ending the year, as many will, drained and discouraged?” Can our time be better spent being proactive rather than reactive? I think we know the answer.

But in the meantime, kudos to all the teachers, parents, students, coaches, mentors, and administrators… you are rock stars!

As a coach, how are you planning and preparing for a school year that will start very differently this September than September 2019?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

At an alarming rate, more and more of us are suffering with our biggest rival – time! We “fill our plates” with so many things that need to be done that we sometimes forget that “less is more” and the importance of being deliberate and intentional in our work. And, of course, instructional coaching and mentoring are dependent on the time we need to provide a blended approach to support our teaching colleagues. That is, making time for F2F and virtual communication not only to answer questions but to really help our colleagues reach their fullest potential and to become more reflective practitioners. We need to work smarter, not harder, and not fall into a rut.

A recent SmartBrief on Leadership publication included an article from a Forbes newsletter by CDC Foundation President and CEO, Judy Monroe. In the article, Dr. Monroe shared five ideas for a successful professional career. And although not specific to education, I think these five are applicable to any and all professions:

1)     Step out of the box and embrace new opportunities that may bring unexpected results. Sometimes, we rely on the old tried and true and continue in that same pattern because we’ve always “done it that way.” Don’t waste time on something that doesn’t yield the intended outcomes; try something new and enjoy the learning;

2)     Take a risk and give yourself permission to learn as you go. Here she mentions that she learns from her own mistakes as well as from others’ mistakes… that makes my heart sing!

3)     Pay attention to the big picture and not just the details… what do you want to accomplish at the end of the day… not just the checklist of minutiae;

4)     Recognize the reality of work-life-integration since balance may not be a consistent practicable goal;

5)     Practice making time to disconnect, not just finding time to detach from workplace madness!

I would add one more thing…be honest to yourself and your colleagues. You are ONE person… remind yourself that collaboration and team building are even more important when time or lack of time is an issue. Strive for a shared vision for schoolwide improvement… that makes a difference!

What can you add to the above list for a successful workplace environment?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Each morning as I dry my hair, I notice the gray coming in stronger and stronger. But the color is only secondary to the fact that I am sorely in need of a haircut! I am quite sure we are all in the same boat. Each day is like Groundhog Day and I’ve never been quite so happy to go to the senior hour at the grocery store to buy the items that will last two weeks. All kidding aside, the current state of the world is daunting and overwhelming when we think about where we are now and how things used to be.

That leads me right to the path of the teachers, students, parents, coaches, mentors, and administrators who are doing a yeoman’s job in creating a culture and climate that is conducive for distance learning. I am in awe at the work you are doing to try and provide a consistent and productive learning environment for the students – many of whom do not have the equipment, facilities, skills, or knowledge to complete their digital learning requirements. I am in awe of the determination you have in providing remediation, enrichment, and planned instruction support to teachers. This is truly an example of differentiation and how coaches are not only integral to the process but critical to the process of teaching and learning.

Thank you for all you are doing now and for your future work as you navigate through your own teaching challenges, support your own families, and ensure that our students and teachers are managing the best they can under these extraordinary circumstances. Be mindful and “in the moment” when talking with teachers; keep the lines of communication open; be kind and understanding; and be a good listener… all tools in your toolbox! Stay positive, safe, and healthy.

Do you have any tips? Please share them.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Do you think of yourself as a change agent helping others to change? Better yet, do you think of yourself as being able to change? “If you’re shackled to who you are now, you can’t recognize -or reach for – who you might become next” (McKinsey & Company. January 2020 article).

In this article, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Zafer Gedeon Achi claim that “…we systematically fall for optical illusions and how our loss-aversion reflex biases our choices.” That is true… our beliefs and philosophies certainly influence how we think and the actions we take. Some of us are risk takers and some are risk averse. Where are you?

I often say that instructional coaching must be ego-less and peppered with mistakes. This article, however, reminds me that it is human to protect one’s ego and identity, especially if we are threatened as can be the case when we receive feedback. So ego happens. Perhaps the goal must be that once ego rears its head, it is the individual’s responsibility to dig deeper and see what it is that causes the fear of knowing and admitting.

They called this the “identity mindtrap” where we are blinded to growth opportunities because we are fixed in our beliefs and actions. While we want to think about staying relevant in an ever-changing world, we actually focus on protecting who we are and not who we might become. In essence, we are trapped by our own egos making change near impossible.

Be mindful… don’t fall into the trap and prevent yourself from growing and learning. How can you encourage others to grow if you have a fixed mindset and won’t step out of the box? That level of “civil discomfort” may cause a frustration that results in a positive evolution of self.

How do you ensure your growth and forward thinking?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I think Charles Dickens was on to something when he wrote, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

As I sit in my house self-isolating, I vacillate between fear and uncertainty, and the "this, too, shall pass" hopes. And, I marvel at the wonderful way several people have offered to purchase food for the elderly, pick up prescriptions, and deliver necessities to those who are unable to do these tasks. I applaud those who are adhering to the social distancing behavior that is necessary for containment. At the same time, I wonder about those who do not recognize the severity of the health emergency and continue to ignore the warnings.

Let this be an awakening for all of us to reflect and answer these questions that a colleague sent to me from a Facebook post:
  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
  3. What expectations of "normal" am I letting go of today?
  4. How am I getting outside today?
  5. How am I moving my body today?
  6. What beauty am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
So, it is truly the worst of times we have ever seen but let's all hope and pray that the best in us will shine and help each other through this catastrophic crisis.

Stay healthy!

Friday, March 6, 2020

I just read a report entitled, “Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development” out of the UK Department for Education. This report has determined the following standards for schools:
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

Although we have embraced professional learning rather than professional development as our standards, these are relevant for our work. Each standard provides clarity of what should be recognized as effective professional development.

For example, #1 above indicates that effective PD has explicit relevance to participants; individual activities link logically to the intended pupil outcomes; and the PD involves ongoing evaluation of how changes in practice impact student outcomes. #2 includes effective PD develops practice and theory together; links pedagogy to content; has an evidentiary trail to support it; is supported by those with expertise and knowledge to help participants improve their understanding of evidence; and challenges teachers’ beliefs and expectations about teaching and learning. # 3 suggests collegial problem solving; discussions about practice and supporting students with similar needs; challenging existing practices to elicit multiple perspectives; and support from someone in a coaching and/or mentoring role to provide modeling and challenge. #4 above suggests that PD is iterative and needs ongoing support and follow up; may include singular activities as part of a PD plan; and includes opportunities for experimentation, reflection, feedback, and evaluation. #5 suggests leadership of PD needs to be clear about how student outcomes are improved; clear curriculum and vision are transparent, modeling PD is an expectation for all; time and resources are available to support the PD; and that priority and professional trust are critical for success.

Wow… sounds like a recipe for effective instructional coaching and mentoring.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes (Peter Drucker).

Sometimes, we must be reminded that doing what’s right is not always doing what is popular. In fact, sometimes, it is quite the opposite. I think we all fall into the category of wanting to be so helpful that we forget there are goals for change that need to be attained. Layer the fear of losing one’s job, i.e., instructional coach, on top of wanting to please, and we get a lot of “niceness” and not enough data that indicates change is taking place. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not talking about collecting data that is directly related to student achievement… we know that there is no direct correlation unless the only support is instructional coaching. We do know, however, that the association between improved student outcomes and direct teacher support can be attributed to instructional coaching and mentoring.

So, what does that mean? It means that instructional coaches should be personable, friendly, respectful, sensitive, and a host of other attributes. But it also means that instructional coaches need to help teachers identify which practices need to be strengthened and subsequently changed in order for student outcomes to shift. And, this can’t be done by being likeable. Sometimes, those difficult conversations must be initiated.

“My concern about being over-focused on ‘likeability’ is that this becomes a prescription for just being ‘nice in the workplace’, and while being nice, and being civil is a good thing, it is not how to be a good leader”  says Karen Cates of the Kellogg School of Management (What’s Not to Like?, December 17, 2019). In fact, she goes on to say, “Likeability is a good thing to have in your leadership toolkit, but it shouldn’t be the biggest hammer in the box.”

The coaching role is messy and knowing the areas of strength and areas of need for your teaching colleagues and addressing those necessities will make a difference in changing practice. That’s leadership!

What’s the biggest hammer in your coaching toolbox?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Over the last few days, I’ve experienced what countless others have experienced – a great feeling of grief. This blog is more personal than professional. Not only are we mourning Kobe and his beautiful daughter Gianna, but the other seven passengers as well. Each one of them was a child, parent, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, friend, associate, a person. These horrific deaths remind us that nothing is promised – not today or tomorrow.

Of course, we all talk about Kobe because he was famous. For me, he played ball in gym class with my son. For others, they knew “of him” like they knew “of” the seven other casualties of this fatal flight. Whatever your relationship is/was with the deceased, the one thing for certain is that death may knock on anyone’s door at any time.

At the same time, these deaths have galvanized classrooms nationally and internationally. I’ve been reading about how teachers are using this tragedy as a way for their students to reach out to their peers to give and get support. What a positive impact on our students! Teachers are making time, not finding time, for their students to mourn these losses. They are giving their students a voice in the healing process.

One quote of Kobe was especially meaningful to me, “I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it is sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot.” What great advice to the world… never stop doing whatever you can to accomplish your goals, individually and collectively.

So while we all mourn this devastating loss, may Kobe’s words of wisdom resonant for all future generations. Rest in peace: Kobe and Gianna Bryant; Alyssa, Kerri, and John Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Sarah and Payton Chester; and Ara Zobayan.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Back in November 2019, I wrote a blog ( about energy “givers” and energy “drainers.” I think it resonated with teachers and instructional coaches and is something we need to give ourselves permission to address… work with the willing and recognize when change is needed.
The December 17 SmartBrief blog by Anese Cavanaugh addresses a similar topic- “energy vampires” who attack your heart, soul, and pocketbook.
Think about your meetings… how many of you agonize over creating agenda items, designing engaging activities, planning for the whole, differentiating for some, sharing the facilitation, and preparing for the new “naysayers” who offer complaints without really thinking about the goals of the meeting? We all do because we want our meetings to be well-received.
Instructional coaches can relieve that stress…coaches understand adult learning and as a result, they help to create an environment that is conducive for change, welcome all participants as learners, and present relevant and timely resources in a collaborative space. And, as coaches establish trusting relationships with colleagues and honor all voices, the positive vibes become contagious rather than the negative ones.
I do think there’s a balance that’s needed… how much venting do we allow before we realize the harmful effects of it?
Cavanaugh offers five pointers to help leaders successfully move the vampires from being “Debby Downers” to being “Debby Doers”:
1.      Be aware of negativity
2.      Shift the negativity
3.      Respond to the negativity but don’t succumb to it
4.      Stay healthy and focused
5.      Keep the goals front and center
How do you address the “negative Nellies” in your work?