Collaborating, learning, and supporting the coaching process in underserved districts.

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Novice Teachers Need More From Us

Novice Teachers Need More From Us

Maria Chapman I walked into Mrs. Smith’s second-grade class for our coaching session excited to refine her small group instruction techniques. We met that morning during her prep time, discussed data, and planned a flawless small group lesson for a group of English Learners working […]

Using Core Competencies in Your Curriculum Planning Process

Using Core Competencies in Your Curriculum Planning Process

Core competencies in business are typically “soft skills.” Core competencies in academics have potential too. This year, I have the opportunity to facilitate curriculum writing through the lens of core competencies. I define core competencies as the 10-15 essential skills a student can expect to […]

Tracking Professional Development Hours with Certify’em

Tracking Professional Development Hours with Certify’em

Tracking professional development can be a huge headache. It doesn’t have to be. A simple add-in for Google Forms can save hours of work. It is called Certify’em.

Other bloggers such as Alice Keeler and Free Technology for Teachers have written about this awesome little add-on. If you are looking for detailed instructions on how to use Certify’em, I’d recommend you read their posts. It is quite simple, but my purpose isn’t to create a tutorial.

This post is about how I am using Certify’em to track professional development hours for my teachers.

There are two amazing aspects to how I can use this add-on. First, I am able to acquire a database of recorded hours with minimal effort. Second, teachers automatically receive a certificate for the hours they complete.

The first step is to make a Form. I named it “PD tracking form” in my Drive. It has just 8 questions:

  1. Name
  2. Location
  3. Hours Completed
  4. How would you rate today’s PD overall?
  5. What did you learn today?
  6. What questions or needs do you have at this time?
  7. What could be improved in the future?
  8. Who is wearing blue?

I set it to automatically collect email addresses as well. I set it as a Quiz and I select one question (such as location or overall rating for the day) and make it multiple choice. Next, I set the point value to one and designate all the answers as correct. Finally, I turn on Certify’em and make sure the settings are correct.

The last question ensures teachers are in attendance and paying attention. Can they still cheat the system? Of course, they can. But really, who will? Most teachers will just be grateful their exit survey is so short!

At the end of each PD session, I assign this form to teachers through Google Classroom. I change the title to reflect the topic of the session so it will appear appropriately on the certificate. I ask teachers to complete this form.

A certificate is emailed to teachers as soon as they submit their Form. Google, of course, records who has completed the Form in Google Classroom. It also produces a spreadsheet of responses and responses can be viewed in the Form itself. In addition, Certify’em creates a spreadsheet in my Drive that holds only certificate related information.

Voila! I now have a three-fold method of tracking PD hours. And I have provided teachers with a certificate to use as documentation of completed professional development. Even better, I consistently have some simple, usable and descriptive feedback to develop future sessions.

It took a couple of tries to get everything working correctly, so don’t be surprised if you need to experiment a bit.

Now that it is working, it is an incredible time saver. No more time-consuming certificate creating for me. No longer will I have to calculate total PD hours for each teacher.

My teachers appreciate the immediate feedback and I appreciate the minimal effort.

[Instructional Coach Chronicles] Working With a Teacher You Don’t Like

[Instructional Coach Chronicles] Working With a Teacher You Don’t Like

Have you ever worked with a teacher who didn’t want to work with you -at all? I did and I promise it almost broke me mentally and professionally. All of our disagreements came to a head as we set in the office ready to have […]

5 Instructional Coach Books You Should Read This Summer

5 Instructional Coach Books You Should Read This Summer

In March of every year, the whispers start about if available Instructional Coach positions will be available the following school and year and in attempt to be “ready” many aspiring (and current) coaches begin to look for reading that can give them a “leg up” […]

The Anxieties of Coaching Displaced Teachers

The Anxieties of Coaching Displaced Teachers

by Shawnta S. Barnes

It takes hard work to build up teachers and improve their practice, but the work is even harder when teachers are displaced.  This school year is my third year as an instructional coach and this year has been the most challenging. Due to decreasing enrollment, my school district, Indianapolis Public Schools, decided to eliminate three high school campuses, moving from seven to four.  Instead of only teachers at the closing high school campuses being displaced, the school district decided to displace every high school employee, from the principals to the cafeteria workers. The district felt this was best because it would allow teachers to find their best fit school.  

As you might have suspected this has caused anxiety, stress, and depression among some teachers.  Teachers fear they either won’t have a job or will be assigned to a school where a principal did not choose them.  Some teachers have quit mid-year despite being offered a bonus of up to $5,000 to stay until the end of the year. Others have decided quit and stay; they are planning to finish the school year, but they have quit trying to be the best teachers they could be.

In the midst of this all, I have to coach teachers.  I have to improve their practice and through them, I also have to improve our students’ academic achievement.  Although being displaced is not a situation any educator wants to face (and this is also my second displacement), this is a reality in many school districts across many states.

How do you coach teachers when they are part of a reality they do not like?  Below, I have outlined what I am doing to coach teachers who are displaced.

Acknowledge their frustrations and then get to the work.

At first, when I had coaching sessions, I didn’t talk about the situation that was all around us.  It was this elephant sitting in the room during each coaching session. Even though I can’t ease their anxiety, I can acknowledge their frustrations about the situation and tell them I appreciate their hard work and commitment to the coaching process.

Focus on what you can control.

When I taught middle school English, the English department chair would say at every meeting, “We are only going to focus on what we can control.”  I know that statement would burn people up sometimes especially when they were angry about a decision that was made. Being angry about a decision, such as your district displacing you is a valid feeling, but it is not okay to let your anger consume the entire time you should be working to improve your practice as a teacher.  When I’m meeting with a teacher who is derailing our work by focusing on issues he or she can’t control, I’ll say, “Is there anything you can do about this?” If the answer is no, I’ll direct the teacher back to what we were originally discussing.

Remind teachers why they entered the profession.

When teachers are fearful they either won’t have a job next year or get placed in a school they did not choose, they may leave mid-year or put in minimal effort.  Although, I respect the decision of teachers who leave mid-year (because I rather them leave and serve other students well rather than stay and just go through the motions), a teacher leaving or a teacher putting in minimal effort hurts students and puts an extra burden on other colleagues.  When a teacher says, “Mr. Blacksmith is just sitting at his desk and passing out worksheets,” I’ll respond, “Do you want to be like him and is that good for your students?” Always bring it back to the students. I want my teachers to know it says more about their character when they teach well even in the face of uncertainty.

Encourage teachers to take care of themselves.

The foundation of good instructional coaching is trust.  When teachers trust you, they might unload on you as if you are their therapist.  If you are concerned about the mental health of the teachers you coach, refer them to someone who can help them.  Don’t try to provide answers or try to solve their problems.

Consistently offer support and observations.

I frequently tell teachers, “I want you to end this school year knowing you have improved because of your investment in this process.”  Teachers can only invest when you are also invested. When teachers are quitting, it is easy to get caught up in putting out fires and making sure those classes are okay instead of focusing on the teachers that are still there putting in the work.  If I want teachers I coach to bring 100%, I also have to do the same. That means showing up consistently to observe their classrooms and providing the support they need.

Lift up the good.

Last and certainly not least, remind teachers of their progress.  Highlight the improvements they are making. I was speaking to a teacher who was frustrated after I came to observe.  She wanted her lesson to be better. I said, “No one was walking around the classroom, cursing at you, or throwing stuff.  Your transitions were smooth and students could articulate what they were learning. Remember August?” After my feedback, a big smile appeared on her face.  She was so caught up in what she perceived she did wrong that she didn’t she was she was doing right.

At this time, I have no clue what I’m doing next year.  I have not secured a job placement yet, but right now I’m trying to be the best coach I can be so my teachers can serve our students well this year and be prepared to serve students well next year in their new roles.

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

You clear your throat. “Today we’re going to learn how to monitor data in our classrooms..” You look around the room and 20 pairs of eyes are looking at you waiting for you to finish your sentence. “..and how to increase student achievement at our […]

Time Management Tips for Coaches

Time Management Tips for Coaches

Instructional coaching is consistently variable. That makes time management tricky. It also makes effective time management absolutely essential. Here are a few important reminders: Relationship building is NEVER a waste of time. Sometimes I get to the end of a day and feel like I […]

Data Meetings that Matter

Data Meetings that Matter

The situation

Last year, our leadership team struggled to have positive data meetings. We presented attendance data, passing rates, and student feedback. We asked for teacher input. We restructured and rethought and tried multiple formats. The principal, the counselor, the department heads, and I (the instructional coach) did the best we could. And we failed.

No matter what we did, the data meetings always devolved into complaints about specific students or bothersome behaviors. We were never able to focus the conversation so we were proactively thinking about what caused problematic behaviors. Our focus never wound up where we wanted it: on what interventions or strategies we could try. 

It was frustrating, demoralizing, and upsetting. Staff reported leaving the data meetings feeling worse about teaching at the school. Many felt data meetings were a waste of time. Others wanted to know what someone else was going to do to address the problems they repeatedly rehashed. 

The plan

Over the summer, the leadership team decided to try a different approach. We sought ways to ensure teachers felt ownership over the process. Unlike traditional RTI and other data meeting strategies, we didn’t want to dictate the interventions. We wanted teachers to share their best ideas and commit to trying new things.

When we started this conversation, I can admit I was pretty defeatist about the whole process. Everything we tried last year bombed catastrophically. Eventually, we decided to ask the teachers to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our students. 

They were strategically grouped (because, you know, teachers) and given markers and poster paper. There was only one rule: the number of strengths and weaknesses needed to be similar. So, 6 strengths and 7 weaknesses was acceptable, 6 strengths and 17 (or 70) weaknesses…not so much.

To my surprise, the teachers reveled in this exercise. Those who contributed negatives were prompted by their peers to find the corollary positives. Teachers engaged in discussions about why they identified certain traits and argued over whether a specific trait, like chattiness, was a weakness or a strength and a weakness. Some teachers provided examples while others dissected them like some crazed biology experiment. 

We gave the teachers a time limit of just 15 minutes. I believe the short time period helped teachers stay focused and feel a sense of urgency. When the time was up, each group presented their lists to the whole room. Teachers asked questions, made comments, pointed out connections, found similarities, etc.

After a little more reflection, we recognized a need to shift the focus from students to teachers. We repeated the strengths and weaknesses exercise. This time teacher identified their own collective strengths and weaknesses. Once again, the discussions impressed me because teachers were honest to the point of vulnerability and accepted that we all have weaknesses.

Then the real magic began. As a leadership team, we collected both sets of the posters and hung them in the office. Those posters now guide the planning for our weekly data meetings. As a team, we sit down and look at the lists. We select one or two strengths and one or two complementary weaknesses for the meeting that week. Our selection process is based on what we believe staff and students need. For example, nearing exams, we selected motivation and self-advocacy as strengths with lack of academic confidence and poor self-regulation as related weaknesses for students. For teachers, we focused on organization and high expectations as strengths and anxiety and exhaustion as weaknesses.

Next Steps

At each meeting we present these traits to the staff with a reminder of the work they did. We then ask them to form groups and discuss how we see these traits manifested in student and teacher behavior using these guiding questions: 

“What do we see? How do these qualities manifest in student-teacher interactions?”

“How do these behaviors support or interfere with student success?”

Once groups have completed their brainstorm, they share with the room. 

Next, we ask teachers to reflect on how they typically react or want to react to these behaviors. It is important to note that we ask teachers to be honest about their emotional reactions and not just share what they believe they should do. When someone interrupts me to ask a question I have already answered, my gut reaction is irritation. I work hard not to respond with irritation, but that is still my natural tendency.

As the discussion progresses, we add another dimension and ask: 

What could we do when we interact with students displaying specific behaviors to achieve a positive outcome? 

What could we do to monitor and adjust to minimize our weaknesses and maximize our strengths?

Teachers share strategies they have tried that worked or that failed. They ask clarifying questions and share uncertainties. 

The final step of the process requires teachers to shift to solution mode. We ask them:

“What strategies or phrases can we ALL try in the next week?”

Instead of dictating action, we ask the teachers to generate a list of possible strategies and then come to consensus on one or two they will try to use, or use more often/intentionally, over the next week.

After the first data meeting, each meeting starts the same way: with a reflection on the previous work. Teachers track their use of the selected strategies and the results in whatever way works for them. As long as they bring back concrete data to report, we aren’t worried about forms or formulas. We also don’t collect gobs of numerical data–maybe we will someday, but for now, doing the work is more valuable than documenting it.

To help teachers reflect, we ask:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What changes, if any, did you see in students attitudes/behaviors?
  • What will you continue to do or what do you want to try next? 

The results…so far

The results have been extremely encouraging. There are still complaints and accountability issues. Teachers would still rather not meet at all. But. I hear far less grumbling about our data meetings. The reports of feeling worse after a meeting have stopped. As have the rather desperate excuses to get out of attending. 

Instead, I hear teachers talking about the traits and strategies we discuss in the halls and at lunch. I see teachers trying and keeping new strategies. Teachers are reflecting more around their own behaviors has visibly increased. Best of all, the school’s atmosphere, its culture, feels calmer and less adversarial. Students are being sent out of class less frequently. Teachers are escalating confrontations more rarely. The data is slowly reflecting the changes we can all feel

Everyone is finally engaged in the work of helping students help themselves. 

The Value of Coaching Light

The Value of Coaching Light

Before I started coaching full-time, I used to wonder what the value of coaching light could be. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms coaching light or heavy, I suggest you check out Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives and other works by Jim Knight or […]

It’s the End of the Year! What now?

It’s the End of the Year! What now?

Things are beginning to slow down in the last month of school in the coaching world. Teachers and the school are part of standardized testing, they are gearing up for awards ceremonies, and they are trying to keep their students calm. It is the end […]

Contempt of Teacher

Contempt of Teacher

Contempt of the teacher isn’t exactly a real thing. But it should be. It is the teacher equivalent of ‘contempt of cop.’

Wikipedia provides the following definition: “Contempt of cop” is law enforcement jargon in the United States for behavior by people towards law enforcement officers that the officers perceive as disrespectful or insufficiently deferential to their authority.

Replace the words that refer to police with teachers and the concept is clear. How often are discipline referrals generated by teachers for behavior they perceive as disrespectful? How many times have minor infractions escalated because an adult didn’t approve of a student’s tone or attitude? Why are we so easily triggered? And why do we think this is a new phenomenon?

Socrates is quoted as saying “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Again, replace a few words and this could have been uttered by any number of educational professionals yesterday, not 2,000 some odd year ago. How often do teachers lament the good old days with the students of yesteryear? How many times have teachers become bitter because they perceive that students today have changed so greatly? Why does this seem to happen generation after generation?

What does it look like in action?

Notice that this concept is not focused on whether or not contempt is being displayed. Instead, it is focused on the perception of a professional, in this case, an educator. To be fair, some students are genuinely, intentionally contemptuous. Most; however, are not. Even if they are, as educators, we hold the responsibility to respond professionally. Doing so is difficult and requires self-awareness and explicit training.

Picture a charter high school is an urban environment. Imagine a young English teacher managing classes of 28-35. This teacher has strong classroom management and builds meaningful relationships with students. One day, a student of hers, let’s call him Don, is given ISS. The ISS instructor, who we will call Mr. M, is an ex-military drill sergeant. Don is unlikely to respond well to Mr. M’s management style.

The teacher calls Mr. M before school and asks that he call her classroom if Don misbehaves. She feels confident she can prevent the two from engaging in escalating conflicts that lead to a suspension for the student.

In the middle of class, the phone rings. Students are working independently, so the teacher answers the phone. Immediately, Mr. M begins yelling about Don’s behavior. The teacher calmly asks Mr. M to put Don on the phone. He does not. She asks again with slightly more force. He continues to shout out all Don’s transgressions. She asks again…and again…and again. Finally, the teacher shouts back into Mr. M, “PUT HIM ON THE PHONE!”

33 students go from quietly working, to wide-eyed, stunned silence as they stare at the teacher. She barely registers the response of her class, she is so frustrated. Don comes to the phone. The teacher blurts “What is wrong with you today!?” There is a light pause and Don responds “Huh?”

At that moment in the vernacular of this particular city, ‘huh’ was considered the height of disrespect. The teacher reacts accordingly. As her class of students listens avidly, she proceeds to tear Don up one side and down the other. Though she never uses inappropriate language, the dressing down she delivers is epic. Within moments, Don is responding, “Yes, ma’am,” “No ma’am,” “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

The teacher begins to calm and reiterates her expectations for Don’s behavior yet again. As the conversation draws to a close, Don pauses and says “Ms. Teacher? Um, I’m, uh, sorry I said ‘huh’ before…for a little minute, I thought you was my mama.”

I was that teacher. I remember that moment vividly and I think I even smiled. Because at that moment, I realized what had happened. Don wasn’t a teenager with a lot of common sense. He had no impulse control. He also had no malice. His actions constantly landed him in trouble, which he accepted with good-natured ease. I had interacted with him and his mother often enough to realize I had used one of her favorite phrases “What is wrong with you today?”

Don didn’t say ‘huh’ to be rude or disrespectful. He literally could not compute what was happening. First, I told him I would check on him. Then, he heard Mr. M say he was calling me. Naturally, Don associated phone calls with calls home. So when I came over the phone and used his mother’s typically response to his nonsense. It just didn’t compute. The phone should mean mom, but Mr. M said my name, but I used mom’s words, but it was my voice. Without meaning to, I had utterly discombobulated him. He said ‘huh’ because the circumstances left him befuddled.

As soon as I realized what had happened, all my irk melted away. I accepted his apology and offered an apology for overreacting in return. We ended the conversation on a positive note. To the best of my recollection, Don made it through his time in ISS without further incident.

I was lucky. Don had enough forgiveness that I didn’t destroy our relationship. We had enough of a relationship that he was willing to apologize and tell me why he had responded that way. I had enough self-awareness to recognize immediately that I was triggered by something that wasn’t intended to be disrespectful. I caught a bad case of ‘contempt of teacher.’

When I reflect on this incident, which I have done many times, it always reminds me to check my reactions to student behavior. It is my role to deescalate conflicts and maintain my composure. I am the role model, the authority, and the adult. It has taken intentional effort and practice to cultivate my awareness in these situations. Now, I wonder how to help other teachers.

How can instructional coaches help teachers become self-aware? What explicit learning experiences can we provide for teachers? What else can Instructional Coaches do to identify and mitigate the consequences ‘Contempt of Teacher’ in our schools?

How can Instructional Coaches help teachers?

The first thing we can do is acknowledge the reality of this problem. Teachers who are easily offended by the behavior of young people tend to have more discipline and classroom management problems. Rigid ideas about what constitutes respect can escalate problems exponentially. Too often, teachers expect punishment instead of examining motive.

Next, we need to find ways to introduce this concept to teachers and confront them with the ways they contribute to and participate in quickly escalating power struggles. Teachers often don’t recognize the attitudes they hold or how those attitudes can impact the classroom experiences of their students. Moreover, if we can present teachers with examples of this phenomenon and have them analyze them, they might be more able to make the connection to their own practices (emphasis on might).

Another strategy we can employ is to provide teachers with training in conflict management and deescalation. It is important to acknowledge that classroom management and conflict management are NOT the same thing. Conflict management and deescalation require a specific set of practiced skills that include self-awareness, situational awareness, and conflict resolution. Classroom management tends to focus on establishing routines, getting and keeping attention, and making behavioral expectations clear.
Though teachers are expected to manage classes of diverse young personalities, they are rarely given specific training in how to handle conflict effectively. Teaching with Love and Logic is one powerful resource.

Instructional coaches can also provide training in cultural awareness for teachers. Teachers often perceive certain behaviors as disrespectful that are, in fact, learned cultural behaviors. Over-talking is one example. In many cultures, individuals engaged in conversation begin talking as or before another person finishes speaking. Doing so indicates attention and engagement. One easily recognizable example is Italian family dynamics. In the classroom; however, over-talking is almost always seen as disrespectful interrupting. Coaches can identify the cultural backgrounds of students and related cultural behaviors that are problematic. They can then provide targeted, relevant professional development for teachers. Exercises like Harvard’s Project Implicit can be useful here.

How can Instructional Coaches help administrators?

Many of the things that help teachers will also help administrators. Administrators who are aware of how ‘contempt of teacher’ contributes to the school culture have an opportunity to promote positive change.

First, instructional coaches need to introduce the concept to administrators. Administrators need support to analyze their own attitudes and recognize which staff members might be especially sensitive to perceived student disrespect. Many school leaders experience ‘contempt of teacher’ in the behaviors students, parents, and other teachers. If leaders can recognize when and how this concept causes unnecessary problems, they can respond accordingly.

Administrators also need training in conflict management and deescalation. Practices like Restorative Justice can positively impact school culture, but need effective leadership to be successful and sustainable. Several Instructional coaches can help leaders connect programs, practices, and school culture.

Finally, and most importantly, administrators can help educate students about how and why they unintentionally trigger negative responses. Students benefit when they are made aware of what behaviors are causing problems in the classroom. In addition, many students need both validation of cultural behaviors and specific, explicit instruction in alternative behaviors that are more situationally appropriate for school.

Administrators have the opportunity to support teachers in learning not to respond to perceived ‘contempt of teacher.’ They can also teach both students and teachers to code switch to meet behavioral norms. Administrators can also create a culture that focuses on culturally responsive classroom management. In addition, they can avoid negative assumptions about teacher and student motivations when managing conflicts and discipline issues.

Final Thoughts

Instructional coaches are uniquely placed to recognize ‘contempt of teacher’ and do something about it. We don’t have all the answers. We are; however, able to provide professional development and resources that can shift the conversation. We can encourage the school community to examine the intent of perceived disrespect to avoid escalation.

We can make ‘contempt of teacher’ a real thing.

Beat the Testing Season Blues as an Instructional Coach

Beat the Testing Season Blues as an Instructional Coach

This is the time to pull out your flexibility hat and own it.

Meaningful Feedback-A Strategy

Meaningful Feedback-A Strategy

Today, I had a teacher tell me she “always feels so supported” when she gets feedback from my visits. That is an incredible compliment. It made me wonder why instructional coaches don’t receive feedback like that more often. I don’t have all the answers, but […]

The Implications of Action Research for Literacy Instruction

The Implications of Action Research for Literacy Instruction

Originally published for Olivet Nazarene University

Guest Writers: Kathi Lippert, Ed.D.
Cassie Bailey, M.A.
November, 2018

Part I

Change is not always welcome in the education field. Sometimes, it is even viewed with distrust and disdain as teachers are not always a part of the decision-making process and/or feel unsupported during a period of change. Constant upheaval and revolving expectations wear on those who are trying to reach students’ reading and writing needs. This can make the job of the instructional coach particularly difficult. Do you work with teachers who are tired of being strapped by local and state mandates, high-stakes testing, and rigorous evaluation procedures? The answer is, unequivocally, “Yes.”

As instructional coaches, how do we address this sentiment towards change in the field?  In our vernacular, we must replace “change” with “autonomy.” To ensure success in the classroom, we must work to empower our teachers and provide them with the means to make effective progress towards reaching new goals in literacy.  How do we accomplish this? One way is action research.

Action research is an ongoing, cyclical process in which the teacher has the authority to make significant growth. The word research, however, may induce panic.  It is important to remember that action research is conducted for shorter increments, allows for more flexibility, and usually includes various types of data. In action research, reflection drives inquiry, and the results of which, positive or negative, fosters insight into the dynamics of teaching and learning. It can also provide an opportunity to promote collaborative learning teams within a grade level and across disciplines; it can also be utilized as a method to track progress towards personal evaluation goals.

An Overview of the Action Research Process

Coaches can assist practitioners with reflecting and identifying areas of improvement; this is the first step in the action research process.  Regarding literacy instruction, this can include improving reading scores, forming strong home-school relationships to foster literacy habits, sharing at-home reading strategies, conducting a study on literacy interventions, closing the summer slide, increasing student motivation, or offering professional development in literacy instruction. To choose a focus area, a teacher must reflect upon his or her own methods as well as the data and student evidence available.

After an area for improvement is identified, the coach and teacher must brainstorm potential solutions.  It is recommended that possible solutions be discussed with school stakeholders including administration, colleagues, parents, and perhaps even students.  Additionally, it is prudent for the literacy coach and teacher to review similar studies and research-based methods before determining how to rectify the problem.  Once a focus area and intervention are chosen, a research question (or two) is created.

Research questions are open-ended and include the problem and intervention.  Sample literacy research questions include:

  • What impact does allowing students to engage in a kid’s blog have on their attitudes towards reading at the middle school level?
  • How does a “Parent Toolkit” increase parents’ confidence in supporting their child’s reading skills?
  • How will a morphology study improve student vocabulary acquisition?

Once the research question is determined, a solid plan needs to be established. The literacy coach should play an integral role in assisting the teacher in collecting and formulating the following:  

  1. Collection of baseline data
  2. Determine participants: who will be included, how many participants, gender, socioeconomic status, learning needs, etc.
  3. Establish a thorough understanding and explanation of the intervention
  4. Ensure frequency and duration of the intervention
  5. Create or locate pre-made quantitative and/or qualitative data tools aligned to the research question(s)
  6. Determine data tool validity and reliability
  7. Establish a designated timeline to set dates for implementation and data collection
  8. Keep a journal to record data and reflections during the process

The key to action research is to be committed yet flexible. Some components may need modification as the research progresses.  Again, the process is cyclical.

Once data is collected, it is analyzed to determine efficacy of the intervention and to sufficiently respond to the research question(s).  The final process in the action research is to draw conclusions and consider the implication of the intervention to determine the next course of action.

Benefits of Action Research

Educational action research is a system of inquiry that educators, administrators, and literacy coaches may utilize to ensure progress within schools.  Through the action research process, practitioners become knowledgeable about research based instructional strategies to improve pedagogy. There is a myriad of benefits for conducting action research projects within classrooms, buildings or school communities.  

The action research process provides educators credibility in their designated disciplines. It allows practitioners the freedom to examine their own teaching as they reflect upon their own instructional strategies to improve best practices.  Such an endeavor empowers educators to have a voice in a field that often is encumbered with mandates and top-down directives from state and local policy makers as well as educational managers and administration. Action research allows educators to become creators of their own knowledge about the business of teaching and learning rather than mere consumers of other researchers’ exploration and experience.

Further, the process of integrating action research into a daily regimen stimulates collegiality as it provides an opportunity for teachers to work collaboratively with coaches towards a common goal.  Articulating with colleagues regarding instructional strategies, educational modalities, and interpreting and analyzing qualitative/quantitative data promotes intrigue, inquiry, decision making and reflection about teaching.  Conducting research studies enables practitioners to be invested in the data collection process. Educators become revitalized while conducting studies where such a goal fosters ingenuity, creativity, problem solving and academic discovery.  Practitioners, who are passionate about their own methodology, implement action research studies to evaluate their own work as they reflect upon the importance of making positive change in the classroom. Such an academic goal increases trust, improves communication, and empowers educators to take a stance for real change that benefits both teaching and learning.  It is apparent that initiating an action research project motivates educators to make a difference in areas of critical need in any discipline (Hendricks, 2017).

In Part II, we will examine sample studies to demonstrate how this type of research provides teachers with an opportunity to generate their own progress.

Part II

Graduate Students Implement Action-Research to Enhance Literacy Practices

*Pseudonyms were used to maintain teacher and student confidentiality

*Sara is an experienced teacher in an urban, private grade school.  In her study, Sara expressed a desire to provide her 3rd grade students a “stepping stone between explicit instruction and independent reading.” Cross-grade level social activities were typically successful at the school; therefore, Sara decided to incorporate the same principle into literacy instruction.

Based upon reading ability, Sara paired her 3rd grade students with 5th grade students to become reading partners.  Her research questions focused on improving literacy comprehension and reading motivation among her 3rd grade students.  During the intervention, the “reading buddies” read a story collaboratively and the older students initiated proper responses to the literature using research-based strategies. Consequently, third grade-participants engaged in motivating, effective literature discussions.

Initially, the researcher coached the 5th grade students in appropriate literacy strategies including the five-finger summary and plot-concept relationships. The literature used during these sessions was taken from the 3rd grade basal. The pairs met once a week for six weeks; each session lasted approximately sixty minutes.  Sara, the researcher, used both qualitative and quantitative tools to measure the efficacy of her project. Those data tools included: weekly comprehension tests, teacher observation, student literature logs, sample work, and student surveys and interviews.  

Thirteen of the twenty 3rd grade participants showed an increase in comprehension scores on the weekly tests administered.   Struggling readers saw the biggest gains averaging an 18.6 increase in points on their comprehension test as compared to the baseline data. There was also a 63% increase on the reading motivation post-survey.  Additionally, 83% of the students noted a positive experience with their “reading buddy.” It was evident that most of the participants were more excited about reading, and in their interviews, many expressed a preference for the reading buddy discussions as opposed to traditional methods.  

Another graduate student, *Abigail, a secondary education teacher, focused her AR project on content-area reading strategies and their impact on learning outcomes, comprehension, and student motivation.  Three high school science teachers, each with over 15 years’ experience, were chosen to participate in the study along with their 142 student participants. Abigail’s first task was to observe the classrooms to see how each course was conducted.  After observing the classrooms first-hand, Abigail chose various research-based literacy strategies she believed would complement the content well and shared these with the three colleagues. Those strategies included: the GIST, the RAFT, Possible Sentences (prediction strategy) and a word web graphic organizer (Johns, 2006). The teachers utilized course textbook selections and content articles of their choosing alongside the literacy strategies.  Once Abigail had collected baseline data on student progress in each course, she was prepared to implement her intervention. The overall impact on comprehension was limited due to time constraints, but Abigail noted some interesting and encouraging findings. For example, most students interviewed enjoyed the RAFT strategy the most as it allowed more creativity and flexibility in expressing their understanding of the content. Half of the respondents also stated they could use the Possible Sentences strategy in other content areas.  Similarly, the teachers also saw the value of using a pre-reading strategy such as the Possible Sentences strategy. Furthermore, all three teachers agreed the study was beneficial and expressed willingness to use literacy strategies in the future.

*Jamie is a 4th grade teacher at a suburban grade school.  To motivate students to read and utilize learned literacy skills during the summer, Jamie designed a reading website which included substantial responses.   Her primary research question read as follows: “How might a reading website, which includes student response, affect student reading habits over the summer?”  As an added incentive for participating, Jamie offered a reward party when the study ended. Many students showed interest in the summer website, but in the end, she was only able to attain commitment from six participants.  Of the six students, three were considered advanced readers, two were at-level, and one student was a striving reader. Before the school year ended, Jamie prepared the 4th grade students for the study by reviewing good literacy habits the students learned throughout the school year and sharing information regarding substantial posts.  

First, they could choose among three response formats:  a written response, a drawing, or a video. Next, students were to demonstrate their comprehension using good literacy strategies such as connecting or predicting, and they were encouraged to provide textual evidence in their posts.  Students were allowed free choice of book selection. Finally, it was expected that students post twice a week-one post of their own and one post to comment on a peer’s response. The researcher shared expectations with the participants’ parents. Jamie collected data for five weeks over the summer. She used student surveys, parent surveys and rubrics to assess student posts.  Jamie also tracked frequency of responses to monitor participation. Jamie better understood key factors in motivating students to read throughout the summer. The students noted parental reminders and the party as motivators, but half of the students also reported that they enjoyed seeing their responses posted on the site as well as seeing their “friend’s” responses. Another finding derived from the parent survey was an increase in frequency of summer reading.  According to the parents, their child read more during the study than in previous summers by reading at least three or more days per week. Next, all but one student stated they would participate in the summer reading website again if given the opportunity. One student replied that he already liked to read, and his mother requires him to do so regardless.

Data from the student response rubrics proved to be comparable to the work students provided during the school year. There did not seem to be significant gains made in their reading habits or abilities, but nothing was lost either.  The students were independently employing literacy strategies appropriately in the posts and avoiding the “summer slide.” An unexpected finding in this study was an increase in parental involvement. Reminding students to read and complete the responses was a key motivating factor in student participation.  The researcher gained consent from the parents and shared the information with them, but the researcher did not anticipate the parents taking such an active role. It was an unintended, positive by-product.

Whether the teacher was seeking to increase reading scores, coach colleagues on literacy strategies or support summer reading, each one of the case studies demonstrates the power of action research in providing teachers worthwhile data or insight to enhance literacy practices.

Survey of AR Implications

To ascertain the lasting impacts of action research, twelve graduate students voluntarily participated in a survey regarding their action research studies.  The survey results denoted below pertain to the experiences and opinions of those practitioners who conducted an action research project.   

Practitioners agreed that generating and conducting an action research project improved their instructional practices and pedagogy.

Based on the results, all respondents concur that significant academic and ancillary gains were achieved during the intervention throughout their action research study.

Over 90% of the practitioners agreed to implement similar interventions or strategies within their educational setting and value its sustainability for all stakeholders involved.

Based on the survey results, all 12 respondents see the value in conducting data analysis to determine academic strengths and deficits as well as to drive instruction.  Collecting data is instrumental as the practitioner progress monitors participants during the action research implementation.

All respondents concur that a constructive benefit to implementing action research is the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues regarding best practices.

Below are testimonials from the survey participants who conducted action research project within their classrooms or schools.

“I feel the process helped me realize how to directly target the reading deficits of the students, as well as monitor their progress. It was a very useful process.”

“Learning the process of action research has helped me with teaching and assessing in general. I am now more careful about gathering benchmark data, trying different instructional practices, and assessing in ways that line up with the pre-assessments. I am also more aware of gathering data in a variety of ways and how to interpret that data to drive future instruction. Overall, the process of action-research was highly beneficial because of the way in which I created and analyzed everything in the project on my own with guidance from an experienced teacher”

“My project allowed me to embrace diversity in my classroom which led to meaningful activities during my action research project.”

It is evident from the survey results as well as the practitioners’ testimonials, that conducting action research clearly benefits all stakeholders involved in the education process.  It is imperative for educators to be passionate about a topic because this fosters diligence and maintains sustainability throughout the study. Subsequently, conducting action-based research studies enables practitioners to become more invested in the instructional practices in their discipline.  As researchers, teachers become acutely invested in data collection as they become critically aware of students’ academic progress.

In summary, conducting action research proves to be instrumental in providing opportunities for literacy coaches and classroom teachers to develop and integrate differentiation, explore innovative strategies, and become adept at data analysis.  Implementing action research studies allows practitioners to identify both curricular and student strengths as well as areas needed for improvement. Furthermore, discovering effective activities that motivate and engage students can transform literacy practice in the classroom.  Ultimately, conducting action research enables educators to have an assertive voice in their decision-making as it pertains to instructional practices within their educational setting.

Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in the Middle

Sometimes I feel stuck in the middle of…well, everyone. Not only am I navigating and sometimes mediating relationships among teachers, I also wind up third party to student-teacher, counselor-teacher, or administrator-teacher interactions. Let me be clear: I do not take sides and I do not […]

The Intimates of Being a Coach

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

The Instructional Coach File: Starting With a Purpose in Mind

You clear your throat. “Today we’re going to learn how to monitor data in our classrooms..” You look around the room and 20 pairs of eyes are looking at you waiting for you to finish your sentence. “..and how to increase student achievement at our school.” As you turn around to grab your handouts you can feel the collective sigh from your co-workers.

They HATE to discuss data.

As you turn around to pass out your handouts, the first question comes up.

Teacher A: “Didn’t we just look at data at our last meeting?”

Teacher B: “I couldn’t give my diagnostic exam because the computer lab was being worked on.”

Teacher C: “Can we make this short? I have papers to grade!”

As you struggle through the professional development you literally feel yourself failing as a coach. After training you just sit in your office and replay the events in your head. How in the hell did you even get to this point?

That right there ladies and gentlemen is the typical day in the life of an Instructional Coach. I experienced it and many times these types of experiences literally put you through the Instructional Coach Ring of Fire. By the time you are finished with your presentation, you have sweated out all your deodorant and your throat is dry and scratchy and you are counting the hours until you can go home and crawl in a fetal position on your couch.

The Instructional Coach Ring of Fire is an experience (or set of collective experiences) that every coach goes through despite your years and experience in education and as a result, makes you question your role and/or effectiveness of being a coach. These experiences are usually had at either the beginning of the year or as a result of a professional learning gone rogue. During this experience, many Instructional Coaches just want to go home and not come back for several days. When (and if) they do get over this initiation and make it to the other side, almost nothing else can harm them.

However, the result of this proverbial “ring of fire” is to make coaches question their position within a school. For many first-year coaches, they continue to question their purpose at the school level well into the school year. Are you there to check lesson plans and give feedback? Are you there to work with new teachers and support them? Or has your principal pulled you for more menial tasks to complete around the school? Quite simply the purpose and role of an Instructional Coach is to support teachers. Sometimes that support involves modeling classroom lessons while other times it may mean working with a struggling teacher one on one.

Finding your purpose as an Instructional Coach is a process that’s both complex and (at times) political. There may be teachers in your building who are resentful of one of them giving them feedback and seeing them at their most vulnerable moments.  However, there are some things Instructional Coaches can do that establish their presence in the building as help not more eyes for administration such as:

  • Conducting a professional learning survey for all teachers in the school. Tools such as Survey Monkey and Google Drive make it easy for you to create a simple 10 question survey about what areas teachers feel they are experts in and what are their areas of growth. Any survey given out should be specific enough so that you can gain insightful data, but it shouldn’t take the teachers 30 minutes to complete. A good “rule of thumb” is to make the survey less than ten minutes.
  • Have a discussion with your administration team of their expectations for your job. Being an Instructional Coach is not the same as an Assistant Principal or Principal, instead your role is all about support of teachers. At the beginning of the year, sit down and ask of the expectations the administrative team will have for you. When I was an Instructional Coach I was required to observe one teacher a day and offer feedback to that teacher. In addition, I was expected to deliver professional learning once a week in collaborative planning. However, after speaking to other Instructional Coaches their duties differed greatly. Some were being used as Assistant Principals while others covered classes all day. In order to see improvement in struggling teachers, it’s critical for the administrative team realize that you are there for support.
  • Meeting with teachers 1:1 about the results of their survey. Once you have data from the survey, make a face to face to all teachers you support and just let them know your role in the school. This is a great time to reinforce the data you have already had and a great way to meet each teacher and determine the teachers who may be most resistant to your role.
  • Offer genuine help to struggling teachers. During these 1:1 meetings with teachers, it will become clear who needs help and who doesn’t. Sometimes the teachers who are struggling will come to you, but many times you will find them during your routine visits. Listen to them when they tell you the areas they are struggling in and give them real help. So many times, principals suggest for teachers to read and article and expect for the teachers to become better just by reading. In reality, these teachers may need some modeling and some explicit help in overcoming their areas of growth.
  • Stay out of all administrative decisions- you are not an assistant principal. I remember when one of my principals asked me to sit in a meeting he was having with a struggling as he was about to put them on a professional development plan. I politely declined. Instead, I suggested for him to send the teacher to me afterward so I could console her and give her a plan to get off of the plan. Instructional Coaches should not take place in anything punitive (or viewed as punitive from teachers) directed toward their teachers. Instructional Coaches should be impartial and should focus on what the best for instruction at their school sites.
  • Make professional development timely and job-embedded. No one likes professional development that is a “sit and get”.  If you don’t believe go to any session at an education conference where a  PowerPoint is the center of learning. Instead, we love learning that’s relevant, timely and job-embedded.  So during every professional learning I created an activity that allowed teachers to learn through the activity.

Coaching is one of the hardest jobs in the building, but with careful planning you can help teachers tremendously  and find your purpose in your building. Now tell us how you defined your role as an Instructional Coach in the building!


From Behind the Lines

The Missing Piece in Professional Development

The Missing Piece in Professional Development

What is the missing piece in most professional development sessions? Why is it so hard to change teacher behavior in learning new knowledge? What can we do to make teacher learning stick? We’ve all asked these questions. No matter how thoroughly we prepare or how […]

The Power of Modeling

The Power of Modeling

By having your students become a part of the process, they begin to understand the concept quicker because they are able to explain and communicate the learning concept.

The Coach’s Role in Teacher Self-Care

The Coach’s Role in Teacher Self-Care

Coaches have a vital role to play in teacher self-care. That statement almost sounds counter-intuitive. Honestly, I kind of hate the term ‘teacher self-care.’ I worry it puts the onus of caring for teachers only in their own hands. As coaches, as schools, as districts, […]

My First Step to Self-Care: A Balanced Schedule

My First Step to Self-Care: A Balanced Schedule

In the life of an Instructional Coach, we are there to support teachers. We love seeing teachers continue to grow. We want to be there for them, provide feedback and do all we can to help facilitate their development. However, we often put our all […]

Steps to Becoming an Instructional Coach

Steps to Becoming an Instructional Coach

A typical response when I tell other educators that I am an Instructional Coach is, “Wow! That sounds awesome. How do you become a coach?” The response that I give them is usually the abbreviated version of the steps I had taken to become a […]