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

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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 […]

[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 a meeting with the principal.

Before I get to that, let me start at the beginning of the story.

I was hired to work as an Instructional Coach halfway through the first month of school. So when I arrived, I was nervous, scared and hopeful that I could bring my previous work as a teacher into working with other teachers. Two days into the job, I had to run my first Professional Learning Community and go over the principal’s expectations for the team. Everything was going well and teachers were asking good questions until we came up to the line-When are lesson plans due?

I started, “So Mr. Cunningham* wants all lesson plans turned in by Thursday evening so that we- the coaches- could have feedback ready to you by the time you leave on Fri-”

Before I could get the last of the word out Mr. Fox* interrupted me.

“Why Thursday? I like to sit down on Friday after the students leave, go to an early dinner and write my lesson plans well into the evening.”

Taken aback, I explained again what the principal wanted, but with that came 20 more questions about why Mr. Fox thought this was unfair. Obviously exasperated, he left the meeting vowing to meet with Mr. Cunningham to plead his case. I could tell by the look on all of the teacher’s faces that they were not amused by Mr. Fox and I immediately knew that he would be quite different to work with.

Now, based on that interaction, you’d think that Mr. Fox was a veteran teacher, but no, he actually a second-year teacher who had decided that he knew everything there was about teaching history to high school age children. Upon observing his class, it was clear that there were issues- specifically around classroom management and instructional strategies, specifically, he lectured the entire class period and if a student didn’t do what he said at that moment, he put them “out” of the classroom. However, Fox decided he didn’t need anyone’s help.

That belief posed a major problem with the vision of our principal Mr. Cunningham who had a clear instructional vision about the school that directly in contrast to how Mr. Fox operated his class. So for the next couple of months, I attempted to build a relationship with him, but to no avail. Despite his reluctance to work with me, I still had to visit his class several times per week and offer feedback and try to get him to embrace a more student-centered classroom. Nothing worked. He relied strongly on his summer training of teaching and recoiled if anyone suggested that he use anything other than the textbook.

All of this came to head, after a visit from the state where they witnessed Mr. Fox demean a student because they didn’t have the right type of paper and lectured the entire class period. Immediately after the observation, I was called into the office and there was Mr. Fox waiting.

Not knowing what was going on, I knocked on my principal’s door and he quietly opened the door and pointed for me to sit since he was on the phone. After about five minutes, he hung up and before I could ask him what was going on, he called for Mr. Fox to sit down.

The next fifteen minutes were interesting- to say the least. There was a lot of tense moments with the principal laying out his concerns one-by-one and Mr. Fox sticking to his guns that everything he was doing was right. The entire time, I just sat in my chair and listened- this was not my meeting and despite what I personally felt about him, this entire exchange was awkward and unwarranted. In the end, the principal gave Fox and ultimatum- make your teaching more center-focused or his evaluation would show that. Begrudgingly, Mr. Fox agreed he’d work with me and we’d meet again in two weeks to reassess his progress.

We all left that meeting feeling pretty ‘beat up’ but I couldn’t just go back to my office- I needed to have a follow-up conversation with Mr. Fox- not to beat him up, but to let him know I was really there to help him. During our quick meeting, I reiterated that as a second-year teacher it was normal for him to struggle and that if he needed help with what he had to do let me know.

I left feeling better and I apparently he did also because later that night I received an email asking if he could meet with me during his planning to see how he could organize his planning better. Our work relationship got better once he realized I could help him and I did.  He ended the year feeling much less like he had a target on his back and he even sent me a nice note thanking me for working with him despite his ‘bad’ attitude.

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. […]

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!

 

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 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

There is power in modeling. Whether you are a Math, Reading or Language Arts teacher, teacher modeling is extremely important when trying to get students to begin to understand and learn key concepts. As simple as it seems to incorporate in lessons, teacher modeling is often overlooked. We expect that if we tell our students to “do”, they will just “do.” When students do not produce the outcome as expected, we often get impatient, frustrated and discouraged. However, we have missed one of the most powerful research-based instructional strategies in teaching—modeling. Modeling helps to make learning concepts clearer.

According to Barak Rosenshine, writer of Principles of Instruction: Research Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know, students need cognitive support to help them learn to solve problems. It also states that teacher modeling and thinking aloud while demonstrating how to solve a problem are examples of effective cognitive support. There are many different ways to model learning concepts. Here are three ways teachers, through modeling, can help students learn a concept:

Model Thinking:

One way a teacher can model their thinking with students is to think aloud as they annotate or read a text, work through a math problem, or share thoughts/feelings about a topic. Students need to observe, discuss and be a part of the modeling process. By having 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. It helps students to become critical thinkers and to be able to express themselves and their learning.

Scaffolding:

Scaffolding, having student(s) work with the teacher and provide examples, is a technique that allows students to actually see what is being asked of them to produce with teacher support. Scaffolding for students is extremely important before they begin to try a new concept or strategy on their own. In an article by Northern Illinois University, it states when [teachers] incorporate scaffolding in the classroom, [they] become more of a mentor and facilitator of knowledge rather than the dominant content expert. This teaching style provides an incentive for students to take a more active role in their own learning.

Students as Models:

There are many ways teachers can utilize students as models in their classrooms. At times, students can explain and model for their peers in a way that the concept is made even more plain to them. This is usually done after the teacher has modeled the learning concept for their class. Teachers can call a student up to model in front of the classroom or they can pair/group students and have students model within the group. Either way that is decided, it can be a powerful tool and at times students can explain it even clearer than teachers can. Let the students lead them, right?

Modeling in education is one research-based strategies that often gets overlooked. Let’s remember its power and use it to effectively teach students while providing the necessary support for our teachers.

Supporting Teachers:

As coaches here are some ways to support teachers in embedding the use of  modeling in their teaching practices:

  • Model modeling for teachers
  • Co-plan lessons that intentionally embeds the use of modeling
  • Provide professional development about the importance of modeling for students
  • Complete article studies (links above) with teachers
  • Have teachers observe other teachers using this research-based strategy
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, […]

Slowing Down During the Holidays

Slowing Down During the Holidays

It seems like things are slowing down a bit during this time of year. It never fails. Teachers are finishing up last minute to-dos before finals, crafts are being created, and the school has turned into a sea of red and green. All the while, […]

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 into the growth of others so much so that we often find ourselves depleted and neglecting our own self-care in the process. As a coach, I have been known to do this on more than one occasion. Although I have known better, I know that I cannot pour from an empty cup and that I must take care of myself first. But when you are a new coach and still learning how to best serve in your new capacity, you often fill your plate to the brim. You are so happy to be utilized for the purpose of growth that you want to support everyone at all times. In my first year of coaching, I learned fairly quickly how burnt out you can get if you do not do certain key things to keep your cup full. One of the key things is balancing your schedule to relieve stress.

 

I know that I cannot pour from an empty cup and that I must take care of myself first. But when you are a new coach and still learning how to best serve in your new capacity, you often fill your plate to the brim. Click To Tweet

Pouring from an Empty Cup

As an Instructional Coach, your schedule should have balance. This was difficult for me at first because I scheduled every 1:1 meeting, every teacher modeling, every observation during any and all of the open slots of my schedule. I got tired fast. I was taking tons of work home that I could have done throughout my day. The truth of the matter was—I was the master of my schedule (thanks to a very open and supportive principal) and the master was trying to burn myself out and fast. I knew that coaches should be in attendance to collaborative team meetings, modeling for teachers, sending valuable resources, be available for teacher/coach meetings, observing teachers, etc. There was a lot that had to be done, but I was allowing my schedule to control me rather than me control my schedule. Creating a top-heavy schedule with a focus on only one or two aspects of coaching, I felt ineffective and did not know why. I was being pulled in many different directions and stress began to spear its ugly head. Realizing it, I knew had to make a change. I was doing this to myself and I was the only one who could change it.

Realizing the Need for Change
I remember the day perfectly. It was a Monday and I was reviewing my schedule. I looked it over to prepare for the week and my heart began to race. I began to have sweaty palms and I was breathing hard and fast. I believe I was beginning to have an anxiety attack. It was all too much and I finally told myself this is ridiculous. This cannot be healthy. I wanted to be everything to everyone at all times, but I was only one person. It was too much. I knew the first step to releasing this stress was that I needed to find balance in my schedule. I needed to release without guilt. I realized then that just because my plate was filled to capacity did not mean I was being effective. In fact, it was highly ineffective. I was doing a lot of things, but I was not doing them well. I had to slim down my schedule to breed effectiveness. I knew I had to do it and I had to do it without the presence of guilt.
Solutions for Scheduling
After realizing my need, I altered my schedule more times than I could count. It looked very different from one week to the next. But slowly but surely I was releasing stress. This doesn’t mean that I was not doing work. I was doing some of the best work that I have ever done because I was focused and intentional. I was not just filling up my schedule, I was effective because I began giving the necessary time for the work I needed to do. Some ways I did this was focusing certain days for different aspects of coaching. For instance, Mondays are teacher observation, individual teacher meetings, and during breaks planning for school-wide professional development. Tuesdays are for attending team meetings to see where I can help support teachers effectively (within this day I also model lessons for teachers). Wednesdays are usually School-wide Professional Development which I plan on Mondays and Tuesdays (occasionally I have to take it home to complete). Thursdays are Professional Learning Community Days with teams that can focus on a variety of aspects of teaching, data talks, make-and-takes and/or team building. Fridays are usually catch up days, follow-up meetings with teachers, modeling and teacher observations. Does this schedule work this way all of the time, every day, perfectly? No. But it definitely provides consistency for me and my level of stress has decreased tremendously.
My Path to Self-Care
There are other aspects of the coaching life in which self-care is essential. For me, my first step was maintaining a balanced schedule for myself and the teachers. They now know, for the most part, what is happening on what day as it relates to their interactions with me. My motto now is, “A balanced schedule is key to a balanced day.” Instructional Coaches need to practice the act of self-care in order to effectively support teachers. My first step in doing that was creating a balanced schedule to maintain overall balance.

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How soon is too soon to visit classrooms? Maybe that is the wrong question. How soon is too soon to start observing teachers and providing feedback? This is my struggle. Of course, as a coach, I want to get into classrooms as soon as possible. […]


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 steps I had taken to become a coach, […]