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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 […]
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.
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” […]
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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!
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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, however, becoming a coach is not something that happens overnight. It is a gradual process—at least it was for me. There are a variety of steps that are intentional, yet at times, unintentional that makes one ready to coach others. Here are some:
1. Become a mentor—This is something that I had done in about the fifth year of my teaching journey. If someone would have told me then that in about eight years from now I would be coaching a whole school of teachers, I probably would not have believed them, however, here I am an Elementary Instructional Coach. Mentoring other teachers, novice and veteran, is a form of coaching. Mentoring is providing support to teachers, building relationships, collaborating, co-planning and much, much, more. If you haven’t been a mentor to a teacher and coaching is something that you see for yourself in the future, I suggest it for you. It will help you grow into becoming an effective coach and it will show you the benefits and challenges in helping another adult learn and grow. Although rewarding, it can be very different.
2. Become Team Lead/Grade Level Chair—Becoming a leader for a team can be overwhelming and stressful, but coaching at times can be too. If you are thinking about being an Instructional Coach over a school or multiple grade level of teachers, you need to be ready to lead and support. The duty of Grade Level Chair is a great stepping stone in becoming an Instructional Coach. Here’s why—you are the liaison between your team and the principal. An Instructional Coach is also the liaison between teachers and the school principal. Becoming a Grade Level Chair teaches you to be a great communicator, provide support to your team members and lead/facilitate meetings as well. This job will definitely lead you in the path of becoming an Instructional Coach and teach you valuable skills needed in the future.Becoming a Grade Level Chair teaches you to be a great communicator, provide support to your team members and lead/facilitate meetings as well. Click To Tweet
3. Become Engrossed in Professional Development—While I realize that as a teacher the acronym PD is not one that is on your list of favorite things to do. Being a coach, professional development will be an important part of your job. As a teacher who wants to be an instructional leader in the school, I would definitely jump on opportunities to attend professional development as well as opportunities to share learning back to the staff. If you do not like leading professional development, this is your time to practice. Yes, practice. It is one thing to get up in front of children and teach. It is a whole other ball game to stand in front of your colleagues, teach and provide professional development. You think the students are bad? Whew. Get in front of a group of teachers that think the professional development you are providing is a waste of their time. However, it is extremely rewarding when teachers want to learn and grow. The more you practice at this, the better you will become. One tip is to always be a learner and to allow yourself to grow as well.
4. Become Knowledgeable about Instructional Coaching—Take time to learn about what Instructional Coaching is all about. I am not saying go take courses or apply to be Coaching Endorsed (although some colleges do provide that), however, I am saying if you want to become a coach you have to be knowledgeable about what the job entails. It is extremely important to read many articles, books, listen to podcasts about the life of an Instructional Coach. Here are a few below:
–The Instructional Coach Academy, The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach, What is an Instructional Coach?, What it is Like to be an Instructional Coach?
Podcasts- Instructional Coaching Corner, Educators Lead Episode 107: Jim Knight-How to Have Better Conversations, Arkansas: Eight Key Components of Coaching
5. Become Open to Positions Being Posted—Around February or March, be open and on the lookout for positions being posted in your county and in the surrounding counties. You do not know what is out there if you are not actively looking. This does not mean that if a position becomes open that you will be ready to jump to apply. However, it gets you in the mindset of the possibility. I always tell myself, if it is for me, it is for me. If it is your time to become an Instructional Coach and if after taking these steps towards this path, you still want to go for it, I say take the leap. What are you waiting for? Go for it!
These five steps are merely just possible pathways into the role as an Instructional Coach. Does this look the same for every Instructional Coach? Of course not. But these are steps that worked for me and planted seeds for my growth as an Instructional Coach. Some of these seeds were intentional and others I might have needed a little push. I would like to say that this Instructional Coaching job fell in my lap—but had I not taken these leadership roles and opportunities, I would not be adequately prepared for this job. Make sure you are ready for the job. Prepare yourself in order to support teachers.
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People talk. They gossip. They gripe about their colleagues. As a coach, I feel like I hear it all. To be successful, though, I can’t participate, no matter how tempting.
It isn’t because I don’t enjoy gossip. And certainly, it isn’t because I have no gripes. One of the things I focus on establishing with my teachers is that they can tell me anything without worrying about privacy, judgment, or negative consequences. To preserve the relationships I am building, I must be a vault. The black box. Information goes in raw and comes out not at all.
It is incredibly lonely to only listen. It is exhausting to choose my words carefully with everyone. It is depressing to hear accounts of terrible teacher behavior. It is delicate work to determine what action, if any, to take in response.
Developing appropriate responses to gossip and gripes is an ongoing challenge.
There are times when I gently suggest to someone sharing another teacher’s personal dramas that perhaps spreading rumors isn’t the most supportive course of action. Though nerve-wracking, the direct route usually works best. Questions I’ve asked include “How is sharing this information helping your colleague?,” “What could we do to support this person?,” or “I wonder if this information can help you work with this person?”
Often, gossip is an avoidance tactic. Teachers who gossip about others are generally attempting to avoid focusing on themselves. Those in this category are often unwittingly revealing insecurities about their professional acumen. When I recognize a teacher using gossip to stall, I can more easily put aside any irritation I might feel.
Other times, I simply listen and hold my tongue. There are people who use gossip to build connections with others and establish a personal relationship. Those same individuals are often also testing the trustworthiness of the people in whom they confide.
When teachers complain about each other’s professionalism, I find that trickier to manage. It irritates me when teachers tear each other down. Criticisms that are unjustified are especially irksome. The best I can do in those circumstances is to express surprise and offer counterexamples.
Criticisms based on legitimate concern are tough. Generally, I work with the teacher speaking to try and see things from a different perspective. Then I try to ensure I work with the teacher who is struggling on those areas that are problematic.
For example, two teachers came to me to complain that another teacher in their subject area is neither paying attention or contributing to group efforts. I tried to be tactful and ask them what efforts they have made to give her meaningful tasks or play to her strengths…to no avail. Finally, the tirade ended with a “How can she not sense the almost open hostility?”
I took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, “Maybe she does and it rightly fuels some sense of self-righteous superiority.” Both women paused, looked at each other, and then one said, “Well, that’s counterproductive!” I agreed and asked them what they could try instead. There was some grumbling. I gave them a choice “Put some extra effort into finding ways to work with her, or expend that energy being irritated.” Despite the continued grumbles, they conceded that being irritated wasn’t working well for them.
Being so direct is always risky, but I know my teachers fairly well by now, and I felt confident a more direct approach was an appropriate course of action.
Still, though, I worry. What if I had been wrong? What if this teacher’s behavior becomes even more egregious. How much griping can I take? How do I help this teacher?
Gossip and gripes are inevitable with any group of people. Navigating them as a coach is tough. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the ick people spew about each other go away. I don’t know if I always handle it in the best way possible. All I can say is that I try. I try to be the black box. I try to create and nurture relationships.
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Moving to a web-based assessment platform can be daunting. The hype is real. Here are twelve reasons it is totally worth it (and a couple of reasons to be cautious).
- Collaboration- It is possible to collaborate with teachers from all over the world with a web-based assessment platform. A common platform among teammates makes collaborating to create assessments easy, fast, and painless. These systems are typically designed with collaboration features and allow teachers to determine the privacy level of the assessments they create. Often, a teacher can copy and use existing assessments at the click of a button.
- Creating questions- Writing questions is an enormous undertaking. Finding questions can be equally difficult. A web-based assessment platform provides a bank of ready-to-use items from which to choose. Many platforms also provide tools for miscue analysis so the teacher can determine why students are struggling by examining the distractor answer choices. Technology-enhanced and performance-based question options are often available. If a teacher finds that existing questions do not meet their exact needs, platforms typically include options for adding questions.
- Formatting- Test formatting can be a huge hassle. It is frustrating when an assessment looks sloppy. It is important to get the order and placement of questions correct. Web-based platforms guarantee a consistent format free of errors. In addition, a couple of quick clicks allows the teacher to customize the order and type of questions.
- Aligning to standards- Whether we like it or not, state standards exist and have to be met. Ensuring assessments are aligned can be difficult and time-consuming. Web-based assessment platforms are often searchable by the standard. Existing questions are often already tagged with the corresponding standard and additional tags can sometimes be added. Finally, these platforms provide an easy mechanism to track how each standard is assessed and how students perform.
- Ensuring adequate rigor- Reaching higher levels of rigor with a higher DOK in selected response questions can be especially difficult. Some web-based assessment platforms provide a DOK for each question. In addition, the length and type of questions within each assessment can be tracked over time.
- Managing paper- A web-based assessment platform can remove the need to constantly make and keep track of mountains of paper. Though not every school or classroom has constant access to computers, most have at least some planned access that can be used intermittently. In addition, the master of the test is electronic and easy to store.
- Differentiating- Students come to us at different levels. It is our job to ensure we provide them with appropriate support for them to be successful. Web-based assessment platforms make differentiation simple. Often, there are features available to the teacher can select readability features such as print size, language translation, dictionary definitions, oral reading of questions and passages etc. Some systems allow a teacher to create unique settings for individuals or small groups. We have so many options that require significant work to develop independently.
- Grading- Most web-based assessment platforms auto-grade assessments. The tests are graded immediately upon completion. The teacher has options to set for what to accept as correct answers. Some systems provide opportunities to provide hints or explanations for students. In addition, web-based assessment platforms have easy-to-use technology-enhanced and performance-based question options. These questions often have to be graded by the teacher, but this can be done easily and scores are automatically added to the student’s total score.
- Data Analysis- Typically, web-based assessment platforms provide both real-time and post-assessment analytics. Analytics include an overview of how groups of students performed on an assessment as well as how individual students performed. Many platforms can also track performance by standard and performance over time. Some programs offer additional features such as how long students spend on a question or miscue analysis for distractors.
- Student Feedback- Web-based assessment platforms generally have a student view where students can look at their performance. But students aren’t known for their proactive desire to investigate their grades. Teachers can connect web-based assessment platforms to LMS systems and sites such as Google Classroom. In addition, teachers can write specific feedback to individual students that is immediately emailed to the student. Some platforms allow a rubric to be added to the assessment that students can see as they work. Some allow teachers to create a bank of comments they can reuse regularly. Almost all allow for comments and point adjustments on specific questions for individual students.
- Communication- Communication with other stakeholders is also important for classroom teachers. Web-based assessment platforms often include a mechanism for sharing results with parents/guardians. In addition, other teachers, administrators, instructional coaches etc. can be given immediate access to results and thus feel fully informed about how students are progressing.
- Assessment Validity- There are several ways that web-based assessment platforms improve the ability to validate assessments as reliable indicators of student mastery. First, teachers across a broad range of classrooms and schools can use the same assessment and compare results. Second, the analytics of such platforms provide information about performance in a number of ways that make it easy to identify problematic questions. Third, the same assessment can be used over multiple terms, using features to randomly sort test questions or answers to prevent cheating, and therefore provide longitudinal evidence that assessments are valid measures of achievement. Finally, many web-based platforms certify high-quality questions and question sets as valid and reliable measures.
Despite these many advantages, there are some caveats to moving to a web-based assessment platform worth considering and planning for if a platform is adopted.
- Technology is complicated. Web-based assessment platforms, even those designed to be user-friendly, require training and comfort with computers. It is also important to note that internet and computer access is unreliable in some school districts. A district without a strong technology support system and infrastructure.
- Cheating is a real potential problem that will need to be addressed. Some platforms have measures built into them to handle potential cheating, but many do not.
- Teachers are often intensely resistant to making their work and their students’ performance public as they fear the consequences of both success and failure. Too often, teachers are made to feel inadequate because of differences in relative student performance. Creating a culture that addresses teacher concerns and establishes a positive culture of continuous improvement.
- Cost can also be a worthwhile consideration. Many web-based assessment platforms are expensive. Others are low cost, freemium, or quite costly. It is important to conduct in-depth research to ensure a platform meets the needs of the school or district and will play well with other district products.
Moving a school or district to a web-based assessment platform is a big decision. I believe the pros outweigh the cons.