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

Recent Posts

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 […]

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 of the year and everyone is feeling it. Including you. The drive to continue supporting teachers keeps fueling your Instructional Coaching soul! What should you do with that drive? Here are some ideas that helps you continue the support of the teachers in your building:

The drive to continue supporting teachers keeps fueling your Instructional Coaching soul!

Offer to Do Lessons

Teachers right now are as stressed and as tired as they were at the beginning of the school year. Now is the time to put your money where your mouth is and offer that support they need this time in the school year. You can either have a sign-up sheet in the Teacher’s Lounge or send out a Google Doc/spreadsheet for teachers to sign up for thirty-forty minute lessons. During this time, this is not time to model lessons for teachers, this is the time to give them a much needed break. Allow the teachers to use this time however they see fit, but they must stay on campus.

Teacher Check-Ins

Take this time to go do some teacher check-ins. This time is just to make sure the teachers are handling the end of the year stress well and to offer your help if needed. There may be students that need to be assessed, questions that teachers have, or they may even need a listening ear. Be that for them. They need it. Be there. Be present.

Let go of Professional Development (GASP!)

At the end of the year, teachers are not going to be listening to anything you have to say. They are drained. Honestly, you are drained too. Do not try to sit teachers down and have any organized professional development meet ups at this time. They will love you for this. However, if you do plan on or “have to” meet, allow it to focus on the tip below.

Teacher Reflection

If you have to meet, allow it to be a time of teacher or team reflection. One of the best end of the year meetings I have been a part of and also held was a vertical team meeting just focused on reflection and discussion. It allowed for the teams to talk, discuss gaps between grade levels, areas to focus on the next year and just reflect. It was a very powerful and helpful meeting. Try it, you will not be disappointed in the impact it has.

Your Reflection

This is the time for you to reflect as well. Give teachers a survey and ask them to fill it out honestly about the work you have done with them this year. These surveys help with your own reflection as their Instructional Coach and it helps you to grow and learn.

Yes, it’s the end of the year. Yes, it’s busy around the school. Use these tips and your time to continue to support teachers in a different, yet effective and impactful way.

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 […]

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 her comment made me want to share my current strategy for meaningful feedback.

There are tons of genuinely meaningful texts on instructional coaching. I’ve probably read a couple dozen of them, and I aim to read a couple dozen more. Some of the consistent ideas I have come across include keeping it simple, being direct and transparent, focusing on the positive, and asking powerful questions.

Based on those principles, I created a simple Google Form for myself. I chose this format for two reasons. One reason is that I can use the add-on “Simply Send” to auto-generate a PDF of my responses in an email to myself. This makes it really simple to double-check my work and send teachers written feedback almost immediately. I can also complete the form from any device including my phone. Finally, it creates a spreadsheet I can view to look for trends or identify common needs.

The form I use only has a few sections. Of course, I record the basics: time, date, teacher, and course. Actually, because I have shared this with my administrators, I start with a question to identify who has completed the form. After the basics, I have five long answer paragraph sections. They are Environment, Planning, Teacher Actions, Student Actions, and Food for Thought.

I strongly believe that observational data is the most effective tool in an instructional coach’s arsenal. I do not script lessons unless a teacher has requested I do so for a particular reason. Instead, I take detailed notes of what both teachers and students are doing, what the classroom is like, and what evidence of intentional planning is evident.

Usually, environment section is relatively short. I like to give teachers my impression of the physical space. Can everyone see the board? Are needed materials placed in an easy to access location? Is the lighting, temperature, and even smell, appropriate to the class?

I tend to go back and forth between the teacher action and student action sections throughout my visit as I describe what I see. I try to give specifics without getting too lost in trivial details. My skill in this area continues to improve with more practice.

To be honest, I don’t totally love the planning section. My notes in that section are often sparse and inferential rather than substantive. I can’t quite figure out if that is my note-taking or related to the idea. My teachers seem to appreciate the inclusion of this area, if for no other reason than that it acknowledges how much time and effort they put into planning.

The final section is called food for thought. In it, I record positive impressions as well as questions and wonderings. My goal is to point out what worked well and help teachers think about opportunities for growth. I try to frame my questions so they are open-ended but based on very specific observable actions. In this section, depending on the personality and needs of the teacher, I might provide some suggestions for tools or instructional strategies to try.

My coaching conversations are based almost exclusively on this feedback. One advantage of this system for me is that when I visit a classroom I can provide meaningful feedback even if a coaching conversation isn’t possible until later in the week. Sometimes, the delay is actually beneficial. Teachers have the opportunity to reflect before we engage. Often I get emails in response with initial thoughts and reminding me of our upcoming meeting.

I believe this system is working. It seems to be having a positive effect on teacher attitude, reflection, and general openness. Teachers are happy to see me in their classrooms–even the tough nuts. Over time, I believe this type of meaningful feedback will lead to genuine instructional innovation.

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 […]

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 high quality the professional development provided is, teachers say “We need more training.” What?! How can that be? We just spent a gazillion dollars to give you tons of hours to learn with experts. I busted my backside to give you everything you need. What training could you possibly still need?

  1. Theory-check.
  2. Rationale-check.
  3. Explanations-check.
  4. Expectations-check.
  5. Steps and actions-check.
  6. Anticipated results-check.
  7. Potential pitfalls-check.
  8. Guided practice-check.
  9. Q & A-check.
  10. On-going support-you guessed it, check.

This scenario is frustrating and, I think, all too common. Whether it is culturally responsive teaching, differentiation, RTI, trauma-informed schools, SEL, restorative justice, the refrain is the same: “We need more training?” The accompanying lament remains: “What is the missing piece?”

After years of learning, struggling, and wondering, I think I finally found the missing piece. Teachers need direct, explicit instruction on how to change their own thinking. Truthfully, we spend a lot of time talking about and supporting student thought processes. Self-regulation, self-awareness, self-talk are all part of instruction for students. But it is incredibly rare for teachers to receive the same opportunity to learn such skills.

Instead of wondering why teachers fail to change their behavior, we need to question how we can help change teacher thinking. Not because teachers will all respond perfectly and all our implementation problems will be solved. It is never that simple. But because teachers deserve to understand not just what and why, but HOW. We need to equip them with the tools to control and actively select their actions and reactions in the classroom.

This missing piece is especially pernicious when we are addressing deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviors. Teachers are often stymied by their own struggles. Hence the request for more training. They know, on some level, that they are missing a piece of the puzzle. Articulating what is missing is the challenge. The answer lies in helping teachers surface their thinking, reveal existing inner monologues, and intentionally develop alternative self-talk and thoughts. Teachers need the same level of intentional, structured, and personal instruction that students need.

The biggest problem with the missing piece is that though the need is there, the expertise, the materials, the strategies are also largely missing. As instructional coaches, we are left to address this need as best we can. The first step is knowing there is a missing piece. I wish I could offer specific resources and strategies that would magically fill the void. I can’t. If you have ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comments for all of us.

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 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, […]