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

Author: Franchesca Warren

[September] Teacher Self-Care Calendar For Teachers

[September] Teacher Self-Care Calendar For Teachers

It’s September and whether you’re starting school after Labor Day or you’ve been in school for a month, there’s no wrong time for helping your teachers take care of themselves. Use this printable to build relationships with your teachers. To download this in a PDF, […]

12 Reasons to use a Web-Based Assessment Platform

12 Reasons to use a Web-Based Assessment Platform

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 […]

The Dirty Secret of Implementing Independent Reading for Literacy Coaches

The Dirty Secret of Implementing Independent Reading for Literacy Coaches

“Students need to read like writers and they need to write like readers.” ― Kelly Gallagher

The current craze in education is around giving students choice in what they read in an attempt to get them excited about reading again. This idea as basic as it has “lit” a fire in teachers in demanding that students have a variety of texts to read in (and out) of class. As a teacher and avid reader, I understand the thrill of loving a book and being able to emulate that feeling with students.  The intense joy of putting a book in the hands of a reluctant reader and them not only devouring the text but asking for more books that they see themselves in is what all teachers crave.

However, while the conversation of choice in reading is one that must happen in K-12 classrooms across the world, there’s one missing piece from this conversation that continues to get lost- the lack of books in schools.

In order to have a culture of reading in a building, schools must be willing to invest in books for all students to read. I’m not talking about a small donation from parents or the occasional gift of 10 copies of a popular chapter from the school PTA/PTO, or those times when kids go out and buy books they love, but I’m talking about something more.

Something such as principals and Central Office officials restructuring their budgets to make buying books for schools a requirement- not an option.

As a former Literacy Coach and Coordinator, I’ve been in hundreds of classroom around the Southeast and one of the most pressing issues inside classrooms focused on improving literacy is that there are simply not enough books for the students to read. This fundamental flaw underlies most of the problems in the classroom because when students don’t have something they love in their hands, instances of misbehavior increases and gradually students become more and more apathetic toward school. To make matters worse, schools invest a large part of their budgets on standardized testing- the antithesis of what research says helps students. Specifically, in 2012, standardized-testing cost states upwards of $1.7 billion a year overall, according to a  report on assessment finances.

That’s $1.7 billion dollars that could be spent on not only more books for students, but would allow students to have reading corners in their classes, or even expose them to communities and situations that only literature can make come alive. Instead, I’ve been in far too many classrooms where not only are the classroom libraries barren, but any new books they have been blessed with have the highest restrictions possible- that would make the most voracious reader not want to read- so that teachers can keep their novels sets readable because they know it’ll be years before they get replacements. Or, instead of novels, teachers are given textbooks that prescribe the same literature to a new group of students every single year until they fall apart.

In one classroom I recently visited, the novels were in such disarray that students could no longer distinguish the title of the books. The teacher tried to work her magic by going to the local thrift store to find titles, but to her frustration, the titles she found were far from what interested her students.

In another class, the classroom library was a little better, but the teacher sheepishly admitted to me that she only had classroom sets of the text so students could only read in class and that if they wanted to check out books, she had to tell them no, because if they didn’t return them she would be charged for them at the end of the year. She lamented that students were forced to use outdated (and culturally dead) textbooks that made them HATE reading even more.

As I listened to her plight, all I could think was, “when did we get to this point?” When did everything else (test prep, exorbitant salaries of the high-ups, senseless programs that no one will ever use, etc.) become more important than making sure our schools were literacy-rich centers of learnings around books? When did our school libraries become victim to budget battles leaving them barren to the memories we have of our childhood of walking into our neighborhood library and being immediately mesmerized by the sheer amount of books? Even though I can’t pinpoint the exact breakdown in the love for literature, the solution is clear- books must be put in the hands of teachers/students at every chance.

Books must be put in the hands of teachers/students at every chance. Click To Tweet

As we think about this shift in budgeting, it’s critical to know that our purchases should reflect the diversity found in the world with titles such as The Hate You Give or American Street so that we can help make our student’s worlds bigger. Also, there should be less of an emphasis on our students and their reading levels and connect them to a text that they identify with and want to read.

It’s not an easy choice. Principals and school officials may have to make some hard decisions, but putting books in the hands of students can never be a bad decision. So start with these solutions:

  1. Help the principals examine the consumables that are spent each year by departments. We all know that with the belief that schools must perform on standardized exams schools spent a notable amount of funds on test-prep materials. Before “signing off” on their purchase, really ask your teachers if they will help students become better readers or are they a band-aid for the problem of students not reading enough. If it’s the latter, then students don’t become better readers through test-prep practices, instead, they become better readers by reading.
  2. Ask each department/grade level in your school to find texts that can make their content more accessible. Give the teachers flexibility in that there may be a great graphic novel on 3D Instruction that your science teachers may want- buy it for the students. Also, remember that texts don’t necessarily mean novels sets- it can mean magazine subscriptions, comics, etc.
  3. Kids can’t access technology properly if they struggle with reading- so for every technology request, order more books. Involve your principal PTA, Amazon Wishlist and your local thrift store to get more volume in your kid’s hands. Have summer fundraisers where stakeholders donate books. Enter contests all with the intent of putting more books in the hands of your students.

So as we ‘inch’ towards the end of the year, ask your principal and other  district officials to examine their school budgets and for every “test prep” item, we ask that they fill those with books for students and continue until their schools are truly epicenters of literacy.

The Unspoken Truths of Being an Instructional Coach

The Unspoken Truths of Being an Instructional Coach

Imagine you’re running a marathon and you’ve made it to mile 24. You’re cramping up and your mouth is dry, but you know the end is near- so you keep going. At mile 25, you’ve resorted to walking because you’re legs are on fire. You […]

[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 […]

Adventures in Coaching..Giving Effective Teacher Feedback

Adventures in Coaching..Giving Effective Teacher Feedback

This year I did what many teachers fear the most,  I went over to the dark side of school administration in the form of being an Instructional Coach. As  I transitioned into this role, I thought surely that this would give me more time to reflect and “cool my heels” -things that I rarely was able to do as a teacher. Working with new and older teachers was not anything new, I had always unofficially “coached” teachers on effective classroom practices, but what would be new was the idea of not having a classroom to dictate my time on a daily basis.

As I readied for my first day in this role, I knew the type of  Coach I wanted to be- one who went above and beyond in supporting teachers in all aspects of teaching especially being able to give immediate feedback. As a classroom teacher I can remember people coming into my room with clipboards and walking around examining not only what I was doing in class, but inspecting my Word Wall, Quality Student work and the other things on the standards-based classroom list. They would only stay for a while, but I was always confused because rarely did I receive feedback. When I happened to receive feedback it was so general that it was of no use to me and my teaching practices.  According to Teaching in Focus,  the appraisal and feedback that a teacher receives is just one of the many factors that can influence his or her feelings of self-efficacy. However the content of the appraisal is equally important when provided feedback on certain aspects of their teaching, teachers can directly target portions of their teaching where they are less confident.

Consequently, giving teachers timely feedback is crucial for both veteran and newer teachers in further honing their educational practices.

So as a Coach, how can you give effective feedback when your time is pulled in literally twenty directions? Follow these simple tips to guide your practice of giving teachers quality feedback:

1. Visit classrooms for varying amounts of time each visit. Visiting a classroom is an integral part of being a good Instructional Coach, but what about the time that you visit in each classroom? At the minimum, when I visit classrooms I stay for at least thirty minutes in a ninety-minute block. This gives me time to see the direction of a teachers lesson and have time to interact with students and their learning. If I come in for anything less than thirty minutes then I’m looking for specific things such as a lesson opening and/or closing, grouping or use of guided practice.  In addition, I always make sure to visit teachers frequently so that I have a clear picture of what my teachers are doing in the classroom. In addition to visiting classrooms often, I try and go at different times during the day to make sure I’m getting a clear picture of the class loads teachers have during the day. While it’s important to visit multiple classrooms throughout the day, it is equally important to give timely feedback to teachers. As a rule of thumb, I give feedback within 24 hours of me visiting the class.

Click here for the next tip.

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Instructional Coaching: Finding Your Purpose

Instructional Coaching: Finding Your Purpose

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 […]

Instructional Coaching 101: You’ve Just Been Hired, Now What?

Instructional Coaching 101: You’ve Just Been Hired, Now What?

As I sat at my desk and fumed all I could say to myself was, “I did not sign up for this. This is not how you treat others!” The longer I repeated those words the angrier I became and before long I was hurriedly typing away […]

10 Interview Questions for A  Potential Instructional Coach

10 Interview Questions for A Potential Instructional Coach

Just like athletes get ready for the big Friday night game, by running, throwing catches, and rehearsing plays, teachers who want to be an Instructional Coach should practice before the big game (i.e. interview) for the position. Sometimes the practice may be sitting in front of the mirror rehearsing potential “pushback” from teachers,  leading a group of teachers in professional learning, or building a module for teachers who are struggling with some aspect of the game (i.e. Writer’s Workshop).

Well before any aspect of the “game” of coaching, there’s one hurdle everyone must pass- the interview. Here are 10 interview questions that you’re likely to encounter on the way to being a coach:

  1. What makes you want to be an Instructional Coach? This is a basic “warmup” question to allow the interviewees get a gist of a potential candidate’s intentions of being an instructional coach. Potential answer: Ever since I started teaching, I’ve always had a strong desire to work with teachers in a way that can transform teaching and learning in the classroom. Points to Remember: Lean on your experience in the classroom to discuss how coaching has transformed your practice and why you think you would be a great candidate.
  2. Name a time that you’ve lead impactful professional learning. This is a normal question that gauges if you’re comfortable presenting new information to teachers in an impactful way. Potential answer: In my previous experience, I’ve been lucky to lead training on (insert name) and it helped (the type of teacher) teachers really address the issues around (present problem). Points to Remember: Be clear, concise and as specific as possible in answering this question. Be sure to highlight the problem you helped solve by delivering the professional learning and even more important how you followed up on the learning.
  3. Describe your educational philosophy and how it lends for you to be an impactful coach. Potential answer: This is a basic question that many principals will ask for not only an Instructional Coach interview but also for any classroom position.  My educational philosophy is grounded in the fact that all students can learn- under the right circumstances and I believe that those right circumstances directly relate to the type of teacher they have. Points to Remember: This can become long-winded and can make you forget everything that you know to be right. State your educational philosophy in under 2 minutes and use specific examples/research to support your philosophy.
  4. Talk through a time when you’ve experienced “pushback” from a fellow teacher. How did you handle it? This is a question that directly asks about how you would handle conflict within your department.  Potential Answer: During my eighth grade PLC, there was a teacher who was unhappy that the department was moving toward Project Based Learning and she made everyone aware of her concerns. When her negativity didn’t deter the group, she started to avoid all meetings and hid anytime anything was due. Noticing this, I decided to speak with her 1:1 about her reservations and was able to come to an ‘agreement’ with her about how we could alleviate her concerns and how working as a team would make all of our work easier. Points to remember: For questions like this, be as specific as possible to show that you can a.) handle conflict with teachers b.) you’re focused on the work. 
  5. How will you build a strong partnership with your principal in order to ensure teacher learning is effectively facilitated and leads to increased student achievement? Many times principals have NO CLUE on how to leverage their Instructional Coach to increase student achievement. This question directly asks those things. Potential Answer: Building a solid foundation with my principal is critical if I want to show the teachers and staff the collaboration is where the real work is done. I’d ask to sit down with my leader to get his vision for coaching and to ask him or her specifically what they want to accomplish with the teachers. Upon hearing their thoughts, I’d offer the ways that I can bring their vision to light. In addition to this meeting, I’d love to have weekly meetings with my principal to know what I’m working on with teachers to keep their goals in alignment. Points to Remember: At this point never discuss what a school is/isn’t doing. Instead be politically correct in always following the lead of your administrator. 
  6. One of the primary areas of work for an instructional coach is to help teachers build their capacity and increase their ability to meet student needs. To accomplish this, an instructional coach must be able to identify the essential components of quality instruction. With that in mind, talk to us about what quality instruction looks like and please be detailed. This is a detailed question that will get into the heart of school values as ‘good instruction’. Possible Answer: Quality instruction is focused on ensuring that students are learning and teachers are facilitating during any particular class period. To achieve the goal of students learning, teachers can use a variety of resources, but I’d start with a basic understanding of gradual release and how teachers can still teach but can focus more on becoming the facilitator to assist students in the learning. In addition, I’d create a monthly Professional Learning calendar for my administration to look at to see the teacher learning in focus. Points to Remember: This question should be content specific and should include educational buzz words (not too many) so that it’s clear you understand ‘instruction and curriculum’. 
  7. As a coach, how will you work to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps? This is a good follow-up question for number 6 and is used to see the specific strategies that an Instructional Coach would use to increase student achievement. Possible Answer: I’d have a two-prong approach that called for me to analyze classroom data from both formative/summative assessments and my classroom walkthroughs to see how learning is occurring in the classrooms.Then I’d work with the teachers and administrators to devise a plan that will help teachers teach the standards and address the learning concerns for the students who struggle the most. Points to Remember: Be specific with your ideas here and don’t be afraid to be aggressive in your suggestions to improve learning in their building.
  8. Teachers in your building will have various skill levels and different needs in regard to support and professional development. How will you determine the focus of your work and the strategies you will use when differentiating your work with adult learners? This is another question aimed to see how you can differentiate your support. Possible answers: At the beginning of the year as I get to know the teachers, I want to offer to help teachers in their class so I can get a ‘feel’ on how each of my teachers operate their classrooms. This purpose will be two-fold, I can get acquainted with all of my teachers and I can see the strengths and weaknesses of them so that I can better help them. After I’ve had a chance to visit each classroom, I’d ask to schedule meetings with teachers and get their feedback on what they want to work on for the year and offer some points to think about. In the end, I would also ask my administrator for their vision and from there, I’d be able to come up with a plan for each teacher. Points to Remember: Administrators want to see how you as an Instructional Coach can work with teachers with varying backgrounds, experiences, and professional needs.
  9. Please discuss the skills and dispositions (personality traits) that will ensure you are a successful instructional coach. Why are you the right person for this job? Everyone who’s a great teacher doesn’t mean they would make a great Instructional Coach- this question gets to that. Potential Answer: A good instructional coach is someone who is a content expert, knowledgeable in pedagogy, a relationship builder, and determined to do what’s best for students and teachers. I’m the right person for this job because for (insert number of years) I’ve been building my knowledge of delivering effective professional learning, working with teachers to improve practice, and being a change agent at my school. Points to Remember: Make sure to describe your qualifications that would make you a great candidate. It’s okay to BRAG!
  10. Tell us one thing about yourself that we may not know. This is a “feel good” question so answer it in a way that tells them something interesting about you but doesn’t reveal anything that may stop you from getting the job.

Interviewing to be an Instructional Coach is hard, so take your time and be honest and most importantly show that you can exact change in this position!

 

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” […]