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

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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 […]

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. […]

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, 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.

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. Click To Tweet

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?

Books- The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves by: Diane Sweeny, Instructional Coaching by: Jim Knight

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.

 

Creating Partnerships in Uncomfortable Situations as an Instructional Coach

Creating Partnerships in Uncomfortable Situations as an Instructional Coach

As a coach, there comes a time when you are asked to work with a teacher who has not been one of the ones banging down your office door. This situation can cause feelings of discomfort for you and the teacher. Sometimes it is not […]

Evaluating Instructional Materials: An Integral Part of Being an Instructional Coach

Evaluating Instructional Materials: An Integral Part of Being an Instructional Coach

Evaluating materials is often a part of the coaching gig, even though it isn’t in the typical coaching job description. We are often called on as experts to evaluate a variety of instructional materials, books, and programs. There are so many things to consider when […]

Gossip and Gripes: The Instructional Coach Chronicles

Gossip and Gripes: The Instructional Coach Chronicles

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.

Coaching a Dysfunctional Team

Coaching a Dysfunctional Team

Remember your college days, where you were assigned to a group of peers who did not always have your work ethic or attention to detail?  Did you carry that group to an “A” or mourn when they brought your grade down?  The outcomes were important […]

[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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

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 […]