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

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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, I believe we should share responsibility for the care of teachers.

Perhaps, instead of encouraging teachers to learn to say no, we ought to focus on not asking too much of them. As coaches, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to take an active role in caring for teachers. There is always too much to do in schools; however, there are steps we can take to support teacher self-care.

Coaches can establish a culture of shared accountability. We can learn our teachers strengths, weaknesses, and boundaries. Instruction improves when we can help teachers divorce responsibility from blame to focus on student growth. We can clearly establish our own boundaries and stand firm in support of reasonable expectations. Mostly, we can avoid some common pitfalls.

We are, or at least I am, often guilty of asking those we know will say yes. In a pinch, when I need help, I ask teachers who are willing. The unfortunate side effect is that we unintentionally contribute to the overburdening of certain teachers. Partly, we do this out of desperation. Partly, we do this because it is easier. And partly, I think, we do this out of fear.

Not unlike our teachers, we as Instructional Coaches are frequently overworked and overwhelmed. When last-minute tasks with impossible deadlines loom, we are often desperate for help. We reach out to those we trust. We depend on those whose abilities we trust. It feels impossible not to depend heavily on the dependable.

In addition to desperation, asking those likely to say yes is So. Much. Easier. It is difficult to confront the insecurity of asking someone for help when we are unsure of the answer. It is hard enough to ask for help. Pressure makes it infinitely harder. Formulating a plan for approaching those who are less apt to pitchin takes valuable time and effort.

Asking for help is also terrifying. It makes us vulnerable. How can we balance being an instructional authority with needing to ask for support? We fear the potential loss of respect or authority or validity. It can feel like we are sacrificing our standing instead of standing on our own. We are worried about appearing weak at nervous about failure. Compounding those issues is the fear that the help we seek may be inadequate.

Despite all those issues, we can care for our teachers and ourselves by creating a culture of shared responsibility. A culture of collaboration as a positive choice that leads to success rather than a mandate. Taking the time and effort to invite every teacher to participate in shared tasks builds confidence, respect, and success. It can lead to the sharing of ideas.
Of course, teachers have different skill sets and levels of contribution. Knowing and respecting those strengths and limitations is part of the job. Accepting each other, even as we push each other to improve, is a vital part of a healthy school culture.

Teachers who fail to care for themselves eventually fail to care for others effectively. Coaches have a role in ensuring teachers take care of themselves and each other. Just as we encourage students to develop shared accountability and mutual respect, we need to encourage teachers to do the same. Maybe it would be fair to say that the coach’s role in teacher self-care is coach self-awareness and coach self-care.

Slowing Down During the Holidays

Slowing Down During the Holidays

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

My First Step to Self-Care: A Balanced Schedule

My First Step to Self-Care: A Balanced Schedule

In the life of an Instructional Coach, we are there to support teachers. We love seeing teachers continue to grow. We want to be there for them, provide feedback and do all we can to help facilitate their development. However, we often put our all […]

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. But I am fearful. If I push too hard, I run the risk of damaging the relationships my job requires. The start of the year is an overwhelming, busy, stressful experience and it takes time to establish a routine. Teachers are skittish and visiting too soon can seem pushy. For insecure teachers or in schools with a poor culture, it can seem like the ultimate gotcha. Then there are the schools where 1st week, five-minute visits are the only time anyone comes into classrooms. As you can see, most of us have a lot of baggage from bad experiences when it comes to classroom visits.

Even the terminology is problematic. ‘Observation’ has a connotation of formality and evaluation. And ‘walk-through’ was always a junk term. ‘Learning walk’ can be better depending on the implementation though it doesn’t really mean anything to most teachers. Like, who is learning? The walker or the teacher or the students? I try to say “visit”or pop-in”…and I am still not satisfied with those either.

If I wait too long, a whole different set of problems can arise. Teachers won't find me visible and will wonder what exactly I do all day. Click To Tweet

Anyway, how soon is too soon? If I wait too long, a whole different set of problems can arise. Teachers won’t find me visible and will wonder what exactly I do all day. Administrators will want immediate data I won’t have yet. I run the risk of allowing questionable practices to go unchecked and allow my staff to feel complacent. Teachers are myopic. If it seems to be working from their own perspective, and I am not there to offer another, they are too busy to dig deeper to improve.

Teachers hate feeling judged. This is cultural–societal. We are everyone’s favorite scapegoat and most convenient target. We also push and punish ourselves for factors well beyond our control. The thought of another teacher being sanctioned to judge our teaching is unlikely to be eagerly anticipated.

So I keep wondering: How soon is too soon? My current compromise isn’t ideal and I hope time will help me develop more strategic ways to handle this question. For now, I simply pop-in to offer assistance and ask how things are going for each teacher. I don’t sit down or hang around unless I am asked to help. I don’t take notes or send feedback or do any of the anxiety triggering things that set teachers off.

Week three, all that must change. Two weeks is enough to get it together. The start of the year excuses centered around teaching rules and establishing routines have mostly expired. Students and teachers are easing from the first date to honeymoon and the instructional patterns set now will likely echo across the school year. Out comes the note-taking, questioning, feedback, and formal conversations. Well, for most teachers. A few will need an extra week or two, or perhaps another tactic.

I don’t know the answer, but I constantly wonder: How soon is too soon to visit classrooms?

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 the steps I had taken to become a […]

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 evaluating materials. It can be overwhelming and frustrating and hard to know where to start.

Below is a process I have started using. So far, I am finding it useful. If you have suggestions, I am all ears.

The first thing I do is define what I am looking for and why.

What problem am I trying to solve? What features are essential to success? Why is something new being considered?

At this point, I usually create a spreadsheet with those essential features listed. I make sure to leave a space to list the product. I also leave room for features I might not know about yet. Just recently, I started including a place to link the relevant website.

Next, I gather possibilities. I research as many options as I can find. I eliminate those that are obviously not a good fit. The first couple of times I did this, I included every source I found. It was a colossal waste of time. I had to learn to trust my professional judgment. I also had to stop automatically dismissing anything expensive. Unless there is a specific budget, it is worthwhile to consider all the products. Sometimes the most expensive option really is the best fit.

I enter information for each strong option into my spreadsheet with as much accuracy as possible. Depending on what I am looking for, I might have Y/N columns in my spreadsheet. I always write as many descriptive notes as possible.

Many companies, especially for textbooks or software, provide limited pricing information. Once I have gathered as much as possible from available sources, I reach out to sales representatives.

Contrary to popular belief, Educational Sales reps are NOT the enemy. Despite the need for them to achieve sales, they are the most helpful people you are likely to encounter. Many are former teachers. Though some will attempt a bit of a hard sell, they appreciate directness and honesty. If I am not a lead that will lead to a sale and I say so clearly, that benefits both of us.

Most websites have a contact page that will allow you to submit a request for more information or contact a regional rep directly.

Any spaces left on my spreadsheet can almost always be filled in by a sales rep for the product. In some cases, they will even research competitors to ensure the information they provide is relevant.

Asking for quotes is easy. The first few times were really awkward for me. I felt like I was wasting someone’s time and who was I to demand information. I had to get over that too. Once I felt and acted more confident, I got better results anyway.

Sales reps can also provide demonstrations of products in several ways. I can request a single copy of texts. I can ask for a demo account for software programs. The reps can set up live webinars or provide videos of the product. I have found that it is worth the time to thoroughly explore all the options and use the demos. If possible, I try to get as many teachers as possible to voice an opinion as well.

Many questions about the product can really only be answered by using something.

  • How user-friendly is the setup or interface? How similar or different is this to something teachers have used before?
  • Will my teachers be open to it?
  • How much training will be needed?
  • Who will administer the program (set up electronic accounts or manage physical copies)? How quickly can this product be up and running?
  • What will my administrator(s) love, hate, or question?

Investing time in 5-10 products that you’re really interested in so you really know their value is much more useful than trying to overview everything.

When all the legwork is done, then, and only then, I present my findings to the decision-maker(s).

In my experience, people appreciate the depth of my knowledge. Teachers like being included in the process of reviewing different options. Administrators like knowing the pros and cons. I like feeling like I know my stuff.

There are times, of course, when time doesn’t permit such an elaborate process.

There are times when the materials I am seeking to evaluate are too narrow in scope or potential use to bother with this process.

When that happens, I have to rely on my professional judgment and make a choice.

In places where I have used this process, my choices have been viewed more favorably. I am rarely accused of making an arbitrary or ill-informed decision. This type of process for evaluating materials does more than help you determine a wise course of action. It also builds credibility and trust.

If for no other reason, that trust makes evaluating a variety of materials using a time-consuming process worth it. It helps that my teachers are also using quality products.

Though it isn’t usually in the job description, finding and implementing curriculum solutions is a part of the job. It can be rewarding. I believe that giving teachers the best tools possible for the goals they are trying to achieve makes everything else about coaching easier and more meaningful.


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 […]