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

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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 steps I had taken to become a coach, […]

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 […]

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, please click here.

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 […]