By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Although I usually write our blog posts, two of our PIIC instructional coaching supporters wanted to share these words of wisdom as the new school year begins. As a former coach and administrator working with our instructional coaching model, they offer three sustainability tips to think about when implementing the before, during and after cycle of consultation in an urban school district: 


Sustainability Tip #1: Fight for what for what you believe. Whenever a new administrator comes on board, there may be a quick turnover of initiatives as this new leader establishes a new path or new vision. Frequent dialogue may arise as to cutting an instructional coach or increasing class sizes to 40. Be prepared to collect quantitative data to support instructional coaching. Reports on the number of coach/teacher interactions can also be powerful. Administrators need to keep current with the research supporting coaching and be prepared to present this to the school board or administration on a regular basis.  

Sustainability Tip # 2: Little things make a difference. Taking time to return emails, answer questions, or provide resources all make a difference. As a coach, look for little ways to open dialogue. Sometimes a kind word, a piece of chocolate, or a cup of coffee can go a long way to build relationships. Be mindful to follow up on everything you promise or agree to do when working with the teacher. A good rule of thumb for the coach is to “under promise and over deliver.” Follow this and you will maintain a positive, trustworthy rapport with all.  

Sustainability Tip #3: Maintain Coaching Fidelity. Instructional coaches should not be the first “go to” people for reports or preparing for special events because they do not have an assigned class. Although coaches may be a valuable resource for such projects, it is important to respect the coaches’ time for engaging in one-on-one and small group support working directly with teachers in the before-during-after coaching cycle. As a coach or administrator, be prepared to conduct conversations to preserve and honor the culture of coaching. As a coach, strive to immerse yourself in the ongoing BDA process with the teachers. This is the true path toward sustainability and positive school change.

The Pennsylvania High School Coaching Initiative (PAHSCI) started a movement in 2005 that honored collaboration and ignited a passion for effective teaching. Following in 2009, the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC) refined the framework bringing leaders together to continue creating opportunities to expand the circle of leaders and their influence.

It is never too early...what tips can you share about sustaining instructional coaching in your school/district?

Deb Carr is currently an Assistant Professor of Education at King’s College. She previously served as Director of Curriculum & Instruction for the Hazleton Area School District and was the district’s PAHSCI/PIIC initiative contact. She is an instructor in the Instructional Coaching Endorsement Program at King’s College.

Jessica Jacobs is currently serving as an administrator of Curriculum and Instruction at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit. She was an instructional coach for Hazleton Area High School and a PIIC Mentor. She is also an instructor in the Instructional Coaching Endorsement Program at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Welcome back to school! I hope your summer was relaxing and at the same time, energizing, stimulating, and empowering. Doesn’t sound like relaxing belongs there, does it? But, in reality, relaxation can engender all of the above. 

A third-year coach emailed me last week and shared how relaxing this past summer was for her. But then, she asked if it was normal for her to be full of anxiety and at the same time, invigorated to start the new year. She read our book, Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools and knew that she wanted to start the year with excerpts from the book and plan short articles for her monthly book/article studies for the year yet she was worried that she didn’t spend enough time this summer reading articles about adult learning and how to engage her colleagues in meaningful conversations.

I shared with her my teaching “stage fright” each September when I worried that I didn’t add enough to my repertoire of tools to continue making a positive impact on my students or for the teachers I coached when I made that instructional switch in responsibilities. I shared my nightmares that I wouldn’t be able to answer my students’ questions or my teaching colleagues’ inquiries when engaging in coaching interactions.  All of these fears are quite normal and to be expected after spending some much-needed time reflecting on past practice. Those reflections help make adjustments towards future practice. I call that “controlled anxiety!”

That’s exactly what coaches do… they reflect on the past, think about the present, and plan for the future. This occurs when the brain relaxes and the coach takes time to envision where to go. Our brains need to de-clutter before we can re-imagine where we are going and how we will engage our teaching colleagues in constructive conversations about teaching and learning.

So, fear not the anxiety about new beginnings and engage in productive thinking as you consider how to support your teaching colleagues this year. That anxiety is a good thing… it propels you into action!


So, what are some of the ways your summer thinking has shaped your beginnings for the new school year? 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I recently watched “The Lion Guard” with my three grandsons. It’s amazing how many life lessons you can learn by watching or reading children’s literature and movies. One of my grandsons asked a great question, “How can you listen to the quiet so you can hear? If it’s quiet, there’s nothing to hear.” So, I began to explain how listening to your thoughts rather than hearing yourself talk allows a person the opportunity to think without interruption and to make reasonable decisions.

Noise from words often results in an emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful, deliberate response. I asked him what happens when he stops and thinks about what he plans to do instead of just jumping into the action. Of course, he said that when he does something without thinking, it usually results in getting a “time out” because he didn’t think about the consequences, like jumping into a pool over his younger brother who is drifting on a raft. That immediately gets him an “out of the pool” pass for a bit!

Perhaps contrary to what we want to do, coaching is about listening to the quiet and giving permission to our colleagues to just think about the “what, why, and how.”  It’s about getting “out of the way” so our teaching colleagues can make decisions that are rooted in student needs and not influenced by our ego and the “right way” to do things.

The start of the new school year brings opportunities to build on the previous year’s successes and to begin building new ones. Continue to ask questions and LISTEN to the answers. Listen to what is not only said but what is NOT said. Remember to foster collaboration, collective problem-solving, critical thinking, and community. Individual and collective growth are vital to continued school wide improvement so make every effort to plan time for both. Think about the skill set and knowledge base of the teachers you coach… where do they need support; how will you continue to move their practices forward; and what do you need to nourish your own professional growth? Coaching is not a cookie cutter model; be deliberate, planful, and flexible in your work with your teaching colleagues.

What are some ways you will “listen to the quiet” and plan your work as the new school year begins?

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I just had an interesting “end-of-year” conversation with a 2nd year coach from a middle school outside of Pennsylvania. She called to ask me about the gradual release of responsibility and what that meant to her role as a coach. She had two questions: 1) if I encourage teachers to teach without me modeling, what will I do for them; and 2) if they don’t need my anymore, won’t I move myself out of a job?

First things first… I asked her to define instructional coaching and her understanding of the instructional coach’s role. Then I asked her to make three columns: 1) how does she regularly engage with teachers; what are the administrator’s expectations of an effective instructional coaching model; and what do the teachers understand about instructional coaching? From there, we moved onto what each column has in common, where do the expectations align with the realities, and what does she spend the majority of her time doing.

I’m simplifying the conversation but you get the gist… by asking some important questions, the coach began to realize that what she thought she should do and what the teachers and administrator thought she should do were really not in sync. In fact, she realized that the teachers expected her to model without the benefit of the “before” and the “after” and the administrators expected her to raise student standardized test scores even though the tests were summative and by the time she saw those results, the students would no longer be with the same teachers.

So, the question was really not about the gradual release of responsibility but rather about sharing a vision and implementing an effective instructional coaching model that focused on school wide improvement and addressed teacher needs so student learning could be impacted.

Ask the right questions and the answers are so revealing.

As a coach, how do you ensure that the questions asked are really the questions that should be asked?

Monday, June 5, 2017

In the May 23, 2017 ASCD K-12 Leadership Brief, an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review titled, “What to consider before taking on extra work” discusses decision making and three important questions to help you commit to something new: What is my motivation? Does it align with my values? And, do I have a choice?

These questions sound so easy to answer yet there really is no simple answer to these in the roles assumed by instructional coaches and their mentors. In fact, I marvel at the amount of juggling it takes for a mentor to balance the role as an instructional mentor and “life” in their respective intermediate units. And, I think the same struggle exists with teachers and coaches in their buildings. There is a challenge to saying, “Yes” as well as to saying, “No!”

One of the things for which I was recently reminded is to think about the time it takes to complete a task well and to be deliberate in deciding what is a “must” and what is “nice” to do. I have trouble with that… I think I have time for everything when, in fact, that’s further from the truth than I’d like to admit.

Some folks don’t want to disappoint anyone or create the image that they might not be able to finish a task. And, if they feel like their job is dependent upon agreeing to complete tasks, that’s another story. I have also learned that we always “go to the well” when we want something done and have faith that the people we ask won’t say no.

So, what to do? I think setting goals from the beginning and sharing those goals with staff who may be requesting the tasks is a start. I also think bringing others “into the fold” and collaborating with staff can also be incredibly helpful. Two heads are better than one and that removes the pressure that it’s all on one person. That’s what we call the “team approach!”

Food for thought as you are reflecting on this year and making plans for next year.  

How do you manage your responsibilities and take on new experiences in your role? What happens if what you are asked to do by your supervisor doesn’t align with your values?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A dream has come true… our book about instructional coaching has been published by ASCD. The title is Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools (www.ascd.org). What an amazing thing!

So why did we write this book? We wanted to send a message… helping teachers get better at their craft is not something to hide; it’s something to celebrate. We gathered the collective wisdom of a group of instructional coaches, mentors, regional mentor coordinators, and other school leaders to share the thinking about how working with instructional coaches helps to achieve school-wide improvement in a safe environment, builds teacher capacity, and increases student engagement. Each scenario in the book touches those of us involved in education. Who wouldn’t want to help our most precious commodity… our children… in a no-risk environment where innovation, collective problem-solving, collaboration, and transparent communication are valued?

Coaching is not a deficit model. We need to share our message that if musicians, artists, athletes, and even Fortune 500 executives work with coaches to move their practice forward, why shouldn’t education embrace that same philosophy for growth?

So, yes, I am on my soapbox to shout my beliefs about the merits of an effective instructional coaching model. We need instructional coaching to hit the tipping point… we need everyone to talk about how instructional coaching helps teachers and administrators think more deeply about their work and about their collective responsibility for school wide improvement.  

What can you do in your school community to spread the word about how instructional coaching supports teaching and learning?

Friday, May 5, 2017

What an amazing 3-days!

PIIC coaches, IU mentors, administrators, RMCs, and other school leaders just participated in our 3rd multi-day professional learning conference of the year in State College. It was AMAZING!! 18 breakout sessions were offered along with a whole group general session. Participants were engaged, energized, and rejuvenated as they engaged in professional talk with their colleagues from across the state. Talk about incredible karma!

One emerging theme throughout the 3 days was the profound benefit of working with colleagues. The collaboration and shared learning in a safe environment with trusted and experienced colleagues ensured that every participant had a voice, an ear (actually two), and ample opportunities to learn and talk to each other about problems of practice; gain multiple, practical solutions offered by other practitioners; and gained new ideas to add to their inventory of instructional practices.
 
This kind of collaborative learning illustrates Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development.” This zone is where learners learn with the help of guidance. Remember, learning is social and our professional learning conferences demonstrates the notion that interacting with other practitioners helps the learner achieve higher levels of learning and retain more of what they learned (Gokhale 1995). Coaches and mentors support and follow up this learning to ensure that what is learned is applied deeply and effectively. These kinds of opportunities for ongoing collaboration facilitated by coaches and mentors create a culture of shared learning that is transformative.

How do you engage in collaborative learning in your school?