By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, January 15, 2018


We just returned from another amazing 3-day Professional Learning Conference from the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). This is the only conference that I know about where the presenters and facilitators are the practitioners in the schools represented at the conference! They truly show that the collective wisdom of any room where they are collaborating is chock full of incredible talents, insights, and multiple skill sets. The power in those sessions with such skilled coaches, mentors, and other school leaders was palpable. It was an interactive, collegial atmosphere where no one feared what they didn’t know… everyone just absorbed and shared their learnings in rooms full of like-minded professionals.

Every experience level from novice to advanced was represented in our 24 breakout sessions. The sessions were all geared to helping instructional coaches help teachers move their students forward while moving their own practice forward. It was a time and place for the coaches and their colleagues from across the state to talk about practice and how to navigate statewide initiatives for which they are responsibly supporting. It was a time and place for all the participants to discuss what they were doing, how to do “it,” and share ways to continue learning and growing.

One thing that was clear during the mini discussions I had with coaches was that in schools where the coaching role and model were not discussed prior to implementation and a shared vision for school wide improvement made visible, the struggle with helping the staff understand how coaching can help the school community accomplish the school wide goals for improvement continues to be a barrier to effective implementation.

If your school has not shared the vision with the staff, it’s not too late. In fact, a mid-year review is a perfect time to remind, or in some cases build awareness, of how instructional coaching is a job-embedded professional development/learning model for teachers. Don’t let the rest of the year go by without reminding the staff what you do, how you do “it,” and why you do “it.”

How do you continually remind the staff of your role and your instructional coaching responsibilities?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year! As we embark on this new year, I bet we all have resolutions that if we are lucky, we haven’t broken yet! Several of my friends talk about getting in shape and being healthy. Of all the people who talk about resolutions, however, no one ever said to me that the goal was to work harder in school! Imagine that!!

But, I do get a lot of “What am I supposed to do” and “How do I do ‘it’ when so many other things cry for attention.

It’s all about priorities and a shared vision for school wide improvement. What do the stakeholders in your school think about student achievement and building teacher capacity? What do they think about the notion of teachers working together to plan, deliver, and debrief their instructional practices?

First things first… how do we define instructional coaching? Have we made our school staff aware that Instructional coaching is a sustainable teacher professional development model designed to help teachers get better at what they do? Have we reminded them that coaching is part of a whole-school improvement strategy that fosters collective problem-solving and offers highly targeted professional development embedded in teachers’ daily work. Have we demonstrated how Instructional coaches provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders focused on classroom practices to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity and improve student learning? It’s mid-year… take some time to remind your staff why instructional coaching is so important to the health of your school.

There is a joint ownership for student and staff learning. Coaches help create and support this idea. Changing perceptions can be challenging though and coaches need to practice and advocate how non-evaluative practices are collaborative, confidential, and critical to success. They must show that changing practice creates a change in belief. It’s a great time of year to re-adjust our thinking and actions.


How do you help the stakeholders in your school understand what you do and how you do “it”?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Compliance vs. engagement… so what does that mean? I actually think of these terms in similar ways as I do about cooperation vs. collaboration. Sure, compliance is agreement but is that all we want from our work with teachers? Is that all they want when working with their students? 

I don’t think so… I think instructional coaches want to engage the teachers with whom they work in productive, analytical, and thought-provoking conversations that yield changes in practice. I think they want more than teachers who just cooperate; I think they want to work with teachers in ways that promote questioning, quiet disruption, and inquiry.

The coaches that I’ve met want to ensure that their work with teachers is relevant, tied to practice, demanding, and at the same time, culturally sensitive, differentiated according to need, and creates a culture of learning for all students. They want to take ownership and be the architects of their own learning; they want to help build their students’ capacity as learners as well.

So, is that compliance or is that engagement? How do I help teachers move from compliance to engagement so that their students can move from simple obedience to premediated, purposeful learning? How do coaches navigate their coaching roles when they are forced to use a checklist and be the “enforcer” or compliance “police”?

I think compliance means that the group goes along with the “flavor of the day” and hope that “this, too, shall pass.” I think engagement means that each stakeholder has an integral part in creating a shared understanding, learning, and support system because the collective and individual responsibilities are recognized.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

In a recent Learning Deeply Education Week blog entitled, “What’s Behind the Plateau in Test Scores?” Robert Rothman comments on the reasons why test scores have remained stagnant despite the multitude of instructional practices implemented at all levels. Of course, trends are identified over a period of time and practices can be adjusted to address those trends. We just have to collect the appropriate data that gives us the information we need. Then, we must identify ways to appropriately apply the data that we collect.

So, test scores plateau… what about teacher practices?

According to Jane Hannaway, an Urban Institute researcher, teacher performance plateaus at four years. “Teachers work in isolation. They learn what they learn and then they plateau. They get no valid input.”

In the same opinion piece, the director of PISA for OECD said what is needed to sustain a steady pattern of growth “… is a greater investment in improving teaching.”

Mr. Rothman further states that “To improve performance overall, schools need to enable more students to demonstrate deeper levels of learning--to be able to apply their knowledge to think critically and solve complex problems. That takes a different kind of instruction--one that provides students with opportunities to reflect on their learning, to take part in extended projects, and to produce real products for real audiences.”

Instructional coaching provides multiple opportunities for teaching colleagues to collaborate and talk about promising practices that help teachers focus on continuous improvement. Coaches encourage their colleagues to continuously reflect and engage in conversations that focus on teaching and learning, not just on one activity or one tool that is a means to an end. “Attaining high levels of learning for all students is not a matter of doing more of the same. It will take a different kind of teaching.” I believe that it takes instructional coaching working with colleagues and reflecting in, on, and about practice that will make a difference in classrooms.

So, how can instructional coaches and mentors be proactive and prevent the plateaus that impact both student and teacher performance?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I just can’t stop thinking about how cuts to education make sense to anyone. Take it from me, I understand what fiscal responsibility means and I know what successful educational programs look like in highly effective places. What I don’t understand is why anyone thinks slashing effective instructional programs is the way to maintain and sustain a literate society or ready our student population for careers and college.

So, what can we do about it? I’m not trying to make a political statement and tell you to be more active in local elections; I am trying to resolve in my own mind what I can do “at the moment” to at least make instructional decisions that influence student learning.

Instructional coaching and mentoring are not luxuries. They are exactly what schools need to move from “good to great.” But, the coaches and mentors have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that the entire school community understands what instructional coaching is, how coaching can help schools achieve their goals, and why instructional mentoring is a critical support to the coaches. They need to send a clear message that instructional coaching is critical in shaping an effective professional development plan. The follow up provided to teachers by the coaches and mentors ensures that professional learning takes place.

“To improve student outcomes, we need to transform the way we think about teaching, learning, and how to help teachers grow as professionals” (Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools).

That’s what we can do… show every member of the community of learning that instructional coaching and mentoring are the support system that helps build teacher capacity, increase student engagement, and influences student learning.


How will you make sure your instructional coaching and mentoring voices are heard? 

Monday, November 6, 2017

“Strive for progress, not perfection” (anonymous). Wow, what a great quote for instructional coaches to think about and remember when working with their teaching colleagues.
So often we fall into the trap of thinking we need to know all the answers and all the tricks of the trade so we can share our knowledge with the teachers we are coaching. Alas… the plight of the instructional coach… news flash… coaches are not experts and don’t need to know everything! If we want any message to be heard, it’s that we are all learners and understand the importance of learning together.

Although students are at in the center, instructional coaching is a growth model for teachers. Of course, our ultimate goal is for students to develop into life-long learners and to love learning. That can’t happen unless we touch the thing that is the most important element for improved student learning… implementing effective instructional practices and that can’t happen unless we focus on helping teachers get better at their craft. It is our collective responsibility to help teachers “grow” their love of learning without fear of failing so that they can transfer those feelings to their students.

Instructional coaches do not know all the answers; they help teachers implement promising practices, not best practices. (Best implies that practice cannot get any better.) However, instructional coaches are quite adept at asking the right questions; that is, asking the kinds of questions that consistently encourage deep thinking, critical analysis, hypothesis, application of learning, and synthesis. Coaches don’t see a beginning and end to learning; coaches see ongoing opportunities to collaborate and move practice forward. (They move teachers’ practices forward and at the same time, move their own practice forward.) That’s what progress is… moving from point A to point B and along the way, taking time to plan, think, and prepare with colleagues. Learning is a process and oftentimes, the path to learning is what makes the difference, not the finished product.


What are some of the ways you navigate the delicate balance of progress vs. perfection in your environment?

Monday, October 9, 2017

As you probably already know, the Trump administration has submitted a budget proposal that cuts funding to education. One of those cuts is the elimination of Title II funding which targets professional learning and instructional coaches. The good news is that instructional coaching is recognized as professional learning; the bad news is that our most precious commodity – our children – are not important enough to ensure that highly effective teachers are teaching them. Shameful!

We know that instructional coaching is effective… our data confirms it: 89% of teachers surveyed in 2016-2017 indicated that they changed their practices as a result of the coaching they received; 100% reported that these changes had a positive impact on student engagement and 97% said that student learning was positively impacted by the coaching they received. And, in fact, the positive effects of PIIC instructional coaching has remained consistent over time. (See survey report:  http://piic.pacoaching.org/images/PIICdocuments/Research_and_Eval/piic%20follow-up%20teacher%20survey%20analysis%20brief_final_03-21-17%20pdf.pdf).

I don’t think that coaching is the objection; I think teacher professional development is the objection. Whether you are an “insider” or “outsider,” the common misconceptions about professional development are that teachers went to college so they shouldn’t need additional professional development and that professional development as we know it is meaningless, unsubstantial, and unconnected to student needs.

Wow… that may be true in some places but not where there are instructional coaches. Our coaches ensure that the professional learning they support is needs driven, tied to teacher practices, aligned to standards, and targeted on evidence-based literacy practices. We know that instructional coaches build teacher capacity, help increase student engagement, and influence student learning. Instructional coaches ensure that continuous learning is the norm and the culture of the school supports that thinking.

What data do you find helpful in demonstrating the impact of instructional coaching in classrooms and schools?