By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013


And so it begins…

Along with the excitement of meeting new students comes the anxiety about working with new administrators, navigating the Common Core, preparing for the educator effectiveness process and understanding a myriad of other initiatives that are either district-wide, school-wide or statewide. So, when I talked to several teachers and coaches, I asked them what caused the most angst with opening school.

They recognize that the beginning of the school year “gathers” all the hopes and expectations of offering students and their teachers a plethora of initiatives that are designed to help improve student outcomes. Sometimes the initiatives are structural, e.g., moving teachers’ rooms around to organize specific teams of teachers with their students or creating writing labs in former classrooms where teachers can take their students so that the atmosphere is conducive to great writing. You know what I mean about walking into school and seeing more than the floors waxed and new white boards installed. Those surprises are usually not met with much hope. After all, making physical changes does not guarantee that changes in instruction will follow.

Then these teachers I asked thought for a moment and talked about how busy their days were sure to be. They began decorating their rooms several days ago and arranging the classroom furniture in ways that would encourage thinking, talking, and learning together. They reviewed their class lists and started to think about how to group students. Some had last year’s data; most did not. Without the data, they focused on what kind of work the students would do in groups rather than how to construct the groups to maximize the students’ learning.

I asked them how they would go about working with other teachers and creating a camaraderie with both students and teachers so they could think about instructional practice. They rolled their eyes and said that the one thing they rarely, if ever, have time to do is just to talk to their colleagues about classroom “stuff” and share ideas. They all loved the notion of sharing ideas and techniques. Most said they talked to each other as they passed in the hallway, went to the mailroom, or while waiting in line to duplicate some papers in the office. Most said they were not optimistic about the kinds of professional development (not learning!) that they think has been scheduled for the grade level, content area, or large group meetings they were required to attend. Notice, they said “attend” and not “participate” in these meetings.

We know that students and teachers learn from each other. Learning is social. Start this year with a commitment to work together with your colleagues to collectively problem-solve, create lessons that can be shared, communicate regularly about issues that influence student learning, and collaborate in ways that engage each other in real talk, or accountable talk. Make deliberate time to honor each voice and recognize that teaching and learning is evolutionary… it happens over time through multiple collaborative opportunities and recurrent discussions.   

While this was a very small sample of teachers and coaches (8), I believe they are the voices of the field. I believe that they are making a difference in their universe… they want to engage their students, take time to think about their thinking, be reflective in their practice,  be innovative and creative, and implement effective instructional practices. This cannot be accomplished in a silo. Talk to one another!

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