By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What is instructional coaching?

I've thought long and hard about how to start a blog and whether or not I had something important enough to say so that others could respond. Well, today is the first time I am writing a blog and sharing my thoughts with others. Not because what I have to say is so important but rather because what I have to say may help others change their thinking, engage in open dialogue with colleagues, and explore ways of working together without the fear and risk of the dreaded word... evaluation.

I started teaching in 1973 and retired from the only school district where I ever worked in 2009. I was incredibly lucky... I loved every minute of teaching but not everything I was required to do. My career was varied: English teacher, English Department Head, school disciplinarian, cooperating teacher, curriculum writer, etc., with a host of other responsibilities like substitute teaching when my department colleagues were absent, supporting the office during inclement weather, and engaging regularly with parents who were unsure of their child(ren)'s path to success. Through it all, I never wavered from my goal of students being at the center and ensuring I was doing the best I could do to help them reach their greatest potential. Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that I needed someone to help me grow professionally so that I could "turn around" my lessons learned to help both students and colleagues. Again, I was lucky... my husband was also a teacher who loved his role as classroom supporter, instructional leader, and colleague who helped his students grow as learners. I now know that he was my first (and only) coach. He asked the right questions, incurred my anger several times, and helped me realize that talking about practice and "rehearsing" ways to engage students would facilitate my own growth and practice.

Well, here I am struggling with the same issues I experienced in my own classroom only now I'm focusing on helping others to love the art and science of teaching as I did albeit in a very different world with very different requirements. So bear with me as I share my thoughts and welcome your thoughts and questions as well.

Belief for today... So many thoughts, so many blogs, so many opinions about instructional coaching. So what is instructional coaching? Many think instructional coaching is when a colleague or administrator gives advice, an opinion, or a suggestion about how to teach a specific concept, book, mathematical equation, etc. You get my drift... when a teacher asks for help (or not), someone comes into the room or meets the teacher in the hallway or in the teachers' lounge and some question is answered. Sometimes, a "conversation" happens when a colleague comes to the classroom door and asks, "How are things? Is there anything I can get/do for you today?" This is not coaching, not even peer coaching. It's not even mentoring of teachers although I've seen this happen, especially where release time is an issue.

For me, instructional coaching happens when two people meet regularly to talk about the practice of teaching and learning. This can also happen in small groups; the difference between these two types of collaborations is that the conversations becomes more "global" in nature with a small group and not about a specific person's interactions with students and with the learning that takes place. In both scenarios, the conversations need to become routine; they need to become habits of the mind, practice, and belief. When the conversations occur one-on-one, however, they become more deliberate and more focused on an individual's customs and traditions that translate into classroom practice. Think about tennis lessons... does an individual "get" as much from a group lesson as a one-on-one with the tennis instructor?

Enough for one day... stay tuned and I'll continue to share my perceptions, views and reflections about instructional coaching.

3 comments:

  1. So glad you will share your experience, insight, and knowledge in a blog, Ellen. I'll be following! ~Donna Spear (http://webapps1.milton.k12.pa.us/blogs/spear/)

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  2. Thanks Donna. Feel free to share your thoughts as well!

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  3. I'm going to use parts of this blog in my initial meeting regarding what is an instructional coach. Thanks for posting this.

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