By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I recently heard the tail end of an interview on the radio with Malcolm Gladwell. When asked about his impact on his readers, he said that he liked to “…disrupt their way of thinking.” He continued by saying that he likes to “upend the individual’s understanding of things.”  Interesting… I think that’s just what coaches do… they help move individuals from one level of comfort and understanding to another level of learning. Usually, that next level is not one that fits like an old shoe!

The teachers I meet are passionate about what they do. In fact, I haven’t met a teacher yet who doesn’t want to do a better job of teaching. The truth is that teachers want to influence their students in ways that will make a difference in their lives. However, the conditions under which they teach and the economic times make it difficult to think outside of the box and try innovative things that challenge their students. Teachers are incredibly patient and supportive of their students. They all pursued teaching because they wanted to change the world by making it a better place to live; they wanted their students to reach their full potential and be the next generation of world leaders.

But, is that enough in today’s world? I don’t think so… knowing the curriculum or knowing the core content is just part of the equation. Knowing how to deliver the content to students and drawing connections to real life situations that are meaningful and relevant to students while helping them to take ownership of their own learning is where the power rests. It’s like creating the perfect lesson plan:  the goals are identified, the materials available, the core standards addressed, and appropriate student learning groups designed to meet the diverse needs of the students. Wouldn’t it be great if the teacher could practice the delivery before the actual class to ensure that the goals, assessments, and outcomes were aligned?

That’s the beauty of working with an instructional coach. Through the BDA cycle of consultation, the coach and teacher work together to plan, think aloud, and collectively problem solve so that every student benefits from the non-evaluative scaffolding of collaboration.

Instructional coaching is a courageous endeavor… the good news is that coaches help teachers rethink what they teach in ways that they didn’t know existed previously… the bad news is that with this newfound knowledge comes some unease and tension in trying new things. Coaching disrupts the status quo. It involves professional conversations about teaching and learning; it requires two or more people coming together to discuss learning, student engagement, and teacher capacity. It entails colleagues working together and sharing opinions, insights, feedback, and a fair amount of self-reflection. It means that the individuals must think about their own thinking and make some deliberate decisions about what they do, why they do “it,” and how they do “it.”

Very often, teachers are either falsely competitive or work in isolation. What I mean is that in certain situations, teachers compete with each other for being the “best” teacher in x grade or they close their doors and work completely isolated from their colleagues. Either way, the results are the same… no opportunities to spread the learning, share the expertise, or broadcast the wealth of experience that no doubt lives in each professional learning community.

Instructional coaches shift thinking and change action by creating environments that are conducive to discourse and ongoing communication. They engage in deliberate and intentional conversations that result in professional growth. After all, talking about one’s practice surely invites reflection and innovation.  Coaches re-ignite the passion for learning by reinforcing the notion that it’s okay to ask questions about teaching and learning; what’s not okay is to do nothing about what one learns.

2 comments:

  1. The BDA cycle is a powerful experience - even for veteran teachers. It gives us the time to take a look at what our students will be doing in a lesson and what we will be doing in a lesson. Then, after the lesson ends, the cycle encourages us to go back and reflect on whether it really happened, what worked, and what didn't.

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  2. Yes, the BDA cycle of coaching creates a very effective process for teachers and coaches to collaborate about their students, their needs, and ongoing instruction in a low risk environment. I call this a "content neutral" way to engage colleagues in professional conversations about teaching and learning. Teachers benefit from these collegial conversations and so do their students.

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