By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

In the online February 17, Professional Learning News brief from Learning Forward, a study by researchers at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University concluded that when teachers participate in professional development, students do better in assessments.  These researchers examined math and reading scores for students before and after teachers in their schools began using an online professional development program. This study took place over a two-year period, one the year prior to the adoption of a PD tool and the year the teachers began using the tool.

Although this study took place over a short period of time, I think what this confirms is what we know... teachers who regularly engage in effective professional development benefit. Having said that, let me clarify... teachers who regularly engage in ongoing professional development with the opportunity for support and follow up benefit the most. The expectation that effective professional development yields effective professional learning is what makes a difference in the classroom.

Professional learning occurs after the professional development has been provided and teachers have an opportunity to engage in professional conversations about what they learned. They need time to talk with one another and discuss what they think students need to know and how they will engage students in that process. Teachers need time to talk to their colleagues about instruction. If the professional development is online, every effort must be made to support that learning by having face-to-face conversations, both one-on-one and in small groups, to ensure that the content is understood, the goals are met, and learning is differentiated and can be adjusted to meet the needs of all involved.

Sounds easier said than done but one thing is certain…instructional coaching is the vehicle to build effective instructional practices, skills, and knowledge so that all students are in classrooms with highly effective teachers.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

During the last week, my conversations with coaches revolved around the evaluation process for coaches. This is still a relatively new concept for instructional coaches and their administrators. One key idea to keep in mind is the similarity between the confidential conversations in which coaches engage with teachers and the kinds of confidential conversations in which counselors engage with teachers and their students. In both situations, administrators are not privy to the content of the conversations nor are other teachers privy to those conversations unless there are extenuating circumstances.

This process can be challenging. For instance, what exactly should administrators know about the conversations coaches and teachers have or counselors, teachers, and students have? Of course, administrators need to know that those conversations take place even though the nature of the conversations must remain private. At which point do counselors or instructional coaches share their discussions with their administrators?

In the Pennsylvania Department of Education job description for coaches, it clearly states that the roles and responsibilities of the coach include… “Building and maintaining confidential relationships with teachers. The conversations and interactions that the coach has with teachers must always remain confidential so that a high level of trust is created and maintained between the teacher and the coach.”  So, how is this accomplished without breaching confidentiality?

First, we must help administrators understand that coach “advocates for, facilitates, and supports the work of the teacher, but never performs supervision or evaluation.”  So, the administrator needs to  know that the teacher is being supported but not ask the coach if the specific teacher was receptive to the support or the coach’s opinion about the teacher’s practice.  If the administrator engages in instructional learning visits (ILVs), s/he will be sure to see evidence of ongoing professional learning in classrooms. Second, coaches should share with administrators the kinds of support provided, e.g., various evidence-based literacy strategies, understanding and using data, student engagement strategies, etc., but not the specific teachers’ names working with the coach or the substance of that support. Thirdly, administrators can allocate time for coaches and teachers to collaborate in PLCs and then visit those PLCs to participate in the shared learning.

These are just a few ways that administrators can become part of a transparent learning environment without asking coaches to breach confidentiality and share details about conversations between and among teachers and their coaches.