By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Last week, our instructional mentors engaged in their own professional development sessions for two days and collaborated, collectively problem-solved, and created ongoing professional learning opportunities for the coaches with whom they work.

As we discussed a variety of ways to help coaches work more regularly one-on-one with their teachers and to refine their work, what stood out for me were the questions and ensuing discussions about reflecting on their practice as mentors and on their reflections about the coaches reaching their goals. Everyone agreed that the coaches are poised to help teachers set appropriate goals and make time to reflect with teachers to determine if those goals were met. So, the question I have is, “Do coaches set goals and write reflections about their work with teachers?”

Reflection and learning from experience are critical for staying accountable and maintaining and developing skills and knowledge. As Donald Schon writes, “Reflective practice is the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning” (The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think in Action, 1983).

Coaches may not have much time to think about their thinking, their actions, and their interactions with their colleagues. However, that's the only way reflection works; coaches really need to think about their own goals and how they work with teachers, the kinds of work they do with teachers, and why they are establishing non-evaluative relationships with the teachers they coach. At the same time, coaches must be great listeners and resist the temptation to “tell teachers what to do.” They need to reflect on their own work as coaches with their colleagues and help their colleagues reflect on their own practice as well.

Although we support the notion of non-evaluative consultation, a coach must look at one’s own practice and identify ways to improve it, usually by having an internal monologue about the work. It’s a self-assessment that is essential for change to take place. Then, coaches must look at his/her work with colleagues and think about how to help those colleagues improve their practice as well. Our mentors ask themselves when reflecting: “What, So What, and Now What?” Perhaps answering these questions about your work as a coach will help make the process of reflection less cumbersome!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I recently babysat for one of my grandsons during one of our many snow and ice storms. When Mother Nature finally gave us a break, we decided to go for a walk and see how much snow had fallen. As he put on his snow boots, I casually remarked that I really liked his boots. I said it because I wanted to circumvent any possible delays in our walk with the expected, “I don’t want to wear boots.” But, as children often do, he surprised me with his response. He looked at me and said, “Yes, they are nice. What is it about these boots that you like so much?” Now, I have been known to identify my grandsons (4 of them) as geniuses but this was so unexpected. I said nothing. So, he repeated his question. “Grandmom, why do you like these boots so much?”

How amazing that at his age (5), he knows to collect evidence because saying you like something is not enough of an evaluation. He was asking me for evidence to support my assessment of his boots. Asking for this evidence has become the norm for a 5 year old!

So, how do we help our teachers and administrators understand that they need to collect the appropriate evidence to determine educator effectiveness and give them adequate time to understand the components of the evaluation process and what the steps are to move in the right direction?

It’s a challenge for teachers to “unpack” the core standards and really understand how standards differ from grade to grade. They need to know what each standard means and what their students need to know in order to meet and exceed those standards. Once they know what the students need, they must identify what they need as teachers to move their students towards successful growth. All of this takes time and I didn’t even mention the educator effectiveness process or writing SLOs to name a few.

With the implementation of the core standards, the assessments, and the educator effectiveness process becoming the foci for our teachers and their schools, we miss the most important things… how do help teachers engage and prepare students so that they are college and career ready? How do we help teachers become innovative and creative without fear of being evaluated as “needing improvement” or worse “failing”? How do we help teachers become better teachers if we do not help them plan, deliver, reflect, and adjust their instructional strategies and classroom practices?

One way is for the instructional coaches and other teacher leaders to help plan ongoing professional development, provide opportunities for follow up where professional learning is demonstrated, and help teachers become reflective practitioners where they can talk about their practice and make the necessary modifications to their teaching without fear of negative evaluations. You know the adage, “Learn from your mistakes.” How can we learn from our mistakes if we are not given the chance to make those mistakes in a risk-free environment?