By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“Principals play the key role in creating a context of culture in which adult learning flourishes” (Robbins & Alvy). With that in mind, instructional coaches need to focus on creating (or changing) a culture that advocates professional learning for all. Sometimes, the administrative team is so involved with the management of a school, they miss some wonderful opportunities to provide ongoing, relevant professional development that transfers into professional learning.

Enter the coach whose role is to stimulate thinking, engage colleagues in professional conversations, and collectively problem solve, all promoting continuous improvement. Great to move into that direction, but how?

Veteran coaches have already set the tone by working one-on-one and in groups (small group and whole school) to provide consistent and relevant professional development. If you have coached in the same building for more than a year, you have established trusting relationships that foster collaboration and open communication. You have sowed the seeds of sharing a vision and working together for the greater good; that is, colleagues working together to increase student engagement and improve student outcomes. You and your colleagues have started the process of changing the culture of your school. You are working together to ensure implementation of effective instructional practices by focusing on individual and collective whole school improvement. It is a team approach that strives to improve practice through collaboration, reflection, and a shared understanding of what works well in your setting.

Part of this “makeover” is to work with the administrative team to ensure that everyone understands the coach’s responsibility in helping to transform the culture of the school as it changes from working in isolation to working as a team. It’s not about the principal holding individuals accountable for working with a coach; it’s all about a principal supporting the coaching role with ample opportunities for coaches to work with colleagues, provide ongoing professional development, and encourage teachers to be innovative in their instructional practices without fear of negative evaluations. It’s all about the administrative team advocating that colleagues work together, plan together, practice together, debrief together, and then make adjustments where necessary, all in a no-risk environment. (Don’t be alarmed at the amount of “togetherness” mentioned here. While a coach and teacher are not joined at the hip, they are partners in planning, practice, and problem solving.)