By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Providing opportunities for reflection and dialogue is critical for effective instructional coaching. In fact, it’s critical for growth in any organization.

In the education world, many teachers have only experienced the ‘gotcha’ factor… an administrator walking into a classroom without any prior communication, “observing” a lesson or snapshot in time, and then sending a checklist of what should be done in the classroom without suggestions for specific ways to make improvements.

Instructional coaching can change that paradigm. Coaches work with teachers and their administrators so that a mutually agreed upon vision of school wide improvement is shared with staff members. They work with administrators and help plan a strategic way to address student needs as a school wide endeavor, not as a plan for individual teachers who may be experiencing some classroom challenges. They help administrators give appropriate feedback that is specific and actionable, descriptive and timely.

Coaches collaborate with their teaching colleagues to plan, visit, and debrief about what happens in the classroom. They give feedback to their teaching colleagues and they also get feedback from them. It is a mirrored approach where the coaches model the teachable moments with their colleagues. Their feedback is descriptive, non-judgmental, timely, and specific helping teachers to identify what worked well in the classroom and what instructional practices need to be strengthened.

Instructional coaches ensure that the teachers with whom they work do not feel overwhelmed, ignored, misunderstood, or undervalued. They collectively problem-solve with teachers and provide individualized, personalized classroom support to the teachers with whom they work. They don’t just “tell” teachers what to do; they work together and “show” how instructional procedures continually improve through dialogue, demonstration, and practice.

How do you provide feedback to the teachers with whom you work?

Monday, November 2, 2015

In the October 20, 2015 Ed Week online commentary, Mike Schmoker comments that a transformation in teacher education will require the answers to two questions:  1) Are we training teachers in methods that are among the very best practices that exist today—those with the strongest, most enduring evidence base and pedigree; and 2) Are we observing those principles most essential to effective training that focuses on frequent monitoring, feedback, and follow-up training?

These two questions are very important for instructional coaches…are coaches and other school leaders sharing the most effective (I don’t think “best” is a wise word choice) instructional techniques, strategies, and practices with their teaching colleagues; are teachers receiving the support they need to ensure that the practices shared are appropriate to their students’ needs; and are teachers given the opportunity to practice what they learn and given feedback in real time?

As an instructional coach, you know the importance of bringing teachers together, honoring their voices, and providing opportunities for them to share their expertise. Remember what Urban Institute researcher Jane Hannaway said, “Teachers work in isolation. They learn what they learn and then they plateau. They get no valid input.”  You need to be the catalyst that ensures multiple opportunities for teachers to learn from each other. Students benefit when their teachers learn from their peers. As per the Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers study (Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009) … when the quality of a teacher’s colleagues improve, the students of that teacher benefit.

When teachers learn, share, and practice together, they become more knowledgeable in their content, more skilled in delivering that content, and more likely to engage in reflective practices which helps them make adjustments in their teaching to better meet the needs of their students.

Coaches are on the side of helping teachers implement effective instructional practices by helping them identify which practices are effective and which practices need to be strengthened.

How do you help teachers identify their most effective instructional practices and then help them collectively problem-solve and work collaboratively?