By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ever been in a situation where you were torn between what your answer should be to preserve the integrity of the position and the expected answer that might benefit the very stakeholders you pledged to support?

Coaching is messy and this is but one example of how messy it can get. Take for example a coach working in a very small school where there is a principal, director of curriculum, a few coordinators, an instructional coach, and a part-time librarian. The district support is limited because of size and the coach has the perceived flexibility to move around and provide an extra pair of hands wherever and whenever needed. Sound familiar?

The story continues… a trip is scheduled and the classroom parent is unable to attend. Ask the coach… s/he doesn’t need coverage; RtII intervention is needed and there is no district personnel available who can support the process… ask the coach to participate; the testing cycle begins and there is no school team to collaborate and fulfill the needs… the coach is tasked with organizing, administering, and completing the testing process; the principal is scheduled to participate in a monthly workshop out of town throughout the school year… ask the coach to step in and provide support in the principal’s absence. You get the picture…

A coach may wear many hats to support his/her teaching colleagues. But one hat must be taken off the table… that of administrator. That’s why coaches are not supervisory by role or administrative by need. They must maintain the sanctity of a confidential instructional coaching partnership with colleagues.

The administrator’s role is both managerial and governance; neither is a hat for coaches to wear. But, when asked, how does a coach politely thank the principal for his/her confidence and support while declining the offer to be “Principal for the Day?” We could be like Nike and “Just Say No” but we know that answer is not what the administrator expects. The school needs someone to step into that role; now what?

For starters, the coach and leadership team must meet regularly to discuss how instructional coaching helps the school accomplish its schoolwide goals for improvement. The coach cannot devote time to working with colleagues if s/he is pulled away to do other things. Believe it or not, this provides consistency in practice and expectations which benefits the coaching model in the school. There are other ways to address this and I’d love to hear from others how they have confronted this issue.

What kind of situations have you experienced that blurs the line between fulfilling a school need and maintaining integrity to the job?

Friday, March 3, 2017

I just read a blog entry from The Golden Age of Education written by Lee Araoz entitled, “Instructional Coaches Make a Huge Impact.” In this blog post, he calls instructional coaches, “unsung heroes of the education profession.” That’s a great “shout out” to instructional coaches everywhere.

He mentions that coaches (or TOSAs) provide many things but specifically includes the following roles:
• Provide job-embedded professional development.
• Model and demonstrate highly-effective best practices.
• Offer non-evaluative, objective feedback on a regular basis. 
• Create an environment where student needs drive professional development.
• Offer guidance and feedback at the exact time teachers need it most – in the classroom.
• Inspire teachers to try new learning strategies and tools.
• Facilitate the transition from teacher-centered to learner-driven classrooms.
• Are site-based teacher leaders who support both students and their teachers.
• Collaborate with teachers in order to engage students in innovative ways.
• Help to close the digital use divide by ensuring that all students understand how to use technology to create content.

I agree with most of what Lee suggests but a few things concern me: yes, instructional coaches offer guidance and feedback but not directly in the classroom. The outcomes of the guidance and feedback are visible in the classroom but the actual support occurs through the ongoing conversations about practice. That happens in the before and after conversations. The during time is a place where data collection occurs, something that is discussed and agreed upon in the before. The conversations encourage teachers to become very reflective practitioners!

The other thing that worries me is supporting both students and their teachers. From our perspective, coaches do not work directly with students; coaches work to support student learning through their teachers and effective instructional practices. Sure, occasionally, coaches work with student groups in classrooms where the lesson design needs those helping hands but practice doesn’t change when coaches work with students. Practice changes when coaches work with their teaching colleagues in non-evaluative ways and where feedback is a “give and take” process. And, it’s both the student needs and teacher needs that should drive professional learning support. Teachers need to know how to help teachers support student learning.  

Do you have any experiences to share about teachers who believe that coaches should lend a helping hand in the classroom more regularly than engaging in conversations about practice?