Guest Post: What Instructional Coaching Does for a School Culture.

Recently my wife proposed the idea of putting a bee hive in our backyard.  I liked the idea of fresh honey, so I was on board.  However, once I lived with these bees in my yard and learned a little more I realized that bees not only produced honey, but they directly contribute to strengthening the ecosystem within our backyard and wider neighborhood. Not only do we get fresh honey, but through pollination the bees cause our fruit trees, plants, flowers and whole garden to flourish.  When I became an Instructional Coach six years ago, it was a little like getting bees.  Just like I understood that bees equal honey, I instantly grasped the idea that coaching leads to teacher growth which impacts student learning.  What it took me longer to realize was that instructional coaching also impacts the wider school culture.  As I worked with teachers over a number of years I saw that coaching done well contributes to a strong school culture of deep intentional collaboration.

As teachers and coaches engage in a coaching cycle they work through similar steps each cory.beetime.  They begin with identifying an area to explore, setting a goal to achieve or dreaming about a shift in learning they want for students.  They then lay out a plan to work toward the goal and finally they reflect upon the evidence/data and celebrate the growth and change they have made.  Regardless of the number of steps and the qualifying terms used to define the process, coaches simultaneously model and guide the coaching conversations through a cycle ensuring that the dialogue is rich, respectful and collaborative.  After a number of years of working with this model and having these conversations with teachers, I have noticed this cycle and language embed itself in the culture of the school. I see an increase in teachers who are meeting collaboratively to have intentional conversations about student learning. Together, they are setting goals, gathering data and reflecting on the work they are doing.  This is not to say that teachers never collaborated before the advent of instructional coaching.  Teachers have always shared ideas, swapped resources and supported each other in their teaching.  Where instructional coaching makes an impact on school culture is in that it is intentional, goal-oriented, data driven collaboration that includes elements of reflection, documenting the learning and sharing it with the wider educational community.  My work over multiple years in one school has opened my eyes to this correlation between continually engaging in a strong coaching model and a school culture of teacher collaboration.  So as coaches, we need to know that while we support teacher growth that impacts student learning, we are also sowing the seeds of deep collaboration that is changing the culture of schools. Just like bees who make honey AND strengthen the ecosystem so to do we foster teacher growth AND strengthen the collaborative cultures of our schools.

Cory Roffey is a school based Instructional Coach in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  He has coached in a variety of educational settings from Kindergarten to Grade Nine. He holds a MEd in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and has a particular interest in supporting teachers as they explore educational technology and constructivist practices.  You can follow Cory on twitter @coryroffey

Advertisements

Guest post: From teacher to coach (The more things change…)

Most instructional coaches start their journey in the classroom. Many of us are classroom teachers that find themselves either seeking out coaching roles or being asked to move into the role. Having successful experiences in the classroom does translate well into the coaching role, but there are some differences. It’s important to think about what knowledge you already have that you can bring to your role as a coach, but it is also important to think about what new skills you will need to nurture so that you can be just as successful as a coach.

For me, I am currently in a split role. I have four classes of 6th grade math and two release periods to serve as a math coach for teachers in my 6-8th grades middle school building.
Being new to coaching, as well as still having one foot in teaching, gives me an opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences often. Here’s my take:

annie1

One of the biggest overlaps between teaching and coaching is the fact that both depend heavily on relationships. To be successful as a classroom teacher, it is important to build relationships with your students. As Rita Pierson says so well, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” This goes for coaching as well. Teachers won’t want to learn from and with you if they don’t like you! Building relationships with teachers is key and you might find many of your “coaching conversations” are actually an informal conversation in the hall. It might start with talking about their weekend, their kids, or just how the day is going and can turn into a thoughtful chat about pedagogy or a new idea to try in the classroom. To help me build my conversations skills, I’m diving into a book by Jim Knight called Better Conversations.

On the flip side of this will be the moments when your relationship with a teacher is strained or difficult in some way. Just like we need to be patient with students, we need to be patient with adults as well. Perhaps the tension is coming from the fact that the teacher is nervous about change or sees working with a coach as signifying a weakness in their teaching. Whatever the source of the tension, be patient but available. Watch for little moments to connect over something outside of school and take advantage of informal conversations to show that you are open and willing to work together professionally.

annie2

Perhaps you have heard of moving teaching practice from being a “sage on the stage” to being a “guide on the side.” For me, I think there is a place for a little of both in the classroom. However, I definitely have shifted my teaching practice to being more of a facilitator of learning. I think about how to design a lesson to give students an experience that helps them learn rather a lecture and note-taking lesson.

Many times, as a coach, you are asked to lead professional development (PD). Thinking of how to lead participants through a professional learning experience, as opposed to listening to you “lecture” is important. Think about the most beneficial PD that you have attended. What made it good? Resources shared? Conversations? Something that pushed your thinking forward? Try to design that type of experience for teachers.

annie3

We work in a time where you almost can’t go one day without hearing the word “data” mentioned in a school. Data is important but what it is used for is really what matters most. In our classrooms we set goals for ourselves as teachers and for our students. We should have a desired outcome for learning and our work should move us towards that goal.

Goal setting is equally important in coaching. Sitting down with teachers and hearing what they want to accomplish helps frame the work that you do together. While you might have some goals in mind, make sure that you don’t lose sight of the goals that teachers have as well. This also goes back to that relationship that is so important and also building trust.

annie4

One thing that is very different for me between my role as a teacher and coach is my experience level. Many of us had quite a few years in the classroom to refine our practice. For me, it’s been twelve. Now, as a new coach, I’m a little outside my comfort zone because I’m trying something new. Sure, there are the overlaps between the roles, and I certainly don’t feel like a first year teacher. However, the inexperience with coaching does lead to the worry: am I doing this right? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle of yes and no. I’m sure there are things that I am doing right and I have gotten some good feedback from teachers and administrators. However, whenever you are trying something new, you are going to make mistakes. I’m learning to be patient with myself as I learn this new role, but also to seek out ways to learn more. I’m reading books, finding other coaches to talk to and observe, watching videos or webinars, and reflecting daily. There is always room to learn and grow, especially when something is so new.

annie5

Another difference between the roles of teacher and coach is learning to accommodate the needs of adult learners. An instructional coach’s role should be non-evaluative, which is very different from the role of a teacher where you will be giving a grade. I borrowed the idea of giving teachers feedback in the format of “compliments and considerations” from another coach in my district. I like the structure and even refined it a bit so that I mostly try to give “considerations” in the form of questions. For example, instead of saying “you should have a bellringer,” I say something like “what is something students could do so that learning begins when they first walk into class?” Asking more questions, instead of giving suggestions, has helped me shift from acting like an expert with all the answers (not my goal at all!) to being more collaborative. When I’m working alongside a teacher, the feeling is now more of a peer-to-peer and our ideas are better than what either person would have come up with on their own.

annie6

I wrote about the issue of the difference in schedules on my blog a little while ago. It’s important to be aware of the possible tension this can cause so that you can address it as it comes up. Teachers’ schedules are not flexible. You have kiddos in your room at certain times, so good luck if you need to use the restroom! It’s no joke that teachers have bladders of steel. In addition, every part of the day is scheduled with contact time, meetings, and maybe a half hour for lunch. It’s hectic and busy! Coaches are still busy, but tend to have a little more flexibility. This is important so they can meet the needs of the teachers with whom they work, however, it can make some teachers feel like saying, “must be nice to be so flexible.” I can assure you that there is not one coach I know that abuses this flexibility. In fact, many are running themselves ragged going from teacher to teacher (or building to building)!

I think being a successful teacher gives you some great skills that you can translate into your role as coach. Build on those strengths, but be ready to learn some new, different strategies as well. If you have made the transition to coach from teacher, what overlaps have you experienced? Can you think of any differences to add to the list?

About our guest author: Annie Forest has been teaching middle school math for 12 years and is a National Board Certified Teacher. This is her first year working in a split role as a 6th grade math teacher and math instructional coach. Her work as a coach includes working with teachers in a 6-8 middle school building. Annie is passionate about giving all students an equitable mathematics education.

She received the 2014 Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Award for Middle School Teaching and is an Illinois state finalist for the 2015 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She blogs at www.showyourthinkingmath.blogspot.com or you can follow Annie on Twitter @mrsforest.

 

Guest post: I walk the walk: How I use technology to be a better instructional coach

What kind of hypocrite would I be if, as an instructional coach, I pushed teachers to cropped-slice.pngeffectively use a variety of instructional technologies in their classrooms but I did not use some in my own work?

Certainly, I would not be leading by example. And, personally speaking, I feel like I would be letting everyone down. I would compare that kind of hypocrisy to a sports coach who wants to keep his or her team competitive but does not know the fundamentals of the sport or the current trends and topics that rule it.

One of the philosophies of coaching that I constantly keep in the back of my mind is that I do not need to know everything in order to train someone else, I simply need to have the necessary skills to make them better. That is why I (who holds teaching certifications in English and music) do not shy away from coaching teachers who teach subjects that I am not qualified to teach or consider myself to be an expert in.

So, as it pertains to the effective use of technology, here is how I use a wide variety to be a better instructional coach and to make my job and my life as easy as possible… and, as one of my supervisors defines leadership, help make everyone else’s jobs easier as well.

Google Apps (Note: I work at a “Google Apps For Education” school)

I have been using Google Drive for the better part of a half decade now and it does not disappoint. This cloud-based storage app allows me to keep track of all of my files, documents, data, etc. The most useful feature of Drive is how I can share work and collaborate with my colleagues. If I have a file that I think will benefit them, or if I create a file so that we can share editing rights, I simply share it with another teacher and the file now appears in their Drive as well.

In order to share editing rights on files with teachers as I mentioned in the paragraph above, I find Google Docs to be the easiest way to do it. Sometimes I will assist a teacher with planning a lesson or unit, or I may be asked to look over a lesson plan before I or administrators visit a classroom. When teachers and I can share editing access to a document, we can add, remove or change anything in it, or simply leave comments for each other right in the document itself.

The Google app that has become surprisingly essential to my work as a coach has been Google Forms. I have used this survey-creating app for multiple purposes. For one, I created this form to distribute at the beginning of the school year to help generate some data and establish an early focus for my work with the teachers. I also use Forms to track my interactions with teachers – I use this form when I visit classrooms and this form when I meet with teachers outside of the classroom. The coolest feature of Forms is that you can set each form to have its responses automatically inputted into a spreadsheet to keep track of the data they provide, which gives me a nice segue into my next Google app.

Whether generated automatically from Forms or created independently, the spreadsheets from Google Sheets allow me to keep track of survey responses and data that provides a foundation and vital feedback for my coaching relationships/cycles with teachers. I keep these sheets in my Google Drive of course, and use their data before, during and after I meet with teachers to follow up on a classroom visit or help them tackle a particular area of instruction they are concerned about.

Finally, another amazingly important Google app for me is Google Calendar. I am in no way saying that classroom teachers are not very busy people. However, upon leaving the classroom and trying to be available to all of the teachers in my building, I realized I needed to be on top of my task prioritization and time management games. It was so hard to keep up with where I needed to be and when until I started using Calendar religiously. At the end of each week I set a schedule for the following week. I make sure to start with the highest-priority events, which for me at my school means duties. From there I will schedule time for important meetings and then time spent with individual teachers, either in their classrooms on their duty or prep time. Great features that I use in Calendar are creating and accessing multiple calendars all in one place, adding people to the events I create, and syncing my calendars with Outlook – still being used by the school as the main email client.

Social Media and other forms of community collaboration

My use of these tools is largely for the purpose of bettering myself as an educational leader and coach so that I am more capable of supporting the teachers I work with.

Twitter – Since the fall I have been using Twitter so much that I am now following approximately 1,100 people and have at least tripled my number of followers to nearly 600. Not all of them are fellow educators, but the ones who are probably do not even know how much they have meant to my development and the development of the staff I work with. I have used this platform to expand my personal learning network (PLN), participate in various chats, and even create unique hashtags to connect teachers I work with and other educational and instructional coaches in my area.

Voxer – I began using this push-to-talk, walkie talkie app on both my Android phone and on my work computer to be able to join groups and connect with other educators across the country and across the globe. Educators have taken to Voxer to use it as a way of connecting groups of people with similar interests to continue and enhance Twitter chats, ask and answer education-related questions, share ideas and collaborate on projects, and in general, simply shoot the breeze with others in the same profession. I have yet to introduce it to my colleagues, but I can even see this as a useful tool that we can use as a staff to be able to help each other since everyone always points out that a lack of time is their number one concern.

Slack – This thread-style productivity tool is the one I have used the least but would like to use more. I recently invited all the teachers in my school to join me on slack. On there you can communicate and share with everyone in the group or create multiple channels or individual messages. For example, you can share with only the math teachers or just the teacher whose class you will visit the next day. What I like best about Slack is that it seems very laid back and informal versus annoying company-wide group emails.

I am probably even forgetting some other useful tech tools that I use as an instructional coach, but these are my go-tos, the ones I use the most and the ones that I consider to be most useful for my needs and the needs of the teachers I support. I have always and will always push myself to be skilled in technology and this is no different, except that now I am also using it as a way to lead by example and set a tone for continuing to bring the teaching and learning process into the 21st century…

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey

About our Guest Author: Dan Kreiness serves the Derby (CT) Public Schools as a secondary level Instructional Coach based in the middle school. Before taking over this position in the fall of 2015, Dan helped create the intervention program at Derby Middle School as the Reading Interventionist. Dan began his teaching career spending nearly eight years in the New York City Department of Education at two intermediate schools as an eighth grade English language arts teacher, interventionist and middle level literacy coach. Dan holds Masters in Adolescent Education and Educational Leadership and has specific interests in school administration and leadership, educational technology and student engagement. Connect with Dan on Twitter at @dkreiness or his blog at https://leaderoflearning.wordpress.com/.

Guest Post: Growth Mindset- 3 Hard Truths and Some Beautiful Realizations

I remember well the year I felt the reality of growth mindset shift. Operating on the outer growthedge of my comfort zone, I had begun a graduate program to obtain my principalship at the prompting of my own principal and mentor. She had also asked me to lead a “new” model of intervention/enrichment using formative data to personalize learning. At the district level, I was part of a team of incredible educators planning the district rollout of a Thinking Strategies initiative partnership with PEBC/Denver Public Schools. Each of these opportunities was exciting and I was humbled anyone had confidence in my ability to carry out meaningful change for students and teachers. My own self confidence evolved and I grew firm in what I believed about education, became aware of my strengths, and emerged brave in my defense of education best practice. So, why, when I reflect on that time in my life, do I also remember discomfort and friction?

Because, friends, while shifting into the fullness of a growth mindset is- without question – invigorating and empowering (like all the cute social media memes tell us), it’s also hard work. Damn hard.

3 Hard Truths About Growth Mindset

  1. You will become uncomfortable and so might those around you

“Mindset isn’t just about believing. It’s about enacting those beliefs – living them out hour by hour, day by day, plan by plan.” -Carol Tomlinson, VAST Conference, 2014

Here’s the situation- people like predictability. Humans love to know what’s coming next so they can continue to do what they’ve always done and have it work. But when you shift your beliefs about yourself, your students, and your work, actions change. As I learned more, I questioned the status quo. The environment around me became less predictable and that was hard for my colleagues and on a personal level for my family. As I tried new strategies and found better results for students, I challenged my colleagues to do the same; sometimes overtly, but more often by modeling. Many friends celebrated with me and even asked for coaching around new techniques themselves. Others met me with apathy, avoidance, and in some cases indignance (“I’d like to see you try that with my group… It’ll never work…Forget it”).  As I flourished in my learning life, earning an advanced degree, I found myself on the defensive with members of my family who deemed my time and energy toward this end a selfish pursuit.

Know this: As you take a risk to do differently, begin to see different and positive results, and remain steadfast against setbacks, you will grow. As you grow, you are becoming fuller, better, richer for those in your life; students, colleagues, family, and yourself. Keep the faith.

  1. Action required

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, Mrs. Roosevelt.

Growth mindset requires your actions to match your beliefs. The problem for those of us in education is we know what we are “supposed” to say we believe…

  • all children can learn at high levels
  • as a professional, I must develop and learn how to hone my craft
  • data driven instruction is best for students and for school improvement

We also know much of what we must do to make these beliefs part of our everday reality, but we are resistant or unwilling to take action.

Know this: Whether you are a teacher leader, administrator, or instructional coach, you must dance on the line of pressure to action. That pressure begins with modeling, then continues with invitations to join, and becomes a growth mindset culture when these trends emerge:

  • a shift from “these kids/those kids” mentality to a “my practice/our practice” one. By this I mean fewer mentions of what groups of kids can and cannot accomplish to an increased focus on strategies and practices that affect learning on all points of the continuum.
  • thirst for professional knowledge that reaches beyond the dreaded PD hour contractual requirement (ie: book studies, coaching cycles, edcamps, meetups, classroom visits, etc).
  • professional conversations with student data in the center leading to questions, considerations, and agreements to adjust instructional practice…and the fortitude to elevate the consciousness of our colleagues choosing not to contribute to these conversations meaningfully.
  1. Without it, success in our current educational climate is unlikely

“Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning.” -Carol Dweck

A fixed mindset assumes there is a point at which we reach expertise – a feeling of arrival; of having somehow checked all the boxes on the inventory and now we can relax. But if we are to not just survive, but abound in a test focused, impatient initiative-driven educational climate where everyone is looking for the next Balm of Gilead we must, as teacher leader Dave Stuart, Jr. reminds us often, be after “long-term flourishing.”  (Please click on the link and read his article – I simply cannot explain it any better than Stuart does).

Know this: There are “allies in learning” out there if you want this “Growth Mindset” thing for your students and yourself.  Here are a few that inspire me and whose work help me hone my craft:

Dave Stuart, Jr. – teacher leader, author: www.davestuartjr.com/ @davestuartjr

Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset leading researcher,  Professor of Psychology at Stanford University: http://mindsetonline.com/

Carol Ann Tomlinson – educator, author, speaker

Elena Aguilar – instructional coach, author “The Art of Coaching”, speaker

Jim Knight – research associate in the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project

Jackie Gerstein – educator, author, speaker

About our guest author:

Jennifer Cox serves in the role of Goal Clarity Coach at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, KY, working with staff and administration to facilitate the purposeful intersection of data, instruction, professional development, and student success. Prior to this, Jennifer served as Instructional Coach for Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, KY  where she assisted in leading building and district professional development and as facilitator for PEBC’s Thinking Strategies Institute in Shelby County.  Her work with teachers centers on increasing meaningful  literacy instruction across content areas, differentiation, and on increasing the efficacy of discourse between teacher/student as well as among students.

Jennifer’s research focus is growth mindset for teachers and students, workshop model of instruction, and leadership roles precipitating school turnaround.  She has taught in the middle and high school settings since 1997. During that time, she served as a PEBC Regional Lab Host Classroom and was Shelby County Public Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ashland Teacher Award Winner and Kentucky Teacher of the Year Finalist.

Her academic background includes undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky in Middle School Education, Master’s work at Bellarmine University in Middle School Education where she was a Nancy Howard Merit Award recipient for Excellence in Graduate Education.  Her latest endeavor was at the University of Louisville where she earned her Ed. S. in Educational Leadership and was awarded U of L Ed. S. Outstanding Graduate.

Guest Post: Dealing with Resistance

Do you feel like a salesman as you try to get teachers to enroll c&cin a coaching cycle? Have you ever run into barricades put up by teachers uninterested in working with an Instructional Coach? Perhaps you’ve encountered a teacher or administrator who is quite vocal about a change in practice being unnecessary. While the challenges described above can be intimidating for a new or veteran Instructional Coach, there are a few steps I take when dealing with resistance.

First, do not take a teacher’s standoffishness personally. There may be circumstances or personal experiences you aren’t aware of that are prohibiting a teacher from opening up. If the building or district had a coach before you were hired, it could be the previous coach didn’t have good rapport with the teacher or did something to damage the trust that is a vital part of a teacher-coach relationship. No matter the reason, it is important that you do not avoid the teacher. Even if they are not directly reaching out to you, you can still make a point of having an authentic and positive interaction with them each day. If nothing else, they will begin to see you as someone safe to approach, but hopefully they will begin to show signs of being open to collaborate with you.

Second, be persistent. Teaching is a passion and a craft, and you will encounter teachers who are satisfied with their practice, and believe what they are doing is working for their learners. They may be correct, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.  However, even the best athletes have coaches, and you can remind teachers that you are their to support what they’re currently doing and to work with them on their terms. Your persistence does not need to be intimidating or overwhelming, but rather an opportunity to respectfully remind teachers that you are available, the types of supports you can provide, and that you are there to learn alongside them.

Finally, keep your eye out for windows of opportunity. Any chance you have to make a connection, whether to a personal or professional passion, teachers will begin to see you as a peer, colleague, and someone they can relate to. Windows of opportunity can be as simple as a teacher needing someone to bounce around an idea with during lunch, or sending a video clip or activity resource related to what they’re currently teaching. When you are fully present in conversations, both planned and incidental, and know the curriculum and curricular maps, you will be able to identify and make the most of all opportunities that present themselves.  

Being in the Instructional Coaching position, you recognize the power and value working with a coach can have on teaching and learning, but it can take time for others to recognize the benefit. I have encountered resistance, everyone has. But, by having reflected upon and learned from my experiences, I can honestly say that if keep looking for your windows of opportunity, take your time, and don’t give up, good things will happen.  

——-

About our Guest Blogger:

Stephanie Laird is an Instructional Coach in Iowa, where she works alongside teachers to affect student learning through the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and community building. She holds an MEd in Curriculum and Instructional Technology from Iowa State University. To connect with Stephanie, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

Guest Post: Does Your Coaching Resemble a Fast Food Menu?: Moving reflection and documentation beyond conversations and journaling

In our teenage years, many of us were fast food connoisseurs, traveling from establishment to establishment partaking of burgers, chicken sandwiches, hotdogs, nuggets, pizza (for a brief glorious period at the ‘Golden Arches’), fish sandwiches, chilidogs etc. and while variety existed in the main entrée, the side dish usually always boiled down to two very similar deep fried choices… fries or onion rings.  As an adult, many times in my career as an instructional coach, I have felt like my coaching resembled this anticlimactic fast food menu.  There was extensive choice when it came to what teachers might explore in their teaching.  Formative assessment, questioning strategies, assistive technology, classroom environment, web 2.0 tools, etc. are all on the menu, but when it came to documenting and reflecting I could only offer them a ‘fries and onion ring equivalent’.  We could have a reflective conversation OR they could keep a journal about their growth.  While these are not poor options, after a while lack of variety leads to loss of “appetite” for reflection and documentation and teachers have a decreased desire to engage in the process.  So if you are feeling like you need some more options on the reflection menu, here are three new additions that I have had success with over the past couple of years:

Post, share and interact using a social media tool

Social media is a way to share who we are, what we like and things we do.  Why not use it to share who we are as teachers, what we liked about a lesson and things that we are doing in our classroom?  Using a social media platform allows teachers to share questions, ideas and pictures/videos succinctly articulating their own growth and how it has impacted student learning.  Composing a social media post requires teachers to reflect on their learning and express key elements of their growth to an interested and engaged audience (their ‘friends’, ‘followers’ etc.).  The reflective process then goes a step further and deeper because colleagues can then like, reply, share, direct message, retweet etc. giving feedback, encouragement or ideas for next steps.

While there are numerous social media platforms available, I would highly recommend Twitter as the tool of choice for documenting and reflecting teacher growth.  It holds the following advantages:

  1. The field of education has a large Twitter presence. It is often used at educational conferences as a ‘back channel’ and there are numerous Twitter chats on educational topic each week
  2. It is limited to 144 characters. This ensures that it is a short quick, but well thought out reflection
  3. You can include pictures and videos (up to 16 seconds) that provide visual evidence of teacher growth and the corresponding shifts in student learning.
  4. You don’t need to set up or manage any additional school or teachers accounts.  You and the teachers you work with (who have set up their own Twitter accounts) can decided on a common hashtag to include when tweeting about teacher growth that have significantly impacted the classroom.
  5. As the coach, you can ‘get the ball rolling’ by posting all of the great things you see happening at your school and then progress to asking teachers to send you pictures and short quotes/’sound bites’ that you can post from your Twitter handle.  After having a solid bank of tweets in the hastag that teachers can use as exemplars, you can finally progress to inviting teachers to tweet, retweet and reply from their own twitter accounts

For an example of reflection and documentation using a twitter hashtag please visit #stpiusecsd

Create a documentation wall

We have all heard the old adage “a picture is worth 1000 words”.  My work as an instructional coach has taught me that “a picture (or video) is worth 1000 words in a journal”. Constructing a visual representation that shows evidence of teacher growth and corresponding student learning requires thought and reflection, celebrates the great work done by teachers and creates an excitement to continue exploring and innovating to improve student learning.   A documentation wall is often made up of any combination of pictures, QR codes linking to videos, teacher/student quotes, samples of student work and a title or question that summarizes the work.  Here is a sample (it’s a work in progress with pieces going up every few days):

The process of selecting these artifacts for the documentation wall requires deep reflection and a close examination of the student data to choose the pieces of evidence that best articulate the change to the learning environment. You need to sort through the data, talk and think about the different ways change manifested itself and carefully choose the few pieces that best communicate growth (because there is only limited space on the wall). Once the pieces are selected and the coach puts them up on the wall it is a great opportunity to step back and see the growth that occurred, which leads to a feeling of accomplishment for teachers.  They are able to see tangible evidence of change and succinctly articulate growth using supporting evidence, this translates to a sense of pride that in turn encourages teachers to further engage in the process.

Invite local media to your school

As coaches, we have the privilege of being present for some exciting moments of innovation in teaching!  When teachers are given the opportunity to freely think and explore and experiment in their classrooms the results can be amazing, so amazing in fact that they can be of interest to more than just educators.  Looking for those stories of cory3innovative changes to student learning and then putting out an invitation to local media to come and ‘do a story’ is a great way to celebrate what is happening at your school, but it also leads to deep reflection. As interview questions are posed to teachers, they need to clearly articulate the process they went through to shift their classroom. They need to
decide which events, student work and data to share with the reporters so as to best highlight the innovative change to student learning.  The authentic (and potentially vast) audience combined with the sense of pride teachers feel from being featured in the media translates to educators who are highly motivated and engaged in the process of reflection.

For a link to the full article click here.

Documentation and reflection are key parts of the coaching cycle and doing it well is of the utmost importance. While we may visit a fast food restaurant only concerned with sinking our teeth into a juicy burger and considering the fries or onion rings as an inconsequential consolation prize, that cannot be the case with documenting and reflecting upon teacher growth and the impact it has on student learning. As educators we need to know what is working and why and as coaches it is our job to support teachers in doing this in an authentic and motivating way.

-Cory Roffey is a school based Instructional Coach in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  He has coached in a variety of educational settings from Kindergarten to Grade Nine. He holds a MEd in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and has a particular interest in supporting teachers as they explore educational technology and constructivist practices.  You can follow Cory on twitter @coryroffey

Guest Post: What Do You Do For a Living?: Defining your role as an Instructional Coach

One of the benefits of being a classroom teacher is the inherent understanding relationshipseveryone has of what you ‘do for a living.’  Unlike the Computer Systems Analyst or the Executive Vice President in Charge of Retail Management (pretty sure those are not real jobs), whensomeone asks you what you do and you respond ‘I’m a teacher’ you immediately get an understanding nod as opposed to a blank stare.  When I transitioned from the classroom into the role of a School Based Instructional Coach I mourned the loss of the ease at which I used to be able to answer the question, “So Cory, what do you do?” And what is true at dinner parties is often true in the very schools in which we work as Instructional Coaches.  The people we work with don’t always know exactly what we do and misconceptions can lead to fear and reluctance, which makes defining and clarifying our role an essential first step in the work of an Instructional Coach.

The term Partnership Agreement (Killion 2006) refers to a document that outlines what a coach does and how they will do that work at a particular site.  Creating a Partnership Agreement is the essential first step when developing a successful coaching model in a school.  Expert coaches are skilled at collaborating with their administrator to write the agreement and sharing that information with the staff.  When developing a Partnership Agreement:

  • Don’t wait for your administrator to hand you an agreement.  Put some thought into your views on the role and what you feel would be the best fit for your site considering the resources and cliental and then create a working draft and send it to your principal to review and revise.  When you send the draft also set up a meeting for a few days down the road where you can discuss it.  Starting this way allows you to share your ideas and still honor your principal as the instructional leader of the school.  Also providing your principal with a draft is efficient and principals are busy people and will appreciate being able to revise and edit versus the time it takes to meet and build a Partnership Agreement from scratch.
  • When writing the agreement be sure to include the foundational beliefs that support your coaching (the role of the coach is non-evaluative, confidentiality, coaching is not a deficit model, growth and professional learning are for all, etc.), but also remember to include the logistical items too (where the coaching will happen, how teacher release time will happen, the coaching cycle that will be followed etc.)
  • Write it down, have a tangible paper copy your principal can hold in their hand.
  • Don’t make it to long or complex. I believe that if it has a staple in it, it doesn’t get read, so my partnership agreements are never more than 1 page.
  • Keep the language clear and simple.

Once you and your principal have an agreed upon Partnership Agreement then you need to share it with staff.  This is tricky because the ultimate goal is for staff to have a clear understanding of your role and simply handing them the agreement and reading out loud point by point at a staff meeting never meets that goal.  When sharing your Partnership Agreement with staff:

  • Be clear and concise.  When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod he told the audience that the iPod is 1,000 songs that fit in your pocket.  With this simple explanation, he clearly and completely explained this never seen before device.  Articulating your partnership agreement in such a way is the goal.  I often use the phrase “An Instructional Coach is a Thinking Partner” followed by a brief animated video that explains the role of a coach (How Coaching Works)
  • After the initial introduction of your role at a staff meeting, the first time you meet with a teacher spend as much time as necessary having a conversation about your role.  Through a conversation, review the points on the agreement.  Be ready to ask and answer open and honest questions about your role
  • Be the Partnership Agreement.  Teachers will learn the Partnership Agreement by you living it and exemplifying it as you coach.  Be what you wrote down.

The concept of ‘starting at the beginning’ is logical but not always easy because we may not know where the beginning is.  When it comes to Instructional Coaching the beginning is the Partnership Agreement.  Coaches who can create a solid partnership agreement and effectively communicate it to staff pave the way for a solid year of coaching… and at the very least they know how to explain what they ‘do for a living’ when they go to their significant other’s Christmas party ☺

Cory Roffey is a school based Instructional Coach in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  He has coached in a variety of educational settings from Kindergarten to Grade Nine. He holds a MEd in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and has a particular interest in supporting teachers as they explore educational technology and constructivist practices.  You can follow Cory on twitter @coryroffey