Guest Post: How to Cultivate a Learner Culture in 3 Easy Steps

A school’s growth is a reflection of the culture. You can see, hear, and feel a school’s Captureculture at staff meetings, professional development, daily interactions, the office, the hallways, and so on. As instructional coaches, our goal should be to cultivate a culture in which learning occurs not only for students, but also for teachers.

How can you make a difference in your school’s culture?

 

  • Name and notice the great work already taking place

 

Any great school leader knows that the key to success is a staff that feels valued and appreciated. Amplifying the energy and productivity of a staff requires that teachers are made aware of their worth. Focusing attention on daily behavior that is valued can increase that behavior. Introducing new learning will be less intimidating if teachers know their work is highly valued. Don’t be afraid to make note of the great instruction taking place and then follow up with a question to push a teacher’s thinking even further.

 

  • Make connections between teachers

 

After naming and noticing the great work, figure out a way to get teachers in one another’s classroom. When a teacher asks about a certain strategy, mention another teacher who is also working on that strategy or suggest a classroom that they may want to observe. The best way to grow our practice is by learning from one another. As the instructional coach, we have the unique ability to serve as a bridge in the school. Seize opportunities to increase communication and collaborative experiences.

 

  • Embed professional development in the classroom

 

One of our primary responsibilities as instructional coaches is to provide great professional development. The most powerful professional development for teachers takes place in the classroom. Structures such as learning labs, learning walks, #observeme, and build-a-labs give teachers the opportunity to try new instructional practices in the classroom. This blog by Cult of Pedagogy is a great resource for effective professional development and lays out these structures. By providing teachers with on the spot teaching, learning becomes more transferable to their own classrooms.

As instructional coaches, our role is to be a leader for successful change and improvement efforts. This must begin by creating a culture in which teachers are willing to learn and take risks. Otherwise, we may fall short due to resistance and an unwillingness to grow. Taking these three easy steps to cultivate a learner culture is one way to increase your chances of success!

About our Guest Author: Tonya Moody is an Instructional Coach in Westfield Washington School District in central Indiana and has over ten years of teaching experience. Prior to coaching, she taught Kindergarten, Second Grade, and was a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. She has a passion for encouraging her colleagues and collaborating with fellow educators.  Tonya loves growing her PLN on Twitter (@MrsMoodyIC) and would love to connect with you!

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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