Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching — A Partnership Between the Annenberg Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education
Coaching Tip of the Month
June 2018 PDF Print E-mail

“A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t go anywhere until you change it” ( Indeed, this statement says it all! And, it’s not just referring to children; it’s about adults as well.

We talk a lot about building confidence in students, making sure that every student feels part of the group, and that each person is a valued member of the community. Every student has something to offer and something to gain from his/her classroom experiences. We know that learning is social, and we want to make sure that each classroom encounter is one that promotes inquiry, success, and community. We want to build what Richard Sagor (EL, September 1996, Vol 54, No 1) says are the feelings of competence, belonging, usefulness, potency, and optimism necessary to ensure that our students can cope with society’s obstacles and complexities of life. We want to make every learning environment a safe one and contribute to the growth of the students and their teachers. We want to foster an atmosphere where a “can do” attitude is the norm. In order to do that, we want to make sure that our teachers are well prepared, consistently supported, and emotionally comfortable in an environment that endorses teaching, learning, and inquiry. We want teachers to help students recognize the benefits and merits of a “can do” attitude and exhibit the same as well. After all, how will the teachers help move their students forward if they are trapped in a “closed” environment?

May 2018 PDF Print E-mail

Making time to discuss instructional practice sets high expectations and yield positive results. It allows teachers to continually expand their knowledge base and work with their trusted colleagues, aka the coach, to make data-driven decisions that influence student learning. In our lexicon, we call this the BDA cycle of consultation and feedback. The “B” or before session is a time for co-planning and co-designing effective instructional practices to enhance student learning. The “D” or during session is the evidentiary trail where the agreed upon co-constructed data tool is used to collect the data. The “A” or after session is where both parties reflect on the class visit and discuss how the goals for that lesson were met. This is the time where the coach and teacher offer feedback to each other that is timely, specific, non-judgmental, and descriptive and is critical in determining what kinds of adjustments in practice are necessary.

The BDA cycle of consultation is situational. Here the coach, “facilitates rather than dominates the conversation allowing the teacher’s voice to be heard. It promotes an environment for collective problem solving where high expectation for effective instructional practices are the norm” (Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools, p. 24-25). The before and after phases seem easier to navigate with the coach and teachers meeting regularly to plan and visit. The third component, the after, phase seems to be the most difficult of the three components (think of a 3-legged stool) for the coach and teacher to regularly commit into practice yet this feedback loop may be the most important.

April 2018 PDF Print E-mail

In 1970, psychologist Albert Bandura’s research found that the more confident a group is in its abilities, the more successful that group is in accomplishing its tasks. In fact, he says that “… in schools, when educators believe in their combined ability to influence student outcomes, there are significantly higher levels of academic achievement” (1993). He coined this “collective efficacy” (EL, March 2018, pg. 41) and many ensuing studies have confirmed his thinking.

Instructional coaches are in a great place to help teachers implement effective instructional practices and to reinforce the “collective efficacy” of working together to accomplish the same goal. And, as Kim Greene in the March 2018 Education Update says, “To improve instructional practices and student outcomes, every teacher – no matter their experience level – deserves a coach.” This notion that everyone deserves a coach is confirmed in one of our PIIC studies, Instructional Coaching and Student Outcomes: Findings from a Three-Year Pilot Study. Here, researcher Elliott Medrich finds that, “… as teachers are coached from year to year, they become better at their craft. And, as they get better at their craft, students achieve more.” The findings further indicate that, “… as teachers improve their practice over time, and as students are exposed to teachers whose skill levels are improving from year to year, the student outcomes themselves improve…” (abstract found here). It is a cumulative effect… the more teachers work together and learn from each other, the more likely their craft is improved. The better they are at their craft, the more beneficial that collective learning is to their students. So, if they work together all year and over the course of several years, their craft becomes much more refined and improved.

March 2018 PDF Print E-mail

“In 1970, the top three skills required by Fortune 500 companies were the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1999, the top three skills in demand were teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. We need schools that are developing these skills” (Linda Darling-Hammond).

I would add soft skills to the above list including demonstrating strong communication skills, being a good listener, understanding the difference between cooperation and collaboration, motivating and encouraging the sharing of ideas, showing humility and respect, and understanding how reflection and self-assessment are critical for successful implementation in any workplace environment. 

While these soft skills may seem like “add-ons” to a coach’s job description, they are actually more important than the hard skills like content proficiency. After all, one can browse the internet and locate a plethora of open source materials for classroom use and build that needed content knowledge. Can one browse that same internet for the abovementioned soft skills needed to establish a working relationship that is non-evaluative and risk free?

Interesting that Linda Darling-Hammond suggested that schools build those soft skills back in 1970. We still need to build those skills for students and for their teachers as well. But, we can’t expect students to know and be able to master those skills if their teachers are not given ample opportunities to grow those skills too.

February 2018 PDF Print E-mail

“Accountability breeds response-ability” so says Stephen Covey.

Accountability, responsibility, and response-ability are three factors that impact instructional coaching and influence organizational effectiveness.  While it’s difficult to “assign” accountability to instructional coaches, they view their relationships with colleagues very personally and take ownership of their work with their teaching colleagues. Coaches are completely immersed in working with their colleagues and engaging them regularly in accountable talk, much like we ask teachers to ensure that their students are engaged in accountable talk. So, what does that mean?