Instructional Coaches: A Benefit to Schools

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In the early 1990s, there was a surge of instructional coaches in the area of literacy. From that point forward, Federal and State Initiatives have supported and encouraged schools across the country to implement support to colleagues through the use of coaches. Throughout the years, roles, titles, and job descriptions have morphed into what we have currently but the focus has remained comparatively similar to its inception: How can coaches support colleagues in pursuit of refining their practice to directly impact student achievement.

My current role allows me not only coach teachers in multiple districts, but also allows me the ability to work with and coach the coaches in the districts we serve. Because of these experiences, I believe there are 3 Ways Instructional Coaches Benefit Schools:

  1. Transfer – If you ask any educator to share the initiatives and focus areas in their building the list would be lengthy, filled with three-letter acronyms, and perhaps, attached to a SMART goal. While there are no shortages of initiatives to implement or professional learning for these initiatives, consistency in implementation and transfer into the classroom rarely happen at a systems level. In buildings with instructional coaches, I have witnessed a more systemic transfer of professional learning and initiative implementation into the classroom. Through one to one or small group coaching, educators attest to the support that coaches provide on a continuous cycle long after the initial learning is completed. Effective instructional coaches also use a variety of tools, checklist, or Innovation Configuration Maps to reflect and have conversations with colleagues on what implementation with fidelity may look like. Through these coaching cycles, support is personalized based on self-identified needs.
  2. Personalization – Instructional coaches play a support role to teachers instead of an evaluative role. Relationships and respect are forged and areas identified in which to focus efforts. Modeling and co-teaching, 2 effective strategies coaches use, are often sandwiched between a pre and post conversation. And just as every student in the classroom may have a different learning pathway to the same end goal, so to do teachers. Building Principals may be able to support staff growth on a macro level, individual growth at the micro level is achieved through utilizing instructional coaches. Personalized professional growth for every staff member at a consistent and continuous level is possible with a competent and supported instructional coach.
  3. Leadership – Finally, schools benefit when teachers have leadership roles. From helping to build consensus to identifying student and teacher needs with data, kids win in buildings with instructional coaches. Teachers are the ones doing the work in the classroom. Their actions directly impact students and it is essential to have their voices “at the table” when professional learning is planned or vision and goals are formed. Instructional coaches allow teachers to have a leadership role in buildings without having to be a principal or obtain an additional degree. It is through leadership opportunities like this that help schools retain good teachers and improve the pedagogy of all.

Instructional Coaches are continuing to support teachers and students through consistent, high-quality continuous improvement. Throughout the years we have witnessed educational trends, all in an effort to boost student achievement. Collegial support through coaching helps all schools which impacts the bottom-line, the students!

 

Resource: Denton, Carolyn A, & Hasbrouck, Jan. “A Description of Instructional Coaching and its Relationship to Consultation.” Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2009.  

Instructional Coach: Co-Teaching

In 2013, Iowa introduced the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System as a way to “empower our best teachers to lead the efforts in improving instruction to improve student achievement.” Many models created and adopted by Iowa Schools employ the use of instructional coaches. With a need for support in their new roles, I, along with many other Iowa educators, have had the pleasure to learn from Diane Sweeney and Leanna Harris, leading experts in Student-Centered Coaching and Jim Knight.

This past Monday, we gathered to hone coaching skills with Diane and Leanna. One activity Leanna had us collaboratively complete is a venn diagram comparing PLCs and Student-Centered Coaching. Fittingly, I was situated with Dave Versteeg, from Montezuma Schools; and two of his teacher leaders. Montezuma is a model PLC school, and their expertise offered great insight in this activity. Comparison of PLCs and Coaching Cycles (1)

Upon completing the exercise, Leanna stressed a point that resonated with the group. In summary, Leanna pointed out that one important way student-centered coaching differs from PLCs is the use of co-teaching. In fact, PLCs, with the absence of co-teaching, could be viewed as in a constant state of planning.

As a literacy coach, supporting reading and writing workshop teachers; this is an area I plan to focus on. And through a collaborative conversation with both Leanna and Diane, there are many variation to co-teaching. Three main ones I share include:

Modeling – A traditional type of co-teaching is modeling. An expert teacher models, demonstrates, or shows the partnering teacher how to instruct. Modeling is designed to span the whole class period where the partnering teacher is observing and noting instructional moves displayed by the expert teacher or instructional coach.

Micro-Modeling – Micro-modeling is a partnership in planning and delivery between the instructional coach and partnering teacher. During the planning session, each educator designates specific parts of the lesson they will deliver. For example, the instructional coach may deliver the minilesson during the writing workshop, demonstrating sound pedagogy in the specific area the partnering teacher designated. The partnering teacher may then agree to deliver the instruction for the small groups.

Tandem Teaching – Tandem teaching is a partnership where the coach and teacher work together in the classroom, almost “feeding” off of each other. This requires a trusting relationship, a true partnership in learning, and adept understanding of strengths and areas of focus each has in the classroom.

 

Frequently, I admit, I get stuck in the observation mode, while the learning and implementation comes from a true partnership. Co-teaching is an excellent example of an effective, student-centered coaching technique, resulting in classroom transfer. While tandem teaching is the ideal state of the coaching relationship; there are times and content areas that impede this endeavor. Instead, focusing on micro-modeling allows a coach to focus on instruction rather than content, supporting educators pedagogical growth.

Practice What We Preach: The Art of Coaching Kids for Transfer

 

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As a child, my love affair with the sport of soccer helped me to develop skills, self-esteem, and friendships. Throughout high school, you could find me sporting brightly colored Pumas, juggling between classes, and joining pickup games on the weekend. I was a bit obsessed.

As an adult, I have shared my love of athletics through coaching; and I have been privileged to coach incredible, young-women throughout my life! I believe I am a better teacher because of my coaching experience and often find much of the same philosophies interchangeable. It is with this interchangeable lens I wish to approach the topic of “practice” within the classroom.

If you don’t know about Train Ugly, now is the time to start investigating. Marrying Growth Mindset and Motor Learning to Train Ugly, Trevor Ragan’s video on block vs. random practice was shared at my last AIW meeting and has inspired this blog post.

My Takeaways:

  1. As teachers, we aim to maximize retention and transfer of skills.
  2. A skill is much more than just “technique” it also includes the “reading” and “planning” before the execution.
  3. Very few skills in life are stagnant and repetitive in nature, but the majority of practice we request of our students is just that, skill and drill to show mastery.
  4. Research supports the use of random practice as a more effective way than block practice for high-impact retention and transfer of real learning!
  5. We need to find better ways to track progress (another resource to add in the case against letter grades).
  6. When practicing a skill, students need a growth mindset and randomization; never do the same thing twice (different opportunities to use skills).
  7. Finally, poor practice is a teacher issue, not a kid issue. We fear the uncontrollable, we want improvement but are not used to a slower process that takes more time, and we slip back into traditional practice because it is comfortable.

Reflecting back, there were many times I resorted to block practice, whether on the field and having athletes take hundreds of penalty kicks, or in the classroom, the repetitive use of worksheets to drill grammar rules; I was contributing to the transfer problem and reconfirming the notion of “work for school’s sake.” Unknowingly, and through the implementation of PBL (Project Based Learning) and the Workshop Writing Classroom my focus and practice shifted resulting in more Random Practice. When I no longer taught to “The Test” but focused on moving all students forward, the transfer ensued (even on the high-stakes tests).