By Ellen Eisenberg

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

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ever the English teacher, I’m drawn to articles, blogs, and commentaries about what amazing things happen in the English classroom where students are reading the literature that set my heart on fire so many years ago (and continues to do so!) as a student in a large urban school district. In fact, I’m drawn to anything and everything that shares innovative ideas that engage students, regardless of the content areas!

I’ve been reading a lot about how schools can help students engage more in their learning. Of course, we all want students to take ownership of their learning and try to offer them multiple opportunities for self-directed learning. We want them to WANT to learn; we want them to LIKE school. Unfortunately, some students are disenfranchised, and their teachers might not know how to pull them back into a learning mode. They might not know a variety of ways to provide “peak moments” (borrowed from Education Week, January 18) in learning. You know, peak moments like the one I experienced when our book was published! (I will never forget that celebratory moment.)

Students can experience those peak moments if their teachers are able to create ongoing instances for those moments to occur. Here’s why instructional coaching is so critical… instructional coaches create the circumstances where colleagues collaborate and talk about practice. The more teaching colleagues talk about teaching and learning, the more likely it is that those “peak moments” can become the norm in classrooms. Sharing ideas and multiple ways to approach effective instructional delivery is essential for student and teacher success.


As a coach, how do you help teachers create those “peak moments” that define the classroom experience?

Monday, January 15, 2018


We just returned from another amazing 3-day Professional Learning Conference from the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). This is the only conference that I know about where the presenters and facilitators are the practitioners in the schools represented at the conference! They truly show that the collective wisdom of any room where they are collaborating is chock full of incredible talents, insights, and multiple skill sets. The power in those sessions with such skilled coaches, mentors, and other school leaders was palpable. It was an interactive, collegial atmosphere where no one feared what they didn’t know… everyone just absorbed and shared their learnings in rooms full of like-minded professionals.

Every experience level from novice to advanced was represented in our 24 breakout sessions. The sessions were all geared to helping instructional coaches help teachers move their students forward while moving their own practice forward. It was a time and place for the coaches and their colleagues from across the state to talk about practice and how to navigate statewide initiatives for which they are responsibly supporting. It was a time and place for all the participants to discuss what they were doing, how to do “it,” and share ways to continue learning and growing.

One thing that was clear during the mini discussions I had with coaches was that in schools where the coaching role and model were not discussed prior to implementation and a shared vision for school wide improvement made visible, the struggle with helping the staff understand how coaching can help the school community accomplish the school wide goals for improvement continues to be a barrier to effective implementation.

If your school has not shared the vision with the staff, it’s not too late. In fact, a mid-year review is a perfect time to remind, or in some cases build awareness, of how instructional coaching is a job-embedded professional development/learning model for teachers. Don’t let the rest of the year go by without reminding the staff what you do, how you do “it,” and why you do “it.”

How do you continually remind the staff of your role and your instructional coaching responsibilities?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year! As we embark on this new year, I bet we all have resolutions that if we are lucky, we haven’t broken yet! Several of my friends talk about getting in shape and being healthy. Of all the people who talk about resolutions, however, no one ever said to me that the goal was to work harder in school! Imagine that!!

But, I do get a lot of “What am I supposed to do” and “How do I do ‘it’ when so many other things cry for attention.

It’s all about priorities and a shared vision for school wide improvement. What do the stakeholders in your school think about student achievement and building teacher capacity? What do they think about the notion of teachers working together to plan, deliver, and debrief their instructional practices?

First things first… how do we define instructional coaching? Have we made our school staff aware that Instructional coaching is a sustainable teacher professional development model designed to help teachers get better at what they do? Have we reminded them that coaching is part of a whole-school improvement strategy that fosters collective problem-solving and offers highly targeted professional development embedded in teachers’ daily work. Have we demonstrated how Instructional coaches provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders focused on classroom practices to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity and improve student learning? It’s mid-year… take some time to remind your staff why instructional coaching is so important to the health of your school.

There is a joint ownership for student and staff learning. Coaches help create and support this idea. Changing perceptions can be challenging though and coaches need to practice and advocate how non-evaluative practices are collaborative, confidential, and critical to success. They must show that changing practice creates a change in belief. It’s a great time of year to re-adjust our thinking and actions.


How do you help the stakeholders in your school understand what you do and how you do “it”?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Compliance vs. engagement… so what does that mean? I actually think of these terms in similar ways as I do about cooperation vs. collaboration. Sure, compliance is agreement but is that all we want from our work with teachers? Is that all they want when working with their students? 

I don’t think so… I think instructional coaches want to engage the teachers with whom they work in productive, analytical, and thought-provoking conversations that yield changes in practice. I think they want more than teachers who just cooperate; I think they want to work with teachers in ways that promote questioning, quiet disruption, and inquiry.

The coaches that I’ve met want to ensure that their work with teachers is relevant, tied to practice, demanding, and at the same time, culturally sensitive, differentiated according to need, and creates a culture of learning for all students. They want to take ownership and be the architects of their own learning; they want to help build their students’ capacity as learners as well.

So, is that compliance or is that engagement? How do I help teachers move from compliance to engagement so that their students can move from simple obedience to premediated, purposeful learning? How do coaches navigate their coaching roles when they are forced to use a checklist and be the “enforcer” or compliance “police”?

I think compliance means that the group goes along with the “flavor of the day” and hope that “this, too, shall pass.” I think engagement means that each stakeholder has an integral part in creating a shared understanding, learning, and support system because the collective and individual responsibilities are recognized.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

In a recent Learning Deeply Education Week blog entitled, “What’s Behind the Plateau in Test Scores?” Robert Rothman comments on the reasons why test scores have remained stagnant despite the multitude of instructional practices implemented at all levels. Of course, trends are identified over a period of time and practices can be adjusted to address those trends. We just have to collect the appropriate data that gives us the information we need. Then, we must identify ways to appropriately apply the data that we collect.

So, test scores plateau… what about teacher practices?

According to Jane Hannaway, an Urban Institute researcher, teacher performance plateaus at four years. “Teachers work in isolation. They learn what they learn and then they plateau. They get no valid input.”

In the same opinion piece, the director of PISA for OECD said what is needed to sustain a steady pattern of growth “… is a greater investment in improving teaching.”

Mr. Rothman further states that “To improve performance overall, schools need to enable more students to demonstrate deeper levels of learning--to be able to apply their knowledge to think critically and solve complex problems. That takes a different kind of instruction--one that provides students with opportunities to reflect on their learning, to take part in extended projects, and to produce real products for real audiences.”

Instructional coaching provides multiple opportunities for teaching colleagues to collaborate and talk about promising practices that help teachers focus on continuous improvement. Coaches encourage their colleagues to continuously reflect and engage in conversations that focus on teaching and learning, not just on one activity or one tool that is a means to an end. “Attaining high levels of learning for all students is not a matter of doing more of the same. It will take a different kind of teaching.” I believe that it takes instructional coaching working with colleagues and reflecting in, on, and about practice that will make a difference in classrooms.

So, how can instructional coaches and mentors be proactive and prevent the plateaus that impact both student and teacher performance?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I just can’t stop thinking about how cuts to education make sense to anyone. Take it from me, I understand what fiscal responsibility means and I know what successful educational programs look like in highly effective places. What I don’t understand is why anyone thinks slashing effective instructional programs is the way to maintain and sustain a literate society or ready our student population for careers and college.

So, what can we do about it? I’m not trying to make a political statement and tell you to be more active in local elections; I am trying to resolve in my own mind what I can do “at the moment” to at least make instructional decisions that influence student learning.

Instructional coaching and mentoring are not luxuries. They are exactly what schools need to move from “good to great.” But, the coaches and mentors have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that the entire school community understands what instructional coaching is, how coaching can help schools achieve their goals, and why instructional mentoring is a critical support to the coaches. They need to send a clear message that instructional coaching is critical in shaping an effective professional development plan. The follow up provided to teachers by the coaches and mentors ensures that professional learning takes place.

“To improve student outcomes, we need to transform the way we think about teaching, learning, and how to help teachers grow as professionals” (Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools).

That’s what we can do… show every member of the community of learning that instructional coaching and mentoring are the support system that helps build teacher capacity, increase student engagement, and influences student learning.


How will you make sure your instructional coaching and mentoring voices are heard? 

Monday, November 6, 2017

“Strive for progress, not perfection” (anonymous). Wow, what a great quote for instructional coaches to think about and remember when working with their teaching colleagues.
So often we fall into the trap of thinking we need to know all the answers and all the tricks of the trade so we can share our knowledge with the teachers we are coaching. Alas… the plight of the instructional coach… news flash… coaches are not experts and don’t need to know everything! If we want any message to be heard, it’s that we are all learners and understand the importance of learning together.

Although students are at in the center, instructional coaching is a growth model for teachers. Of course, our ultimate goal is for students to develop into life-long learners and to love learning. That can’t happen unless we touch the thing that is the most important element for improved student learning… implementing effective instructional practices and that can’t happen unless we focus on helping teachers get better at their craft. It is our collective responsibility to help teachers “grow” their love of learning without fear of failing so that they can transfer those feelings to their students.

Instructional coaches do not know all the answers; they help teachers implement promising practices, not best practices. (Best implies that practice cannot get any better.) However, instructional coaches are quite adept at asking the right questions; that is, asking the kinds of questions that consistently encourage deep thinking, critical analysis, hypothesis, application of learning, and synthesis. Coaches don’t see a beginning and end to learning; coaches see ongoing opportunities to collaborate and move practice forward. (They move teachers’ practices forward and at the same time, move their own practice forward.) That’s what progress is… moving from point A to point B and along the way, taking time to plan, think, and prepare with colleagues. Learning is a process and oftentimes, the path to learning is what makes the difference, not the finished product.


What are some of the ways you navigate the delicate balance of progress vs. perfection in your environment?