By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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?

Monday, October 9, 2017

As you probably already know, the Trump administration has submitted a budget proposal that cuts funding to education. One of those cuts is the elimination of Title II funding which targets professional learning and instructional coaches. The good news is that instructional coaching is recognized as professional learning; the bad news is that our most precious commodity – our children – are not important enough to ensure that highly effective teachers are teaching them. Shameful!

We know that instructional coaching is effective… our data confirms it: 89% of teachers surveyed in 2016-2017 indicated that they changed their practices as a result of the coaching they received; 100% reported that these changes had a positive impact on student engagement and 97% said that student learning was positively impacted by the coaching they received. And, in fact, the positive effects of PIIC instructional coaching has remained consistent over time. (See survey report:

I don’t think that coaching is the objection; I think teacher professional development is the objection. Whether you are an “insider” or “outsider,” the common misconceptions about professional development are that teachers went to college so they shouldn’t need additional professional development and that professional development as we know it is meaningless, unsubstantial, and unconnected to student needs.

Wow… that may be true in some places but not where there are instructional coaches. Our coaches ensure that the professional learning they support is needs driven, tied to teacher practices, aligned to standards, and targeted on evidence-based literacy practices. We know that instructional coaches build teacher capacity, help increase student engagement, and influence student learning. Instructional coaches ensure that continuous learning is the norm and the culture of the school supports that thinking.

What data do you find helpful in demonstrating the impact of instructional coaching in classrooms and schools?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Although I usually write our blog posts, two of our PIIC instructional coaching supporters wanted to share these words of wisdom as the new school year begins. As a former coach and administrator working with our instructional coaching model, they offer three sustainability tips to think about when implementing the before, during and after cycle of consultation in an urban school district: 

Sustainability Tip #1: Fight for what for what you believe. Whenever a new administrator comes on board, there may be a quick turnover of initiatives as this new leader establishes a new path or new vision. Frequent dialogue may arise as to cutting an instructional coach or increasing class sizes to 40. Be prepared to collect quantitative data to support instructional coaching. Reports on the number of coach/teacher interactions can also be powerful. Administrators need to keep current with the research supporting coaching and be prepared to present this to the school board or administration on a regular basis.  

Sustainability Tip # 2: Little things make a difference. Taking time to return emails, answer questions, or provide resources all make a difference. As a coach, look for little ways to open dialogue. Sometimes a kind word, a piece of chocolate, or a cup of coffee can go a long way to build relationships. Be mindful to follow up on everything you promise or agree to do when working with the teacher. A good rule of thumb for the coach is to “under promise and over deliver.” Follow this and you will maintain a positive, trustworthy rapport with all.  

Sustainability Tip #3: Maintain Coaching Fidelity. Instructional coaches should not be the first “go to” people for reports or preparing for special events because they do not have an assigned class. Although coaches may be a valuable resource for such projects, it is important to respect the coaches’ time for engaging in one-on-one and small group support working directly with teachers in the before-during-after coaching cycle. As a coach or administrator, be prepared to conduct conversations to preserve and honor the culture of coaching. As a coach, strive to immerse yourself in the ongoing BDA process with the teachers. This is the true path toward sustainability and positive school change.

The Pennsylvania High School Coaching Initiative (PAHSCI) started a movement in 2005 that honored collaboration and ignited a passion for effective teaching. Following in 2009, the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC) refined the framework bringing leaders together to continue creating opportunities to expand the circle of leaders and their influence.

It is never too early...what tips can you share about sustaining instructional coaching in your school/district?

Deb Carr is currently an Assistant Professor of Education at King’s College. She previously served as Director of Curriculum & Instruction for the Hazleton Area School District and was the district’s PAHSCI/PIIC initiative contact. She is an instructor in the Instructional Coaching Endorsement Program at King’s College.

Jessica Jacobs is currently serving as an administrator of Curriculum and Instruction at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit. She was an instructional coach for Hazleton Area High School and a PIIC Mentor. She is also an instructor in the Instructional Coaching Endorsement Program at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Welcome back to school! I hope your summer was relaxing and at the same time, energizing, stimulating, and empowering. Doesn’t sound like relaxing belongs there, does it? But, in reality, relaxation can engender all of the above. 

A third-year coach emailed me last week and shared how relaxing this past summer was for her. But then, she asked if it was normal for her to be full of anxiety and at the same time, invigorated to start the new year. She read our book, Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools and knew that she wanted to start the year with excerpts from the book and plan short articles for her monthly book/article studies for the year yet she was worried that she didn’t spend enough time this summer reading articles about adult learning and how to engage her colleagues in meaningful conversations.

I shared with her my teaching “stage fright” each September when I worried that I didn’t add enough to my repertoire of tools to continue making a positive impact on my students or for the teachers I coached when I made that instructional switch in responsibilities. I shared my nightmares that I wouldn’t be able to answer my students’ questions or my teaching colleagues’ inquiries when engaging in coaching interactions.  All of these fears are quite normal and to be expected after spending some much-needed time reflecting on past practice. Those reflections help make adjustments towards future practice. I call that “controlled anxiety!”

That’s exactly what coaches do… they reflect on the past, think about the present, and plan for the future. This occurs when the brain relaxes and the coach takes time to envision where to go. Our brains need to de-clutter before we can re-imagine where we are going and how we will engage our teaching colleagues in constructive conversations about teaching and learning.

So, fear not the anxiety about new beginnings and engage in productive thinking as you consider how to support your teaching colleagues this year. That anxiety is a good thing… it propels you into action!

So, what are some of the ways your summer thinking has shaped your beginnings for the new school year? 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I recently watched “The Lion Guard” with my three grandsons. It’s amazing how many life lessons you can learn by watching or reading children’s literature and movies. One of my grandsons asked a great question, “How can you listen to the quiet so you can hear? If it’s quiet, there’s nothing to hear.” So, I began to explain how listening to your thoughts rather than hearing yourself talk allows a person the opportunity to think without interruption and to make reasonable decisions.

Noise from words often results in an emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful, deliberate response. I asked him what happens when he stops and thinks about what he plans to do instead of just jumping into the action. Of course, he said that when he does something without thinking, it usually results in getting a “time out” because he didn’t think about the consequences, like jumping into a pool over his younger brother who is drifting on a raft. That immediately gets him an “out of the pool” pass for a bit!

Perhaps contrary to what we want to do, coaching is about listening to the quiet and giving permission to our colleagues to just think about the “what, why, and how.”  It’s about getting “out of the way” so our teaching colleagues can make decisions that are rooted in student needs and not influenced by our ego and the “right way” to do things.

The start of the new school year brings opportunities to build on the previous year’s successes and to begin building new ones. Continue to ask questions and LISTEN to the answers. Listen to what is not only said but what is NOT said. Remember to foster collaboration, collective problem-solving, critical thinking, and community. Individual and collective growth are vital to continued school wide improvement so make every effort to plan time for both. Think about the skill set and knowledge base of the teachers you coach… where do they need support; how will you continue to move their practices forward; and what do you need to nourish your own professional growth? Coaching is not a cookie cutter model; be deliberate, planful, and flexible in your work with your teaching colleagues.

What are some ways you will “listen to the quiet” and plan your work as the new school year begins?