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:  http://piic.pacoaching.org/images/PIICdocuments/Research_and_Eval/piic%20follow-up%20teacher%20survey%20analysis%20brief_final_03-21-17%20pdf.pdf).

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?

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I just had an interesting “end-of-year” conversation with a 2nd year coach from a middle school outside of Pennsylvania. She called to ask me about the gradual release of responsibility and what that meant to her role as a coach. She had two questions: 1) if I encourage teachers to teach without me modeling, what will I do for them; and 2) if they don’t need my anymore, won’t I move myself out of a job?

First things first… I asked her to define instructional coaching and her understanding of the instructional coach’s role. Then I asked her to make three columns: 1) how does she regularly engage with teachers; what are the administrator’s expectations of an effective instructional coaching model; and what do the teachers understand about instructional coaching? From there, we moved onto what each column has in common, where do the expectations align with the realities, and what does she spend the majority of her time doing.

I’m simplifying the conversation but you get the gist… by asking some important questions, the coach began to realize that what she thought she should do and what the teachers and administrator thought she should do were really not in sync. In fact, she realized that the teachers expected her to model without the benefit of the “before” and the “after” and the administrators expected her to raise student standardized test scores even though the tests were summative and by the time she saw those results, the students would no longer be with the same teachers.

So, the question was really not about the gradual release of responsibility but rather about sharing a vision and implementing an effective instructional coaching model that focused on school wide improvement and addressed teacher needs so student learning could be impacted.

Ask the right questions and the answers are so revealing.

As a coach, how do you ensure that the questions asked are really the questions that should be asked?

Monday, June 5, 2017

In the May 23, 2017 ASCD K-12 Leadership Brief, an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review titled, “What to consider before taking on extra work” discusses decision making and three important questions to help you commit to something new: What is my motivation? Does it align with my values? And, do I have a choice?

These questions sound so easy to answer yet there really is no simple answer to these in the roles assumed by instructional coaches and their mentors. In fact, I marvel at the amount of juggling it takes for a mentor to balance the role as an instructional mentor and “life” in their respective intermediate units. And, I think the same struggle exists with teachers and coaches in their buildings. There is a challenge to saying, “Yes” as well as to saying, “No!”

One of the things for which I was recently reminded is to think about the time it takes to complete a task well and to be deliberate in deciding what is a “must” and what is “nice” to do. I have trouble with that… I think I have time for everything when, in fact, that’s further from the truth than I’d like to admit.

Some folks don’t want to disappoint anyone or create the image that they might not be able to finish a task. And, if they feel like their job is dependent upon agreeing to complete tasks, that’s another story. I have also learned that we always “go to the well” when we want something done and have faith that the people we ask won’t say no.

So, what to do? I think setting goals from the beginning and sharing those goals with staff who may be requesting the tasks is a start. I also think bringing others “into the fold” and collaborating with staff can also be incredibly helpful. Two heads are better than one and that removes the pressure that it’s all on one person. That’s what we call the “team approach!”

Food for thought as you are reflecting on this year and making plans for next year.  

How do you manage your responsibilities and take on new experiences in your role? What happens if what you are asked to do by your supervisor doesn’t align with your values?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A dream has come true… our book about instructional coaching has been published by ASCD. The title is Instructional Coaching in Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools (www.ascd.org). What an amazing thing!

So why did we write this book? We wanted to send a message… helping teachers get better at their craft is not something to hide; it’s something to celebrate. We gathered the collective wisdom of a group of instructional coaches, mentors, regional mentor coordinators, and other school leaders to share the thinking about how working with instructional coaches helps to achieve school-wide improvement in a safe environment, builds teacher capacity, and increases student engagement. Each scenario in the book touches those of us involved in education. Who wouldn’t want to help our most precious commodity… our children… in a no-risk environment where innovation, collective problem-solving, collaboration, and transparent communication are valued?

Coaching is not a deficit model. We need to share our message that if musicians, artists, athletes, and even Fortune 500 executives work with coaches to move their practice forward, why shouldn’t education embrace that same philosophy for growth?

So, yes, I am on my soapbox to shout my beliefs about the merits of an effective instructional coaching model. We need instructional coaching to hit the tipping point… we need everyone to talk about how instructional coaching helps teachers and administrators think more deeply about their work and about their collective responsibility for school wide improvement.  

What can you do in your school community to spread the word about how instructional coaching supports teaching and learning?

Friday, May 5, 2017

What an amazing 3-days!

PIIC coaches, IU mentors, administrators, RMCs, and other school leaders just participated in our 3rd multi-day professional learning conference of the year in State College. It was AMAZING!! 18 breakout sessions were offered along with a whole group general session. Participants were engaged, energized, and rejuvenated as they engaged in professional talk with their colleagues from across the state. Talk about incredible karma!

One emerging theme throughout the 3 days was the profound benefit of working with colleagues. The collaboration and shared learning in a safe environment with trusted and experienced colleagues ensured that every participant had a voice, an ear (actually two), and ample opportunities to learn and talk to each other about problems of practice; gain multiple, practical solutions offered by other practitioners; and gained new ideas to add to their inventory of instructional practices.
 
This kind of collaborative learning illustrates Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development.” This zone is where learners learn with the help of guidance. Remember, learning is social and our professional learning conferences demonstrates the notion that interacting with other practitioners helps the learner achieve higher levels of learning and retain more of what they learned (Gokhale 1995). Coaches and mentors support and follow up this learning to ensure that what is learned is applied deeply and effectively. These kinds of opportunities for ongoing collaboration facilitated by coaches and mentors create a culture of shared learning that is transformative.

How do you engage in collaborative learning in your school?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


In the April issue of ASCD K-12 Leadership Brief (ascdleaders@smartbrief.com), author Marlene Chism shares some insights about preventing the pitfalls when coaching employees. While our instructional coaches are not coaching employees per se, they are working with their teaching colleagues in non-evaluative ways to help grow professional practice. At the same time, the coaches are enhancing their own coaching skills and addressing adult learning that influences student performance.

Ms. Chism suggests four common errors that must be avoided when working with colleagues: sending negative messages, lacking clear expectations, confusing goals, and permitting diversions to intrude on intentional discussions.

Again, these are directed towards employers and employees yet they resonant in my own thinking about coaches and teachers who collaborate to ensure they are communicating a shared vision and collective mission for school wide improvement. Coaching is deliberate and purposeful. And, coaches must use their time with colleagues in calculated ways. Teachers have limited time to engage in the BDA cycle of consultation; make every minute count! Be positive, explicit, forward thinking, and focused.  

What “errors” have you encountered that might be added to these four?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Motivation is a tricky thing. We know that motivation is goal driven and shapes outcomes. And, as teachers, we focus a great deal (or should) on how to motivate our students. How much time, however, do we spend on thinking about what drives the adults with whom we work, helping them move their practice forward so that our students can grow?

While both conditions and issues exist in schools that cannot always be addressed by instructional coaches, the collective problem-solving around those conditions and issues is incredibly beneficial and speaks to the power of collaboration and critical thinking. I think the key here is that coaches and teachers must work together to identify those issues and conditions and jointly plan ways to prompt changes that make a difference in the lives of their students. Venting only goes so far.

But, before that happens, coaches and their teaching colleagues must engage in ongoing conversations to talk about the differences between conditions and issues and what learning means to them. Those conversations evolve into talking about how students learn and what both the teachers and their students need to make learning meaningful. Coaches need to get to the heart of what activates behavior. This type of conversation helps the coach understand what motivates the teacher; they need to talk about the “M” word – that which motivates a teacher to go from “good to great” – to know the kind of coaching approach that will help move practice forward.

For instance, coaches can’t change job security or the influx of a diverse population into a district. They can, however, talk about how teachers can strengthen their professional practice to help them address the influx of new students or how improving their skills might influence their marketability. They can engage in conversations about how to make their work more interesting and more relevant to their students. I’m embarrassed to say that there were times in my own teaching career that I spent far too much time on some things and not enough on others simply because I liked certain content more and I was motivated, one way or another, to use that as my barometer.

A teacher’s own motivation will have an impact on those discussions. As a coach, yours will as well.

What motivates you in your coaching role? How do you motivate others?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ever been in a situation where you were torn between what your answer should be to preserve the integrity of the position and the expected answer that might benefit the very stakeholders you pledged to support?

Coaching is messy and this is but one example of how messy it can get. Take for example a coach working in a very small school where there is a principal, director of curriculum, a few coordinators, an instructional coach, and a part-time librarian. The district support is limited because of size and the coach has the perceived flexibility to move around and provide an extra pair of hands wherever and whenever needed. Sound familiar?

The story continues… a trip is scheduled and the classroom parent is unable to attend. Ask the coach… s/he doesn’t need coverage; RtII intervention is needed and there is no district personnel available who can support the process… ask the coach to participate; the testing cycle begins and there is no school team to collaborate and fulfill the needs… the coach is tasked with organizing, administering, and completing the testing process; the principal is scheduled to participate in a monthly workshop out of town throughout the school year… ask the coach to step in and provide support in the principal’s absence. You get the picture…

A coach may wear many hats to support his/her teaching colleagues. But one hat must be taken off the table… that of administrator. That’s why coaches are not supervisory by role or administrative by need. They must maintain the sanctity of a confidential instructional coaching partnership with colleagues.

The administrator’s role is both managerial and governance; neither is a hat for coaches to wear. But, when asked, how does a coach politely thank the principal for his/her confidence and support while declining the offer to be “Principal for the Day?” We could be like Nike and “Just Say No” but we know that answer is not what the administrator expects. The school needs someone to step into that role; now what?

For starters, the coach and leadership team must meet regularly to discuss how instructional coaching helps the school accomplish its schoolwide goals for improvement. The coach cannot devote time to working with colleagues if s/he is pulled away to do other things. Believe it or not, this provides consistency in practice and expectations which benefits the coaching model in the school. There are other ways to address this and I’d love to hear from others how they have confronted this issue.

What kind of situations have you experienced that blurs the line between fulfilling a school need and maintaining integrity to the job?

Friday, March 3, 2017

I just read a blog entry from The Golden Age of Education written by Lee Araoz entitled, “Instructional Coaches Make a Huge Impact.” In this blog post, he calls instructional coaches, “unsung heroes of the education profession.” That’s a great “shout out” to instructional coaches everywhere.

He mentions that coaches (or TOSAs) provide many things but specifically includes the following roles:
• Provide job-embedded professional development.
• Model and demonstrate highly-effective best practices.
• Offer non-evaluative, objective feedback on a regular basis. 
• Create an environment where student needs drive professional development.
• Offer guidance and feedback at the exact time teachers need it most – in the classroom.
• Inspire teachers to try new learning strategies and tools.
• Facilitate the transition from teacher-centered to learner-driven classrooms.
• Are site-based teacher leaders who support both students and their teachers.
• Collaborate with teachers in order to engage students in innovative ways.
• Help to close the digital use divide by ensuring that all students understand how to use technology to create content.

I agree with most of what Lee suggests but a few things concern me: yes, instructional coaches offer guidance and feedback but not directly in the classroom. The outcomes of the guidance and feedback are visible in the classroom but the actual support occurs through the ongoing conversations about practice. That happens in the before and after conversations. The during time is a place where data collection occurs, something that is discussed and agreed upon in the before. The conversations encourage teachers to become very reflective practitioners!

The other thing that worries me is supporting both students and their teachers. From our perspective, coaches do not work directly with students; coaches work to support student learning through their teachers and effective instructional practices. Sure, occasionally, coaches work with student groups in classrooms where the lesson design needs those helping hands but practice doesn’t change when coaches work with students. Practice changes when coaches work with their teaching colleagues in non-evaluative ways and where feedback is a “give and take” process. And, it’s both the student needs and teacher needs that should drive professional learning support. Teachers need to know how to help teachers support student learning.  

Do you have any experiences to share about teachers who believe that coaches should lend a helping hand in the classroom more regularly than engaging in conversations about practice?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The start of the “testing” season will soon be upon us and we all know what that means. Coaches will be “tasked” to be the leaders of the testing brigade. But that’s the issue, isn’t it… coaches will be the testing coordinators, distributors, administrators, make-up facilitators, and test collectors because after all, they don’t have their own classes.

I urge you to be the coordinator… not of the testing process, but of the collective process that should occur in a school. There needs to be a testing committee that shares in the process. Each school has a librarian, a counselor, administrators, maybe a coordinator or two, and other support staff who can all take an active role in the testing community. If we believe that the whole community is impacted by testing, then we should involve the whole community in the testing process. Some schools, in fact, have parent committees who also offer a helping hand in the process. (These schools offer a “training” session to help acquaint parent volunteers with the process.) Each school is part of a district. I wonder if there are a few district folks who can lend a helping hand as well.

To the extent that you can, please try and organize a community effort as we approach the critical testing period. If a coach is the only one facilitating the process, think of all the missed opportunities for that coach to work with his/her teaching colleagues while the administrative work for testing occurs. Can we really, in all good conscience, suspend all our coaching efforts to administer a test that can be easily shared among several members in our communities of learning?

What is the testing process that your school/district employs? Is there room for change?

Thursday, February 2, 2017


In a Huffpost Business blog I recently read, blogger Faisal Hoque mentioned that “…Leaders fail when they cannot connect with people” and that “leaders who can inspire others but are detached from the messy process of managing others fail.”

Instructional coaches are skilled in establishing solid working relationships based on a shared understanding and a mutual respect for teaching and learning. They work with their teaching colleagues to ensure that building teacher capacity, increasing student engagement, and improving student outcomes are the keys to successful implementation of the school wide improvement process. They recognize that developing trusting relationships designed to foster growth removes the stigma of failure and the threat of a negative evaluation. They understand how to navigate the issues that influence student learning and create opportunities for collaboration, collective problem-solving, and transparent communication.

So, how do coaches “connect with others”?  They personalize the interactions with their teaching 
colleagues. They ask questions; they don’t give answers. They encourage thinking out of the box with an emphasis on limitless thinking. They help shape the thought process to be exploratory and interpretive rather than convergent. They focus on discussing multiple perspectives and varied approaches to problems of practice. They do all of this with an added bonus… they recognize the strengths and expertise of their teaching colleagues! They work through the classroom challenges with their colleagues, share the ups and downs, and offer the side-by-side, non-evaluative elbow-to-elbow support. They listen.

What are some of the ways your coaching interactions help you connect with your colleagues?

Monday, January 16, 2017


We just came back from our multi-day, statewide professional learning conference with about 200 participants. They were energized, ready to share, and empowered to learn. They were passionate about instructional coaching and helping teachers reach their fullest potential. They were “stoked” as they collaborated on ways to increase student engagement and teacher commitment.

Coaches, mentors, administrators, and other school leaders engaged in a variety of breakout sessions designed around the components of effective instructional coaching. Conversations were rich as participants reflected on how they help teachers move along the continuum of instructional coaching and strengthen their school, classroom, and individual instructional practices.

What never ceases to amaze me is the depth to which coaches connect with each other to talk about promising teacher practices and share their innermost thoughts about their own practices. These very skilled and knowledgeable coaches wanted to talk to like-minded practitioners with whom they could collectively problem-solve and share a common language.

One of the many things shared was the recurring theme that effective coaching happens once strong relationships are established. Yes, we want our coaches to engage in the before, during, and after cycle of consultation (BDA) but that only happens when the relationship is ready for those deep, reflective conversations to take place. Not every teacher is ready to bare his or her “teaching soul” at the same time. This is not a requirement but rather a goal that can be realized through a time sensitive series of conversations designed to be probing and not invasive, reflective and not dismissive, expressive and not trivial.

Take your time and build strong relationships. Nag and nurture with a pat and push to keep yours and your teaching colleagues’ practices moving forward.

How do you know when your teaching colleagues are ready for deep conversations that influence student learning?

Monday, January 2, 2017

We know that students and teachers learn from each other; learning is social. We also know that our teaching colleagues have a wealth of knowledge and incredible skills that encourages collective problem-solving and creates wonderful learning opportunities for each other. What we also know is that coaching is deliberate so make the time that you work with your colleagues intentional, targeted, need-based, nonjudgmental, and data driven. Engage in real time conversations that are designed to impact teaching and learning.

How does this happen in a tightly packed schedule?

It seems that time is of the essence… it can be a friend or it can be an enemy. For instance, coaches and teachers need to work together in the time they have. “Chat and chews” are a great way to bring practitioners together to discuss problems of practice. Nothing is insurmountable when you have chocolate to share! Let this kind of time be your friend.

Trying to work with teachers only before or after school is complicated. That can be your enemy. After all, if you only work with teachers when they are rushing to get ready for the day or when they have finished a long day with their students, the net effect can be minimized. And, if you cannot plan to visit to see the implementation, there’s not much to talk about that could change practice.

Short bursts of mini professional development sessions during the day where coaches and teachers work together to facilitate learning sessions and then follow up with ongoing conversations about the learning, is an effective use of in-school time. Try it!


How is time both your friend and enemy?