Guest Post: What Instructional Coaching Does for a School Culture.

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“Where instructional coaching makes an impact on school culture is in that it is intentional, goal-oriented, data driven collaboration that includes elements of reflection, documenting the learning and sharing it with the wider educational community.” -Cory Roffey, Instructional Coach

Your Instructional Coach

Recently my wife proposed the idea of putting a bee hive in our backyard.  I liked the idea of fresh honey, so I was on board.  However, once I lived with these bees in my yard and learned a little more I realized that bees not only produced honey, but they directly contribute to strengthening the ecosystem within our backyard and wider neighborhood. Not only do we get fresh honey, but through pollination the bees cause our fruit trees, plants, flowers and whole garden to flourish.  When I became an Instructional Coach six years ago, it was a little like getting bees.  Just like I understood that bees equal honey, I instantly grasped the idea that coaching leads to teacher growth which impacts student learning.  What it took me longer to realize was that instructional coaching also impacts the wider school culture.  As I worked with teachers over a number…

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Learn from your Students

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My aha’s from today’s classroom observations, co-teaching and two students’ critique of a teacher’s lesson:

  • Talk with students, not at them. Notice what they are saying – verbally and with their body language.
  • Listen to kids. They have valuable things to say.
  • Trust kids. They can engage in in-depth conversations, deep thinking and problem solving about meaningful topics.
  • Learn from kids. Ask and they will share insights that will help you improve your teaching.

Frost by Robert John Meehan

Sometimes a moment
Stands out in time
A new life discovered
By a lesson in rhyme

Everything changed by
A single selection
A turning point made
In a moment’s alliteration

A new way to continue
Discovered in rhyme
One moment that changed
My life for all time

In that moment of time
A difference was made
My turning point reached
A life’s validity laid

My life’s road discovered
By a lesson in rhyme
The road less traveled
Was that selection of mine

And that too has made
All the difference

(copyright1993-2007)

Photo Credit: Pinterest

 

Believe in the Least of These

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I had such a blessed day today and the highlight was working with a student from creative writing class. This student struggles academically and has an IEP but with support in a quiet setting and the promise of a reward for working for a certain amount of time he was able to complete his story. I had no idea what reward I would give him if he actually completed the assignment. 

When he did finish the entire piece (working twice as long as his teacher and I required) he asked,”Do you have any candy?” Luckily, I had tucked away a Snickers bar into my purse the night before so I happily gave it to him.  He deserved it along with lots of praise. I want to remember this day and how proud this student was to return to his class and tell his teacher he had finished his writing piece. 

ALWAYS believe in every student. Give them your BEST. (And if you have one, give them a Snickers bar.)

“…’Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” – Matt 25:40 NIV

“Then before I left class, Ms. Gruwell told me something that would change my life forever. She told me she believed in me. I have never heard those words from anyone… especially a teacher.” – The Freedom Writers Diary

Direct their Next Steps

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“Feedback, whether it be written or verbal, must direct the next step for students. In Wiliam’s words, it should be a “recipe for future action” and provide direction for where students need to go next. Comments should be prioritized into smaller, doable next steps with time provided for students to apply the feedback they have been given. Oftentimes, less feedback can have a greater impact.” – Feedback: A Recipe for Future Action, Teresa Rogers, Kentucky Teacher 2017

The quality of the feedback you give should directs kids to the next steps. This jumped out at me this week as I read the first and second articles in this series by Rogers. I immediately thought of the most recent feedback I had given students in my high school’s creative writing class. I’m certain my feedback lacked the information they needed to make those next steps. Before I read those next set of creative writing pieces, I need to really consider how to give quality feedback that they can act upon. I need to give DESCRIPTIVE feedback. 

“Descriptive feedback is intended to be constructive and is composed of both ‘achievement feedback’ and ‘improvement feedback.'” – Rogers

Descriptive Feedback Helps All Students Reach Proficiency from EL Education on Vimeo.

Dialogue like a Coach

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While preparing this week for my next coaching cycle, I ran across an eye-opening quote in Diane Sweeney‘s book, Student-Center Coaching. She quotes the authors from the book Difficult Conversations and it opened my mind to how I would move forward this cycle – I will journey forward with a sense of curiosity, not certainty that I have the full picture of teaching and learning in these teachers’ classrooms.

“Certainty locks us out of their story; curiosity lets us in.” – Stone, et al.

Today, I searched for more on this topic of being curious instead of certain and I found this great post in which the author explains how keeping an open mind is the avenue to meaningful dialogue and the way to engage in learning conversations.

“Instead of seeing our role as that of delivering a message to the other party, we need to engage in a ‘learning conversation.'” – Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Since instructional coaching is built upon the foundation of relationships with teachers, meaningful dialogue is a key principle for coaches to keep in mind. Teaching is a very personal endeavor so even when we engage in professional conversations, a teacher’s “sense of identity might be threatened by the conversation.”

For days I was heavy with thoughts about how to deliver a certain message to my teachers about my class visits this week, so when I discovered this idea of curiosity not certainty my world opened up! My job was not to deliver a message from a standpoint of judgement and certainty but to dialogue with each teacher through inquiry so I could better understand why the teachers were doing what they were doing in their classrooms during my visits.

“All people and relationships, especially intimate ones, are complex and layered. Acknowledging that people have different shades to their personalities will shield us from black and white judgments. By shedding our inhibitions but holding back on judgments, we can venture forth to have productive exchanges that can alter the quality of our lives.” – Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Go forth and alter the quality of coaching with a curious mind open to each teacher’s story! 🙂

*Photo Credit: flickr

Coach to the Next Level

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Phot Credit: Flickr 

“Imagine you hired a tennis coach to help you improve your game. Then you showed up for the first lesson and he suggested that you observe as he played for the next hour. You’d probably ask for your money back. What if he suggested that he spend the hour observing you? He’ll take some notes and then the two of you will go through it later. Again, you’d be wondering why you are paying this guy. What if he suggested that you focus on your game and, since you are so busy, he will help you out by picking up your balls? You would be wondering when this guy actually planned to provide you with some coaching. By now you may have recognized some of the most common practices used by literacy coaches; modeling, observing, and serving as a resource provider. While each of these methods offers some value to teachers, there are other ways we can take coaching to the next level.” – Diane Sweeney, Student-Centered Coaching

I love this analogy! This quote was taken from Sweeney’s article Moving Beyond Modeling with Student-Centered Coaching in which she highlights techniques to help coaches really move beyond simply watching teachers, being watched by teachers or providing resources. 

My goal now is to refine my coaching plan so I’m incorporating student-centered coaching which focuses on student learning, student performance and learning outcomes in every coaching session (driven by an analysis of student work). This coaching model marries well with many of the takeaways I gleaned from last week’s Assessment Conference in Louisville and the Novice Reduction workshop in Lexington. The sessions and the workshop contained a central focus on analyzing student work/performance in order to make better instructional decisions – assessment FOR learning. 

“Classroom assessment that involves students in the process and focuses on increasing learning can motivate rather than merely measure students.” – Stephen Chappuis and Richard J. Stiggins, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning (CASL)

Photo Credit: Flickr 

Build Resilience | Be Grateful

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I listened to a podcast this morning on Success Talks – a podcast presented by Success magazine – and it really supports my professional learning in the area of growth mindset. In Building Resilience Through Gratitude, Anne Grady outlines the research on neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to be less reactive and more positive by being grateful.

Growth-mindset-blueNow, she never used the term growth mindset in this episode but throughout it I kept thinking about the growth mindset work I’m doing right now to earn a microcredential. I’m wondering how we might incorporate this idea of gratitude into our growth mindset lesson/unit.

I also kept thinking of this same concept in terms of my spiritual walk as well. Blogger Ann Voskamp challenged herself to be more grateful by documenting 1,000 things for which she’s grateful. A focus on the good can conquer our debilitating negative attitudes.

I want to remember the following as I continue to retrain my brain to be more appreciative and receptive to all the good in my life.

“Resilient people process their emotions and give themselves time to recover from them, while being grateful for the lessons they learn.” —Anne Grady

*image taken from the Warrior Mind Coach blog in the post 8 Growth Mindset Ways to Develop Mental Strength