By an interesting coincidence, I was asked a question and given an answer in back-to-back emails this week. An excellent professional developer and state leader in Louisiana, Anne Clouatre, asked me for some ideas (questions to consider) regarding state-wide school reform. Today, a friend of mine who happens to be a great thinker about reform, Mary Little, an Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida, and the Principal Investigator for Project Central, reminded me that Michael Fullan has a great website where interested change agents can download many useful articles about state-wide reform. Anyone interested in this topic will benefit from checking Dr. Fullan's website and downloading some of his articles.
Today I was asked about the kinds of interventions that coaches should share with teachers. I thought I'd explain how we understand this on the Pathways to Success project.
Hierarchy of Instructional Practices:
Coaches in the Pathways to Success project identify appropriate interventions by understanding teachers’ needs as a hierarchy, something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s famous theory suggests that people are motivated by unsatisfied needs and that lower needs such as physiological, safety and love needs have to be satisfied before higher needs like esteem and self actualization can be addressed.
I make a similar claim for the professional needs of teachers in the classroom. A teacher who has not developed systems for managing student behavior in the classroom probably needs to learn how to keep his or her class under control before learning about teaching concepts, and that teacher is also probably most interested in learning about classroom management. By considering a teacher’s needs, Instructional Coaches can provide focused professional development that is highly relevant to the teacher. Our belief is that every level of the hierarchy has to be met before the next level can be addressed.
Level One: Classroom Management. Students can not learn if they are not on task. Teachers need to be able to keep the classroom a safe, productive learning community for all students. Coaches can teach teachers how to clarify and reinforce behavior expectations through interventions such as Randy Sprick’s CHAMPs program. Also teachers can learn how to establish the essential elements of a learning community through interventions such as Sue Vernon’s Talking Together program researched at the Kansas University Center for Research on Learning.
Level Two: Clear Understanding of Content and Targets. Once teachers’ classrooms are under control, teachers’ need to be sure they are teaching the right content, and that they have a deep, correct understanding of the content. For that reason, coaches need to know how to access state standards for courses, and how to help teachers translate those standards into lesson plans. Coaches can use interventions such as Keith Lenz’s Course and Unit Organizers, researched at the Kansas University Center for Research on Learning, or Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design to help teachers to unpack standards and clearly explain them as learning outcomes for students.
Level Three: Instructional Basics. Over the past 25 years researchers at the Kansas University Center for Research on Learning have identified and validated instructional basics that teachers can use to help students’ learn effectively. Our research suggests that instruction is improved when teachers (a) provide an advance organizer, (b) use simple content enhancements to make content more memorable, © model thinking processes, (d) provide students with numerous opportunities for guided and independent practice, (e) provide constructive feedback, and (f) structure activities so that students can generalize their learning to other settings.
Level Four: Assessment Literacy. Teachers also need to know if their students are learning content, and they need to involve their students in the whole business of assessing learning. Students can become very motivated when they know how well they’re doing, when they’re getting frequent constructive feedback on their progress, and when they know what they still have to do to improve. Richard Stiggin’s work on Assessment for Learning provides excellent suggestions on how coaches can help their teachers become assessment literate.
Level Five: Instructional Proficiency. Once teachers have their classrooms under control, are clear on their content and content targets, use instructional basics fluently, and are assessment literate, they then can begin to explore any number of ways to demonstrate instructional proficiency. Coaches, at this point, can teach teachers about some additional Content Enhancement Routines, researched at the Kansas University Center for Research on Learning, Discovery Learning, Socratic Dialogue, Story telling, Partnership Education any number of cooperative learning approaches, and so forth.
I received a nice email this week asking me for my top three tips for new Instructional Coaches. Well, the best I could do was five. I've included my email response here:
First off, I really do believe that you would benefit from the coaching institute. Just so you know, I don't benefit financially from the institute, so I'm not trying to sell tickets. My point is simply that the institute simply prepares people well for the whole job of coaching, by explaining what coaches do, what the partnership principles mean for coaches, some powerful communication strategies, and what coaches should do to function as leaders. We talk about issues like how to get buy-in up front, the kind of relationship a coach should set up with a principal, how to determine which intervention to use when, how to deal with conflict, and so forth.
Tip Two: Read the Partnership Principles from the Fieldbook, which you can download for free. Think deeply about which ones you agree with and disagree with. I think it is very important to know what you stand for. Whether or not you like those principles I think it is very important to consider exactly what the principles are that you base your actions on.
Tip Three: Identify which interventions you want to share with teachers (pick a few, in particular that you are really keen on sharing) and then make sure you know them inside and out. Read the manual several times, and think of stories and analogies that help illustrate what is important in each part of the strategy or routine. Also think about the road blocks your teachers are going to encounter, and figure out how you'll help them get around them. For example, what are you going to do to help teachers do scoring and feedback if they have large classes? You need to prepare short clear explanations of what you've got for teachers, and to do that, you need to be sure you know what you're sharing really well.
Tip Four: Prepare stuff in advance for your teachers. Make folders, overheads, learning sheets, whatever they might need. I think you should think of your job as removing all the barriers that might stand in the way of a teacher planning to implement.
TIp Five: Schedule a meeting with your principal(s) and ensure that you are regularly scheduling meetings. During the first meeting, you should work out what your role is. You are there, I imagine, to support professional learning, not to be a substitute teacher or provide services to students. You need to make sure that you're not swept up in doing too many things that are not helping improve instruction. You probably also need to explain the partnership approach described in the Fieldbook. You don't want to find yourself working with teachers who are told they have to work with you. A better approach is for the principal to apply pressure if a teacher needs help, by telling "things have to change in your class. You might want to talk with Pam, that's up to you, but things have to change, and I'll be back to observe."
Tip Six: Take it one step at a time. You don't need to do everything, and it's better to do a few interventions well than it is to do a ton poorly. Take your time to get to know things well. Take it a step at a time.
Two people recently have asked me to say more about the role and responsibilities of Instructional Coaches, so I thought I would jot down a few ideas here: Please remember that this is a blog, not a journal article, so these are just random thoughts, not systematic carefully worked out stuff—
My first thought is that an instructional coach’s only job is to improve instruction. So, when we think about whether or not a coach should be doing a particular task, there is a simple question to ask:
If the coach does this task or takes on this responsibility, will it improve instruction?
Using this simple question as a filter, we can sort out some of the stuff coaches are sometimes asked to do:
YES: Some things coaches should do:
As we point out in our institutes, and as I describe in my Principal Leadership article (May, 2005), our instructional coaches perform specific tasks:
(a) enrollment, getting people on board with a program
(b) collaboration, identifying and learning research-based interventions
© modeling, providing model lessons for students
(d) observing teachers & providing feedback
(f) ongoing collaboration
These are things that all instructional coaches who learn our model are going to do.
MAYBE: Some things coach’s might do
Gather and analyze data—coaches might do this unless their role as a coach becomes buried under data. If a coach is spending more than 15% of time on testing and data, something’s wrong
Lead teams—coaches could do this in a professional development capacity, that is leading teams until the teams are ready to take over and lead themselves
Participate in meetings—some meetings are essential, some are a waste of time, and coaches need to collaborate with their supervisors to ensure that they do not have to go to the time wasters. Essential meetings are ones with school principals, at least once every two weeks and preferably once a week.
External meetings—only the essential ones should be attended, but sometimes coaches have to show up to have a say in big decisions or to make sure that decision makers know what they’re doing
Making copies: we say that this is a yes, so long as the copies are going to help a teacher implement a new program
NO: Stuff coaches shouldn’t do
Providing services to kids. In other words, coaches might work with kids during a model lesson, but they should not be providing student services when they could be providing teacher services. This is not to denigrate the rewarding important work of working with students, and all the good coaches I've met love to teach. However, if a coach is spending a lot of time teaching, then who is providing the professional development? Not the coach, that's for sure.
As a general rule, at least 75% of the time, a coach should be providing services directly to teachers.
Extra office duties
And any other task that takes coaches away from the real job of improving instruction
Having said all of this, every school has it’s unique needs, so you or your school or district may wish to define a coach’s role differently. The most important issue is that you define your role, and then you communicate it to those who evaluate and make decisions about the work you do.
Next time, I’ll talk a bit about how coaches should go about negotiating a contract with their principals
Yesterday, I finished the first round of a series of professional learning activities for new Instructional Coaches who will be supported by the Passport to Success program in several counties in Maryland. At the end of the day, our eighth day together over the past two months, I asked them to sum up what they’re excited about. Here is a sample of the comments the new ICs wrote down:
“I am very excited about working with teachers and students on strategies that have been proven to work… Starting small with 6 inspirational teachers will lead to others in the school being infected with good, solid teaching.”
‘I can’t wait to see what we will produce and the effect we’ll have on our students...”
“Learning is and can be fun.”
—Lynnea M. Doggett-Mitchell
“I am looking forward to ... helping my teachers develop a thirst to structure their teaching so students are equipped to become independent, lifelong learners.”
“If I can generate a positive change in a school where I know no one—I will have won the Derby. If I can be an instrument of change to a teacher who is bogged down by not having enough time—then I will have become a Triple Crown winner.”
“I feel some pressure (self-imposed) as I enter the challenging arena of Instructional Coaching. There is so much at stake for our kids, and I want to provide the highest caliber of support possible for them and their teachers. I am energized by the quality and utility of the Passport Content Enhancements and learning strategies as well as the support from all the trainers. I’m excited to get started.”
“It is difficult to contain myself. When I am told to slow down, I want others to speed up! The information, strategies, and Content Enhancement are soooo wonderful and vital to our children that I believe everybody should be doing it.
But as every good leader knows, you must be a good follower to be a good leader…”
“My teachers are anxiously awaiting...”