3 Strands of Instructional Coaching at UJH

Professional Growth Plans
As I mentioned in a previous post, at UJH we began the year with two strands of instructional coaching. The first strand consisted of professional growth plans. At the beginning of the school year, my principal and I met with each of our teachers to go over what they wanted to focus on for their own professional growth plans. Most teachers came to this meeting with student-centered goals as to what they wanted their students to be able to do throughout the year. Many came to the table with technology integration goals for their classrooms. This was a great way for me to get my foot in the door with most teachers and begin building trusting relationships with these teachers. It also gave them a chance to get used to me coming to their room just to observe and for them to feel comfortable in expressing their concerns to me without fear of retaliation.

Student-Centered Cycles
I really value the long-term 4-6 week cycle that I have with teachers. These cycles give us a chance to look at student data together and develop differentiation strategies for students at all levels. In a short term impact cycle, it may not be possible to look at such long-term data or practices. Moreover, this cycle gives me the opportunity to work really closely with a teacher. For example, Ms. Fry and I have worked through two separate cycles in which we planned a yearlong unit. Without this structured cycle, this planning might not have happened. What has happened so far in my experience is that teachers who want to do instructional planning don’t want to plan for the “right now.” Instead, teachers want to plan for 4-5 weeks down the road. These cycles allow for this to happen, and in most cases, the teacher will invite you back into the classroom for observation, data collection, as well as reflection and feedback. After year one, I would change how we rolled this cycle opportunity out. This year, we dictated when these cycles would take place and with whom. I would like to change this process to give teachers the ability to select a time frame to have their two cycles with me. If these teachers have something specific that they would like to work on, then they will know the best time for them to work on it. Perhaps it is support for an upcoming project. They need the freedom to select the appropriate time to utilize the instructional coach.

Impact Cycles
The third type of support that we have implemented is the Impact Cycle. This is entirely different than the previous two layers of support. The impact cycle has a duration of perhaps 4-6 hours rather than weeks. Like the Student-Centered Cycle, this process is dialogical. However, this cycle is about identifying bite-size goals that the teacher would like to work on. It is also available to any teacher at any time. As I mentioned in a previous blog about authentic lessons in math, what I have had to become good at is asking the right questions. In the past when I have asked a teacher, “Hey, how are things going for you right now,” the typical response is “fine.” In a way, this has become a cultural norm, at least from my perspective. I would equate it to when I ask my Kindergarten child “how was your day at school today?” and she provided the identical response. I have to stop as a parent and say, is that an acceptable answer to how her day really was? Perhaps I’m not having the right conversations.

The same can be said for teachers. Instead of asking questions to deliver a polite response, I need to really see where they are at. I need a spectrum analysis of their feelings on their progression in that lesson, unit, integration activity, etc. What I have learned to start asking is, “what are three things happening in your class right now that are currently bothering you?” Phrasing the questions this way receives a more reflective response. In a partnership, we can then turn those gripes into bite-size goals to work on together. We can make a plan for observation, data collection, feedback, and reflection. We can identify goals, and in many cases what is bothering the teacher stems from perhaps another issue within the instruction and the goal changes. This is perfectly okay, and it is centered on identifying and meeting the goals of the teacher. It is my job as a coach to help them address the problem that is currently hitting them in the gut.

The second part of the process is guiding them through their own reflection to come up with solutions to their identified goals. Again, I can’t ask the question “how do you think that went?” If I do, I will get the dreaded polite answer of “fine.” Again, I need a spectrum analysis. The right questions that I have found to ask to have a more meaningful reflection are as follows:

  1. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best lesson you’ve ever taught and 1 being the worst, how would you rank that lesson?
  2. What pleased you about the lesson?
  3. What would you have to change to move the lesson closer to a 10?
  4. What would your students be doing differently if your class had performed at a rating of 10?
  5. Tell me more about what that change would look like.
  6. How would we be able to measure that change?
  7. Is that your next goal then?
  8. If you could hit that goal, would it really matter to you? Does it hit you in the gut, or is there something that is more important to you at this time?

At United Junior High, we are only as great as the conversation had by our teachers. In my position, I am the driving force behind such conversations. In the impact cycle, it’s about having the right conversations to develop solutions to problems that hit teachers in the gut. While there is far more that I could dive into about each of the three strands of support above, this is an abbreviated description of how we can support or teachers in the classroom.