One of our major improvement strategies at EPSD is to personalize professional learning for teachers. One of the major actions for this strategy has been the formation of a team of instructional coaches at EPSD. Instructional coaching is a shift in professional learning from a perspective of external training that is infrequent, to a job-embedded expectation that learning is ongoing and is part of our routine teaching practice. In this podcast I sit down for an interview with our instructional coaching team as well as a few teachers about how instructional coaching has improved student learning. Here are 7 highlights about coaching in EPSD.
1. Provides Outside Perspective
We all have blind spots. There are things we will never be able to see for ourselves or become aware of ourselves. A coach provides an outside perspective on things we are unable to see, and can bring us to a level of awareness we couldn’t otherwise reach on our own.
“Everyone deserves a coach and everyone deserves to be a lifelong learner,” states director and coach, Erin Miller, in the podcast interview.
2. Provides Personalized Learning
We have all attended a professional learning conference or session that inspired us to do something innovative in our classroom. Often, we return to our practice with the intention to make a change in our instruction, but when reality sets in and we have so much work to do, these ideas go to the wayside.
“It has flipped us from doing a one-size-fits-all PD that teachers may or may not implement in their classrooms to a responsiveness to teachers,” says Erin Miller, “and in a job-embedded way where it is done at the right time and at the right pace for the teacher.”
Coach Sonja Greenway shares, “There is autonomy because you’re choosing what you want to work on, but you are within the district’s vision and mission and goals as well.”
“Teachers see themselves as learners again,” says coach Anne Dewey.
“It’s about what is going on in the classroom already which is why it is so personalized,” states coach Jon Anderson.
3. Connects Colleagues to One Another
Anne Dewey says one of her favorite things about coaching is connecting teachers with each other. When she is working with multiple teachers across the district, she is able to connect teachers together that share similar goals.
Coaches build relationships with principals and teachers to create conversations that lead to behavioral, pedagogical, and content knowledge change within a school. Coaches create a culture that we are all learning together.
4. Collective Efficacy
“Sometimes as a teacher you get caught up in the day to day and can lose sight of what the bigger goal of the district is or what the bigger goal is for you as a teacher, so sitting down with [a coach] we have the ability to bring that focus back,” quotes Anne Dewey.
This is particularly important because John Hattie’s meta analysis of over 50,000 research studies in education puts collective efficacy as one of the top two highest impacts on learning.
5. Focus on High Impact Instruction
Erin Miller states that “a big part of our role is to be able to keep up with the latest research in educational journals and be able to turn around and share it with other teachers in a way that is applicable and meaningful.”
There are some best practices for instruction that years of education research continue to point out as having the largest impact on student learning. Teachers are busy people and they need help gathering and processing this research and how it applies to them and their students. Coaches can help teachers find the research and resources they need.
6. Teacher Wellness Support
Coaching can also provide wellness support for teachers dealing with stress, frustration, or the secondary traumatic stress that teachers experience.
Jon Anderson says in the interview, “I think the emotional support for teachers is overlooked sometimes.” He further states that he feels this is one of the many strengths of the coaching team we have at EPSD.
Coaching can be very emotional because it gets personal. When we break instruction down into the little pieces it hits on the behaviors, beliefs, values, and feelings of a teacher. That is why it is so important for coaches to be good listeners and establish positive relationships with the teachers they are coaching.
7. Safe Place to Take Risks
Coaching is not evaluative, which makes it a safe space for teachers to take risks, try new ideas, and be innovative. Sometimes this results in failure, and that is OK!
Sonja Greenway speaks in the interview about how coaches use the zone of proximal development with teachers just as teachers do with students in the classroom. Coaches challenge teachers, but don’t allow them to go into the panic zone. She further states how coaches provide the support that teachers need to take a risk. Failing on your own is much scarier than failing together. How do we learn without making mistakes? Coaching promotes a growth mindset for teaching, not perfection.
Coaches don’t have all the answers. “I feel like whenever I sit down with a teacher it is mutual coaching. Every time I sit with a teacher, I learn. Every time I sit with my team, I learn. Every time I sit with my principal, I learn.” says Sonja Greenway. We are all teachers and we are all learners, and lifelong learning is embraced by Estes Park School District.
What Do Teachers Have To Say About Coaching?
“She has given me a lot of really good ideas. She has come in and taught lessons with me and modeled lessons…That has probably been the most helpful thing is just having her in the classroom and giving me feedback…” -Erica Bareuther
“I have really appreciated the feedback and guiding questions he has offered to me…I have always felt not only comfortable but encouraged by him.” -Andrew Virdin
“He has co-taught with me and supported me during PLC presentations that I could run by him before going to meet with teachers.” – Marcie Kiser
“My experience with coaching has been very very positive.” -Jason Bradley
“At first I was really nervous…but she was a great encourager for me and she helped me to plan new projects and was a wealth of information…” -Steve Johnson
“She just has so many resources, and she has gathered tons of resources that are very helpful.” – Marcie Kiser
“Every time I go and ask any questions they are always helpful, digging deeper, and asking me meaningful questions to challenge myself and challenge the students more.” – Shawna Carosello
“She is always coming up with new ideas and when I wanted to try something totally new that neither one of us knew about, she took it head on to learn all about it.” – Lauren Shafer
“She helped [my teacher] by showing her how to do it and then [my teacher] could show us how to do it and it worked out really good.” “Now we could do it all by ourselves.” -Gayla Sullivan and 1st Grade Student.