I’ve been wrestling with this blogpost for several days now, and am late in posting it according to my self-imposed Sunday, 1:00 p.m. deadline. I’m not sure that I can pinpoint the struggle with getting coherent words on the screen, but perhaps the struggle is evidence of the internal struggle I’m experiencing.
The Internal Struggle
As we jump into the eighth week of school, I am questioning my impact as an instructional coach. I feel like I’m doing what so many educators do: working my arse off, but possibly working on the “wrong” thing. I have nothing to show for the work I’m doing.
That’s not entirely true. I have a digital and a paper calendar that provide evidence of the time I’ve spent with teachers and students – it’s the majority of my time (as it should be). I have logs of coaching conversations with teachers at multiple grade levels from the past 7 weeks, yet nothing to show an impact on student learning. As education icon John Hattie recently stated in a phenomenal Edview360 podcast with host, Pam Austin, “…the core notion of teaching is knowing the impact…” I’m not seeing my impact on student learning… yet.
The good news here, amongst all of this woe, is that our instructional coaching staff is spending significant time this week buckling down and identifying common coaching tools and language to better implement and measure our coaching impact on both student learning (what it’s all about) and teacher efficacy.
Plan, Teach, Reflect
In our work, I hope we can arrive at a method of encouraging self reflection among the teacher teams with which we work. From the podcast, Hattie dropped the following golden nuggets in regards to educator self reflection, or evaluative thinking:
- It’s not about what they (teachers) did, it’s about how they thought about what they did.
- Teachers who have high expectations for all students are incredibly successful.
- It’s the willingness to be critiqued…
In regards to the first bullet point, the precursor to thinking about what they did is intentionally implementing high-impact strategies through strategic planning for high levels of student learning. In order to have an impact on student learning as an instructional coach, my time would best be used by supporting teachers in that intentional planning (plan), supporting them in implementing the plan (teach), and supporting them in evaluating (reflect) the effectiveness of the implementation.
In our school district, our administrative staff has settled on 5 expectations for teachers, making our job as instructional coaches significantly clear. Our coaching cycles have a distinct focus: we will support teachers in planning, teaching, and reflecting around the following instructional and behavioral expectations:
FMCSD Instructional Expectations
#1 – Teachers use total participation techniques to engage a variety of learners.
#2 – Students do the majority of thinking or questioning to clarify or build on each others’ thinking.
#3 – Teachers use frequent checks for understanding to assess student learning.
FMCSD Behavioral Expectations
#1 – Staff provide positive greetings to each student each day.
#2 – Behavior expectations are established, modeled, taught and posted in all classrooms.
In regards to the second bullet point from Hattie’s golden nuggets, we have adopted a central tenet from our work with Solution Tree: we believe that all students can learn at high levels. In our coaching work, we must revisit this notion repeatedly, paired with the truth that Hattie shared: Teachers who have high expectations for all students are incredibly successful.
Finally, in regards to the third bullet point, the willingness to be critiqued is all about mindset. We are somewhat limited in our ability to “change” the mindsets of teachers, but relying on data and evaluating it through the lens of measuring our impact perhaps takes the judgement out of the impact equation. We identify high-impact instructional strategies (our district has identified five), we intentionally plan to implement them, and we evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation by collectively evaluating the data – the evidence of student learning.
I wonder if it would work to open a coaching cycle with the following, “Full disclosure: if nothing changes about our instructional approach and nothing changes about student learning, we have collectively failed.” AND you don’t have to be bad to get better. AND having differing viewpoints is a good thing; being contradicted opens up possibilities for growth. AND this whole process is about learning for all: teachers and students. It is NOT about compliance, but rather about building our capacity to continue to get better at what we do.
At long last, my wrestling match with this post is over. I can’t say that I’ve won the match, but I can say I’ve worked toward my original goals for maintaining this blog:
- Document my learning journey as a teacher, coach, and student
- Improve my writing craft through reflection
- Act as a producer rather than a consumer
- Push my thinking
- Connect with others
Now, may I find that elusive measure of my impact on student learning…