Education Week - June 13, 2018 - 19
Instructional Coach Diane
Caldwell (center) meets with
the school's biology professional
An Instructional Coach Builds Trust
By Diane Caldwell
their PLCs. Thankfully, our principal Ron
Myers has provided us with the greatest
resource to assist in our quest for continuous improvement: instructional coaches.
Both of our instructional coaches play a
major role in the growth and effectiveness
of our professional learning communities and are able to provide teachers with
guidance and support, all with absolutely
no strings attached. Their role is never to
evaluate teachers' work, so the teachers can
trust these coaches completely to help them
work through areas of weakness in their
practice. Through their consistent presence
in both the PLCs and the classroom, the instructional coaches provide teachers with
the chance to honestly embrace areas that
require growth and build the tools needed
for the hard work of continuous improvement. It all goes back to the relationship
built upon trust.
For the past two years, I have had the
privilege of working alongside our campus
instructional coach, Diane Caldwell, whose
area of expertise is science and math, as
well as our English/language arts and social
studies instructional coach, Sarah Menn.
Diane, with whom I work the most closely,
has been instrumental in helping the science
PLCs develop into some of the highest functioning teams on our campus.
Our biology PLC, in particular, faces the
constant challenges of an overcrowded
curriculum and a state assessment that
tries to dictate the instruction without
consideration of the needs of the learners.
The team members consistently plan targeted instruction using both formal data
(assessment results) and informal data
(observations of student learning behaviors), model best practices and teaching
strategies for one another, and take an active approach to teaching. Their conversations demonstrate a great deal of critical,
reflective, and purposeful thinking, which
has resulted in improved student learning
and a group of confident, highly effective
teachers. While all of our science PLCs utilize many of these high-functioning PLC
behaviors, the biology PLC has the additional challenge of the state assessment
to deal with, which makes their work that
much more important.
In my own relationship with our instructional coaches, it is essential that we respect each other's role. I never require that
a teacher seek out his or her instructional
coach for assistance, but I do often recommend that teachers ask for help in certain
endeavors. Diane and Sarah are able to
quickly identify when certain matters are of
an administrative nature, and either direct
the teacher to me or let me know.
Continuous improvement requires a great
deal of collaboration and the voices of many
to create positive change. We must believe
in each other, trust each other, and work together to create a learning experience that
will truly transform our students' futures. n
s a former math
teacher, I had personally experienced
many of the barriers
teachers overcome to
provide adequate instruction for students.
So, when my principal,
Ron Myers, asked me to serve as a fulltime campus instructional coach, I decided to leave my own classroom for the
good of everyone else's. Now, I partner
with Ron, an assistant principal (Maggie
Norris), and another instructional coach
(Sarah Menn) to streamline effective
teaching and learning. In various groups,
we support each other's individual work
and strive toward a common goal: the
academic growth of our students.
How exactly do we make this happen?
For starters, Ron meets weekly with
Sarah and me to share an overall vision
for the campuswide work we are doing.
Our frequent check-ins have helped us develop strong, trusting relationships with
each other. Our collaboration also focuses
our goals of supporting teachers in their
practice and identifying professional-development needs across our staff.
My daily work involves coaching dozens of professional learning communities across various subjects. When I first
began coaching, helping teachers understand the benefits an instructional coach
could bring to their classroom was a
struggle. In order to show them firsthand,
I set up walk-throughs so that every
PLC member could observe each other's
classrooms. Then we discussed what
they observed and how it compared with
their own classrooms before setting in-
Diane Caldwell (right) and Sarah
Menn (left) consult with the school's
principal, Ron Myers, in his office.
dividual goals and creating action plans
to meet them. To give teachers complete
ownership over the plan, I listened to
what they would like to practice and
promised I would provide feedback and
support throughout the process.
For example, I collaborate with Maggie
to coach our school's science department-
including biology, chemistry, and physics
teachers who attend their individual science PLCs. These teachers meet at least
weekly to discuss content planning, instructional strategies, and testing data.
The meetings are meant to provide continuity and alignment of instruction for
students as they move between teachers,
and I try to sit in on as many as I can.
Though Maggie is an administrator, I
see her as a co-instructional leader for
our science PLCs. Our brief meetings,
both ad hoc and scheduled, may be in
one of our offices, informally in the hallway, or over the phone. Maggie and I also
agree to share team discussions about
data and instructional strategies, but
I keep specific coaching requests from
teachers confidential from the group and
from Ron to protect their privacy. This
continues to build up teachers' trust.
The science PLCs are much more familiar with coaching now, but I'm still learning new tactics to improve my work every
day. Asking the right questions to prompt
discussions within the group is all about
In the fall of 2015, our first year of
coaching, Maggie emailed teachers prior
to one PLC meeting to ask, "How will
students be sorted and targeted during
tutorials?" The PLC and I had a discussion that was more compliant than meaningful. Later in the year, when the PLC
was discussing how to handle failing students, I asked the same question, which
prompted enthusiastic discussion about
how the team uses test data to reach students who need extra assistance. We finished the meeting with a plan to divide
students by learning objectives that they
needed to work on and work individually with specific groups. Follow-up data
showed success for students. Even when
we successfully solve one problem, the
work is ever-changing and ongoing.
As I listen and take notes at meeting
discussions, I discover more about the
teachers' instructional needs and identify
possible next steps to meet them. I make
clear that I support critical thinking and
risk-taking, which prompts the team to
think and discuss at deeper levels. Once,
biology teachers were struggling to find
time to create classroom content charts
and vocabulary posters that would clearly
communicate learning expectations. With
input from the PLC meeting, I crafted
"Even when we successfully
solve one problem, the work
is ever-changing and ongoing."
horizontally aligned charts and posters
for all biology teachers, which streamlined
the content objectives we want students
Most importantly, I've learned coaching
techniques that ensure that every member can express his or her opinion in our
group discussions. I ask quieter or newer
teachers what they think about topics we
discuss to make sure all voices are heard.
Since Sarah and I also attend PLCs in
different content areas, we share best
practices with one another and pass
them on to our groups. This helps the
professional growth of teachers and PLCs
across our campus.
The conversations I have with Ron,
Maggie, Sarah, the PLCs, and individual
teachers move me to a better understanding of where we are now. Above all, the
trust we have allows us to be honest
about the places we have to go. n
DIANE CALDWELL is a campus instructional
coach at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy
MAGGIE NORRIS is an assistant principal of Byron
Nelson High School in Trophy Club, Texas.
EDUCATION WEEK | June 13, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 19