Education Week - June 13, 2018 - 20
LEFT: Instructional coaches Sarah Menn (left)
and Diane Caldwell (right) consult with one another
in Menn's office.
BELOW: Diane Caldwell's notebook rests on her desk.
A New Coach
Finds Her Footing
By Sarah Menn
hen my principal, Ron
M y e r s, f i r s t a s k e d
my colleague Diane
Caldwell and me to
consider taking on the
roles of instructional
coaches for our campus,
the concept was a new
one to me. Though I had heard about instructional
coaching at various education conferences, I was
an Advanced Placement language and composition
teacher and had no personal coaching experience.
Ron had seen firsthand the positive effect coaches
had on student success through working with other
coaches in a previous district, and he wanted to
replicate that process. The idea of working side by
side with teachers to improve their instruction was
appealing. Diane and I agreed to take on the new
challenge (though I remained in a dual teaching-
coaching role until the end of this school year).
She and I prepared to hit the ground running at the
beginning of the school year, but it did not take long
for the cold rush of reality to check our idealistic goals.
What we found in those first weeks was that teachers
did not understand what instructional coaching was,
and we had only a superficial understanding of how
to coach and what it could accomplish.
We expressed our concern to Ron, who agreed
to send us to training with coaching expert Jim
Knight at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. This training was critical in
sharpening our understanding of coaching with an
instructional focus. Jim said that we "must embrace
our current reality" if we are to improve. It is not
enough to simply make a goal; we must acknowledge where we are first.
Diane and I returned to campus with a new perspective, ready to assess our school's strengths
and challenges. We began using the Instructional
Coaching Impact Cycle, a tool Jim provided to guide
our conversations with teachers. We helped them 1)
Identify student-focused goals; 2) Learn new teaching strategies through modeling; and 3) Improve
through implementation, data collection, and reflection about progress.
As a result, the dialogue we had with teachers
started to change. A handful of teachers began to
step out of their comfort zone and take risks with
instructional methods they had not tried before,
using us for support. In mid-February of our first
year, we began to see small returns from our adjustments-baby steps, but progress nonetheless.
As our first year of coaching came to an end,
Diane and I used Ron as a sounding board to consider our goals for the next school year. At that
point in our coaching, we had worked with a handful of individual teachers, with most of whom we
already had pre-existing strong relationships. But
how could we reach more teachers outside the departments in which we had taught? We realized we
needed to address professional learning communities first and individual teachers second.
So, the following fall, we returned with a goal to reinforce, support, and empower teachers in their PLCs
to make decisions and implement instruction that
would challenge students and promote continuous
improvement in learning. We based this on a strong
campus belief in the power of collective efficacy-a
term researcher John Hattie defines as group trust in
teachers' ability to positively affect students.
Through questioning current instruction with
the English/language arts and social studies PLCs,
my conversations with teachers became less about
teaching and more about learning, less about quantitative data and more about qualitative data, and
less "what was missed" and more "how do we fix it."
"Test scores and student engagement
improved, and students had fewer
What did this look like in practice? In the social
studies PLC I was coaching, teachers wanted to increase the number of students scoring at the recommended level on the state test. We scheduled a
"design day" to evaluate our current curricula, as
well as instructional strategies from a site visit to a
nearby school that was outperforming us, and materials we gathered through research. Our teachers
decided that, rather than have students take notes,
they would use class time to have students work
with the notes' content in a more rigorous way and
design relevant assessments.
As I helped teachers in rolling out this new curricula, we all met regularly to evaluate its effectiveness, work out challenges, and refine along the way.
Test scores and student engagement improved, and
students had fewer missing assignments.
The PLC also shared their professional learning
with the staff, inspiring other PLCs to consider curricular changes that would be impactful for their
Empowering teachers to make instructional decisions that improve student learning is at the heart
of an instructional coach's work. To do this effectively requires working with each PLC and working
behind the scenes. Diane and I collaborate regularly
on instructional patterns that we see emerging in
PLC meetings and bring these to the administrative team, making sure to uphold individual confidentiality. By doing so, we hope to promote campus
goals and initiatives that support continuous improvement by all stakeholders. n
SARAH MENN is an instructional coach at Byron Nelson
High School in Trophy Club, Texas.
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