My first year as an instructional coach was a learning year.
I was experienced as a department chair, but the role of an instructional coach was a bit different. For starters, I was in a different district. The District of Columbia Public Schools have a robust approach to coaching called LEAP — Learning together to Advance our Practice. This method of coaching almost mirrors how assistant principals observe, except for the evaluation component. It was an adjustment at first, but LEAP has helped me to hone my craft as an intentional observer.
The school where I coach and teach, the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, was America’s first Black public high school. In the first half of the twentieth century, this school was an elite institution, which attracted an extraordinary faculty. (Watch as I give a tour of the school’s museum.) Today, we remain a committed and extraordinary faculty; however, like many urban public schools, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a high-poverty school that has historically experienced high staff turnover. Nearly half of my ELA department is either new to the building or new to teaching.
Finally, understanding the human dynamic present within the feedback cycle is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Teachers are humans, just like every other professional, and their humanity must be maintained throughout the observation and feedback process. At the same time, however, instructional coaches and other school-based leaders must see the potential in each teacher and design learning opportunities that help them to see potential in themselves as well.
This entry is the second post in the series Getting Better Together: A Lesson Study
In my first Lesson Study post, I discussed choosing a mathematical goal and task. In ending the post, I invited you to take some individual think time to work out the four questions posed. This was your time to think about how you would plan the lesson for your class, what sequence you would use, and what questions you would ask. You were also tasked with choosing a warmup to engage your class and a formative assessment strategy. Now it’s time to think about the math and the lesson plan.
As teachers, we all know the cycle. It seems just as our heads stop spinning from the end-of-year craziness and we have some downtime, we just can’t seem to help ourselves from reflecting, reading, learning, and planning for the upcoming school year. Not to say this reading, learning and planning isn’t mixed with a healthy dose of beach, pool and golf outings, but no matter how hard we try to relax, we just can’t seem to shake the teacher in us. Now that my head has finally stopped spinning and I have some relative downtime, I wanted to reflect on what has been such an incredible learning year for me.
The climate, or culture, of a school is one of the most important factors in its success. In fact, you can almost feel the climate of a school within seconds of ringing the buzzer for entry. A culture of collaboration and excellence provides the climate for consistent success for students and increased job satisfaction for teachers. Working towards creating this generative environment is a worthy, yet difficult goal.
Whenever you invite humans into the process of any complex work, there’s the inevitability of error, miscalculation, or failure. What’s also possible in this space, and I think what makes this process so messy and beautiful, is the potential for teachers to change, grow, and create transformative teaching experiences.
It’s that time of year again. You know, when you can tell people exactly (down to the second) when school lets out for the summer.
It can’t get here fast enough and we know why. You deserve a much needed break! But we also know that many of you take the summer to catch up on activities that stimulate the mind, from visiting your city’s local museums, to reading books from your classroom library so you can recommend more options to your students. We want to help you accomplish all of these things, so we created a list of great resources. Here are ten things you can do to take advantage of summer.
At the end of the school year, I always find myself in such a weird space. I’m exhausted, need a breather, and know I should take some time to get off the runaway train that is teaching.
However, that need to disconnect, decompress, and check out of education thinking for a bit is quickly followed with the excitement of finally having time to catch up on all the great educational reads I can’t seem to get through during the school year. As I start to make my list — and question whether I’m a workaholic unable to disconnect from teaching — I find so many teachers and coaches on Twitter asking for book recommendations. Whether it be recommendations for the following school year’s professional learning or simply for personal learning, I’m relieved to see I’m not alone!
The life of an instructional coach is a balancing act. On the one hand, you are still a teacher. You still plan lessons, they’re just called agendas. You still assess the effectiveness of your instruction, but now refer to the process as follow-up professional development sessions. On the other hand, you are a part of the instructional leadership team with the assistant principals and principal of the school. You have “crossed over” to the other side, to use teacher parlance.
This straddling of two perspectives can help you craft initiatives for great teaching that work for both teachers and the instructional leadership team. The beauty of this duality is that it allows teachers and leaders to work together to determine what the initiatives will be. The improvement of teaching is best realized when teachers are involved in the conversation, rather than summoned to the table. Here are four ways I’ve worked with teachers and administrators to create room for teacher voice and collaboration:
My first example of love was from my parents, which is probably true for most people. Their care and attention to my moral, spiritual, and physical development provided the template for what I hope to achieve with Laila and Joshua, my two children. In the space between the example that I saw and the habits I hope to repeat, learning took place. This relationship is essential to creating an infrastructure that allows great teaching to flow.
You must set a vision of excellence that is visible, practical, and impactful. For many, this vision requires an intentional shift. Throughout my work at Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, it has become clear that there are three high-leverage actions that begin to facilitate this change: establishing common language and expectations, building a standards-based foundation, and maintaining a tight feedback loop. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider when engaging with each action:
How do you transform a 45-minute PLC time from being a place where teachers get professional development, to a place where teachers are actively involved and feel ownership in the learning? This was the question I faced as I planned for my first year as the math specialist in my building.
Moving into this new position, I felt that something needed to change from the ways we have typically done PLCs. Instead of the sit-and-get structure, I introduced my teachers to Learning Labs, a method of collaborative planning and classroom observation. In three new videos, Creating a Collaborative Culture of Learning, Teacher Time Out, and Connecting the Dots, you’ll see Learning Labs in action as I work collaboratively with my colleagues to create a space where teachers are actively involved in their own learning, as well as that of their students.
How many times have you heard yourself say, “Don’t TELL me what you know, SHOW me what you understand.” For humans to learn, Richard Elmore points out in his research that they need “encouragement and support, access to special knowledge, time to focus on the requirements of the new task, [and] time to observe others doing it.” Educators know the power of learning together. Yet, teaching is such an isolated profession; we go into our classrooms, shut the door, and then magical things happen from within our four walls. Outsiders rarely see. Our administration and district leaders catch little glimpses of the “magic,” and in an attempt to share our bag of tricks, they ask us to participate in Professional Learning Communities. Talking just isn’t enough, and in our profession we don’t have systems in place for us to “see” one another in action. I’d like this to change. What if we could share more effectively? What if I could see what cool things are happening in my friend’s classroom next door and never have to write sub plans?