Sunday, August 16, 2015

Structures for Instructional Coaching

 So, if you're an instructional coach, and this is your first year, congratulations. You've made least a week. Around this time in my first year, I remember leaving leadership team meetings with my head swimming with all of my responsibilities, trying to budget my time, and figure out what was most important.

I'm here to tell you what's most important: supporting teacher growth. That's the #1. You can work with kids all day, but that's not going to build capacity in your faculty, which is your main responsibility! Supporting teacher growth can happen in so many ways. Some ways are better than others for certain kinds of support. For example, you don't want to share early reading training with K-5 at an inservice. You'll want just the primary grades, or better yet, each primary grade on its own. I thought I'd share a few of these structures for instructional coaching with you, starting from most broad and moving to most personalized.


Pros: Everybody's there.
Cons: Everybody's there.
This is obviously the most commonly known form of sharing new ideas with teachers. It's a big group. You've identified an area of need on your campus (maybe from teacher input; maybe from top-down input), and you create a training to support teachers in learning that concept. This works for things that all grade levels need; not so great for tailored instruction unless you find an excellent way to differentiate it.

Tips for Making it Work: Provide each grade with materials that are relevant to them, and give them lots of time to talk about the content. They'll do it anyway. Just plan it in.

After-School Professional Development

Pros: Short, focused.
Cons: It's after school.
Best for: Little pieces of information; can also do in a series so teachers add to their toolbox week after week.
This is a short training, usually about an hour long. We have our Learning Thursdays once a week guessed it...Thursdays! We generally rotate our content - reading, math, ELL, writing, science, state required stuff. Once we thought we could do a little minilesson and then give teachers time to plan in response to that minilesson. Uh...nope. Teachers were like, "Oh, that was a nice minilesson. Let's talk and eat chocolate." I'm not blaming anybody, because I know exactly how fried my teacher brain was by the end of the day. Let's just say it was a fail. We try to do things where teachers can talk and share during that time, hopefully to keep them engaged with the content.

Tips for Making it Work: Choose one focus and keep it upbeat. Teachers are tired.

Book Studies

Pros: Small group, focused on one thing.
Cons: People have to read and be ready to participate.

I have really enjoyed this kind of instructional support. It serves a small group of teachers who are interested in a specific topic.  There are a few ways to run a book study. There's the optional kind and the non-optional kind. Two years ago, we read Igniting a Passion for Reading by Stephen Layne, and last year, we read Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle. These were optional book studies. We met once every two weeks for about an hour. Before the session, I'd have sent out an email with the pages we'd read, and I'd try to set a purpose for reading. This was simple. Something like, "Mark one place you have a question about," or "Mark one place you can see trying out in your classroom." We'd meet and discuss. If I'd found a video related to the reading, like with WBT and the abundance of videos on YouTube, I might share it for a small part of our meeting.

I've also hosted non-optional book studies. Our kindergarten teachers had discussed some ideas for unifying our writing instruction, and so we read Already Ready by Katie Wood Ray together. We met once every two weeks during their PE time. They'd read the chapter previously, and we discussed and planned out which ideas would work best for us. I really loved meeting with kinder and discussing the book! What a beautiful professional learning community.

In addition to those book studies, I've hosted whole-school book studies during our Learning Thursdays (obviously, I give people time to read during the session) and even a summer book study on Teach Like a Champion for interested teachers.

Tips for Making it Work: Have the dates planned out in advance, and bring things you baked. Teachers feel appreciated when you think about them! And when they have the dates in advance, they're better able to be ready and available.

Take Your Small Group on Tour!

Pros:You work with the kids on a regular basis. You don't need coverage for the teacher.
Cons: The kids might feel a little self-conscious in the new environment.

Sometimes you start to realize that you're spending a lot of time working with small groups and it's making it difficult to support the teachers. When this has happened to me, I took my group on tour! I offered the opportunity to take my small group into their classrooms for a 30 - 45 minute block of time. I would use their guided reading table and provide them a copy of the lesson plan. I brought my group into their room and delivered my lesson! After that, I had a short debriefing conversation with the teacher. It killed two birds with one stone, which is the only way to survive in this role!

Tips for Making it Work:Take a group that is working on something the teacher would benefit from. If you're working on summarizing, and that's where the teacher is struggling with her kids, that's the best time to go! Also, prep the kids beforehand to ensure they're ready for the attention!

Grade Level Meetings

Pros: One grade level can focus on their needs
Cons: Teachers are busy

We primarily use grade level meetings to debrief about data. I have the data ready for the teachers and we look at areas of strength, weakness, and next steps. 

Tips for Making it Work: Be positive. No one likes to get punched in the face with data. Focus on "What we're going to do next," rather than, "Wow, this was bad."

Planning Support

Pros: Job-embedded support
Cons: Talking about lessons doesn't always result in those lessons

There are different ways to coach teachers through planning. My school has grade levels plan together. In the past, I have led these planning sessions. I provide materials and the district planning guides. I made sure that I had at least one or two new ideas to share, and I made sure I had the necessary tools to actually share those strategies with teachers.

You can also plan with individual teachers. Teachers can ask you for help in planning a specific lesson, or unit. In this case, the teacher probably has a little more freedom in her planning.
Tips for making it work: Be ready to support them with ideas, but make sure that they get the ball rolling. Questions like, "Where do you think your kids need to move?" and "What important skills and strategies do your students need to build on?" are helpful because they respect the teacher's knowledge of her kids.

Tips for Making it Work: Be specific! Provide the tools the teachers need to try new ideas.Have an agenda - know what you need to accomplish during your planning time.

Modeling in classrooms

Pros: Shows the strategy in action, with real kids
Cons: You don't always work with the kids. There's little continuity.

This one always makes my stomach twist a little. I do it frequently, but I don't know if I'll ever feel really, truly comfortable. Maybe no one does. Modeling in classrooms is so important, because it shows the strategies and methods in action. Teachers need to see how to roll out new instructional strategies, and modeling is one of the best ways. But the challenge for me has always been, I don't know the kids, and they don't know me (very well). I don't have a behavioral plan set up, and I am going in for a few lessons at a time. I taught in longer units, where many of my content areas were integrated, and my lessons built on each other. It's impossible to recreate that in a few lessons for an hour a day! So, I know modeling is so important, I haven't yet figured out how to do it in a way that works best for me.

Tips for Making it Work: Plan with the teacher beforehand, so you both know what will happen and you have the teacher's input about their kids. To really support more teachers, find coverage for other teachers' classrooms and invite them in to observe you model, too.


Pros: Working with actual students and the actual teacher, in the actual classroom
Cons: You're not there all day

In this structure for instructional coaching, you plan the lesson with the teacher, deliver the lesson with the teacher, and debrief the lesson with the teacher. You're there to provide support and give input when necessary, and the teacher is taking ownership of the lesson as well.

Tips for Making it Work: Make sure you both know what your responsibilities are. This includes preparing materials, and which parts of the lesson will be delivered by which person.
Each of these structures is valuable for different reasons, and you'll probably find yourself using a blend of them to support your teachers!

What is your favorite way to work with teachers?

To help you on your way, I've put together a nice bundle of instructional coaching freebie pages from my Instructional Coaching Binder MegaPack.  
To read more about supporting teachers in instructional coaching, check out my ebook: The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching on TPT!

Need some documents to help you plan and organize your coaching? Check out my Instructional Coaching MegaPack on TPT! It's full of 140 pages of tools: documents, fillable forms, printable binder covers and labels, observations, logs, and more!

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  1. I'm so glad there's you! I'm a brand new IC and our kids start Monday. I keep telling myself that this job didn't even exist 8 minutes can I already have so much to do? I love reading your blog. Please keep it up for us newbies!
    Mandy Taylor

    1. That's great! Congratulations! Hope you had a great day today :)

  2. I am looking for a little help with looking at data. Ideas, templates, tips?

    1. I'm sorry, Alicia! I just saw this! I think I should put together a blog post on looking at data with teachers! Thanks for the thought!

  3. Thank you for sharing. I am a new IC for K-2nd. I will have 30 teachers to work with. I would like to know how to look at the data and determine how to help the teachers set goals based on their data.