Instructional coaching can be a powerful framework for teacher professional development, but not all coaching is created equally. As a beneficiary of a Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program (TSL) Grant, the Marion County School District has been working to improve instructional coaching practices, with great success. Here are the changes we’ve made that have had the most impact.
1) Focus your PLC meetings.
In the past, our professional learning community (PLC) meetings were fairly unstructured. Teachers would show up, and the meeting would sometimes turn into a staff meeting, or a department meeting, or a grade-level team meeting.
This year, we’ve implemented the Supporting Teacher Effectiveness Project (STEP) model, which is highly teacher-driven, but provides more focus and structure. It’s important to involve teachers in their own PD, to make them active decision-makers in the process, because they know what the bright spots and challenges are in their own classrooms.
Our new process preserves that autonomy, but has given those meetings a structure. Striking a balance between maintaining a framework and empowering teachers creates an environment in which collaboration can flourish.
2) Encourage reflection rather than compliance.
It can be tempting for instructional coaches to slide into becoming compliance coaches. They are experienced and talented teachers, familiar with best practices and any number of things to avoid. It’s easy for them to slip into telling mentees, “This is what you didn’t do. This is what you need to do.”
But we’re not looking to turn teachers into automatons who respond to this behavior or that challenge, in the same way, every day and in every classroom. We want our teachers to be themselves, to become the best teachers they can be as the individuals they are. And that requires self-reflection, not preprogrammed responses.
Our coaches encourage our teachers to reflect by asking them questions to encourage it and by helping them learn to ask reflective questions of themselves. We also have teachers watch their peers teach and watch videos of their own teaching so they become more mindful of their own practices.