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My tech essentials: A superintendent’s guide to instructional coaching

These 3 tools can help teachers improve their practice

Teacher effectiveness is the number one school-related factor that impacts student achievement. The question then becomes: How do I as a superintendent support my teachers and ensure they are getting the regular, constructive feedback they need to be as effective as possible? I believe the answer lies within effective instructional coaching.

Like athletes, teachers should routinely receive feedback and coaching to help them grow. At Maine Township High School District 207 in Park Ridge, Ill., every one of our teachers receives coaching on a regular basis. In fact, this year’s seniors are the first class to go through the district where each teacher was coached every year. This may sound like a costly and time-consuming undertaking, but we’ve discovered an ingenious system to make it work:

Use teachers as coaches.

In our district, all of our coaches are teachers. Our coaches teach half-time and coach the other half. If you’ve been out of the classroom for five years coaching, teachers may become skeptical about whether you really understand their experience and may not take your feedback as seriously. Having our coaches divide their time between their own classroom and others’ gives them the credibility with the teachers they coach.

(Next page: 3 tools instructional coaches should use)

Coaching is just as valuable for the coaches as it is for the teachers being coached, maybe even more so. As William Glasser once said, “We learn 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear… [and] 95 percent of what we teach to someone else.” When our coaches are giving feedback to their peers, they are also learning how to improve their own teaching practice, which they can apply immediately in their own classrooms.

Here are three tech tools that help us facilitate our coaching model and ensure each of our teachers gets the support they need:

1) Video cameras: Whether with a camcorder, a webcam, or a smartphone, having teachers record themselves is incredibly valuable. Since our coaches are still teaching in their own classrooms half the time, they have less time in the school day to devote to observing other teachers than a full-time coach would. Video circumvents this challenge and allows our coaches to review recorded lessons outside of school hours. It also empowers our teachers to self-reflect and study themselves in real situations. We believe the best practitioners are those who are self-reflective, and video amplifies that in a way no other tool does.

2) Insight ADVANCE: This tool goes hand in hand with video recording, as the platform allows teachers to self-reflect on their practice and share their videos with peers, coaches, or administrators. Those viewing the recording can annotate the video to give feedback.

3) G Suite for Education: I love utility, and I try to keep it simple. I write almost everything using Google Docs because it makes the feedback loop so much more efficient. Once teams begin sharing documents to plan, develop strategies, or even construct messages, having the ability to edit and comment in real time from multiple people and places always leads to a better result. In addition, we use Google Forms to collect survey data from staff about adult-learning programming and to collect feedback about our coaching program to allow us to continue to improve and refine our instructional coaching model. Additionally, we use Meet and Hangouts all the time to chat across the district with each other. Cloud computing has become so ubiquitous that we sometimes forget how much easier and more efficient it has made the work.

Using teachers as coaches establishes them as experts in their field. They are in the classroom every day, interacting with students and observing what works and what doesn’t. Giving them an opportunity to coach their peers creates a sustainable coaching model in which teachers own their learning. The point of coaching is to give our teachers the space and opportunities to improve their practice through self-reflection, as well as peer feedback. As is the case with our students, the educators who own their learning will be that much more invested in growing their practice. If we want our teachers to be great, we have to give them space to be great.

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