The Role of Instructional Coaching at Eagle Rock School

They say a shark in the ocean must constantly swim in order to survive, and the same concept holds true for educators. If they’re not consistently exploring new ideas, receiving feedback or learning new teaching techniques, they’re shortchanging the students in their classrooms.

A few years back, some of our staff members did heavy research on continuing teacher education, in addition to studying the findings from other schools concerning the implementation of instructional coaching. The idea was to provide support for our fulltime instructional specialists here at Eagle Rock School as well as our annual group of teaching fellows.

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As a result, we piloted a new instructional coaching position for the 2014/15 school year in advance of welcoming welcome six new fulltime instructors in addition to our annual influx of a dozen new Public Allies fellows.

Janet Johnson, our science instructional specialist, became our first instructional coach, and she performed that fulltime task in impressive fashion for the year, while Sara Benge stayed on for a second year Public Allies fellowship to help with our science instruction.

Janet worked closely with our six new teachers throughout the year and set up coaching cycles, a new teacher Critical Friends Group, and informal supports and check-ins throughout each trimester of the academic year. Since it was our pilot year, Janet had the opportunity to explore new ideas throughout the year, making time to meet with more experienced teachers, and some of our teaching fellows, acting as a resource and a thought partner in their practice.

For the current school year, we’re transitioning into what we believe can be a sustainable way to keep an instructional coach on staff with our current staffing model. Jon Anderson, Eagle Rock’s human performance and outdoor education instructional specialist, is our instructional coach this year, fulfilling the role on a part-time basis. He’ll also continue teaching in the classroom part time.

Jon’s focus will be on supporting our two new instructional specialists this year in addition to offering coaching cycles to experienced instructional specialists.

Here’s the approach Jon plans to take in his instructional coaching efforts this year. First, he’s going to engage our instructors in conversations regarding the school’s professional development objectives and collect information on those objectives. Then he’ll provide feedback on those objectives, looking for patterns — either individually or collectively — that can be turned into additional professional development.

Among the tools Jon plans to continue using is an app called Classroom Walk-Through that he and Jen Frickey, Eagle Rock’s director of curriculum, use for walk-throughs of classrooms. The app provides a template that enables Jon and Jen to capture what they’re seeing in the classrooms when they stop by for a visit.

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Armed with an iPad and the Classroom Walk-Through app, we can save a profile for each teacher, with walk-through notes and observations saved to their profile and emailed to the instructor. That makes for rapid feedback. In addition, a shared platform means Jon and Jen can see each other’s notes on a teacher in order to keep track of visits, patterns within the classroom, and patterns across all classrooms.

Through Jon’s observations he becomes a “learning partner” who can offer a clear picture of what’s happening in an instructor’s classroom.The coach does this by identifying and establishing appropriate milestones using information already collected, and provide teachers with strategies that can be implemented in reaching those milestones.

Tactics to attain these include one-on-one meetings, observations sheets, professional development, video recordings, observations and/or teaching with mentors.

Guiding this new instructional coaching program here at Eagle Rock is the work of Jim Knight and his instructional coaching resources, as well as some of the Expeditionary Learning Instructional Coaching for Leaders resources. Knight is a research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project. If you’re interested in learn more about Knight’s work, check out these free Instructional Coaching resources.

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By creating a systemic approach to instructional coaching at Eagle Rock School that we can sustain on a part-time basis every year, our goal is to rotate some of our more experienced teachers through the position in order to supplement their professional growth. We envision a lot of ongoing potential of this position, using it as an asset in our growth as an instructional team.

Do you have experience with instructional coaching? If so, feel free to leave a comment below sharing your view on how we’re implementing instructional coaching here at Eagle Rock.

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