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 Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Instructors Work Together on Formative Assessment

JanetJohnsonJenFrickeyBy Janet Johnson and Jen Frickey

Each year, our school’s instructional team fine-tunes its collective classroom practice by learning together. Instructors submit ideas for possible topics of study and the director of curriculum, in conjunction with our Professional Development Critical Friends Group, chooses an area of focus for the year.

The Critical Friends Group then meets weekly to plan for four instructional meetings each trimester. The members of the group — both instructional specialists and Eagle Rock Public Allies fellows who are seeking Colorado state teaching licensure — volunteer to study an annual theme, design and deliver engaging adult learning, and facilitate our weekly planning meetings.

A hallmark of these meetings is using School Reform Initiative protocols to share our instructional meeting plans and get feedback about them. We commonly use The Charrette Protocol (note: link opens a PDF) and Tuning Protocols (note: link opens a PDF) to examine our works in progress. These protocols — as well as those that help us to learn from texts, investigate teaching, learning and assessment, and examine student work — are often the backbone of our instructional meetings.

This year’s annual theme is Formative Assessment. For assessment to be formative, teachers and students must ask themselves where they are going, have a realistic appraisal of where they are now, and make a plan together for how to get there. These questions are central to our formative assessment approach.

We attempt to develop our skills in four distinct areas:

  1. Communicate learning targets and criteria for success
  2. Provide effective feedback
  3. Foster strategic questioning among students and teachers
  4. Promote self-assessment and goal setting

Formative assessment is student centered and transparent, with students and teachers working together to set learning objectives and collect evidence of meeting goals. The explicit result, of course, is improving student achievement.

Since the Critical Friends Group had varying levels of understanding and experience with formative assessment, we decided to ground our work together using two texts: Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Staff Descends on Tucson for School Reform Initiative Winter Meeting

With five staff members in attendance, Eagle Rock was well represented at last month’s School Reform Initiative (SRI) Winter Meeting in Tucson, Ariz.

The theme for this year’s meeting was “Place,” and while our visit included learning a lot about Arizona and Tucson, what truly brought the conference to life was coming together with educators from around the country to share in the common struggle and opportunity of teaching.

Unlike traditional conferences, where participants sign up for various workshops and lectures, most of the work at the SRI Winter Meeting takes place in small groups. Within these gatherings, 10 to 12 educators share dilemmas facing them in their practice. And, through the use of collaborative protocols, these groups work to reach a greater understand of issues, solve problems or uncork ideas.

The work in small groups is also a chance for educators to practice using protocols and facilitating Critical Friends Groups®, which we use in many different ways here at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center.

SRI_WinterMeeting15In our Critical Friends Groups at Winter Meeting, Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center staff worked through a variety of dilemmas. Science instructor Janet Johnson got her plan for internally run professional development at Eagle Rock tuned, and Societies and Cultures instructional specialist Diego Duran-Medina got a fresh perspective on his “Heartivism” class. Public Allies Fellow in Professional Development Kelsey Baun worked on ways to increase diversity in the Public Allies Fellows corps, and I received feedback on plans to increase literacy across the curriculum at Eagle Rock.

Even though we were working with Continue reading…

Meet The Team: Eagle Rock’s Science Instructor and House Parent – Janet Johnson

Janet-Johnson-Eagle-Rock-SchoolWe’re of the opinion that, if you’re going to blog, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity to introduce the various members of the team here at Eagle Rock. Today, for example, we’re interviewing Janet Johnson, who speaks fluent chemistry, earth science and biology.

Here’s her story:

Eagle Rock: Who are you and what do you to do here at Eagle Rock?

Janet: Right now I am a science instructor, which means I get to facilitate all kinds of cool project-based and experiential classes — with lessons like For the Birds and The Science of Cooking. I am also one of the house parents in Aspen House. Next year I have the opportunity to help support Eagle Rock’s new instructors as they transition into the community.

Eagle Rock: What did you do prior to coming to Eagle Rock?

Janet: As an undergraduate student, I studied biology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. I eventually earned a master’s in science curriculum and instruction from The University of Colorado-Boulder as I was starting my work at Eagle Rock.

In between those two experiences I held various other positions including bank teller, landscaper, restaurant hostess and salesperson at a clothing store. By far the sweetest job was working at a chocolate shop. Mostly I made malts for Midwestern tourists, but every now and again I would get to tend the chocolate or make coconut haystacks. Those were great days.

Eagle Rock: What attracted you to Eagle Rock?

Janet: I first learned about Eagle Rock while I was teaching at the Chinquapin School in Highlands, Texas. Chinquapin is a college prep school for underserved students from the Houston area. Chinquapin was similar to Eagle Rock in its commitment to community, and very different in its Continue reading…

Recommended Reads from Eagle Rock Staffers

Editor’s Note: It’s summertime, and for some reason, we’re all expected to catch up on our reading during this three-month respite from school. And, as you well know, there’s a big difference between required reading and recommended reading. Thus, we offer a second installment of what our staff members present for your personal time perusal. What we’ve done here is outline our educators’ thought process as to why they selected a particular read, along with an image of the book cover, and a link (click the book cover to activate the link) to Amazon so you can purchase the selection if you wish, or download it to your laptop or tablet.

beyond-learning-by-doing-theoretical-currents-in-experiential-jay-w-roberts-paperback-cover-artBeyond Learning By Doing: Theoretical Currents in Experiential Education — By Jay W. Roberts
Recommended by Jesse Beightol, Eagle Rock’s Outdoor Education Instructional Specialist

This book gave me a deeper understanding of the historical roots of Experiential Education. Though many educators value “experience,” experiential education is difficult to define and truly understand. This book looks at the many facets of this approach to education, and then challenges educators to learn from the past in order to continually improve in the future.

Science-as-Thinking-book-coverScience As Thinking: The Constants and Variables of Inquiry Teaching — By Wendy Ward Hoffer
Recommended by Janet Johnson, Eagle Rock’s Science Instructional Specialist

This book is based on backwards planning — and so it follows the model we use here at Eagle Rock — but it focuses specifically on scientific thinking and how inquiry looks as a scientist. What does “thinking like a scientist” mean? How do we capture that thinking in student work? How can we merge that with other strategies that we learn and apply it to science? For example, the practice of Continue reading…