instructional coaching

Throughout an academic year, an instructional coach can find themselves going through cycles when working within professional learning communities (PLCs).  When you reflect on the function of your PLC group, it is easy to see how the PLC could loose focus on the main goals.  If the facilitator of the PLC doesn’t recognize the need for re-calibration early enough even the most dedicated group of educators could become completely derailed and discouraged.  As a result of experiencing PLC train wrecks as well as PLC success stories, I developed the following short refocusing exercise for the instructional coach or PLC facilitator to implement with a team of teachers.  Every team has different dynamics, but usually, around mid-year, a very observant instructional coach could begin to notice the signs that suggest it is time for a PLC Refocus.  This is simple in concept, but it requires skillful execution.  If the timing is right and the approach is non-judgmental the PLC could benefit greatly.  Give it a try, and share your results.

PLC Refocus Framework

Focus on Learning Focus on Collaboration Focus on Results Focus on Support
1. How are our actions reflecting that our focus is on student learning! 1. What are our team’s unique strengths and weaknesses? 1. How do you know that collaborative planning times are effective? 1. Specifically, how can external people and resources provide more support towards our efforts?
2. What tools do you use to reveal student understanding?  How do the results impact our collaboration? 2. How are we holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions? 2. What evidence do you see as a result of our collaborative planning?  Is there a significant change or are we doing what we have always done? 2. How could an instructional coaching impact our team?
3. As a group what obstacles are holding us back from establishing more productive collaborative planning time?

Revisiting PLC Norms
Present each question to the entire team for collaboration and ask them to share their thoughts one question at a time.  Ask clarifying questions like those below to simplify the group’s responses and collect their final answers.

  1. What will you say and do when you disagree?
  2. What will you say and do when you are not comfortable with a concept or teaching strategy?
  3. What will you say and do when a colleague achieves a goal?
  4. What will you say and do when a colleague doesn’t follow the PLC Norms?

In a world of ever-increasing productivity, it is easy to feel the pressure to do more. I know many educators, including myself, have been forced to learn how to do more with less in this down economy and diminishing education budgets. I, in fact, have been reflecting more on my current realities and have been trying out different strategies for increasing my teachers’ effectiveness. So far one of the most effective strategies has been helping teachers establish and follow through with a traffic light reflection.  If you work in a coaching role with teachers, try these three strategies for helping increase teacher effectiveness.


1. Examine your practice. When I work with educators, I constantly try to help them make connections between their efforts and their desired results.  Well, that involves two important steps: understand clearly what you are trying to achieve and recognize the actions you are taking to accomplish your goals. I believe it is essential that a coach have clarity in both before successfully helping an educator reach his goals. Basic questions like, what evidence should you see to inform you that you are reaching your goals, what would success look like for you, or what moves have you made as a result of these on to the next challenge, should become a regular part of a teacher’s reflection and should be answered with clear measurable steps or actions for the coach.

2. Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light. In everything, a coach should strive to help a teacher take a structured approach toward  reflection.  As I mentioned earlier, it is easy to get into the routine of adding on more things to do or taking on more responsibilities.  In my work I have found that more attention should be given to identifying the actions that are contributing to the goal as well as those that are not contributing.  To do this I recommend using what I call a traffic light approach to reviewing action.  If followed one should look at the actions that should be started – the “green light”, the actions that should be continued – the “yellow light”, as well as the actions that should be stopped – the “red light”.  I have personally found it easier to find the green and yellow light tasks that should be added or continued, while the red light tasks that need to be discontinued are sometimes less obvious.

3. Take a 30 day challenge.  This step is simple.  Now that you have clearly articulated the end goal and have applied a traffic light reflection to your actions, make a concerted effort to keep track of your efforts for 30 days.  I have found that making this short-term goal allows you to ease into the new reflection habit while giving you enough time to measure a change in your effectiveness.  With a new year right around the corner this could be a perfect fit.

Try this traffic light reflection strategy and let me know what you think.

blackboard business chalkboard concept

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There have been many books and articles written on the theory of change but since we live a result oriented world, how do we practically get through it?  The world of education is not immune to the ever-growing pressure to change.  In fact, we may be at the very heart of it.  According to the latest Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rankings, American students scored 32nd in math ability and 23rd in science achievement.  With more and more rankings, reports, and achievement data pointing to the fact that America’s educational system is in decline, one has to ask how can we turn it around.  Currently, the debate is center on education reform.  Some experts speak of the need for broad sweeping reform, while others lean toward shifting the focus to more economic growth and development.  Regardless of where you stand on reform, one thing rings true.  We have to change.  That is not to simplify the magnitude of the needed change.  After all, we have data supporting the need for change in our teacher recruitment & retention, curriculum focus, instructional practice, teacher evaluation, and assessment & accountability.  My goal with this blog post is to begin taking a look at the conditions needed for changing our instructional practices in the classroom.

We have to educate our way to a better economy. We have a 25 percent drop out rate in this country. We’re losing about a million children each year from our schools to the streets. That’s just economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable and we all have to work together and challenge the status quo.— Arne Duncan

When I am working with teachers to help them improve their effectiveness in the classroom it is easy to underestimate what conditions are necessary for change to take place.  In Jim Knights book Instructional Coaching, he describes two conditions necessary for ideas introduced to survive and be implemented. He states that  (1) the teacher must see that the new choice is more powerful than their current practice; and (2) the new choice must be easier for the teacher to implement.  In addition, I have noticed that when I have been successful at motivating a teacher to try a new practice, I was deliberate about how I demonstrated my support for them while provided implementation the new practice.   After ensuring the conditions for change are in place I had to have a realistic expectation about the time it takes for this process to take place.  Nothing can be taken for granted about the different backgrounds, experiences, and understanding of each individual teacher being asked to change.  Now, this is where the fun begins.