Stories of Impact: The Impact Cycle in the World of Special Education

May 24, 2023
Written by
Joy de los Santos
Written by
Amy Musante

Stories of Impact: The Impact Cycle in the World of Special Education

May 25, 2023
May 24, 2023
Written by
Joy de los Santos
Written by
Amy Musante

Stories of Impact

Our ICG team partners with educators, leaders, and instructional coaches across the globe. Often, we have the opportunity to engage in deep, embedded work within a school, district, or educational organization. As a result, we come across stories of success from the field.

In this series, Stories from the Field, we hope to share the process, ideas, and stories that are having an unmistakably positive impact on the lives of students’ everywhere.

Over the past year, our Senior Consultant, Amy Musante, has had the pleasure of working with Joy de los Santos, Curriculum, Assessment, and Professional Development Coordinator at Eisenhower Cooperative outside of Chicago Public Schools. Joy, her remarkable colleagues, and Amy worked together developing a vision for what coaching could be for students they serve.
Amy partnered with their team to deeply customize Better Conversations, Impact Cycle, and Coaching for Classroom Engagement workshops to meet the needs of participants, teachers, and students. Amy has shared that Joy's energy is infectious and her dedication to learning and problem solving is inspirational. She is looking forward to continuing this partnership and learning as much as she can about coaching in these unique environments.

About Eisenhower Cooperative

Eisenhower Cooperative is a special education cooperative in the south suburbs of Chicago. The instructional coaching team supports the students and staff within their 9 member districts. The instructional coaching team works with classroom or specials teachers and classroom paraprofessionals. Additionally, they often consult with or loop in speech/language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, and social workers. 

Eisenhower Cooperative has three cooperative programs: Developmental Learning Program (DLP), CARE, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH). The staff at DLP support students with moderate to significant support needs. Staff in the CARE program are working with students who have significant behavioral and emotional needs. The students in the DHH program all need additional academic support stemming from their hearing loss. 

The primary goal in these cases is to support classroom teachers in their work with students in their classes who have IEPs. Sometimes this takes place within the district in self-contained special education classrooms. Other times, they are working with general education teachers to identify strategies to support students with special needs within their classes. 

Joy's Story

When did you discover Instructional Coaching and what was compelling about ICG - Jim's research/ work?

We are in the first year of our Instructional Coaching team. When the formation of the team and the hiring of coaches was approved by the board in Spring of 2022, the executive director at Eisenhower Cooperative, Angy Zajac, reached out to another special education cooperative in IL that has instructional coaches. They immediately pointed her in the direction of Jim Knight's Impact Cycle. Angy brought the information to my attention, and I started researching.

The structure of the Impact Cycle is what really impressed us. We were starting completely from scratch, so the easy-to-follow and easy-to-understand steps of the cycle were important to us.

Essentially, the Impact Cycle could provide us with a structure to guide our new team in their collaborations with staff. 

As special educators, we love our data.

The fact that there is clear data behind why the Impact Cycle approach works where other approaches don't was very enticing to us.

We knew that the methods we'd tried in the past to support teachers weren't providing lasting impact. Seeing that Jim had already done the research on why and what to do instead was a huge selling point for us. 

Can you describe specific examples of how coaching - Partnership Principles, Better Conversations work - has influenced the approach and impact in your role? If you could wave a magic wand and everything would look just as you wanted - what would it look like?

This year has really been a learning experience for our whole team. Initially, we thought we would take pieces of the Impact Cycle and adapt it to our team's needs. As the year has progressed, we've realized that the Impact Cycle, as it is designed, meets our team's needs. We're already working on ways to bring our team back to the steps of the Impact Cycle next year.

We saw many examples of how trying to support teachers in traditional ways just wasn’t working. Though well intentioned, we now realize that we were trying to provide every possible resource that WE saw as important for that classroom, instead of focusing on the students and what the TEACHER identifies as the needed area of support.

Across the board, we found that our support and resources weren't used once we left the classroom. It seems obvious now, but we've learned that if the staff member we are supporting isn't a part of the goal setting and strategy identification, we're wasting our time. 

If I woke up on the first day of school next year and our instructional team was exactly where we need to be, there would be a few clear differences from this first year:

  1. All instructional coach team members would be comfortable and confident with following the Impact Cycle steps when collaborating with staff.
  2. All coaching collaborations would include as student-focused PEERS goal, and the teacher would help identify the strategy they will use to hit the goal. All collaborations with the teacher would focus on progress toward the PEERS goal. The focus would strengthen our coaching interactions with intentionality (as, we've often tried to tackle too many "problem areas" at the same time in the past).
  3. Instructional coaching team members would feel comfortable and confident using the Better Conversations strategies (especially the questioning techniques) to ensure the staff member receiving support is driving the focus and goal development.

What is most compelling about the Impact Cycle coaching process from your experience and perspective as it relates to Special Education Services?

From a special education perspective, the Impact Cycle coaching process is extremely compelling.

The focus on developing a student focused goal based on data is a familiar theme in special education. We do this all the time for students in their IEPs. Now we just need to adjust our mindset from creating a goal FOR someone, to creating the goal WITH someone. 

In special education, we love a good checklist. The Impact Cycle checklist that is used to guide the coaching cycle through the process with the staff member is easy to follow and understand. 

The most compelling thing about the Impact Cycle from a special education perspective is how much it does NOT have to be adapted to meet our population.

The steps themselves are applicable in any coaching collaboration. The suggested strategies or focus areas might be different from a general education coaching situation, but the process itself doesn't. That may seem like a small thing, but we're used to always adapting and modifying programs so they'll work in our environments and with our students.

We've learned this year, that we don't have to do that with the Impact Cycle. It fits our needs as is. 

How might one of your specialists or coaches use this process while supporting classrooms and students? Do you think this coaching process could have an impact on the students and classrooms you support?  

We have ample proof from our successes and failures as a coaching team this year that the Impact Cycle works for our staff and students.

Our failures have highlighted how important it is for us to come back to the process and coaching strategies as we learned them. 

The biggest hurdle we're facing for next school year is how to work the Impact Cycle as a team. The number one reason we are contacted for support is in helping teachers manage student behaviors. However, it is not usually as straightforward as offering suggestions for behavior management strategies. Instruction and behavior management are so intertwined, that the instructional coaches and BCBAs on our team need to work together on each case. 

What is your vision for making that happen?

Our vision for next year is to develop a system for ensuring that we are working together to support the staff who reach out to us. We are working on this task as we work through putting together a playbook for our team. Ideally, we would love to see our team members working together to develop and use the playbook as they collaborate in coaching cycles with staff. How well we are able to have our team working together will be a good indicator of how successfully we are able to support staff in the goal of improving student achievement and engagement.

What kind support do you think you will need moving forward from ICG? How has working with us helped you on your journey? 

ICG has been invaluable this year. I honestly don't see how we could have gotten to the place we're at now without the guidance and support of ICG.

I do not think the instructional coaching team at Eisenhower Cooperative would still exist if we hadn't partnered with ICG to show us how to coach.

We are working on having newly hired team members complete Impact Cycle and Better Conversations training over the summer break. Continued collaboration with Amy at ICG is going to be essential as we work to make our team the best it can be.

I am really looking for ongoing collaboration to help us develop our system and playbook, as well as support and guidance in creating a team mentality with our team. 

About Joy

I am currently in my second year as Curriculum, Assessment, and Professional Development Coordinator for Eisenhower Cooperative. I am one of three administrators on the newly formed Instructional Coaching Team for the cooperative. Prior to my current role, I served as a program supervisor for the Developmental Learning Program at Eisenhower Cooperative for two years. I spent the previous 14 years as a classroom special education teacher in both cooperative and district settings. I have worked with students from preschool through high school who have a wide range of abilities and challenges.

When not at work, I'm at home in Bourbonnais, IL with my husband and 4-year-old daughter. I'm an avid reader and true crime aficionado. I love a good podcast, boardgame, and card game. I will never turn down a Harry Potter trivia challenge!

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We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Share your story with us today.