In the weeks leading up to our annual conference, Teaching, Learning, Coaching, we’ll be posting interviews with experts who have presented at the conference or those who will be presenting this year. The interviews will surface many different ways of looking at coaching, and like the conference itself, we hope they inspire, educate, and provoke new thinking. We don’t always agree with everything we hear in the interviews, but we are grateful for others’ thinking. We move forward by challenging our beliefs, and we hope you feel challenged too. You can keep up with the interviews by subscribing to this blog.
Ellen and Bruce Eisenberg have served in many roles in the field of education throughout their careers and experience spanning decades. After many years teaching, they shifted into the realm of instructional coaching, authoring their book, Instructional Coaching In Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools, and working with Pennsylvania schools to develop and deliver various instructional coaching programs and initiatives throughout the state. Ellen and Bruce currently serve as the Executitve Director and Associate Director of The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC), a nonprofit established to continue their work with instructional coaches and instructional mentors nationally and internationally. They have both been a vital and essential part of the development and application of instructional coaching since its early days, and we are extremely pleased to welcome them to speak at the Teaching, Learning, Coaching Conference this year!
Jim: Tell me a bit about how you got into coaching in the first place. What’s the story of the Eisenberg Instructional Coaching?
Ellen: It’s a long story spanning several years. I started teaching in 1973, and Bruce started teaching in 1968. We were in a large urban school district, and in 1998 the superintendent of schools required us to implement a research-based reform model. Bruce ventured, with a committee, to visit reform models, and one of the models he visited was the Talent Development High School Model from Johns Hopkins University. Once he explored it, he brought it back to the school, and we – I was at the same school – were instrumental in getting the staff to adopt that model.
By that time, it was 1999. (It takes about a year for that to get off the ground.) Bruce then retired. I moved schools, but stayed in touch with Johns Hopkins, and they trained me as an instructional coach. In 2000, I became an instructional coach for Johns Hopkins University in their Talent Development High School model, and I was a coach in three schools. Two years later, I became the director of that program in a large urban school district supporting instructional coaches and mentors in seven urban high schools. Bruce was also in that program organizing and restructuring schools outside of Pennsylvania.
That funding, however, ended in 2005. But then Annenberg Foundation created a joint venture, a public/private partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education called the Pennsylvania High School Coaching Initiative (PAHSCI). It was a “one-of-a- kind” multi-tiered approach through a statewide system to support and maintain instructional coaching and mentoring across several school districts in Pennsylvania. They hired me to become a director of coaching and mentoring in one of the partner organizations. A year later, I became the executive director of that Initiative.
That evolved into the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching in 2009. From 2009 until June 2018, the private/public partnership between the Annenberg Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education existed. That funding has now ended, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education has continued to sustain the statewide system of instructional coaching and instructional mentoring, through what we call the Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania.
Bruce: These Intermediate Units are called service centers.
Jim: Yes, we worked with the Annenberg Foundation for a while a long time ago. Sue Keck was a big part of that.
Ellen: Sure! I know you don’t remember this, but I initially met you because Sue Keck was my predecessor. She was there for a year. She brought me to you, and we started talking. You were on our Advisory Board. But she left after the first year when she moved, and I stepped into her role.
Jim: I see.
Bruce: This statewide system in Pennsylvania is divided into twenty-nine Intermediate Units. We work with 25 of the 29. The two largest ones, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, are their own intermediate units and were not involved in PIIC. We are, however, working independently with Pittsburgh.
Ellen: Currently, we support the 25 intermediate units by funding a position – “we” meaning the Pennsylvania Department of Education with an Intermediate Unit hired instructional mentor who supports all the coaches within the footprint of their Intermediate Unit.
Bruce: That support is through the Instructional Mentors, experienced practitioners hired by the individual intermediate units.
Jim: Very cool. Yeah, Annenberg has been behind this right from the get-go.
Ellen: Right from the get-go. In fact, initially we were working with a 31-million-dollar grant. And then Bruce and I went back to them once we moved from PAHSCI to PIIC and said, “Instructional coaching is just such an incredible job-embedded teacher professional development model that we can’t let it go. Would you be willing to continue to fund us and let us continue to move forward?” And we changed what we were doing. Instead of going just through some districts, we really expanded and went through the Intermediate Units to involve as many districts as we could.
Bruce: Jim, the thought behind that was, “How do you support coaches in schools in addition to the support from their central office or some support from their principal?” We thought that we were looking at a non-evaluative way to do that, and we found that the best and most effective way is to have it through these service centers where the Instructional Mentor actually is the coach’s coach and his/her support system. That’s working very well in Pennsylvania.
Jim: That sounds great. It’s interesting to see how all these things progress. So, this led to some publications. Tell me about your publications.
Ellen: We’re very excited. We had our first book published in 2017 by ASCD, and that’s our Instructional Coaching In Action: An Integrated Approach That Transforms Thinking, Practice, and Schools. We’re really excited about it, and it’s really a book that guides coaches, administrators and other school leaders through the instructional coaching process from building awareness stage all the way to sustainability. We’ve been very happy with the book. We are in our thinking stages of book number two and book number three – not sure what they will look like yet, but we know that our thinking is in progress!
We continue to publish monthly coaching tips, and those are published on our website which is www.tpiic.org. We publish bi-monthly blogs on www.cultureofcoaching.blogspot.com. We do quarterly newsletters – which is a local newsletter that has distribution list of about 3700 people, and we continue to write various articles. Some are lucky and get published! In addition, we have a free online resource guide that is filled with many practical resources, articles, and other material, www.instituteforinstructionalcoaching.org.
Our book was really a labor of love. We were able to have our two researchers who have been with us since the very beginning, the four of us – Bruce and I and our two researchers, Elliott Medrich and Ivan Charner –all co-authors of the book so we could blend in the research that we found with a very practical approach to instructional coaching and instructional mentoring.
Jim: What would you say are some of the core ideas in your approach to instructional coaching?
Ellen: Our idea is that we’re using an educator-centered instructional coaching model, and it’s based on what we call the “Before, During, and After” cycle of consultation, or the BDA Cycle. It’s not new; it’s just maybe packaged a little differently. We think about what coaches and teachers do, and “Before” sets the tone with clear goals for the coaching interaction and the subsequent visits. The data collection in the “During” is focused really on an agreed upon co-constructed data tool that is generated from the “Before” conversation that the coach and the teacher have. And the conversation in the “After” provides an opportunity for reflection and giving and getting feedback that’s directly related to the “Before” conversation.
That’s the kind of the process that we think of when we think about our approach to coaching. But we have some very definite elements that makes us who we are. One thing is, as Bruce mentioned, it’s a tiered approach so our students are supported by teachers, teachers are supported by coaches, and coaches are supported by their own coach who, in our lexicon, is the Instructional Mentor. So, it’s a hands-on, mirrored approach where the mentors work with coaches in the same way we want coaches to work with teachers.
The idea, of course, is that you meet before, you visit classrooms and collect the data, you give and get feedback, and you really help build capacity and increase student engagement in a non-evaluative way. We try to help coaches help teachers become more reflective practitioners so they can really think about their practice in ways that make sense and in ways that can help them make whatever adjustments they need once they identify the areas of strength and the areas of need. Our approach really involves what we call the four-quadrant framework, and it builds upon the educator-centered instructional coaching model using this BDA process.
Our four main categories or elements are 1) working one-on-one and in small groups to support teachers and other school leaders, 2) focusing on collecting, analyzing and using data to assess needs, 3) using evidence-based literacy practices across all content areas, and 4) supporting reflective and non-evaluative practice so that teachers feel comfortable. It’s a no-risk environment in which they can try to be innovative and not worry about being negatively evaluated because they tried something, and it may not have worked as well as they wanted it to right out of the gate.
Jim: What else distinguishes your work from other people’s work?
Ellen: I think what distinguishes us is the fact that it is the multi-tiered approach. We have mentors, the coach’s coach, who do not work in the school yet they support the coaches who “live” there. I think that we’ve learned that coaching is not a deficit model and that mentors help coaches understand that every teacher wants to get better at his or her craft. They may not know how to do it, so helping them become architects, if you will, of their own learning helps them become better at learning so that they continue to move forward in what they’re doing.
Bruce: It’s a defined collaborative process. And I think that when superintendents and principals hear what we propose – many of our superintendents in Pennsylvania have bought into this, saying, “This makes sense. My principal can’t do this kind of work alone. The assistant superintendent can’t do this kind of work alone. But a teacher who is in that school, who is respected by his or her colleagues can do that kind of work in collaboration with his/her colleagues.”
Ellen: I don’t have to tell you, coaching is messy. Some schools and some administrators and some communities think, “Well, teachers went to college; they don’t need coaches.” And I tell them, “When you think about it, executives, the performing arts, even weight control organizations have coaches available for support.” There are all different areas that have a coach, and the whole goal is that folks work together to reach a common goal and to move – whatever their practice is – move it from good to great, as Collins says. I think that a lot of models do that. I think we do it just a little differently because we do have the mentors who provide onsite support to the coaches; we do focus on the four quadrants; we have the BDA process which is a three-pronged approach; and it is a state-wide system where our coaches are brought together monthly to work together with their mentors. And, we believe that coaches “visit” classrooms, not observe in classrooms. The “observation” process is for the administrative team.
What also makes us different is the ongoing support we provide for the coaches and mentors through the monthly regional networking meetings where four or five mentors and all of their coaches come together as a group. They meet together and they talk about not just the trends in education but the needs that each of them are experiencing and how we can move their practice forward. We have multiple statewide conferences where we bring the coaches and the mentors together for three-day conferences so that the learning continues. And, we provide ongoing professional learning so the mentors can nourish their own professional growth as well. So, what makes us different is that we’re constantly looking to see how we can provide differentiated support to all of the coaches and mentors in their environment in ways that are collaborative, non-evaluative, and reflective.
Bruce: And one of the things that we do at these statewide conferences, and even at the regional and the local level, is coaches will present to other coaches, or the coaches and their mentor will present to all the coaches in our statewide conferences. It builds the skills of those coaches – focusing on “What does facilitation look like, and what does my skill as a coach look like when I am planning a small group professional learning?”
Ellen: One of the things that we really try to focus on is having coaches work one-on-one and in small groups. That is in addition to whole school/faculty kind of professional sessions. When we do that, we find that that mixture of the one-on-one and the small group activities really creates a strong coaching relationship, and that’s number one. If we want coaching to be effective and to be sustained, coaches have to establish first and then sustain a strong relationship that’s trusting and confidential with the teachers, and that’s what moves them forward. So, sometimes we do it one-on-one, sometimes we do it small group. Sometimes the coaches don’t even get to do the one-on-one depending on where the teachers are at that moment in time.
Jim: I heard you mention engagement. What’s your response to someone who says, “All I care about is achievement. I’m only concerned about achievement. I don’t care about engagement.”
Ellen: I say then maybe that person is really not interested in instructional coaching. Maybe that person is just interested in evaluative practice, which doesn’t move practice forward. That’s a hard one because most of the stakeholders in schools want to know, “If I have instructional coaching, what do I get out of it? Are students’ scores going to rise?” And I would say to them that there are so many things that happen in a school, not just instructional coaching, that you can’t just depend on that to move the needle.
Bruce: We also hear from our superintendents who call us and say, “It has taken 3-5 years of having a coach or coaches in the school to see changes in student achievement.” They understand the longevity involved in the process. They’ve seen changes in student engagement and recognize that changes in student achievement are not instantaneous.
Ellen: We have to have teacher practice change before we’re going to have student outcomes change. We want to promote instructional coaching and instructional mentoring as a growth model. We want people to learn and grow together.
Look, everybody wants students to perform better. We all want that. But we can’t do that unless we make sure that our teachers are highly effective – not just highly qualified – but highly effective and understand how students learn. Teachers have to understand their own learning biases in order to move student practice forward.
There’s a lot of stuff that we have to dig into before we really get to, “Oh, the scores are so high.” Although I understand that we have to think about students at the center of these changes. Ultimately, we want kids to learn more. But in order to do that, we have to help teachers become skilled enough that they can help students move ahead.
Jim: You’ve mentioned some of these things already, but what would you say has been your key learning over the past few years?
Ellen: I’ve learned that coaching is messy, that’s for sure. I think we’ve all learned that coaching is not a deficit model, and probably when I started out coaching, my understanding was, “Oh, a principal is going to tell me that so-and-so teacher needs to be helped. Go in and help them.” And that’s the “fix it” model. So, over the years I’ve learned that coaching is for all. It’s for all to go from good to great. All students deserve to be in classrooms with teachers who have been given every opportunity for their own professional growth. So that’s the first thing.
I’ve learned that not everyone is receptive of instructional coaching and that we have to tailor what we do with them to what their needs are or where they are in their professional career. And that’s what I meant about one-on-one and small group and forging those strong relationships.
I’ve learned that there’s got to be agreement on goals and purpose – that instructional coaching must align with agreed upon goals and purpose of the school. That coaches help strengthen their teacher’s instructional practice, but they also have to think about what you said, increasing student engagement and improved student learning, and that whatever the goals and purpose for instructional coaching are, there has to be agreement to support and pursue their goals. By that I mean there must be ubiquity. Every school that is involved has to offer the instructional coaching to the greatest extent possible so that all the teachers have an opportunity to be coached. They need to learn that dosage is important, that there’s got to be a certain plan for teachers who are being coached and that there is a minimum amount of coaching that should be done to make it effective.
And then, of course, if some teachers want more, obviously you go ahead and do more. And then there’s got to be some fidelity to coaching. Whatever the model is that’s been defined in the school, we must be able to have some fidelity to the coaching model in order to see the effectiveness of that coaching model.
And probably over the last couple of years our surveys from fhi360 have shown us three really important things that we’ve learned. One is that in actually serving teachers over a three-year period, 89% of them said they changed their practices as a result of the coaching they received. 100% reported that the changes had a positive effect on student engagement. And 97% reported that the changes had a positive impact on student learning. I would say that those things that we learned from teachers really speak to the efficacy of an effective instructional coaching model.
Jim: What do you think is a good metaphor for coaching?
Ellen: I think coaches are changing tires on a moving car. I say that all the time because that’s how I feel. Every time you go in to work with a school in a district, what you think you understand when you get there may not actually be the reality of what’s going on.
Jim: I’ve never heard that, but that’s a good one. Tell me a little bit about what you’re going to present at the TLC conference this October.
Ellen: That’s a good question. Actually, what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about the move. How coaches can help move from professional development to professional learning. Instructional coaches are the lead to do that in their buildings. So, what does that look like as we move from professional development to professional learning? Think about our topic as a makeover for professional development in schools.
Jim: So, not limited to coaching, but all of professional development?
Ellen: All of professional development, but keeping coaching as the cornerstone to get that off the ground and to support it through not only its transition, but to sustain it so that coaches or other teacher leaders are in that position to move it forward.
Jim: That’s great. How do you distinguish professional development and professional learning? Do you have a way of approaching that?
Ellen: I do. I look at professional development as the stuff teachers are given. They can meet with textbook companies if that’s the school district’s plan. Or digital platforms, or all kinds of stuff. There are the bells and whistles that you can make learning fun. Or, you can just try to engage kids with all this stuff. But it doesn’t become part of a teacher’s everyday routinized procedural work until it becomes professional learning. And that’s how well what they’ve learned can be applied, not just in the classroom, but across all kinds of learning. It’s the stuff that you get, versus how you take that stuff and apply it very well in classrooms or in that learning situation.
That’s when it becomes learning, and that’s where I think coaches have an integral part in changing that stuff into real viable learning and supporting so a teacher doesn’t feel like, “Well, I don’t know what to do with this,” and they stick the “bells and whistles” in a drawer. It’s really helping them take what they’ve learned, understand it more deeply, apply what they learned, get feedback on the delivery of what it is that they learned, and make those adjustments in their teaching. To say, “How do I meet the needs of my students by engaging them more and helping them grow in their learning?”
Bruce: The classic example is that I come into a school – I’m a software person. And I can say, “I can show you what this software can do.” And everybody gets excited. Then we’ve said, “Wait a second, let’s look at it a little deeper. Let’s talk with the coaches of these teachers to see is there a process that we can use in order to make this a deeper learning with respect to the staff.” And all of a sudden, it’s, “What do you mean? We just presented this. Doesn’t everybody get it?”
Ellen: It’s sort of like, “It’s not my fault that the kids didn’t learn. I taught it.” You may have taught it but did you teach it well enough for students to understand it? It’s that assessing what you’re doing for really learning, or planning for learning is more like it.
Bruce: The goal here is that we can do so much professional development and have so many things available to teachers, to administrators, to communities, it doesn’t matter. How does it translate every day into practice? What does it look like?
Ellen: And then what does the support look like? I will continue to reflect on my practice and understand, “Well wait a minute, did I meet the goals that I set out to do? Did I meet my intended outcomes?” And if not, why not, and what do I need to do to change what I’m thinking? If I did, what can I build on that so that the next time I do it or when I do the next thing, I do it even better than I did before?
Here is a list of some people you can expect to see at the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference 2019! Click on each name below to review some of their work.
We hope to see you in Kansas City!
| Rachel Lofthouse|
Professor of Teacher Education,
| Ta-Nehisi Coates|
Distinguished Writer in Residence,
| Jamie Almanzan|
Equity Leadership Coach,
| Linda Cliatt-Wayman|
TED Talk Presenter, Principal,
| Kristin Anderson|
Founder and CEO,
| Ellen & Bruce Eisenberg|
Executive Director, Associate Director
| Rebecca Frazier|
The Joy of Coaching
| Michelle Harris|
Instructional Coaching Group
| Jan Hasbrouck|
| Ann Hoffman|
Instructional Coaching Group
| Darnisa Amante|
CEO and Co-founder,
The Disruptive Equity Education Project
| Kathy Perret|
The Coach Approach to School Leadership
| John Campbell|
Growth Coaching International
| Marshall Goldsmith|
Executive Educator, Coach
| Jim Knight|
Instructional Coaching Group
| Nathan Lang-Raad|
Chief Education Officer,
| Nancy Love|
Research for Better Teaching
| Alisa Simeral|
Author, School Consultant
| Tricia Skyles|
Safe and Civil Schools
| Bill Sommers|
| Bradley Staats |
University of NC School of Kenan-Flagler Business School
| Sharon Thomas|
Instructional Coaching Group
| Christian Van Nieuwerburgh|
Growth Coaching International
| John Krownapple|
| Tara Martin|
Innovative Curriculum Facilitator,
Lawrence Public Schools
| Crysta Crum|
Bowling Green City Schools