Prioritizing the Instructional Coaching Role to Maximize Support for Teachers

There is no doubt that if I could create time for coaches I would be a very rich woman. 

And if I were very wealthy, I probably would be writing this blog from Bora Bora, taking excessive amounts of breaks to jump off the hut into the water and grab a shell that would contain a 1 pound black pearl that the man who fans me with palm fronds would string onto a necklace…WAIT! 



Let me start again here.

Well good morning, fine educators!  I am so pleased that you have chosen to join me here on this fine morning/afternoon/evening as we delve into the art of instructional coaching and how to mentor.

Okay.  So that’s a little overboard, too.  I’m a gal of extremes…so sue me!

Really what I’d like to share with you is how to create more time instructional coaching by prioritizing your calendar and the work that you do.  It really will help you grasp how you will spend quality time with the teachers who need most support. 

So, here are some powerful but easy-to-implement actions in prioritizing the instructional coaching role.  I’m excited for you to make every moment with your teachers count – for them and for you. 

Tip One:  Privately organize (so as to not be evaluative) the teachers in your coaching cadre by intensive, strategic and benchmark in relation to how they’re performing in relation to your school’s instruction focus areas. 

Directly coach and have contact with the intensive teachers once a week, the strategic teachers at least once every 2 weeks and the benchmark/advanced teachers at least once a month.

Tip Two:  Create a coaching calendar to give focus to your instructional coaching. 

You are less likely to be pulled to substitute at the last minute for an absent teacher, attend a meeting on behalf of the principal or be pulled to fix the copier (ha!) when you are moving around your school with purpose. 

If people ask you to do something that might be outside of your position, you can say, “I would love to help – but I’m booked in classrooms until 9:30, I’ll check back with you then and I’d be glad to help!” 

What you’ll find is that they will have long moved on by the time you check back.

Tip Three: Schedule the debriefing of the coaching cycle during the pre-conference.  You will spend much less time chasing down the teacher in the end.  When you honor the teacher’s time, too, you strengthen the relationship!

Tip Four: Listen. Really listen.  Oftentimes, you’ll be able to have “coach-able moments” with a teacher that will lead you more informally into the instructional coaching cycle.

Use these times to pre-conference and before you know it, you’re right back into the coaching cycle and getting that teacher feedback and notes. 

Look for natural extensions of coaching in less formal settings – they can be your most fertile coaching locations!

What do you think?  Can you see how these little tips all add up to more coaching time?  I certainly hope you can see it, because I have so much evidence from the field that they DO work!

So, tell me which tip you’ll implement first…leave a comment!  I love to hear about YOUR next steps and encourage along the way!

Just Implementing Something Doesn’t Mean Your Scores Will Change!

I have many long-time clients who have been implementing their reading programs for over 6 years…and they’re still working on depth.

Deep program implementation comes from a complete mastery over several important areas:


  •     Classroom organization
  •     Preparation and planning
  •     Instructional delivery
  •     Collaboration with the leadership, coach and colleagues

I believe that one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves during long-term program implementation is this: What is the evidence that we are an XYZ school? 

In other words – do we look like any other school with any other program, or do we have obvious maturity and depth in the above four areas?  Trust me, it is possible to be implementing something new and have literally little to no evidence that you are implementing it – that’s not a good thing and surely doesn’t lead to results!

I was working with a client this year and they had been implementing a new language arts program and when we went to view the classrooms, overall there was little evidence that they had adopted their program!

The instruction, the management and the engagement looks pretty much as it had prior to the implementation. So, in this case, we had to admit that there was little to no evidence that they were implementing the program – the implementation indicators were not there, unfortunately.

The problem with that?  The scores won’t change if the instruction doesn’t look different.  They need to be using the new materials differently in order to get better results with the kids – just changing the materials won’t work!

Depth looks like what Joyce and Showers call “Exerting Executive Control” – we know what is going on, have engineered every step of the students’ day and what they will and should be able to produce because of the lesson and contingency plans if things don’t go as planned.

What areas of your reading/literacy work lack depth?  Talk to me by leaving a comment below…we can help!

If Not the Data Then What?

I have decided to send you a piece that I wrote on April 6, 2011 instead of writing something new.  That’s how strongly I feel about this topic.

As I was reviewing a bunch of copy that I’d written in preparation for an upcoming book (yes, it’s in the works!), I came across what could possibly be the most FRUSTRATED and OUTRAGED writing I’ve ever done. 

My brief article was written in response to a series of investigations about the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

I’m known for telling it like it is, and I am doing just that – again.  Here’s why…
…we cannot forget our responsibility
…we cannot forget the kids we serve
…we cannot forget why we chose education – or why it chose us
…we cannot forget our sense of mission by getting involved in things unrelated to our work
…we cannot forget that we can’t learn to get things right on the backs of our students


Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Times’ reports on the lack of effectiveness in teaching as a hot button topic this week and I’m glad.

I have poured over the original articles, the Union’s rebuttals and possible strike orders, Arne Duncan’s comments…but I have learned the most by reading the comments following the articles – many responses say that the tests are “unfair” and “biased” and “too narrow” and one of the most incendiary comments in my book was the Union’s statement: public disclosure of the results “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”

“Irresponsible” to be held responsible?

“Dangerous” to make public the results of what our kids are spending their time doing 180 days per school year? I’m outraged.

Question: If it’s not about the data then what is it about? If we don’t use state standardized tests to measure student performance and teacher performance and report out who has made the cut and who hasn’t, then what is the measuring stick and who is going to determine what metric the measuring stick will be this year?

After visiting hundreds of kids and working with thousands of educators, I have come to understand that teachers who are teaching their tails off don’t sweat the state test – they know their kids are going to meet benchmark.

Teachers who are teaching their tails off don’t sweat the state test – they knew early in the year who needed extra support and they gave it.

Teachers who are teaching their tails off don’t sweat the state test they see the test as the MINIMUM requirement for their students.

Teachers who are teaching their tails off don’t sweat the state test – THEY ARE TOO BUSY TEACHING.

Observing the Domino Effect

In my work with principals and coaches I have found one area that is the most common struggle: teacher observations.

It’s the most important part of our instructional leadership job and we struggle the most with it! I’ve worked to deconstruct the myth of “having to know everything before you can give a teacher feedback” – that myth has held many a coach and principal back from the classrooms.

Here is the
very essence of observing in a classroom: To recognize a cause-and-effect relationship between what we observe teachers and students doing and what students actually know and are able to do as a consequence.

Basically, the role of the observer is to:

  • Search for the cause-and-effect relationship and if it’s there
  • Point it out to the teacher and give encouragement for the teacher to do it again or if it’s not there
  • Coach the teacher to prepare and plan to make it happen in future lessons.

So a conversation with a teacher might sound something like this:
“Tori, when I was in your classroom this morning to watch your math lesson, I noticed that you were very clear in your model of the step to solve the equation. I recognize that you’ve been working very hard to include as many models as possible and this was a great improvement – nice job!

One concern I have is that when you asked the students to work to solve the #3 and #4 following your model, I noticed that Thomas, Jenny, Heather and Thad struggled to complete the problem and you did not monitor their work, therefore they received no feedback. Essentially, the effect of your model on the students was nil.

I would like you to make sure that you monitor targeted kids who struggle even more than the others so that you make sure that the students are truly benefiting from the excellent modeling that you were doing.”

In the above conversation with Tori, I drew a very straight line from what she was doing and what the students, in turn, were able to do – this is how we have a “cause and effect” conversation.

When we are clear about what we are looking for and that what we are looking for is attainable by all staff members, then we take most of the mystery of observations away!

Observations are about what the teacher did and what the students are able to do because of the teacher’s teaching. In fact, that pretty much sums up the whole goal of our profession!


The Music Has Stopped. You Still Doing the Running Man?


Time management in the classroom. It’s the bane of our existence when it doesn’t work and it’s the reason why things move smoothly when they do work!

A sub-question of “How do I work to get my kids to do what I want them to do?” is “I keep running out of time…if you could give me more time, I could ‘fit it all in'”

I would be a gagillionaire if I could give you more time, but I can’t.  And I REALLY wish I could, because being a gagillionaire sounds like it’d be GREAT!  I mean, all that cashola just hanging around…purses, trips, shoes, lip gloss, etc……what, what was I talking about again?

Oh that’s right…time management…

The first place to start is by asking a few questions to see where the problem is.  I shared these questions recently with a coach client of ours who was struggling to support her teachers in hitting the time management marks.

  • Are you seeing them taking longer than they should in places?  Which places are these?
  • I wonder are they doing lots of worksheets (those are optional and shouldn’t be used as time fillers)?
  • Are they teaching the whole time?
  • Are there management issues that are taking up instructional time?
  • Are they starting on time/ending early?
  • What parts are they getting bogged down on?
  • Have they timed how long it takes each band of instruction so that you can look at the data of what you find in the classroom, not just the “feeling” that the teacher has?
  • Do they have a swift pace?
  • Are they adding additional things to the block from outside of the program?
  • Are they taking drink/bathroom breaks during the block?  (I certainly hope not)

The great thing is, when you figure out where the “sticking point” is, you can fix it!  Yep, just like that.

Fix it by keeping a timer and moving yourself along when you’re running slow.

Pick up additional instructional minutes by shortening the “morning routines” or the “after lunch routines”.

Plan ahead for what your direct teaching time will be and what time will be student practice and then opportunities for feedback.

Figure out if you’re adding “would be nice” content – that content that would be nice, but is not necessary.

The bottom line?  You can control.  You can fix it.  BUT you have to begin by isolating WHERE the problem of time management is coming from!