August 10, 2020

Instructional Coaches and Principals: Planning Backwards

In recent weeks I have had over thirty conferences with principal/coach teams, sometimes including other members of a school leadership team. In some cases meetings were with a coach and the two principals from the two schools where she was assigned. In other cases the meeting was with a principal and up to three coaches that worked with that building (math, literacy, science).

The desired outcome from these sessions was to set a focus for the work of the instructional coaches and decide the elements of a coach/principal partnership.

The following process emerged as a useful structure for guiding these conversations:

1 Identify two or three focus areas of the school improvement plan. Or phrased in some cases to the principal, ”What’s the next step for your school?” and “How are you building on the current success?”. However this piece started, it eventually was stated in terms of student achievement.

2. We then examined, ”What would students need to do and/or experience to gain this identified achievement?”. This is the step that many teams needed the most probing from me to answer. They could tell me the program or teaching strategies they were encouraging, but the students’ actions took longer to uncover. The good news is that when they had several initiatives they identified they were focused on the same student actions. Example: the math coach, literacy coach, and science coach were all focused on increased student voice and sharing student thinking.

3. Next we explored the teacher behaviors, strategies, or options that would initiate and/or support the desired student actions. Example: open-ended problem solving assignments in groups would encourage student voice and shared thinking.

4. Lastly, we discussed the instructional coaches’ and principals’ actions that would promote and support the changes teachers would need to make.

Having planned backwards, implementation starts with instructional coach and principal action.

Here are two plans that were developed using this process:

#1 Student Achievement: Increase the number of students who scored advanced on the 6th grade state math assessment (This K-6 school had high numbers scoring proficient, but few advanced).

#2 Student Behaviors: More experience with open-ended math tasks, discussing math solutions and alternatives in peer groups, attempting challenging problems longer with more “start overs” when initial attempts are unsuccessful, and writing about math problems and solutions.

#3Teacher Behaviors: Create quality open-ended problems that engage students, model problem solving behaviors, support (scaffold) students’ initial efforts, recognize/reward student effort.

#4 Instructional Coach and Principal Behaviors: Facilitate teacher goal setting meetings (How many student do you believe we can move from proficient to advanced?). Provide professional development and modeling of the facilitation of open-ended problem solving math activities with students. Provide encouragement and support to teachers as they and their students enter the learning dip from changing practice. This team also decided to prepare a sample of problems 6th grade students would need to handle to score advanced and share with 4th and 5th grade teachers encouraging them to consider how they best prepare students for that level of future performance.

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#1 Student Achievement: Increased literacy scores for first and second grade students.

#2 Student Behavior: More practice with skills presented in guided reading instruction.

#3 Teacher Behaviors: Create centers that generate the necessary student practice during the reading block.

#4 Instructional Coach and Principal Behaviors: Create professional learning communities of teachers focusing on examining the effectiveness of current centers and developing alternatives. Video students at centers for teachers to study student behaviors generated. Promote teamwork among teachers to maximize differentiation, sharing centers and encouraging students going into other classrooms to work at a center that provided the needed practice for that student.

Instructional coaches who develop relationships with teachers and a reputation for being effective teachers quickly have requests from teachers that can fill their day. Planning sessions like those above can assist the principal/coach team in focusing efforts to gain desired student achievement.

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