On Wednesday evening, November 16, twenty five people gathered at UVEI to talk about instructional coaching as a tool for supporting teachers’ continuous improvement. In attendance were school leaders interested in finding new ways to support teachers’ growth. There were teacher leaders who wanted to learn new and better ways to support their colleagues. There were teachers trying to find new resources in their quest to keep getting better. And there were community members who wanted to hear more about UVEI’s work.

This is a topic that the faculty at UVEI has been focusing on for some time. Persuaded by research suggesting that instructional coaching is a good way to address many of the limitations of traditional professional development in schools, the UVEI team spent a year engaging in a design study to try to improve our model for instructional coaching. While coaching was already a strength at UVEI, we wanted to build our skills further. We hoped that a refined model for effective coaching could be the foundation for better training and support.

We learned a lot over the course of the year. The coaching model that emerged (proudly built on the shoulders of giants in the field) emphasizes:

  • Creating a feedback loop, in which the learner sees their own practice and desired practice clearly, learns productive ways to move forward, and takes action.

  • Structuring conferences intentionally to move practice and support productive action.

  • Shifting stances flexibly between instructive, collaborative, and facilitative approaches based on the learner’s needs.

  • Encouraging the learner to become reflective, analytical and metacognitive about their own practice.

  • Fostering equity by bringing attention to the range of student needs.

  • Using a repertoire of coaching language and questioning strategies to foster the above.

We shared some of our areas of greatest learning, including our new-found awareness of the importance of emphasizing the teacher/learner thinking, goals and commitments over coach-driven suggestions and analysis. We also shared our renewed commitment to coaching for equity, an area that we felt we did not satisfactorily address through our study.

The evening closed with a lively conversation during which participants discussed their plans for advancing their own coaching skills and for distributing instructional leadership in their schools. As for UVEI, our mission is to build the capacity of schools by helping them to support continuous teacher development. With this goal in mind, we plan to further develop coaches through practice embedded, collegial, and competency-based learning opportunities. We also plan to host (free) forums for those working as mentors and coaches where participants will have opportunities to talk with colleagues and work through dilemmas. If you are interested in learning more, improving your coaching or joining in, please be in touch with us!

Commentary by Page Tompkins 

Page Tompkins is UVEI's Excecutive Director and a member of the Program Faculty.

 

What drives the development and use of resources in a school? How are decisions made about resource allocation that can impact student outcomes? What is the connection between money and student outcomes? How can there be substantial waste and substantial unmet needs at the same time? (Grubb & Tredway, 2010)

UVEI Principal Interns deepened their knowledge on these questions with the help of Vermont Superintendent Brent Kay at one of our interns’ monthly seminar days. What they learned is that financial management and resource allocation is more than dollars and cents.

To know what it wants to achieve (the outcomes), an organization must know its purpose (the mission and vision). And it must rigorously monitor progress toward achieving its desired outcomes (the accountability). Dr. Kay would say that mission and vision must drive the development and use of resources in our schools. During that seminar day, he was able to help UVEI interns gain a sense of how a budget supports, rather than drives, the work of the school.

By looking at the budgets from their own schools as more than basic accounting, interns focused on some of the indicators of continuous improvement linked to mission and vision work by trying to identify these indicators in their school’s budgets and asking the following questions:

  • Do we set high goals in our school?

  • Do we analyze student data to understand student performance and achievement gaps?

  • Are decisions about curriculum and instruction based on research?

  • Do we invest in teacher training that moves teacher practice?

  • Do we have systems in place to support struggling learners?

  • Is time seen as a resource?

  • Is the school a community of learners focused on inquiry and continuous improvement?

  • How does our budget support each of these indicators? (Rennie Center, 2012)

In going beyond dollar and cents, UVEI Principal Interns are encouraged to see beyond discrete units of knowledge, but instead, use their learning as levers for impacting teachers’ instruction in the classroom and developing their teachers’ capacity.

Commentary by Nan Parsons

Nan Parsons, MEd, CAGS and doctoral candidate, is UVEI’s Associate Director for School Leadership and a member of the program faculty.  Also read Nan's commentary about growth mindset in Getting Smart.

 

 

It’s early in the morning and not many people have managed to get a second cup of much-needed coffee. But that’s not why people’s brains are a little fuzzy. This is the third of the four-part series, Perspectives on Teaching, Learning, and the Brain and Dr. Christian Jernstedt, Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, has just asked these aspiring teachers to recall a meaningful portion of the content of his last session. Everyone is clearly struggling. Dr. Jernstedt is looking at one young man in the back row and waiting patiently for an answer.

“Can I use a lifeline?” Ethan, an aspiring English teacher, asks playfully, and many in the room chuckle.

Dr. Jernstedt specializes in human learning. And he knows exactly why everyone is struggling and furiously flipping through notebooks, searching for their notes from the last class.

“It’s disappointing,” he said later, that people can’t remember a very crucial point from the last session. But Dr. Jernstedt knows a teachable moment when one presents itself. He tells the room that the disappointment he feels is a reality that teachers need to grapple with. Teachers can deliver what they think is a good lesson, but students will not necessarily learn or remember.

The reason we forget, he tells us, is not that the idea or answer has gone from our minds. Interference is why we forget. New information interferes with previously stored information. Our brains are very smart, and crammed with an enormous amount of information. Forgetting happens when we can’t retrieve a memory. And trying to retrieve memories is not analogous to searching in a file cabinet for the information. “It's more like an archeological dig,” says Jernstedt.

Have you ever tried to remember something, been frustrated at the inability to recall, and then the memory comes to you at another time, such as when you’re in the shower? That’s the amazing power of the brain -- to continue to work in the background to retrieve a memory, even when you think you’re not working on the problem.

So what does this all mean for teachers? Well, the answer is complicated. Learning often depends on the ability of a student's brain to retrieve information. Research, Dr. Jernstedt says, tells us that when subjects take a nap immediately after learning new information, they can recall more than those who remain awake. Since most of our students won’t be napping after our lessons, we’ll have to try a different approach.

There are many things teachers can do to minimize interference. Teachers can use structure, elaboration and imagery to maximize meaningfulness. Teachers can chunk information into the small, meaningful bits. And teachers can help students rehearse and remember.

But at the moment, the fuzzy brains in the room are still working on the problem at hand: What was the important information Dr. Jernstedt said at the last session that we should have remembered?

Perhaps we all need to sleep in it. Or get that second cup of coffee.

Commentary by Kristen Downey

Kristen Downey is UVEI’s Associate Director for Teacher Education and a member of the program faculty. Kristen’s commentary on participation strategies can be found here. You can follow her on Twitter @UVEIDowney