In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by principal, Amy Zilbar and instructional coach, Lora Leneve from Pride Elementary in Hillsborough County, Florida to discuss the coach and principal partnership.
Get in touch with Amy: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get in touch with Lora: Lora.LaNeve@sdhc.k12.fl.us
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Steve [Intro]: 00:25 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:53 Coach/Principal partnership conversation number two. Today, I’m excited to have a coach and principal from Hillsborough County, Florida join us for our podcast. This is an extension of the work that I’ve been doing over the years with the reading coaches in Hillsborough County. Joining us today is Laura Leneve, the instructional coach and the principal at her school, Amy Zilbar. They are at the pride elementary school in Hillsborough County. Ladies, thanks for joining us.
Lora : 01:29 Thank you.
Amy: 01:29 Thank you. Glad to be here.
Steve: 01:31 I’m wondering if you would both give a – just a little short introduction to your your background with with coaching and teaching in administration. So Lora, could you start us off?
Lora: 01:45 Oh, sure. Yes. This is my seventh year of coaching. My second year here at pride with Ms. Zilbar. And before I started coaching I taught for 18 years. Grades 1-6.
Amy: 01:59 This is my 30th year in Hillsborough County public schools and I’ve enjoyed working with new coaches, [inaudible] my sites in order to support teacher practice in the classroom. And this is my second year working with Ms. Leneve.
Steve: 02:15 I understand Amy, that you also have some experience working as a coach.
Amy: 02:21 Yes, I do. I have worked as a principal coach in two different areas in Hillsborough County and currently I am assisting coaching principals in area three.
Steve: 02:34 That’s terrific. And Amy, could you give us just a little background on the makeup of Pride Elementary?
Amy: 02:42 Pride elementary is a very diverse community and student population. Currently, we have 750 students, K- 5. We have 23 different languages currently being spoken and our population is growing as we are in a very growing suburban area.
Steve: 03:04 So one of the elements of a coach principal partnership is the decision about how you define the role of the instructional coach to the staff. And I’m wondering if both of you might speak to how you’ve handled that.
Lora: 03:25 When I first started at pride, I during the faculty meeting I introduced myself, but I also went around to teachers and I made sure to read to every class just to kind of get that personal relationship built. And I’m very fortunate to have miss Silvar because she values coaching. So I’m used in the actual role of being a coach rather than being a substitute or doing other duties.
Steve: 03:52 And Amy, as you respond to that, what expectations do you kind of present to the staff as to how they work with the coach?
Amy: 04:00 It’s very important for our faculty to see Lora as a support partner for them. So those expectations were set from day one. We have a very unique setup for our PLCs, professional teams, since we work together as a team, not a group. And Lora is supporting our PLCs during that planning time, during that planning of instruction, looking at standards, breaking them down, looking at data. So her role is multifaceted with each grade level in the language arts component, but it is strictly as a support for planning for instruction, executing instruction, going coaching cycles. So that was set up from day one.
Steve: 05:00 Lora, I’m wondering how do you how do you define a thought partner?
Lora : 05:05 I define a thought partner as being a good listener and listening to people’s ideas. And then I’m going to provide support and resources based on the needs of students.
Steve: 05:20 A question I have is to what degree is Lora’s role as instructional coach connected to your school goals?
Amy: 05:31 Our school goal this year is standards based planning, and this is the third year of that goal. Our first year was standards-based planning which is learning targets. What do we want students to learn. Our second year was standards-based planning using performance scales to be able to break down that standard. And this year, Lora has been instrumental in helping us with standards-based planning and weaving in how do we differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of every student. So at pride, we have a PLT coach for every PLT. Laura specifically is assigned third grade as a PLT coach, but she also works in planning with second, third and fourth grade as well to break down that standards and say, what resources can we use to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of every student so that they do successfully master this standard. She also looks at data to see, are we hitting the mark, is it sticking, is it working. And she also helps facilitate the professional development and that job embedded piece of professional development as we go through a book study on every first Tuesday of every month.
Steve: 06:55 So Lora, as I listened to Amy give that list, it’s pretty substantial of the of the role you’d be be playing there. I’m wondering where the observation in a classroom and feedback to individual teachers fits into the rest of that plan?
Lora: 07:20 Most of the things that I do that Amy talked about are things that I do, you know, after school, before school. During school, I spend my time in classrooms with observation, coaching cycles. I do some modeling. I like to always have my model tied to a coaching cycle so the teachers can actually apply what they’re learning. And I also do work with students at some grade levels. But the way that I’ve helped make that into a coaching model is I go into the classroom so that the teacher is aware of what I’m doing with the students. So I’m helping the students and helping the teacher at the same time.
Steve: 07:59 Neat. Neat. Lora, how many principals have you worked with in your time as an instructional coach?
Lora: 08:07 Just two.
Steve: 08:08 Okay. And if I brought you to a workshop with principals and ask you to present to a group of principals some of the most important things to think about when building the coach principal partnership, what do you think you’d put in there?
Lora: 08:29 I think the most important thing is that the principal has to understand the value of what a coach does and has a clearly defined understanding of the role with the coach and gives the staff the impression that, you know, the most important thing is working with the teachers and having the time built in to do that rather than a lot of the administrative tasks that some coaches end up taking on.
Steve: 08:54 And Amy, if I flip that and I brought you into a group of instructional coaches and I asked you to talk to them about what’s important as they look to build their partnership with the principal, what would you put in front of them?
Amy: 09:11 The first most important piece is exactly what I saw Laura do when she first came here to Pride, is building those relationships with the teachers. So they know coaches have the content knowledge, they’ve gone through extensive training and interview process. So they’re coming in and faculties usually know that coaches come in with a good solid knowledge base. But to be able to build those relationships where the teachers feel comfortable to say, “Hey Laura, I don’t know what texts to do or is this of the appropriate text complexity? This is what I’m thinking for tomorrow’s lesson.” Those conversations can only start if she has relationships with those teachers and she’s done that beautifully here by being supportive, by not doing the job for the teachers but there to work side by side with them. So that would be the number one key. The number one component that I would say that coaches need to keep at the forefront.
Steve: 10:20 Do the two of you have a process that you’ve that you’ve built for communication between the two of you to kind of keep your partnership on the same page?
Lora: 10:34 It wouldn’t be a formal type of – we don’t have like a sit down on Monday type of meeting, but we text each other quite often, email, call each other. I can stop by anytime and Amy’s door’s always open. So it’s more informal, but it’s just whenever we need to talk to each other and we have a very open communication.
Amy: 10:54 And that’s a process that definitely seems to work for us because as things come up or “hey, I have this idea,” it’s, definitely more frequent than a once a week sit down meeting. Or it may be, “hey, I saw this great lesson, let’s showcase it on Tuesday’s faculty meeting or this great practice.” We do send an email out once a week, it’s called the Morning Minute. And we showcase things that are happening in the classroom. So the assistant principal, myself, Laura, we have a constant communication really on a daily basis in a variety of ways. Like Lora said, it could be a text, it could be on the way home. So it is definitely a constant communication.
Steve: 11:41 What I sense I’m hearing is, you’ve got an agreement about where you’re going and what you want to do. And so that agreement opens the door almost a continuous, free flow of information.
Lora: 12:00 Yes, exactly. I think that, you know, at the beginning of the year, actually in the summer we kind of decide on priorities and what we did last year was at the end of the year, we did a survey to ask the teachers what they wanted the instructional priority to be and overwhelmingly they chose differentiation of instruction. So that kind of gave us the path that led us – gave us like a central idea. And then we kind of worked out before preplanning and figured out that we wanted to deliver this once a month book study. And as far as observations and our walkthrough, our look forward, we kind of built everything around that component of differentiation.
Steve: 12:39 I’ve got one last question and then I’d like to the two of you to feel free to just add anything that you think would be be helpful for new coaches and principals looking at putting a partnership together. The last question that I had was how do you communicate the elements of coaching between the coach and the teacher that have a necessity to be confidential versus the things that are full flow of information back and forth between principal and coach?
Lora: 13:16 I think it would be – well, we do have a teacher on an assistance plan and I’m part of the team, so that’s well known that more communication with the principal regarding that specific teacher’s practice will happen. But the teacher is aware of that. As far as the other teachers, I try to keep it very generic. I don’t go back and talk about specific teachers, but I might talk about a specific problem that I need help with or a grade level, but I try to keep it very confidential and I think that’s where I have the trust of the teachers. They know that I’m not going to go and tell Amy, you know, everything I see in their classroom every day unless it’s hurting children.
Steve: 13:57 And how did you communicate that to teachers when you – as you got started?
Lora: 14:03 I don’t know that it was a communication. I think it’s a building of trust and it took a year for certain people to come on board. I had a kind of a test fifth grade teacher and she actually contacted me over the summer and asked me to meet her for lunch so that we could kind of plan a book study together. And when I told Amy, she was kind of shocked that that teacher actually reached out and wanted to do that. So I think just being supportive and just letting them know that, you know, yes, I was a teacher for a long time too. And I know some of the challenges you face.
Steve: 14:35 Amy, anything you’d add to that?
Amy: 14:38 Yeah I was just going to add, I think it’s important for the coach, principal relationship where I don’t probe or ask Lora for what’s happening. I have that trust and confidence and and I think it’s a two way communication and a two way trust that if there’s a problem, I know she’ll let me know or if there’s something that she feels that is hurting students or there’s an issue, she’ll let me know. But I know she will do her very best and she will do her job in supporting teachers in order to move that instruction forward. And I think it helps teachers know that and although it never was specifically stated, as we work with our instructional leadership team as well, they know that as we collect data, for example, for our instructional walkthrough, our teachers crafted the look fors from our book study. They created the collection sheet, what it would look like. And they are actually collecting the data among each other for what does differentiation look, what’s process, what’s product, how is the grouping happening?
Amy: 15:51 So teachers are collecting that because I do not want them to think that it’s us or we’re writing down what’s happening in each classroom. It’s really focused on learning and that goes back to our vision as a school. This year, we’re growing learners for success and teachers are learners just as students are learners. So we focus on the learning and that’s our main focus is, as teachers we’re still learning and we have to have that freedom to try new things. And we know that when we try new things, learning is messy and sometimes it doesn’t work. And that’s okay because kids are our kids. So we just work through those speed bumps together and put things in place. So we try it again. So it really is a process that we all learn together, but they – we really do take deliberate steps to make sure that it’s not even our own walkthrough tool. It doesn’t say what room. It’s all about focus on learning.
Steve: 17:00 I’m hearing your theme of a team kind of flow through your whole delivery. The whole school is a team learning together.
Amy: 17:11 That’s a huge focus I think for all of us here, whether it’s the administrative team, the instructional learningship team – our PLCs are. all about being a collaborative and being a collaborative environment. And the freedom to make mistakes and just brush off and try it again. And that’s what I call collective collaboration. It’s collaboration among all grade levels among all teams. It’s our specials as well, supporting that instructional priority in the classroom. If they’re talking about right angles in math, then our PE teachers can help support that. It’s all – it’s definitely is a collaborative team effort.
Steve: 18:03 So anything you’d like to add that that didn’t come out in the questions that I’ve posed as things for coaches and principals to be paying attention to as they formed their partnerships?
Lora: 18:19 One thing I might add is not to be afraid to talk to your principal. Last year when we started the walkthroughs, initially it was the leadership team that was doing the walkthroughs. And I told Amy that I wasn’t comfortable doing that because I don’t want to be put in an evaluative position. And I think the teachers realize that I wasn’t doing that and it actually bought me some credibility with them because I purposely removed myself from that process.
Amy: 18:47 And I would just add that one of our norms for being a collaborative team is we use one of Singleton’s Courageous Conversation norms and one of them is “speak your truth” and we cannot make forward progress unless we speak your truth. So that’s definitely an important component. I know it’s hard at times, but we want to make sure that all voices are heard. If we are truly going to work as a collective team, we have to have all voices heard.
Steve: 19:22 Well thank you both. That is just an awesome note for us to close out on here. I appreciate you sharing your thinking with us. Thanks a lot. You helped us all learn.
Lora: 19:33 Thank you.
Amy : 19:34 Thank you so much.
Steve: 19:34 Yep, have a great day. Bye, bye.
Amy: 19:34 You too. Bye, bye.
Steve [Outro]: 19:40 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.