In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by instructional coaches, Heather Paden and Jessica O’Gorman to discuss their experiences, insights and suggestions around coaching.
Get in touch with Heather: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get in touch with Jessica: Jogorman@pls3rdlearning.com
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Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.
Steve [Intro]: 00:18 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: 00:45 Conversations with coaches. We’ve been recording conversations with coaches to explore the large array of approaches that schools and districts have taken to provide coaching support to teachers. The programs can have very different expectations and different outcomes. And I’m asking coaches who joined the podcast to share their experience, insights and suggestions and I’m hoping that it will trigger some of your pondering and I encourage you to share your thinking back with me. Joining us today, we have Jessica Gorman and Heather Padden. And ladies, I’m going to ask if you would kind of give a quick introduction to yourself in including a little bit of different coaching experiences in roles that you’ve had. So Jessica, you want to start us off?
Jessica: 01:47 Sure. My Name’s Jessica O’Gorman and currently I work as the K-12 ELA supervisor for my district. Prior to this position, I worked as a secondary instructional coach. So I worked with my teachers in the middle school and high school, which was about 200 teachers. I was the sole secondary instructional coach and originally, the focus was on literacy and then it shifted. I was a literacy coach and then that role shifted into an instructional coach as our district went [unintelligible]. Prior to that, years before that, my district had instructional coaching and literacy coaching. I was the only coach in the district at the secondary level because our secondary schools are title 1 schools. I was funded through title 1 at that time and I was a part-time literacy coach at their middle school and high school with a focus being at the middle school. Right around when the recession hit is when we discontinued coaching and then picked it up again a few years back. Currently we have instructional coaches in our district but their sole focus is on technology as we shifted to the one to one.
Steve: 02:57 Gotcha. Thank you. Heather?
Heather: 02:59 Hi, I’m Heather Padden and my career actually started back in Miami, Florida where I was born and raised. I began in the exceptional student education department working with students that have special needs prior to my moving into educational leadership. Eventually I went ahead and did my master’s degree in early childhood learning. I really wanted to focus on how to work with teachers and the regular education environment that had students being identified with special needs and that did also include reading intervention and literacy coach model. This is prior to when we had literacy coach models in Miami, Florida. I currently am a reading interventionist in Polk County here in central Florida. I have a position that’s at a K-8 civics academy where I work closely with our newer reading teachers. We are reading intervention teachers and we focus on our lowest quartile students that have been identified as having a need to increase their reading lexiles and it could be due to a variety of learning disabilities or just a lack of reading comprehension.
Heather: 04:15 I’ve opened this school, so this was my third year there and this year we’ve moved to a more hands on approach where my position has moved more into learning and teaching new teachers how to use data driven instruction, differentiated instruction and scaffolding. We’re really trying to pick the focus into making those learning gains for our students. So my, I guess my capacity at the school would be lea reading teacher, reading interventionist but I have more of a focus now with the newer teachers that are coming on board and helping them understand how to um, help their kiddos in the classroom and all the different models that we’re trying to infuse with them now.
Steve: 04:59 Thank you. Exciting for me, I’m headed to Florida in two weeks here to Hillsborough County and I’m training the cadre of a new reading coaches that they’re rolling out. And this is cadre number 20 and believe it or not, I was there for cadre number one and I have been there for every cadre since. So it’s been amazing to see a reading coaching program that’s been sustained like that and developed. When I did the first cadre, we spend a lot of our time trying to figure out what a coach was because nobody had heard of the position before. And you know, seeing the difference now that I’m working with teachers who have spent their years working with reading coaches in their building and probably working with some who were students who worked with the reading coach before they became a teacher but that tells a little too much of my past, going on a little too long here.
Steve: 06:11 So I’ve written and produced videos and podcasts around a topic that I call “The Gift of Coaching.” And I approached that to describe that rather than seeing teachers needing a coach, the teachers deserve a coach. And I’ve done that to explore getting people to move away from seeing a deficit model of coaching. And I’m wondering what your thoughts and your experiences have been in setting that coaching culture in the schools you’ve worked in for people to not see coaching as a deficit model. In other words, we don’t coach you because of your weakness, we coach you from your strengths.
Jessica: 07:03 Exactly. Sure, in my experience, working primarily at the secondary level, shifting that culture was hard. It was really hard. Not only because I wasn’t a teacher at the high school, I taught at the middle school prior to moving into the coaching role so I wasn’t a teacher at the high school. They didn’t know me other than, you know, a teacher at the middle school and I didn’t know what coaching was. And I was new, I was the only one that, you know, they hadn’t had any experience with it and it was hard for the administrators to to make that shift as well. You know, their understanding of what my role was was to go in and help them improve their scores by helping their teachers reach those kids that needed to improve their scores. It was all about that score. And it was a hard sell. It took a lot of work on my end, sort of drumming up business and drumming up business from the stance of being non evaluative and being open and being a listener more than I was a speaker. You know, and working from that standpoint rather than coming in and sharing what I thought was best in the classroom and what I think is going to work, I really had to listen first before I spoke and that was a really big struggle.
Steve: 08:26 Great point there, of the focus being on the listener as a way of building that connection and relationship.
Jessica: 08:40 Yeah.
Heather: 08:41 I was going to say, I actually can empathize with what Jessica saying. In one of my roles as the TLC coordinator with charter schools, I had to come into a school where no one knew me and my role as lead teacher on assignment, come up with professional development opportunities and non-evaluatively, look at teachers in the classroom and kind of see what they were doing or what wasn’t being done. And through that process I learned very quickly, even prior to coming into PLS 3rd Learning, that the shift in focus to really see it as instructional outcomes needed to be watching the students and understanding their behaviors and their levels of engagement and having to learn how to connect that with the teachers to express the importance of connecting the student behaviors and their levels of engagement to the teaching behaviors and what the teacher was doing.
Heather: 09:47 And so it was more, as Jessica stated, learning to listen, observe to find out what teachers needed because that was a really big challenge. What do they need from me as a coach? What can I do with the specific issues they’re having. But it always kind of shifted back to, and I’ve read, Steve, some of the information you’ve sent out in a recent podcast. Really it does go back to working backwards. I started to realize that we needed to shift to what we want the students to be doing and learning and do they know what they’re learning and use that information to then learn as educators what we need to do. What behaviors, what skills, what strategies do we need to implement so that we can get those desired outcomes.
Steve: 10:43 So Heather, you’ve hit on a a piece that’s been a major focus of shift in my work. So I’ve been at this for 35 years now and if you went back to the beginning of my career, I spent the majority of my coaching time watching teachers and giving teachers feedback on what the teacher was doing. And now the greatest percentage of my time in a classroom is spent observing the students and I’m giving the teacher feedback and leading conversations with the teacher about what he or she wanted the students to do and what the students were doing. So that I really position my coaching role as one of working with the teacher to change student behaviors. Jessica you see that fitting in in some of the work you’re doing?
Jessica: 11:43 And that almost helps to shift that culture to make [unintelligible] more welcome in the high school specifically. When I was focusing on what students were doing and the teachers felt a little less evaluated. I mean, that’s really what it was when another adult is in their classroom. Immediately, teachers felt like they were being evaluated and keeping the conversations non-evaluative and also focusing on how the students are reacting and how the students are behaving and you know, what I’m noticing with the students and how they’re reacting to the instruction or not reacting to the instruction. That was really helpful in that acceptance and that that culture that you mentioned earlier.
Steve: 12:26 Heather, I noted that you’re doing work with mentoring new teachers and I’m wondering what you see as differences in identifying work that you do as a mentor versus work you’re doing as a coach?
Heather: 12:43 What I am really focused on is [unintelligible] learning every day and as a result, I’m seeing some very interesting changes in classrooms. The challenge is that I want my teachers to understand that if we work smarter and not harder and shift the focus of ownership and accountability into what our students are doing, that the actual job and the tedious, you know, the time and the things that a lot of teachers will say is challenging. You know, this is just one more thing I have to do. When I started to focus on how we can really help students own their own learning and understand how to react to their behaviors, which is a real, that’s a real connection you have to build, I feel that I was a mentor to the teachers but I would consider myself now more of a coach for the students.
Heather: 13:49 For example, we’re working on collaborative group structure. And with collaborative groups structure, I’m actually going in and doing mini-lessons where students are working on any particular learning map, the goal that we have, let’s say it’s finding the central idea of an article. We use Achieve 3000 as our reading program. The big question is, do the students know what they are learning? If I ask a student what you’re learning in their collaborative group structure, what I’m teaching my teachers are helping them to learn and understand is it’s much easier when we can drill down that goal into a specific target, something that students understand. So that if I ask a student, what are you learning today? And they can say, today I need to find a piece of text evidence, evidence that supports the author’s claim and then I’ll say, can you tell me more about that and how will you do that?
Heather: 14:47 So I consider myself more of a coach to the students and a mentor for my teachers so that the teachers can observe my behaviors and what I’m doing and hope that they can learn some of that. So when I’m not in the classroom, they can actually see that it’s so much easier when we shift that ownership over to the students. And that’s really right now – I wrote a proposal at my school that the principal asked me to write. That’s a big shift. It’s three, I call it three components: data driven instruction, differentiated instruction and scaffolding. If we can really understand what that looks like, not what it is, but what does that look like in a student engaged classroom, then I really think we’re going to see learning gains. And I think Steve, you touched on something similar when you said, you know, observing what the students are doing. You know, the question is, what are you learning and how are you going to get there? If we don’t know what we’re learning or understand why we’re learning what we’re learning, then we’re not really taking an intrinsic interest in making those learning gains.
Steve: 15:58 Jessica, thoughts on the difference in working with new teachers?
Jessica: 16:05 A piece of my role, we have an induction program in Pennsylvania and a piece of my role was working with new teachers. And really, honestly, it’s sometimes easier to work with new teachers because they’re much more willing to collaborate and listen and sort of develop. Working with more experienced teachers can be a little bit more challenging because, and again, I’m speaking from the secondary level, which is different than working with elementary teachers because it’s much more compartmentalized or department focused. So when working with experienced teachers, opening the door, letting someone in, you know, is a struggle or listening to someone else’s ideas is something new. Whereas working with new teachers, they’re often really thirsty, you know, and really glad to be given that support. And one thing that’s nice about our district is that support is ongoing for a few years. So it’s something that’s developed at the beginning when they’re first hired in our district and then it’s continued over the course of the years. We have what’s called clinical classrooms where it’s a full time teacher, but our new teachers come and observe these master teachers as they’re working in addition to our instructional coaches that work with the new teachers as well.
Steve: 17:31 You’ve triggered a thought for me. I’m smiling here I’m listening to you – I write about coachability and the fact that it’s critical as we work with new teachers. And matter of fact, when I talk to administrators, I talk about building it into their hiring interview. That, you know, part of the interview process should be to get a teacher to talk about his or her coachability. Their openness to being coached. So that when you hire them, you can then carry it through as an expectation, almost holding them accountable for the things they said in the hiring interview about their openness. But as I was listening to you, what you triggered is, I went from being a middle school teacher to being a first grade teacher and when I saw primary kids’ openness and desire to just jump into learning and to run with it, I described that primary teachers should have to sign an oath like doctors do. You know, first, do no harm.
Steve: 18:39 You know, we’re going to give you these excited kids ready to learn and at the end of that first year of school, you got to make sure they’re still there. We almost need to have that same thought with beginning teachers. You know, and I’ve frequently described to folks that, if you don’t have a peer coaching program, you almost shouldn’t be allowed to have a mentor program. Because if you have a mentor program for beginning teachers and they don’t graduate into a peer coaching program, then you almost initially create that concept of deficit. that the teacher is showing up missing something and we’re going to mentor you until you get it, you know, and then we’re going to leave you alone. And years ago I worked with a school that was struggling to decide how long the mentor program should last.
Steve: 19:29 You know, is it aa one year program, a two year program. And their decision was, when the beginning teacher throw open the door of her classroom and said, you may all come in, then the mentor program was over. And that was the goal of the mentor program – was to build the beginning teacher’s confidence and professional standing within the staff that they were at that open, ongoing learning level.
Heather: 19:56 Wow.
Steve: 19:57 Question for both of you to give me a little feedback on – how do you see schools responding to and addressing the differentiated professional development needs of teachers? You know, my sense is a coach, you can see a pretty wide array of what is the professional development that that staffs need. I’m sorry, that individual teachers need. But yet we’re still looking at most people doing three days of professional development where everybody’s going to the same thing.
Jessica: 20:34 On my district, we’ve begun to move away from that. And this is a recent change, but to address those is still very neat. As far as the sit and get type of professional development, we’re away from that. Teachers have the option to submit their own proposals and a piece of that – those proposals that they’re submitting, is who they’re going to collaborate with. Whether that be colleagues, administrators, or coaches, who are they going to collaborate with in order to achieve the outcome? And then those goals for their committee of peers, which includes administrators as well and curriculum and instruction staff members. And we look at those proposals to see, you know, if it’s something that can work and how they can share that learning that they’re doing and that collaboration that they’re doing with a broader audience and how it’s going to impact and kind of relate to what the comprehensive goals of the district and the buildings are.
Jessica: 21:30 And that that piece is new in addition to the embedded professional development that the coaches bring to the table. And that embedded professional development has really – over the course of the past three, four years, that professional development has done wonders because teachers have ownership over what their own learning goals are. So that in conjunction with this shift that we have at the district level for teachers being allowed to sort of chart their own course as far as their professional learning goals, I can see that that having big impact on how professional development is received. You know, you have those three days that all the teachers dread and you know, everybody walks away saying, that was a waste of my time. And that’s starting to change. You know, there are of course are certain things that need to happen that are mandated by the state that, you know, are easier to do when you’re in a whole group. But the things that matter, the teachers are being allowed to focus on giving the time they need to focus on and giving the support that they need to focus on as well. So I’m looking forward to that continuing in our district and growing some more.
Heather: 22:38 Yeah, in my district – I’m at a title 1 middle school in Central Florida here in Polk County, I’ve also seen a lot of the professional development that we would send teachers to at the district level or at another school. But what I really don’t see is any real follow through in the classroom. Last year, I did have an idea that I worked with an administrator on because there was no takeaways or nothing that I saw being taken away that could truly be implemented and used and maybe even infused into a PGP. We had this idea that we would designate a certain day, whether it be a planning day or professional development day, where we would take teachers out of their content area. So for me that would be leaving the reading interventionists content area and observing a teacher in their subject area. So I have the abilities to see a math teacher using the jigsaw approach and teaching a math lesson.
Heather: 23:41 And we’re trying to kind of make a environment between the different content areas because I think that’s one of our biggest challenges. You know, we have certain needs in literacy. The math department has certain needs and when we all go to the same professional development or certain teachers don’t have a growth mindset, it’s hard for them to understand or wrap their minds around how they can really use that in the classroom. I think when we shifted more towards peer review and peers observing peers and trying to implement into the classroom with a followup convertsation to go to their planning – when they had their planning period, we would – reading teachers could go into the math planning and discuss what they learned or what would they wanted to learn more about. I saw some positive changes there. I really did. I think, I agree.
Heather: 24:34 I don’t know if Jessica feels the same way, but I feel like we need to move away from the professional development, typical PowerPoint where we give out information and we don’t really have a lot of information that we can have teachers take back with them that would apply to what they really need. And I think that we’re trying to move in our district, to where we can actually work more together. More hands on together so that we can explore other content areas because you can get some really amazing ideas. I’ve learned unbelievable strategies just from being a PD instructor here with PLS 3rdLlearning when I have a chemistry teacher and we’re working on a jigsaw approach and I’m learning and he’s learning and we’re sharing and we’re learning together. And so that’s the shift that I’m hoping to see more in our county but we don’t really have anything in place right now as far as an actual coaching model or a program to support the coaches and help them learn what they can do to support the teachers in the classroom.
Steve: 25:37 So ladies, thanks. I kind of – one question closing out here. Are there any thoughts or recommendations you have to the administrators who listen to this podcast as to things that building principals and systems can implement to best support coaches in having the work of coaches have an impact on student achievement?
Heather: 26:09 I think one of the things that was most difficult for me when I was first beginning as a coach years ago was that lack of understanding about what our role was. And the administrators that I was working with didn’t value or didn’t understand the non-evaluative piece. And I think they were looking at me to be a spy, you know, in the classroom to really know what was going on. Or they were looking at me to be the fixer, you know, to go in and fix those teachers that needed help. And so if I were speaking, administrators looking to support coaches, it would be to attend professional development with your coach. I know in Pennsylvania here we have a cohort, a consortium of coaches that meet not only at our local level, but also at the state level through Pitch, it’s called. And administrators attending that to really get an understanding of what the coaches can do and should do and not ask or put coaches in the difficult position of of what’s going on in that classroom or what are you going to do to fix it and to really give teachers the time that they need to do that collaborating not only with the coach but with each other. With the support of a coach and with the support of an administrator.
Steve: 27:25 So that coach-principal partnership is a critical spot?
Heather: 27:29 Absolutely. Yes, I agree with Jessica, if I were to speak with an administrator, I think that one of the roles of being instructional coaches is sometimes the role is not clearly defined. And we were a lot of hats and we need to be more visible, non-evaluative but visible and available for our teachers. I would like to see the opportunity to do teach back models to allow teachers to observe us actually implementing lessons in the classroom so they can have a visual on what that actually looks like and that we can be more collaborative as Jessica said and work together. And be able to have those conversations after we provide these mini-lessons so that we can really stick to the things that we want to focus on instead of just, you know, going in and having to look at what’s happening or what shouldn’t be happening or reporting back to an administrator. Because I think what happens is when the teachers – it makes it more difficult for them to have that growth mindset and work with the coach because they’re not real clear as to what the coach’s role is at the school.
Steve: 28:40 Well Jessica and Heather, thanks to both of you. Much appreciated. Take care.
Jessica: 28:46 Thank you, Steve.
Steve [Outro]: 28:48 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.