In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by instructional coaches & PLS Classes instructors Alice Houck and Marianne Talhelm to discuss discuss their experiences, insights and suggestions around coaching.
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Get in touch with Marianne: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:21 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: 00:48 Today we’re fortunate to have Marianne Talhelm and Alice Houck join us on the podcast. Marianne has a background as a reading coach to elementary staff and Alice, a background in secondary coaching for teachers, again, with a focus on reading. So ladies, thanks so much for joining us today.
Marianne: 01:16 Thank you.
Alice: 01:17 You’re welcome.
Steve: 01:19 Marianne, I’m wondering if you would start us with just an introduction to how the reading and coaching training that you’ve been providing has been structured.
Marianne: 01:32 I think I will start with how it caused me to become a coach. My district implemented coaching and [inaudible] with a coach and I was a teacher that willingly worked with the coach. I sought them out and they were able to help me go from being a good teacher to a great teacher. And my self esteem went through the roof. And the next thing I was a model classroom teacher and then I decided to try coaching as well.
Steve: 02:05 It’s a great example because I work with the the reading coach program in Hillsborough County, Florida. And this year will be my 20th year back working with them. And one of the big differences is that in those first years that I worked with them, people came in to take coaching training not knowing what a coach was. And the wonderful component that changes is that now people coming into the program have often several years of experiences of working with the coach while they were in the classroom as a teacher. Alice, how about your quick intro?
Alice: 02:45 Well, I’m one of those teachers that couldn’t quite decide where I belonged because I always wanted to be a 4th grade teacher. And I student taught and I did my first teaching and decided – no that’s not for me.
Alice: 03:00 So I went to middle school and that’s when I got my master’s degree and the school that I ended up in had specific reading classes. So I was able to put my knowledge to work there at all three grade levels. We had 6th, 7th, and 8th and I was one of the few that taught at all three of those grade levels. So I knew – not only did I work with the students and their reading, there was a group of reading specialists in our building that developed professional development for our staff across – reading across the curriculum. And we would have, you know, on PD days, we would offer information and strategies so that they – the other teachers in the building could use that. And then we started doing it across the district. And then we also instituted the 6+1 traits. So I was trained in that and we moved into the again, more PD and how to get students to write and the things that needed to be done.
Alice: 04:20 So then in 2005, I retired and now it’s 2019 and I’m back doing same thing and I’m loving it. And you know, I primarily work with freshmen and sophomores and those are the closest to middle school. And middle school was my area of students that I really enjoyed, but 9th and 10th graders too. And since they didn’t have – we’ve at Ashville High, there’s been a an array of administrators gone through our school in the last six years. And so the leadership has been up to the teachers while they’re just told they were just holding on by their nails. So hopefully we have a little bit more steadfastness at this point and I feel like, I didn’t even know where to start last year. I feel like I have a direction at this point in time and what I need to do then for next year working with the teachers.
Steve: 05:12 It’s interesting that in both of your stories there’s a strong element of your learning, your personal investment in your own study and increasing your own skills that had an impact on you moving into the work of coaching others.
Alice: 05:33 Absolutely.
Marianne: 05:34 I would agree with that and I believe that after my three year coaching position, if I would return to the classroom, I would be a better teacher after the experiences I had while coaching.
Steve: 05:49 Yeah. That learning continues when you step into that coach’s role.
Alice: 05:54 One thing that I would like to add too is that I’ve been instructing for PLS, now PLS 3rd Learning, for about a dozen years. And every course that has been developed over the years, I have found to be so good not only for the people who are taking the classes, but as an instructor, being able to then take some of the information from those classes and use it in my situation.
Steve: 06:31 Extending your own learning again.
Alice: 06:34 Exactly. Exactly.
Steve: 06:37 So in in my book, for instance, on instructional coaching “Coaching With The End in Mind”, I present the need for coaching efforts to connect directly to increase student success. And I talk about the fact that the best way to achieve that is to use a backwards plan where you’ve identified the student achievement that you, that you want to gain. You know, what will students success look like and sound like? And then step backwards to figure out what it is the student has to do that would cause the student to gain that that skillset. And then at that point you’re ready to figure out the teaching strategies and practices that are geared to gain the student learning production. I call them learning production behaviors. So the teaching strategies are used to get the students to do the things the students need to do that produce the learning. And I’m wondering if from your coaching experiences, you can make a connection to that backwards process of figuring out the coaching for teachers from thinking through the backwards piece.
Alice: 07:56 Well Steve, interestingly when I just finished up – I’m also the AP exam coordinator and we’ve had two long weeks of AP – regular AP exams. And so I was looking through the material this morning and interestingly, this was something that I use in my reading classroom back in the 90s. And when I went to hill middle school in Naperville and you want it to give the students some choices in what they did, I would start with that same thing cause I wrote it down this morning on my yellow pad, you know, the student learning outcomes. And that’s where I would start and then I would move backwards. So at this point in my life, I also then moving forward, am doing that with the teachers that I work with at present.
Steve: 08:48 So having the teacher understand the connection between the student achievement outcomes she wants, the student behaviors she needs and then that’s why she’s making the instructional decisions that she is.
Marianne: 09:04 Right. I could add some to that as well. In my coaching experience in my district, we had always had a textbook theory program and about the time the coaching was implemented, that program was removed and a curriculum was written for the district based on the Pennsylvania standards. So up until that point, teachers were accustomed to using [inaudible] where they were given the activities, they were given strategies and they really never looked at the end because all of those parts were there for them and they didn’t really go off of that path. So once that period was pulled and we implemented a actual curriculum with a scope and sequence based on standards, I can statements and objectives, teachers really started to [inaudible] because they had no idea what to do. And that was the perfect time for us to talk about, this is what we want your students to be able to do, how are we going to get there? And that opened those conversations with teachers because before, they never looked at the end, they were busy following the sequence in the manual.
Steve: 10:20 You know, I’ve been working in coaching for 35 years now and it really was the big switch for me as a coach when I moved from having my focus on the teacher and what the teacher was doing to having my focus on what it is the students doing. So early in my career, I’d meet with a teacher in the post conference and most of my conversation was pointing out to the teacher things that I saw the teacher do or the things the teacher could do but a big switch happened when I flipped that over to being able to fill the teacher in on what I was able to observe students doing. And the connection between what students were doing and the desired outcome that the teacher was looking for. How do you provide teachers with the professional knowledge and skills that they need in order to advance their abilities to to impact student success? What are the strategies or structures you use to get that professional development to the teachers?
Marianne: 11:38 I could respond to that. We offer a visit to other teachers that have accomplished that. So we set up classroom visits. We take them there, we look through a lens, a template that we use so that they can record what they see while they’re watching the lesson and it can create incredible conversation. We also plan and present for [inaudible] development to teachers but then follow up with that. There usually always some sort of goal setting that occurs after the professional development piece.
Steve: 12:15 Could you talk just a moment about about what that goal setting piece is like?
Marianne: 12:20 Well, I guess at the end of the session, data is always part of the conversation as well. But after – like suppose the session is on implementing guided reading and making sure that higher level questions are involved in a guided reading lesson. So at that point, at the end of the professional development, there would be an exit ticket and the teacher would write what they thought they wanted to work on for the next coaching cycle. And then we would go in, meet with that teacher one on one and put a goal together looking at [inaudible] and then adding that into the actual goal so that when we would work on this particular goal for a while, when we got back together to see if it works, we would have some sort of student assessment in place to show if it was effective.
Steve: 13:14 So the teacher’s goals then drive your coaching work?
Marianne: 13:20 They often do because that has been [inaudible] that helped in our particular district. But if we make a
particular professional development session on a topic that we know teachers need to work on, then typically the goal that they create is based on that and we know they need that. Does that make sense?
Steve: 13:40 Gotcha. Yep, sure does. Sure does. Alice, anything to add on that?
Alice : 13:46 Well, if we want to change the students behavior, we have to give them the expectations or the teachers have to get them the expectations. And often it means that they have to start from a place that they’ve never – the teachers have never started before. And for instance, teachers think that students should have study strategies by the time they get into high school. Well at some point, someone has to teach that skill. You know, it’s like when you want collaboration in the classroom and the students don’t know how to collaborate because no one’s taught them. So one of the things that I’ve been working on with the two teachers that, although one of the teachers is really, really good about – has done a lot of this. The other one, we started at semester time and giving students choices. Like we decided we were ready to do stations and it’s the middle of the year and so we decided to do choice boards.
Alice: 14:42 Well we have to teach the students how to do choice boards. We can’t just hand them the choice board and expect them to know what to do with them. And I think that teachers at the high school then don’t realize that the students are coming to them without that. So one of the things – we’ll get into the answer to your question. I’ve been talking to individual teachers and PLCs – department PLCs and working with them to give them more specific ways and specific strategies to use to get to the point where they want to be. So again, the backward, you know, what do you want your students to do and then what do they have to do? And sometimes teachers say, well, I don’t have time to do that. Well, then it’s my job to convince them that they don’t have time not to do that. In other words, they need to take that time because it will save them way a whole lot of time along the way.
Steve: 15:55 I worked on a major project interviewing high school freshmen in Florida years ago and a big discovery that very large numbers of them did not know how to study. So while teachers kept sending them home to study and students said they studied, when you sat down and interview them they really didn’t have a skill set. And unless you stop and teach the skillset and coach the skillset, we leave the students coming up short.
Alice: 16:28 My daughter just said that – my granddaughter is 10 and my daughter said to her, “Well, Catherine, you have to study for your social studies tests.” And she looked at her mom and she said, “Mom, I don’t know how to study.” So you know, you have [inaudible] and teachers have to realize that.
Steve: 16:53 I’ve got kind of one last question here to pull us to a close. As you look back across your experiences, what do you think are some of the things that administrators and district offices should be looking at to support the work of coaches and the work coaches are doing with teachers?
Marianne: 17:24 In the beginning of coaching in my particular district, some teachers use it as a punitive measure. So if the principal might come in and say, “oh, I think you need to go check it with Mrs. Talhelm and work on this, they looked at it as more of a punitive thing. So I think whenever they opened it up and allowed teachers to choose if they [inaudible] to be coached, when other colleagues saw good or great teachers seeking out coaches that took that punitive idea away and more coaches were willing, to – or more teachers were willing to be coached at that point. So I think that administrators need to make it look like a positive experience. It’s not punitive. And it’s also an expectation that we all need coaching. Even administrators needs coaching by coaches.
Steve: 18:20 I just I just produced a real short video clip called “Everyone Deserves a Coach.” My focus was to get people away from “everyone needs a coach” because I thought that took people more to that negative component of it just by the use of the word needs. But to say that as hard as everybody’s working as a teacher that they deserve that coaching support. Alice, you got something to add to thoughts about how administrators or districts can best support?
Alice: 18:55 Yes, my soap box this year has been, the district has initiated equity training and how we need to close the achievement gap. And so, the problem is we’re getting students as freshmen who are reading at the 3rd, 4th, 5th grade level, and most of them are lower socioeconomic section eight students. And I keep saying, we can’t close the academic gap if we’re sending children to high school not being able to read. So you know, I’m at the high school. I was hired by the principal, not by necessarily the district district office. So my goal is to find out kind of what’s going on and so, there was literacy coach at the middle school and she was only there for not quite a year. And then she went out on maternity leave and she’s been out all year. So whatever she was doing before, her coaching, obviously, hasn’t been done this year. And so I’m looking forward to her coming back. And so at the secondary level we can work together to try to figure out what we need to do to assist our students and our teachers to work together and try to move our students to where they need to be.
Steve: 20:32 Yep. The other video that I produced recently is focused on teaching requiring teams. And unless we can put those elementary, middle school, high school teams together – working together to unlock those required student behaviors and creating the opportunities for kids to learn and practice those behaviors, we just can’t reach those higher standards without working in a team-like fashion.
Alice: 21:08 Right. And we do have a unit district and I can’t understand, in fact I taught – all four districts that I taught in Illinois were unit districts. And we always had like, secondary, during PD days, like secondary language arts would meet together and you know, and elementary and middle school teachers would meet together and discuss things and for some reason, this district doesn’t – like, the high school science teachers don’t even know the middle school teachers kinda thing. And that’s what I think needs to happen. And I think they’re so focused on, you know, equity training and closing the achievement gap. But I don’t see how we can do it without them.
Steve: 22:01 That’s – so part of that equity, I’ll encourage you to put in a request to take a few of your freshmen teachers to the middle school to observe student learning production behaviors and a couple of your middle school teachers, 8th grade come up to your high school and observe the same behaviors and then use that to to kick off your starter conversation with them.
Alice: 22:25 That’s a good idea, that’s a great idea.
Steve: 22:28 Well, ladies, thanks so much for for joining us on on the podcast.
Alice: 22:33 Absolutely.
Marianne: 22:34 Thank you
Steve: 22:36 Bye, bye.
Steve [Outro]: 22:37 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley ponders out loud on iTunes and pod bean 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.