In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by author and instructional coach, Nicole Turner to discuss her experiences and work as an instructional coach.
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTAnnouncer: 00:00 Academy for Educators. Online, professional development for teachers and leaders. Online courses, modules and micro-credential programs for teachers to enhance their skillsets. Now featuring the instructional coaching micro-credential, including five online modules framed around the work of Steve Barkley. Learn, grow, inspire. Academyforeducators.org.
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 Simply instructional coaching with Nicole Turner. I had the opportunity, first online, to to meet Nicole Turner and later we did get the chance to meet face to face at a coaching conference in Texas. Nicole asked me to write the forward to a new book that she’s just put out called “Simply Instructional Coaching: Questions Asked and Answered From the Field.” And I’m excited today to have her join us here on this podcast. So welcome, Nicole.
Nicole: 01:24 Hi, how are you doing today?
Steve: 01:26 I’m great and excited that you’re with us. Excellent.
Nicole: 01:29 Awesome, thank you for having me.
Steve: 01:31 Well Nicole, as I read your personal story, it seemed to me that your journey to instructional coaching appeared to go through a a trial and error process across several positions. So why don’t you take a a moment or two and share a little bit of that story with us?
Nicole: 01:51 Yea, sure. So, being an instructional coach was not something that I just decided and said, hey, this is the role that I want to do. I kind of was thrown in. I’ll go back a little bit. So when I first became a teacher, I became a teacher when it was the big riff or it was a overage of teachers – a surplus. And so I ended up getting moved from school to school to school, to school. And so I decided that I want to be a leader. I wanted to go through this leadership program. And when I got riffed, I was in a leadership program and the one lady came to me and said, “hey, I have a instructional coaching position for you and you’re going to do it.” And I was like, “huh?” Like I had no idea what it was. The first year I was an instructional coach, it was so confusing. I was just putting data sheets together, doing lunch duty before and after school duty in classrooms, not knowing what I was supposed to do. It was just as you will say, on the job training. Kind of a trial and error and trying to figure it out.
Steve: 02:58 So how did you collect the questions from the field that led to putting together simply instructional coaching?
Nicole: 03:06 So back in 2016 I was on Facebook and I was in an instructional coaching position and I was looking for Facebook groups that would help to support me because I knew it was a couple of us in the district, but not a whole lot of different, you know, people that I could reach out to and really get information. And so I ended up starting a Facebook group and the simply instructional coaching Facebook group now has evolved. And when – throughout the past couple of years, there were coaches that were asking me and DMing me and messaging me all of these questions. And somehow I was able to answer them from that. And then I just, I found myself answering the questions over and over and over again. And so finally I just decided to put together all of the questions. I did a survey, went out and said, what are all of the questions that you guys want me to answer?
Nicole: 04:05 And so then I created a small little free ebook, which were the kind of like the basic questions. And from there I said, you know what? I’m just going to answer them all in a book so everyone can just be very clear about exactly the logistical pieces of instructional coaching. Because a lot of the books that were out there were all about the strategies and the research and the theory, but the logistical pieces of, oh my God, I got the job. What do I do today? You know, kind of how do I get started? And those were a lot of the questions that I were getting. And so those 50 questions are now simply instructional coaching.
Steve: 04:42 Well, when you shared the draft with me, I was sure that people were going to find it exciting that they didn’t have to start and read beginning to end of book. That you can in effect jump into your table of contents there, find the questions that are most serious for a person at that moment and and jump to that spot.
Nicole: 05:06 Yes. I think that was one of the key pieces because when you first become an instructional coach, you’re number one excited for the position, but number two, you’re also overwhelmed with all of what you don’t know. And so that was definitely one of the key points so that they’re able to just go, grab the question, grab what they need. And then the book is also written in a way where there’s a reflection piece, a piece for them to implement. So I’m a mom, I’m at my son’s basketball game. I’m looking through a couple of questions. I could read two questions, read the reflection piece, I have an idea, I can jot it down and then I can keep it moving and come back later.
Steve: 05:46 You describe the many roles that instructional coaches can play and I’m wondering if you have some thoughts on how instructional coaches prioritize that list of roles to make a decision for themselves.
Nicole: 06:02 So for me, as far as the list of roles, I always start with my – with the principal’s vision. I always like to tell instructional coaches, even the ones that I coach, that the first thing they need to do is to set up their meeting with their principal and see the vision in which their principal has for them for that school year. And then look at the roles from there and then identify the top three that you would need to utilize in order to help bring forth that vision.
Steve: 06:35 I had a question a little further on about the coach-principal relationship and since you kinda jumped into that, why don’t, why don’t you go a little further in how do you describe that relationship that should exist between instructional coach and principal?
Nicole: 06:51 Yeah, so I find a lot of instructional coaches and the principal having power struggles. In my opinion, I feel as though the principal and coach should be a partnership. And I describe it as a partnership because the principal is the evaluator, right? And the coach is the support and that help and to get you where you need to go. And so I always try to make sure that me and my principal are both on the same page when it comes to the expectations of me as the coach, my role, me supporting the principal’s vision and then me supporting the teachers and their improvement of instruction or culture and climate. So it’s very important for you to have that principal partnership.
Steve: 07:43 I’m a strong proponent of educators working with goals. And I’m wondering the role that you see for instructional coaches I guess working with teacher goals but then also working with their own goals as an instructional coach.
Nicole: 08:01 Yeah, so every year, I think – goals are very important and I totally agree. It’s the way in which – it gives you a vision. It gives you a map to where you’re going, like a destination, right? So for me, I always create a professional goal and a personal professional goal. So a professional goal would be something that I’m doing specifically in the buildings. Then like a professional personal goal. So for me, like this school year is to read some of, I want to read some newer instructional coaching books because that’s like a personal professional because it’s personal to me or it’s kind of like my professionalism, my professional development for myself. I also, this year I’m going to try to attend one instructional coaching conference. So that’s one of the things that I want to do as far as a professional personal goal to empower myself. And then the professional professional goal would be something that I’m specifically doing in the building.
Steve: 09:05 You talk in your book about the importance of the coaching cycle. And I’m wondering if you’d share some of your thoughts on that.
Nicole: 09:15 Sure. So my biggest thing is the completion of the cycle. I think that we as instructional coaches always start the instructional coaching cycle – we go, we have our first meeting, we do maybe a follow up or we go and observe, but we don’t deep dive in and continue the cycle, continue the where we are going to observe. Having the conversation, getting the teachers on board, having them in the bias, setting the goals, you know, like I don’t think that we completely all the times track and complete coaching cycles until that goal has been reached. And so I think that is really important for us to just stay afloat or stay to the cycle and actually complete it until the goal has been, I guess, achieved.
Steve: 10:06 So where does that fall in then with prioritizing? Because as I’m listening to you, I’m sensing that there’s a smaller number of teachers that a coach could be engaged in at any one time with the coaching cycle. So how do you make that decision as to which teachers that would be?
Nicole: 10:36 So a couple of ways. I know that they’re all different based on the model and the school. So gor instance, in my building, all teachers are coached. So I specifically tier the teachers based off of me. There are some buildings where teachers request, you know, that they’re not required to have a coach. The coach is there and it’s an option. And so they – so coaches have to, I guess, kind of convince the teachers to become a part of a cycle. So at that point, I kind of would just take whoever came and work with them on their goal and try to get that coaching cycle. But for me, I use a system called tiering the teachers and I kind of do it if you go back to like the red, yellow, green or the the little triangle, pyramid kind of thing, I look at like mostly, my newer teachers that are first year, first, second year, they normally struggle with creating that culture and climate.
Nicole: 11:43 And so I would kind of do a walkthrough. I do baseline observations first. And so I walked through all of my content area teachers and I kind of do a baseline observation. That kind of gives me area of the culture and climate, what’s happening instructionally, how the teacher feels comfortable. Like, I get to set the scene and see kind of what’s happening. And then I kind of tier the teachers from there and say, okay, these four teachers are teachers I need to intensely work with. And so I would need to work with them weekly and then we’ll have our coaching conversation meeting and then I will pretty much kind of go through asking them questions to kind of see where they are and what they feel like they need to work on in comparison to what I observed already in the classroom. And so with those teachers we’ll set goals.
Nicole: 12:32 I do like for them to set their own goals. I just like to help them to get to a point where they create a goal that is a reality of what’s really happening. Because you know sometimes we have teachers that do don’t recognize that that what’s happening in a classroom is really happening. So I try to help them to get to that point where they are setting a goal that is realistic, you know, kind of a smart goal, something that’s attainable, something that’s quick that we can get to and really try to make a change with the teachers kind of immediately and with the students to get them on the right path. And so those teachers are teachers that I kind of work with weekly. And then the next tier would be like kinda my middle tier, a yellow tier, would maybe be a teacher that’s three to five years and it’s more of an instructional piece.
Nicole: 13:27 Implementing a strategy, looking at some data and trying to see how we can really kind of go deeper into some lessons and creating powerful lessons for the classroom. I would probably meet with those teachers and create a cycle that’s a little bit longer, but I may meet with them biweekly and not every single week. And then I have kind of like my top tier teachers who are kind of experienced. They don’t really have cultural climate issues. They do understand the curriculum and strategies, but they’re looking more of how to dig deeper, how to take it to the next level, how to push those students beyond. Like, sometimes we have, I do have like a couple of honors classes where my teachers are very strong content-wise, but they’re not strong as in transferring knowledge and really digging deeper into some of those strategies, like some culturally responsive teaching strategies.
Nicole: 14:23 And so we’ll dig deeper into that this year with kind of those teachers. And then I may meet with them like every three weeks and I may support them by, you know, videos or articles, different things like that to kind of support them with it. And it’s more of a touch and go but not so intense like I will my kind of my bottom tier teachers that really need more of the support with climate and culture, developing lesson plans, you know, those first year teachers. Just to make sure that they feel comfortable, but also to ensure that learning is happening in the classroom.
Steve: 15:01 I’m wondering if you’d talk a little bit about what you’re seeing as the instructional coach’s role in in professional learning communities today?
Nicole: 15:10 Oh, Lordy. The coach’s role in a professional learning – so I am implementing this year, the model for the the PLC+. And so this year, my role or the instructional coaching role for our PLC plus, it’s really kind of leading the professional development and I’m really more of trying to transfer the responsibility or the activator as they say in PLC+ to the teachers and allowing them to utilize that. So kinda how we did it this year is that we’re doing two PLCs. The first PLC will be the four quadrants, the model including the equity and the – getting the teacher clarity, having the teacher be a part of it. So we’ll do the four quadrants, the first one, and then the second one we’ll be digging into data and utilizing student work analysis and those types of pieces in that.
Nicole: 16:09 So I feel that with all of this training that I’ve had, that the instructional coach’s role is definitely to empower the teachers to be able to look at their own data, to challenge the teachers to go further in their thinking and to also empower them with knowledge. So it’s not just I’m going to create a PowerPoint and I’m just gonna talk to them about a strategy and then I’m going to say, okay, go implement it and I’ll see you later. You know, that has been something that has occurred lately in a professional learning communities and what instructional coaches have been asked to do. But now I’m looking at instructional coaching being more of the facilitator of the learning, of having the teachers to take some ownership and diving into that. So they may just be a facilitator of the information and then allowing the teachers to then transfer the knowledge, you know, to themselves and really dig deeper into where they are. And so I think that’s kind of where the instructional coaching role is going in PLCs. It, you know, it used to be where we just gave PDs and kept it moving. But I think now it’s more of that facilitator role and really getting those teachers involved in learning for themselves.
Steve: 17:23 So more of the teachers taking increased ownership of the PLC?
Nicole: 17:30 Yes.
Steve: 17:31 I’ve been sharing the comment that in many places coaches went into teach people how to function in a PLC, but they ended up being the PLC director, which allowed the teachers to kind of sidestep the responsibility. So I’m seeing the need for the instructional coach there. And I like to use the word empower. Empower the teachers to make the PLC work for them and what they want to have happen.
Nicole: 18:03 Yes, definitely. And then the PLC+ model, the activator is the one that’s the most important. So you are allowing others in the actual PLC to ask those probing questions as they continue to dig deeper into the learning.
Steve: 18:23 Yep. Yep. Well thank you so much for for joining us. I’m wondering if there’s anything you’d want to mention about simply instructional coaching that I kinda didn’t give you a chance to point out as a key element from my questions.
Nicole: 18:42 Well, one key point that I do want to make sure that everyone knows is that you have to have self care as instructional coaches. We talk about self care as teachers. But a lot of times we do not take the time to take care of ourselves and I really want to push that and really want to get coaches to see that. So there is a part where I kind of talk about 10 different strategies in the first section that you can kind of do to keep yourself care going. I have in the past week – now school is just starting, right? I’ve had about five to six coaches reach out to me and tell me that they have just had breakdowns. They don’t know what to do. They’re working like 10, 15 hours a day because it’s the beginning of the year, beginning of testing beginning the teachers, all of this.
Nicole: 19:30 But do you really have to make sure that you take some time for yourself. You take some time to breathe. If you need a moment, you need to step outside of the building, take a breather, go back in. Really take care of you and then create a boundary, which is the hardest thing to do as coaches because during the day we’re always on with the teachers and then at night we’re doing paperwork, right? We’re catching up, we’re writing notes, we’re doing emails, we’re reading emails, we’re gathering lessons and, you know, doing all of those things that support the teachers in the classroom. But we have to create that boundary where maybe you have to cut it off at six o’clock one day a week and go have dinner with your family. You may not be able to work on Saturday. You may need to in the morning, I’m” very adamant about in the morning time having calm music on in my office. So if teachers come in and they’re like, oh my God, Nicole, I need help with this.” And I’m like, “okay, calm down, you know, we got it.” So yeah, that that coach, I call it coach self care is just as important as what we did when we were in the classroom and teaching self care.
Steve: 20:40 It’s kind of, you’re in that position where you can be picking up everybody else’s stress. You can get pretty big pile of it by the end of the day if you don’t plan for that.
Nicole: 20:51 Yeah.
Steve: 20:52 Well Nicole, again, thank you so much. We will – in the lead in into the podcast, we’ll put your website so people can check out there to find your book and also communicate directly with you.
Nicole: 21:07 Awesome. Thanks so much.
Steve: 21:09 Thanks again and have a great day.
Nicole: 21:11 All right, you too.
Steve: 21:13 Bye, bye.
Nicole: 21:13 Bye.
Steve [Outro]: 21:16 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.