A District's Coaching Journey: From Implementation to Advancement
Posted by Steven Montemarano on April 23, 2019 at 10:27 AM
Are you looking to build a coaching program or implement video into your current mix? Steven Montemarano, coordinator of learning at Livonia Central School District, reflects on what it took to build a program from the ground up and how his district now uses video to complement ongoing efforts.
ur journey began four years ago with a simple question: "how can we provide the best professional development possible to help teachers grow in their craft and improve student achievement?"
Our teachers are amazing individuals who care for, engage with, and empower students in safe environments. We've experienced the one-stop PD workshops many times in the past and knew they didn't impact teaching and learning. As such, we weren't interested in approaching professional development from a deficit model—one where we were out to "fix" teachers—because we were already pushing students to achieve and thrive in amazing ways.
Instead, we wanted to provide job-embedded, sustainable professional development that was grounded in research, provided choice, and (most importantly) allowed teachers to be leaders in the work. The solution was simple: instructional coaching.
Building an Instructional Coaching Program
You may have heard the quote by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." There are many times in my life where this statement rings true but none more so than when I met Jim Thompson. I was an instructional coach in a previous role and he was then the director of instructional coaching. Our professional collaboration and friendship began around the belief that the single most important factor in student achievement is the ability of the teacher and that the best form of professional development was instructional coaching.
We met and started looking at how to train our new instructional coaches. This included after-school, half- and full-day sessions, attendance at regional and national conferences focused on instructional coaching, and book studies. Our push was to have our coaches deepen their understanding of instruction and instructional coaching in order to improve their own practice while they learn to connect and engage with other teachers.
The Importance of Communication and a Shared Vision
We knew that any instructional program is doomed to fail without routine communication to all relevant stakeholders—including our teachers' union, administration, and Board of Education. I met with the union president to share our vision of a program where coaches work with teachers on instruction in a non-evaluative way.
More specifically, the conversations throughout the coaching cycle would be confidential and neither me or any other administrator would have access to the videos or the subsequent documentation of these cycles. This was important to the vision of our program in not letting our coaches be seen or perceived as quasi-administrators; instead, they are there to focus on instruction, not evaluation. By having all parties agree on a shared vision it helps pave the way for impactful instructional coaching.
To begin, we started to work with our building's administrators to find teachers to transition into instructional coaches. While we wanted teachers who were able to connect with and push students forward academically, we also wanted to find individuals who routinely exhibited a growth mindset toward education and could develop meaningful relationships with teachers on learning and instruction.
I worked with the building administration at the secondary level to find the right blend of teachers from all content areas and levels of experience. I started each conversation with a simple "we are looking to start this instructional coaching program and if you could take this leap of faith and trust me for a year, I think you would be perfect to be a part of it." Of course, we had some teachers who weren't interested, but we got our first five teachers to become instructional coaches. In our second year, we expanded to the elementary school and found four more teachers as we looked to expand our program.
I can't say enough about the individuals who are part of our program—they're the face of instructional coaching in Livonia and exemplify teacher leadership as they continue to make our program a model in our region. More importantly, they work to build relationships with all teachers and push the vision of teaching and learning!
Introducing Coaching to the Staff
Once the structure of our program was in place, we moved to our next phase of implementation: application of learning. As we transitioned from learning about coaching to actually coaching, we focused on developing relationships with teachers. This was a big move for us, and we knew that moving too fast would cause anxiety with teachers and possibly send the wrong message about coaching. We wanted to "go slow to go fast" and make coaching a way to move all teachers from "good to great." Because of this, we worked to connect with teachers and develop high-levels of trust and a demand for coaching that we could hardly meet.
We did a great job of developing trust with teachers, and that allowed us to move more deeply into a focus on instruction through coaching cycles. We then connected our mentoring program to our instructional coaching program so teachers new to the district would engage in multiple coaching cycles. After the groundwork was laid, we then began to promote many teachers to engage in at least one video coaching cycle.
Once our instructional coaching efforts were in full force, it was time to expand on our initiatives to first introduce the idea of video coaching. The most important communication took place with our Board of Education where my belief in video coaching and desire to share the work we were doing prompted me to take a huge risk—I recorded myself during one of my presentations to the board. I wanted to do this to highlight our work, have our Board of Education see it in action, and help drive my professional growth. Modeling this was one of the most empowering decisions I made to share the vision of coaching in Livonia!
Our goal was to have a video instructional coaching program. The idea was to provide training and access to technology that allowed teachers and coaches to take videos of their instruction and engage in reflection on what was shown. We decided to use a combination of Swivl and iPad technology, which allowed teachers and coaches to take video and engage in a "Glow or Grow" process during the coaching cycle. In order to achieve this goal we would have to advocate for our program with our Superintendent and Director of Technology, as we were about to invest a good chunk of money into both hardware and software. Fortunately, both were immediately on board with our vision to use technology to improve instruction!
As part of our ongoing PD approach, our coaches facilitated academies on engagement and formative assessment, with the most powerful academy being the "8-minute challenge." This challenge was designed to have teachers take 8 minutes of video in their classroom and determine a micro-goal to focus on with a coach over 6-8 weeks.
Teacher voice and choice is an important part of the coaching process and teachers were able to decide which part of a lesson to record (and many times re-record) and to set a goal to work on. By allowing the teacher voice, it made the process more meaningful for them which ultimately created more buy in.
During the process, coaches would meet with teachers and help them with their individual goals. At the end of the 8 weeks, the teachers were back together to reflect on the process and share some of what they learned and the conversations were amazing. Again, this speaks to the impact of our coaches to develop deep relationships around instruction through the context of video, which ultimately moves all students forward. Moving forward, we plan to run these academies at least 2 times a year to engage as many teachers as possible.
There have been some bumps along the way—it has been a slow, but intentional process—and we continue to grow our program and deepen our work with teachers. We are now working on a video playbook and integrating technology into the conversation around instruction. To assist with the process, we continue to partner with administration and find ways to share the message of instructional coaching and the impact it has on the classroom and student achievement. With that being said, I can't state enough that this wouldn't have been possible without the amazing dedication and efforts of our coaches!
Thank you to all of our Livonia coaches: Molly, Terry, Tracy, Linda, Jen, Carolyn, Wendy, Deanna, and Jacquie.
About our Guest Blogger
Steven Montemarano is a coordinator of learning for PK12 Mathematics and Secondary Education at Livonia Central School District, in Western NY. During his academic career he has taught all levels of high school mathematics and has worked as an instructional coach and a professional development specialist. Now, as an administrator, he has worked to develop an instructional coaching program whose central tenant is to use video to help teachers reflect on the craft of teaching and help them move forward each day.
He works with Jim Thompson—co-author of "A Quick Guide to Video Coaching"—to help instructional coaches connect with teachers to select goals, learn about high yield instructional strategies, collect data on implementation, and reflect on its effectiveness.