Ellen Eisenberg, co-host of our Coaching Talk series from the Pennsylvania Institute of Instructional Coaching (PIIC), provides coaching tips for documenting work and creating opportunities for self-reflection.
For more posts from instructional coaches, please check out our recent posts from the TeachBoost series, Your Coaching Toolbox!
any coaches struggle with the practicality of keeping notes about their work with colleagues. It's not that they don't want to keep appropriate and professional notes, it's more about the time it takes and the kind of notes that cause the coaches to anguish over how to complete that kind of process. It's certainly not easy to do, yet the rewards for taking the time to maintain records is crucial to a coach's success.
What many practitioners don't understand is that coaches don't walk into school and announce, "Oh, what should we do today?" Coaches plan and prepare for their work with teachers every day. So how do they know what they need to do in preparation for their work with teachers? ICs keep notes so they can differentiate their support to teachers and know where they are, where they want to go, and to plan the steps to get there.
Snapshots in Time
Coaches need to document not only what or how they work with colleagues, but also what their next steps are for provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development. However, coaching is confidential so the documentation stays in the hands of the coach and the teacher(s) being coached.
PIIC instructional coaches and mentors practice the "BDA" (before, during, and after) coaching cycle throughout the coaching process. Coaches and teachers work together and co-construct the "look fors" (before) in their collaborative consultation. When the coach visits the classroom (during), the coach uses the co-constructed form—the agreed upon data—to document what happened in the classroom. The form is again used as the coach and teacher reflect and debrief (after) the lesson. This kind of documentation is known as record keeping: a way for both the coach and teacher to keep track of their work together.
A more deliberate and thought-provoking kind of documentation is reflecting about the practice. To promote reflection, a coach may include questions like:
How do you know the students were engaged in the work?
Why were specific decisions made?
How do you know that the students reached the intended outcomes?
How can this practice be improved?
What are the next steps to improve learning?
These are great conversation starters that encourage deep thinking and contemplation—which are critical for ongoing discussions about student learning.
At the same time, coaches need to reflect on their work with teachers and ask questions like, "What am I doing to help teachers change and improve their practice?" or "What am I doing to help teachers improve student engagement and outcomes?" Their relationships are developmental, as is the process for reflecting and determining next steps.
Coaches need to know what kind of support is necessary and if resources are required. They need to reflect on the conversations, actions, and thinking throughout the BDA cycle of coaching. Coaches need to prepare themselves for the work they want to accomplish with their colleagues and review their goals and objectives to determine if they've achieved what they set out to do. Self-reflection is continual in order to strengthen practice and one can't simply rely on memory to achieve it.
Tips for Documenting Work
Prior to taking notes on what you've noticed or talked about with your coachee, remember to establish agreed upon ground rules. Here are a few tips to get you moving in the right direction:
Ask the teacher's permission to take notes
Leave the notes with the teacher and remind the teacher to bring the notes back for the debriefing
Only address and share the agreed-upon items; save the rest for another time
Watch, listen, and be "in the moment;" don’t spend all the time checking off boxes
The debriefing process takes time! It doesn’t have to be a difficult conversation although many of them are just that. As a coach, you should take time to plan with the teacher, visit the class, think about what you saw as you visited, refer to the goals of the lesson, process how the goals were achieved, write your notes to share with the teacher, then debrief the lesson with your prepared questions, not answers. And remember: coaches, too, have a learning curve about how to approach conversations involving teaching and learning.
About our Guest Blogger
Ellen Eisenberg is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). PIIC, a partnership of the Annenberg Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, is a statewide resource for developing and supporting consistent, high-quality instructional coaching in Pennsylvania schools.