Connie Rockow, Instructional Coach and Mentor Coordinator from the Genesse Valley Educational Partnership, highlights the power of PLCs for professional development and where to begin to build your own network!
n a recent conversation with a fellow instructional coach, I realized that there can be a certain irony associated with being an instructional coach.
As instructional coaches, we partner with our collaborating teachers to find ways to enhance our students learning experiences. We work as a team, bouncing ideas off of each other and challenging each other's thinking as we grapple with how best to help our students be successful.
Most importantly, we help our teachers feel comfortable stepping outside the silos of isolation that exist in their classrooms and encourage them to engage in productive educational discourse with their colleagues. Coaches truly can be change agents in their schools—positively infiltrating the masses, shifting mindsets, and building collective teacher efficacy.
Isolation in Coaching
What has inadvertently happened in many districts is that our instructional coaches are working in silos of their own. While they're part of their school's larger professional learning community, coaches often end up being the ones facilitating the learning opportunities for their colleagues—instead of being engaged in learning opportunities geared toward their own professional growth.
It's easy to see how this happens, especially since many districts have one or only a small number of coaches. The conundrum here is that if we want our coaches to build their capacity to provide impactful learning experiences for our teachers—ones that have a positive impact on student achievement—then we need to encourage and provide opportunities for our coaches to develop their own professional learning communities.
How Do We Support Instructional Coaching PLCs?
When implementing an instructional coaching program, or evaluating an existing program, we should look at what type of learning opportunities are currently being provided for our coaches. I'd venture to guess that many districts send their coaches to instructional coaching workshops and/or conferences—which is a great start. But, we also need to ensure that our coaches are afforded the opportunity to be part of their own coaching specific professional learning communities. Conferences and workshops are informational and inspirational, but research shows that for professional learning to be sustainable it needs to be job-embedded and ongoing. Just as we realize the value of using coaches as providers of PD for our teachers we must also consider how to provide our coaches with this same type of professional development.
Where Do We Start?
Just like coaches form learning partnerships with their cooperating teachers, they also need to form learning partnerships with other coaches and with their building level administrators. That's right, I said it: though it might make some uncomfortable, coaches should partner in learning with their administrators as well as with other coaches.
While many realize that coaches and administrators should work as a team, not much has been said about the need for coaches and administrators to partner together in cooperative learning opportunities. That may sound like it contradicts the idea that coaches are not administrators and shouldn't be seen as being in the administrator's pocket, but if we truly want to advance our students learning then we must be consistent with the messages we send to our teachers about effective instruction. This message must be the same whether it's coming from an administrator, a coach, or anyone else who is providing professional learning opportunities for our staff.
If your school values student engagement then you all must be able to not only agree upon what student engagement is, but also upon what it looks like in action. The most effective way to do this is by engaging in learning opportunities together with your coaching and administrative team: looking at student learning together, talking about student learning together, grappling with identifying evidence that everyone can agree upon.
My coaching role has afforded me the opportunity to work with the coaches and administrators in many districts. While every coach is skilled and does their best to help advance student learning, the most effective coaching programs are those where the coaches and the administrators partner together and engage in collaborative learning experiences. With that said, coaches who do not find themselves in the position of being able to partner in learning with their administrators can still grow and learn by partnering in learning with the other coaches in their district.
If you find yourself on a coaching island, don't panic, there are still things you can do to advance your learning. The main thing to remember is that there are other people out there who would love to partner with you in learning! You might try partnering with coaches in neighboring districts or on social media. It’s amazing the connections that can occur by simply sending an email or making a call introducing yourself to other coaches! I have yet to meet a coach who isn't genuinely excited to be offered an opportunity to learn with and learn from another coach or share their knowledge through coaching PLCs on twitter.
Just remember, learning isn't subjective to just those we work with and as a coach, we should strive to continue growing through PLCs and on-going PD!
About our Guest Blogger
Connie Rockow has been in education for 23 years and is currently an instructional coach trainer for the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership. Her instructional coaching work includes teaching others how to use video as a tool for reflective practice. She has also worked as a secondary science teacher, mentor coordinator and an instructional coach. Connie is currently finishing up her educational leadership degree at Stony Brook University and lives by the mantra Together We're Better!