The Compelling Case for Instructional Coaching


The Compelling Case for Instructional Coaching

San Francisco, NAIS Annual Conference 2016

It may have been fortuitous that a few weeks after being given the opportunity to create two new instructional coach positions with our team, I found myself in a breakout session at NAIS called, “The Compelling Case for Instructional Coaching” by Matthew Horvat, Brenda Leaks, Gerald Buhaly, and Jessica Hanson from The Overlake School.

The presentation provided key insights from the perspectives of the IC (instructional coach), a teacher and the principal. I hope to get the actual slides, but for now I’ve shared a few slides I captured via phone.

Learning-focused Supervision: Assessing and Developing Professional Practice Using the Framework for Teaching by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman

A Primer on Instructional Coaches by Jim Knight

Instructional Coaching: Kansas Coaching Project & More Scholarly Articles About Instructional Coaching

Teaching Channel: Instructional Coaching

Teaching is Complex: Don’t Try to Simplify What Teachers Do

What do you wonder about the role and benefit(s) of working with an instructional coach?

Chatting About Instructional Rounds

Chatting about instructional rounds

Chatting About Instructional Rounds

Last week, I was invited to chat (via Google Hangouts) with a group of students at Harvard about instructional rounds. Wow – what an honor! It was fun to share the experiences of my team since we launched the practice of IR at Mount Vernon in 2013.

Some of the questions posed included…

How do you transform the culture of a school?

How much time do you spend aligning terms, norms, and expectations with observers and teachers?

How do you measure and capture the demonstrations of the MV Mindsets?

Have you ever included students or parents in instructional rounds?

Do you start with a problem of practice? What are some examples? What about teachers self-identifying a goal or focus in advance of being observed?

Following the chat, one student engaged in a follow up correspondence. His questions provide great prompts for discussion.

After teachers receive the feedback, what do the reflective and responsive action parts of the process look like in practice at your school? That is, once observations are made and data collected, how are strategies for improvement, for growth, ideated and communicated? Are individual teachers supposed to develop new ideas based on the information in SurveyMonkey and test them out on their own, or are there structures in place to help facilitate this in more of a collaborative way? In other words, what does the feedback process look like in terms of strategies for growth and learning among teachers?

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Our team has recently discovered this fabulous book, recommended by Meredith Monk from Folio Collaborative. The authors outline the 3 types of feedback we all need and receive as human beings: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.

None of these concepts are new, but the clarification of each one, as well as the interconnectedness of them are providing important insights for us. Just the summary from Chapter 1 alone has given us great fodder for discussion and reflection.

“Feedback” is really three different things, with different purposes:

Appreciation – motivates and encourages.
Coaching – helps increase knowledge, skill, ability, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.
Evaluation – tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making.

We need all three, but often talk at cross-purposes.

Evaluation is the loudest and can drown out the other two. (And all coaching includes a bit of evaluation.)

Be thoughtful about what you need and what you’re being offered, and get aligned.

Implementing Instructional Rounds

Implementing Instructional Rounds

Recently, the idea was posed to us about how to implement instructional rounds. I’m so excited at the prospect of sharing this valuable practice with other educators, that my mind began racing. Hundreds of thoughts all crashing together in my mind at the same instant.

Pulling out a trusty, white legal pad, I began to scribble down questions. Ah, start with questions. It’s embedded in my DNA.

Questions for Schools to Discuss Before IR

  • Can you describe your school’s current model for observation? Current evaluation model? Feedback model?
  • Is there any peer to peer observation happening in your school?
  • If you were to start with a small, pilot group, who are the people who will observe? What training do they need?
  • Who will be observed? What training or information will they need?
  • Are the right conditions of trust in place? Or do they need to be developed before beginning IR?
  • What tool will you use during the observations to capture what you see? What are the key elements or problems of practice you will focus on during your rounds?
  • How will you structure your debriefs? What formal or procedure will you use? How will you prepare people for the debrief to get the most out of it?
  • Logistically, when and how will you schedule the rounds and debriefs?
  • instructional rounds
    The Science Vertical Team debriefs after an observation. Trust is key to a successful conversation. The focus is growth not evaluation.

    instructional rounds
    Bo Adams shares about how MVPS approaches instructional rounds.

Traditional Observation v Instructional Rounds

Instructional Rounds

In our third year of practicing instructional rounds, I continue to learn and grow in my ability to deliver quality, meaningful feedback to our teachers. They are the best. The top. The elite professionals. I often tell them they are the “Michael Phelps” of education. And even Michael Phelps needs a coach to be the best in his field. I believe instructional rounds is one of the most effective methods to professional growth in education.

“A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be ‘fixed,’ but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it. No matter how good a lesson is, we can always make it better. Every professional teacher has a responsibility to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice.” C. Danielson

What is the difference between the traditional observation that far too many educators experience across the nation and the practice of instructional rounds? 

Traditional Observation Instructional Rounds
1 admin observes 1 teacher at a time 3-5 admin/teachers observe 1 teacher at a time, 3-4 teachers in a row. All 6-9 debrief together for an hour in the same week.
observer leaves carbon copy of eval in teacher’s mailbox observee receives 3-5 typed evaluations in advance of a whole group, one hour debrief. **
observation happens once maybe twice throughout year observations happen at least 4 consecutive weeks for more frequent, in depth feedback
data is useful only for that teacher data is useful for teacher and helps school build a pedagogical map of teaching and learning practices
Instructional Rounds
Students conduct science experiments with measurement in centers during instructional rounds observation.
Instructional Rounds
The job of the observer is to capture what one sees and hears. Be as objective as possible, reflecting back like a blind spot mirror to the teacher being observed during instructional rounds.
Instructional Rounds
It is difficult to fly under the radar during instructional rounds when 3-5 observers walk in (and when our students are so friendly).
Mrs. Levison’s class is always thought-provoking and interactive. During this lesson, she is challenging students to come up with questions that test whether something (fire, a blade of grass, etc.) is alive. Does it grow? Does it breathe? Does it die? Is it alive? I love instructional rounds – I learn so much.

The official hashtag I use for instructional rounds is #irfedu. Please use it and share your experiences. What other differences can you see between traditional observation and instructional rounds?

Teacher Feedback – Old School

In my basement are 5 large boxes of files from 10 years of teaching. It used to be more, but I have been slowly condensing the boxes over the last 4 years. I was amazed to discover some old observation feedback from my first year at Dunwoody HS. It was fascinating to compare how I received feedback then as a teacher to how I capture and deliver feedback now as an administrator, especially as it relates to instructional rounds (#IRFEDU).

Teacher Feedback


Date: April 13, 2000
Focus of Lesson: Socialism/Capitalism
Teaching Task I: Provides Instruction

Your students participated in the classroom discussions as well as the homework review. The student responses indicated the appropriate instructional level. By discussing genetics concepts of historical value and relating those to genetics of today (cloning) you built for the transfer of knowledge.

Teaching Task II: Assesses and Encourages Student Progress

By using a combination of instructional activities, classroom debate between socialism and capitalism and the homework review allowed you to monitor progress as well as to promote engagement.

Teaching Task III: Manages the Learning Environment

I appreciate the importance you place on room organization and cleanliness. Please request that the custodial staff remove any extra and unnecessary furniture. (Stacked desks, brown computer station) Your students demonstrated appropriate behavior and remained on task.

Teacher Feedback


Date: January 20, 2000
Focus of Lesson: Renaissance and Reformation
Teaching Task I: Provides Instruction

 Your teaching style encourages concept teaching rather than strictly factual teaching. You developed the concept by sharing facts (dates), opinions (politicians), and drawing conclusions.

Teaching Task II: Assesses and Encourages Student Progress

 As you introduced the Renaissance you promoted engagement by introducing the “characters” – Michelangelo, Martin Luther, and Gutenberg. As you introduced new topics you reminded students of first semester concepts and how they were important with today’s discussion (ex: Renaissance humanities)

Teaching Task III: Manages the Learning Environment

As you encouraged students to define “humanism” you reminded students not to burst out. Your class is attractive. If the stacked desks are not needed please ask Mr. Davidson to have them removed. All learners were involved in note taking and demonstrated appropriate behavior.

 Teacher Feedback

Date: April 13, 2000
Annual Evaluation Summary Report

Mr. Houston uses a variety of instructional techniques which results in a high level of student interest and involvement. I appreciate that he values every instructional moment and teaches bell to bell. Mr. Houston will continue to grow and develop as a master teacher.

Mr. Houston fulfills all duties and responsibilities assigned to him. He is an asset to Dunwoody High School and the social studies department.

Feedback from Instructional Rounds: New Network

A team of 4 Middle School Teachers and 4 Administrators piloted the second instructional rounds group in Mount Vernon’s Middle School starting in January 2014. After one pre-brief (to establish norms and goals), four observations and four group debriefs, we concluded our rounds with one final post-brief session. Here is the feedback…

What was good about this IR experience?

Greatest learning came from hearing about others’ feedback
Our group allowed the conversation to be organic
I benefited from an inside view of the all the classrooms
This increases the respect for our profession
It allowed me to form relationships with teammates on other grades and on the other campus
Made me more willing to take risks
Feedback is less scary if you feel supported and cared for.
As a new teacher, I felt like part of the community

What could improve the instructional rounds experience?

Focus on a problem of practice
Divide of areas of specific focus among observers
Bring in research and apply
Include peers in observations (rotate or video tape)
Teachers request observation for specific lessons (when they want feedback)

What could we improve about Proto 3 (the instrument we use to gather the observation data)?

Did the teacher get the feedback they wanted/needed each time?
Time is challenging to fill it all out
Is it redundant? (reading #4 – the transcript four times, mostly the same)
I want more questions and coaching in my feedback
Would it be more useful with a specific focus?
It was good because it has made me more intentional about the mindsets
Add indicators to mindsets
Plan professional learning around the data gained in the pedagogical map

What do you see as part of the next iteration of instructional rounds here?

IR networks become research teams, too. 2-3 research teams
HMW nurture innovation?
Teacher action research question/SMART goal
spread the love, but keep this team
spread to other divisions, other teachers
lesson plan of the month? demo slam/lesson slam?

Feedback from Performance Task (UbD Stage 2) and iPlan17

What was your biggest takeaway about performance tasks? What questions do you still have about performance tasks? How relevant was the focus of the professional learning on Jan 6 for your classroom practice? What new insights did you gain about the connection between “the initiatives we have launched” and the “why” behind them? In Wednesday’s faculty meeting, what was your biggest takeaway from giving and receiving feedback with vertical teams on your performance task designs? How familiar are you with the details of “Design and Demonstrate” in the Strategic iPlan17? To what degree do you plan to utilize GRASPS as a criteria for shaping the quality of the performance tasks you will design moving forward? To what degree do you think the Middle School team as a whole is embracing UbD Stages 1 & 2?
Making them real-world applicable, hands-on & meaningful How to assess them 10 I still think we are trying to do too much; it would be far more beneficial to focus intently on a few rather than trying to spread ourselves (teachers) so thin loved working with my vertical team! We wish we had more time to collaborate. We all greatly benefited from sharing our ideas & receiving feedback. 5 10 7
how unique and valuable they can be how to assess 7 I like hearing the ideas 4 8
collaborating with others from my vertical team how fast are they expected to be produced and used in our classrooms? 8 That even though we have so many launched at once, we all take on a different aspect of them that we treasure, utilize, and learn from the most Getting better ideas for the PRODUCT portion of my GRASPS 3 8 5
GRASPS The timing of PT in the series of formative and summative assessments 10 The Strategic Plan is guiding us, and we need to review this more to best understand the importance of our new initiatives That I am not alone – many other GREAT teachers are learning this too, and collaboration really helps! 5 10 5
I loved the fact that I was given insight how to include the Unsung Hero Project into the everyday teaching on ancient civilizations. none at the moment. Some will probably arise as I work on completing one. 10 answered in number 1 question. 1 8 8
Collaborating with others None 10 I love the WHY Opinions from different perspectives (age, gender, parent vs. not) 6 10 9
An actual performance task “Situation” 10 Love the bridge between the whys and the initiatives–it all made sense when Chip wrote it on the board I received a more detailed, a more relevant task 5 8 10
That they do not have to occur only at the end of a unit. Also, they are much easier to form and use if you craft them using the GRASPS format. How do you adequately assess them? How will rubrics fit in to this discussion,, and what are the most effective ways to create and use rubrics? 10 I made relevant connections with our initiatives and our strategic plan. It became more apparent that we aren’t just launching new initiatives to launch them. There are distinct purposes and reasons why, and it all revolves around the strategic plan. Collaboration is key with performance tasks. So many insights are gained for consulting with your peers. You gain new ideas and give new ideas. 5 10 4
How important the setting is What is an exemplar rubric for a performance task 10 The purpose behind our initiatives Student choice 3 10 8
The process of working backwards from the goal. No real questions. I’m still working through developing it, but will get there eventually. 9 They are all new insights for me as I’m fairly new to this whole process. The helpful suggestions from team members. 2 8 9
They are a good way of assessing real world application capability. What is the best way to create/grade transdisciplinary transfer tasks? 9 5 8 7
how applicable they are none right now 10 that there is a reason for everything. that we really need to be helping each other because some teachers still don;t understand performance tasks and even if they do we need honest feedback and more ideas. 3 10 7
How I can take lessons that I already teach and adjust them to performance tasks How to assess the assessments! 8 I could see the connection more readily. I gt some good ideas to extend the direction in which I was going. 6 9 8