A Vision for Instructional Coaching in the 6th Largest U.S. District
Broward County Public Schools Chief Talent Development Officer Elisa Calabrese and her colleagues had an “aha” moment in 2012. They realized that if they were serious about human capital development and creating a highly effective teaching workforce, they needed to get serious about a unified and cohesive coaching model.
At that time there was no program of professional development for over 400 instructional coaches, who were situated at the school level and hired by principals. While many of these coaches seemed to have a good handle on their work, there was no cohesion, no common job descriptions, no criteria for what it takes to be a coach and no common professional development. Essentially, there was no comprehensive approach to developing their 400 coaches. Coaches were often pulled in a variety of directions. An estimated $21 million per year was invested in approximately 400 instructional coach positions.
Calabrese and her team identified New Teacher Center as the expert they needed to provide a more meaningful and impactful coaching model. NTC was a known and trusted partner, having provided teacher induction professional development for Florida mentors for a number of years. Establishing a broad partnership to include instructional coaches presented an opportunity for the district to align its vision for mentoring and coaching through common coaching protocols, tools and language, and the use of formative assessment data of teaching practice to deliver high-quality instruction. Alignment ensures that teachers new and experienced are coached in a consistent way using the same language, protocols, and tools to build a district-wide culture.
“NTC truly provides expertise at building a dynamic community of learners. Working together we are communicating an aligned vision for mentoring and coaching across the district.” Elisa Calabrese, Chief Talent Development Officer
In 2012, NTC helped design a pilot program for 30 instructional coaches: a two-year track of professional development in Instructional Mentoring, supported by monthly forums and peer coaching. The award of an NTC Investing in Innovation (i3) grant provided the funds to further envision, design, and articulate the components of a high-quality instructional coaching program across the district. Broward County Public Schools was able to leverage a Teacher Incentive Fund grant to extend the instructional coaching initiative at a broader scale. At the same time, the award of an NTC Investing in Innovation (i3) grant provided the funds to implement a high quality comprehensive induction program for beginning teachers across the district.
In 2013-14, 170 instructional coaches across the district participated in NTC’s Professional Learning Series for instructional coaches. Realizing that principal engagement was critical to supporting the coaches’ work, program leaders offered a series of half-day retreats in the summer of 2014, bringing together principals and coaches from various schools to gain a deeper, shared understanding of the role of instructional coach.
At the end of the year, the first cohort of 40 instructional coaches finished their training and submitted portfolios, including three case studies, for review. The new coaches came to their jobs with an average 16 years of experience as classroom teachers, yet all said the the professional development coach enhanced their understanding of the elements of effective teaching, and half described the impact as “to a great extent.” A panel of department directors from across the district reviewed portfolios, provided feedback, and started a database of coaches who earned credentials. Meanwhile, 140 others continue their second year of training in 2014-15, while 175 new coaches entered their first year of the credentialing process.
The Result: Improved and Aligned Instructional Coaching
Now in place is a comprehensive instructional coaching program with common job descriptions, a sanctioned selection process, board rules, and a bona fide pathway to earn a coaching credential. Florida education officials are exploring the possibility of issuing a new state credential for instructional coaches.
A Conversation with Instructional Coach, Nelsha Powell
Q. How has the Coach Credentialing Program supported your growth as a coach?
A. I was a literacy coach for seven years before entering the coach credentialing program. This professional development helped me deepen my practice in many ways. I am able to differentiate my coaching and communicate more effectively to meet the needs of each teacher. I know when to be instructive, collaborative, and facilitative.
Q. What would you say has been the greatest impact your work has had on the school you support, a teacher’s practice, or student achievement?
A. The impact can be seen in the professional relationships that I have built, and support I give teachers to help them improve their practice and advance student achievement. The Formative Assessment and Support (FAS) system tools have grown my ability to differentiate my coaching and to mentor teachers in ways that encourage their reflection and professional growth as well as their ability to help all students learn. The Collaborative Assessment Log (CAL) starts the mentoring conversation with something positive: “What’s working?” and ends it with “next steps.” That can really help turn the day around if a teacher is frustrated, thinking, “I work so hard, but something didn’t go well.” It builds resilience and keeps the focus on moving practice forward. Using the Selective Scripting tool allows me to be specific when discussing the lesson with a teacher. Often, the teachers are the ones who see the evidence of what they have said: “I’m asking lower-order questions!” Again, that has provided the entry point for deeper conversations around how to improve practice.
Q. What challenges have you faced as a coach and how have you overcome those challenges?
A. The biggest challenge that I faced as a coach was effectively engaging in meaningful and productive conversations with teachers and knowing how to ensure they would be receptive to ideas, especially after classroom observations. Thanks to the Instructional Coaching program, I have learned how to use mentor language stems. Now I paraphrase, use mediational questions, and provide non-judgmental responses to help a teacher realize what can be done differently.
“As we enter an era of new challenges and greater accountability, our teachers need more support than ever before. Our partnership with New Teacher Center is one of these foundational supports. Through the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant initiative, we have a pivotal opportunity to focus on accelerating teacher effectiveness through comprehensive programs for new teacher induction, mentoring and coaching, and ultimately improve learning outcomes for our students.” Robert Runcie, Superintendent