How NTC is developing effective teachers across Iowa, while creating teacher leaders

A Focus on Instructional Coaching

The role of instructional coaches in schools has become a field unto itself. These teacher coaches usually work with more experienced teachers to help them continually improve classroom instruction. Sometimes, they work with new teachers, too.

NTC is working with school systems across Iowa to provide support and professional learning for instructional coaches – and the results may be a national model for other states and districts.

“It’s a pleasure to partner with NTC.  Their commitment to excellence and passion for teacher leadership has been critical to our success. We would not be as far along as we are without their help and support,” said Kim Owen, a regional administrator for the Grant Wood AEA and the program lead for the induction and teacher-leadership work with NTC.

Two years ago, Iowa legislators passed the Teacher Leadership Compensation Act to provide teachers with more opportunities for leadership roles and the potential for higher pay. The law provided funds for competitive grants to Iowa school districts to support this work. Some districts already had instructional coaches of some kind, but many had no special training for their roles – leaving great areas of growth for more impactful coaching through consistent training and resources.

Building on Success of Teacher Induction Work

Thanks to a 2012 federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, NTC already had built a successful program to support new teachers with the Grant Wood Area Education Agency (AEA), based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The AEA provides a range of services to 32 small school districts in the area, and due to the success of their existing work together, local leaders knew NTC would be a valuable partner as it prepared for a grant to develop highly-effective instructional coaches across Iowa.

Through the partnership with the AEA, NTC helped establish the Iowa Statewide Teacher Leadership Support System (TLSS), which officially began in July 2014. The TLSS aims to work with Iowa’s many different AEAs and school districts to build instructional coaches’ skills through a statewide collaborative network and support system.

The state has provided $150 million toward teacher-leadership roles over the past three years. Each school district receives $309 per student in state funding for the program.

Working Systemically So Everyone’s Aligned

NTC works with AEAs across the state to help build the professional skills of instructional coaches, while also making sure all levels of talent are aligned and that there is a system in place to support instructional coaching and teacher leadership work long term. That means creating individual spaces for program leads, district leads, and instructional coaches to share challenges and successes, and to learn how to adjust course for greater impact. As a result, everyone is continuously improving, and individuals across the state are becoming aligned in their understanding of effective instructional coaching.

The instructional coaches’ roles differ from district to district. One school district has three full-time instructional coaches working with more experienced teachers. A neighboring district has “data coaches” who help teachers analyze student data to improve instruction — while other coaches in the same district help teachers make the best use of technology.

Mostly, the coaches work with experienced teachers as an expert colleague who’s there to help them reflect on their work and grow professionally. All of the coaches share with each other and work together through the NTC partnership and TLSS program.

“What’s really exciting is that we have coaches attending our professional development and learning in very small districts, in very large districts, and all across our state,” said Owen, a former middle and high school teacher who lives in the town of Monticello.

The instructional coaches gather for eight days of professional learning throughout the school year — a couple of days of training every two months or so. They return to their schools to try different approaches, and then report back to the group about how their strategies worked out. There are also online forums that allow the coaches to communicate and share ideas twice during the school year.

Having that level of support is critical for coaches who have taken on the role — and may be the only person in their school or district to do it.

Owen works directly with 11 school districts in her area, and she visits with instructional coaches at their schools at least once a semester. The district enrollments range in size from about 200 to 17,000 students. “I love this because it’s all about teachers seeing their own potential to make those changes,” she said.

Constantly Learning, at Every Level

The NTC partnership brings program leaders and instructional coaches together for eight full days in training workshops throughout the school year. The leaders, who are experienced principals and other educators in the district, meet with instructional coaches for professional learning workshops and training on best practices in classroom instruction. More than anything, the system supports instructional coaches and classroom teachers to be active learners themselves.

“I feel like I am able to be an active listener to look for entry points. This has helped me to find ways to move teachers forward in their current teaching practices,” said one instructional coach. Coaches use NTC’s new-and-improved Learning Zone suite of online tools to guide their conversations and work with teachers. It provides useful questions, exercises and consistent terminology that helps teachers put what they’re learning into classroom practice. Learning Zone also gives coaches and program leaders the data they need to better pinpoint what key strategies are accelerating teacher effectiveness and student learning.

“It has been fun to see them get so excited about what they’re doing and what they’re seeing happen in classrooms,” Owen said. “They got into education to make a difference. It’s great to see them get excited about what’s next and what they might be able to accomplish.”

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