Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beginning the Year

“Beginning the year”
(This is the second in a series of posts about our first year as instructional coaches under the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation System)
File:Taking the Plunge

In August 2014, we officially plunged into a new adventure, a new challenge, and definitely uncharted waters.  We weren’t sure about our role, our schedule, or what expectations others had of us or even what expectations we should have for ourselves.  As the beginning of the school year arrived, our anxieties started to climb but were quickly stifled by the overwhelming excitement of taking on a new leadership role and working side-by-side with a team of passionate, dedicated teachers.

The Bettendorf Community School District was one of the first districts in Iowa to be awarded the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) grant.  Our main goal for TLC was to increase student achievement through improved instruction.  With that in mind, we narrowed our focus into 6 categories to drive our collaboration with teachers: instruction, classroom management, assessment, building relationships, curriculum, and a catch-all category of “other”, such as technology implementation and professional growth. With an outline in mind, our next challenge was to get our teachers on board.  

Being one of the first districts to earn the grant, many teachers were skeptical of the requirements this would create or them.  Understanding that this could cause some stress for our teachers, our first major goal was to inform, communicate, and be as transparent as possible about what an instructional coach was and what it was not.  

So, we met with our principal and asked for some time to address the faculty as a whole during the “Welcome Back” celebration on the first day the the teachers came back to work in August.  During this time, we gave an overview of what our TLC grant proposed, described the different ways coaches could collaborate with teachers, engaged teachers in collaborative activities to involve them in clarifying what an instructional coach was and was not, asked teachers to share hopes and fears for their work with instructional coaches, and administered a needs assessment addressing teachers interests/needs/wants in the 6 categories listed above.  By involving the staff in getting to know their coaches, clarifying what an instructional coach is and is not, and communicating their hopes and fears, the teachers were able to voice their opinions in a safe, respectful, and positive environment.  Their feedback helped us understand their unique points of view, set our goals for the year, and develop a plan of action for accomplishing those goals.

Sensing the excitement of some teachers and the tension in others, it was important for us to build quality relationships with all of the teachers.  To help build those relationships, we decided to spend the first four weeks of the year visiting all 92 teachers at Bettendorf High School and Edison Academy.  We split the teachers into thirds, with each coach having about 30 teachers to visit each week.  After each visit, we made a personal contact with the teacher to give positive feedback about what we had seen and heard during the observation.  We found this to be a great way to get to know all of our teachers and their unique teaching styles, as well as to let them have a personal, positive contact with each coach.

After all 3 coaches had the chance to visit each teacher’s classroom, we once again randomly divided the faculty into thirds and each coach set up a 15-minute meeting with about 30 teachers.  During this meeting, we spent time just getting to know more about the teacher, listening to their current successes and challenges, and talking about different types of support that the coach could offer.  Some accepted our support and some didn’t, but the main objective was to continue building our relationships with teachers and to cultivate an environment of professional interaction and collaboration.

 Coming from math, science, and world language backgrounds, it was quite an amazing experience to watch our teachers instruct students in courses such as digital photography, pottery, music literacy, fashion, interpersonal communication, philosophy, physical education, etc.  It was definitely a lesson in how teaching is as much of an art as it is a science as each teacher puts their spin on classroom approaches in the different content areas.  This experience fueled the excitement of our new job and we were eager to begin the journey of supporting and collaborating with our teachers!