Quality Instruction: The Most Important Classroom Variable

The instruction that you provide to your students is the most important variable regarding student achievement.  Good instruction can deliver up to two years growth for some students.  The opposite, Jennifer Allen writes, “focus on improving the quality of instruction that (you are) providing to all students…student achievement would improve if we focused more energy on supporting classroom instruction as opposed to putting all of our resources toward supporting individual students”

You are one of the most important variables in your classroom. So, what are some easy ways to improve the quality of your instruction?  One easy way to impact your instruction is to have a desire to want to get better.  Is there an area where you feel you could improve your instruction?  Set a realistic, professional goal for yourself, and write it down!  Take small steps.  For example, setting a yearly goal of implementing strategy groups for small group reading instruction is a lot more realistic than expecting yourself to implement strategy groups in one nine weeks.

If you have an instructional coach, use him or her.  I can’t think of one professional athlete, singer, or entertainer that does not have a coach.  They recognize the importance of having someone available to improve their craft.  Your coach is available to you to help you improve in any area that you wish to strengthen.  A coach’s primary goal is to bring best instructional practices to you.  I will note that they are there to push you, too. 🙂

Attending professional development is another action to improve instruction. Professional development can be provided through your school district (for free), or you can attend professional development on your own through different webinar series. Following blogs and educational leaders on social media are a quick and easy way to keep abreast on new educational topics.

Also, we can’t omit assessments from this discussion.  Your assessments drive your instruction.  Assessments are your foundation. Without them, your instruction will be fragile.  Your assessments will give you insight on where the learning process breaks down for your students.  

I have a few questions for you to consider when supporting students on the bubble.

  • Are you tracking student growth?  If you’re not tracking student growth, you don’t know if your students are moving or not moving.  
  • How many touches a week do your bubble students receive?  Remember, these students still need consistent teacher support.  So, checking in with them once a week is not enough support for these students.  Children need to practice a skill or strategy at least eight times before they begin to internalize it.
  • How often do you reflect on the effectiveness of the support provided for these students?  This is a good opportunity to ponder about what strategies are working and not working.  Be honest.  There is no need in wasting precious time on a strategy that doesn’t work.  It may be helpful to rely on a teammate or coach.  It’s always helpful to have someone to bounce ideas or get another opinion.

As teachers, we have the daunting task of finding the key that unlocks the door to reading.  This is a process.  It may take a year, or two, or three for a child to become successful in their reading.  Know that the strong foundation that you provided will lay a path for that child’s reading success

Assessments and Curriculum: Be Responsive to Your Teachers by @danapiercy #litleaders

Teachers have a lot to juggle: state standards, district expectations,  literacy assessments, reading and writing workshop, STEM, social studies, RTI, and  math.  I haven’t included the unwritten titles of counselor, manager, and child advocate. Who said teaching was easy??

I offer my support in helping teachers make sense of all things curriculum and assessments.  I am always working with teachers to make sense of our state standards.  Last year, my teachers experienced a lot of changes with our curriculum.  We had new state standards, a new STEM curriculum, new word study curriculum, and new reading curriculum. Lots of changes and unknowns which can make for uncertainty.  

My support for assessments looks different.  It depends on the teacher’s needs.  With novice teachers, I provide heavy support.  I will assess a few of the students while the teacher watches.  Then, we review and analyze the data together.  If we are looking at a reading benchmark or BEAR assessment, we will analyze the miscues and commonalities.  Then, we identify a student’s strengths and next steps.  A student’s goals are then determined.

When I work with veteran teachers, my assessment support is usually geared towards lending an extra pair of eyes.  Most of the times veteran teachers have assessed a student and they have a particular question regarding the data.  So, we will muddle through the data and work together to make meaning of the data together.

The goal is for teachers to understand that assessments drive our instruction.  Hopefully, you work in a school and district where you are encouraged to adjust your instruction based on your assessment data.  Our teachers are encouraged to use their data to push their students forward or to re-teach a skill.

Last year our state adopted new academic standards, it was very important for teachers to become familiar with our new state standards first. The grade-level teams and I met one day during the summer to compare our old standards PASS (Priority Academic Student Skills), to our new standards, OAS (Oklahoma Academic Standards). Our primary goal was to compare and contrast the standards for each subject.  We looked for gaps between the two set of standards.  It was important for teachers to see which standards would need extra support for their students.  One discussion that we had was that some gaps may take two to three years before they would be able to see students acquire those standards (or skills).

Curriculum support is constant.  Our goal is to understand the curriculum together.  I provide opportunities for grade levels to come together and find commonality in what the standards mean and what the curriculum is asking teachers to teach so students can learn.  We meet once before each unit (this is for each subject).  I provide the guiding questions and then I allow for the teachers to plan together.  I try not to get in the way too much while the teachers plan their units.  I act as a facilitator and provide my support when needed.  

Recently, I met with our grade level teams and reviewed our sequence of units for reading and writing.  We also worked on a sequence of units for our STEM curriculum and our social studies curriculum.  I wanted our teachers to see the big picture first, then move towards the more specific units.  We will revisit our calendar around the end of the first nine weeks to make sure we are being responsive to our students and their needs.

My greatest advice for any person who assists teachers with assessments and curriculum is to be responsive to your teachers. Jennifer Allen reminds us:

 

Take the time to work with them so that they can discover the power of assessments and instruction.  We can provide them with opportunities to look through the data and talk about their insights with colleagues and support them as they work to glean new knowledge…support and listen to their thinking and help them hone their skills by modeling and sharing our own insights throughout the process.

 

I don’t see myself better than a teacher.  I am apart of this of journey with our teachers.  So, I am a learner too.  I am sure you feel the same way as well.  Take the time to find meaning together.  Enjoy the process!

Individualized Coaching

I am going into my third year as an instructional coach and  what a journey it has been!  I must confess that I was completely comfortable with being a classroom teacher.  I knew how to be an effective teacher; I knew and understood my district’s and state’s standards and expectations; I could teach the curriculum;  I could manage my students (and their parents);  and I worked with a great team.  I had this teaching thing figured out, life was good!

Soon, an instructional coaching position became available.  To make the situation more lucrative, the position was available at my current school.  So, I applied.  Then, after a few rounds of interviews, I was offered the position.

I soon found myself in the world of coaching, and it was a different world for me.  Here is why coaching was different for me..the teachers.  I was faced with motivating, encouraging, and helping/coaching teachers.  How in the world does an instructional coach do that???  See, I didn’t have any previous experience with working with adults.  Most of my teaching was to six or seven-year olds.  I was now faced with communicating with adults.

Out of all my fears and uncertainties, I was certain of one thing, I wanted teachers to grow.  From my perspective, the most important aspect of my job is to provide opportunities for teachers to grow.  

Well, there could be a wide range of teacher’s abilities within one school.  There can be novice teachers and there can be veteran teachers.  It is essential for each group of teachers to be equipped with skills and strategies that can be readily used within their classroom.

There are so many ways to coach teachers.  You can coach by grade level, by content, and through book studies.   The question then becomes,which method is the best method.  One practical way to coach teachers is with individualized coaching..  

Individualized Coaching is a great tool to use to offer differentiated support.  This will allow you to support your veteran teachers and your novice teachers.  Let’s take a look at how individualized coaching will look for novice teachers first.

Novice teachers need guidance.  They need to understand the state’s standards and the district’s expectations regarding their respective grade level.  They also need to understand what they are expected to teach children.  

Jennifer Allen explained one way her district helps their novice and new-to-the-district teachers.  She states that within her district teachers new to the district are apart of  a “monthly release day with other teachers who are new to the profession or new to our district…it is intended as a gift of time to support them and help keep their heads above water in the craziness of starting the school year and entering our fast-paced profession”.  Don’t you remember your very first year of teaching?? Did you feel like a fish out of water?  I know I did.  Giving new teachers an opportunity to collaborate together builds camaraderie, it also allows you, as an instructional coach, to give specific, directed direction towards their needs. If you are not able to support a monthly release day, it is still beneficial to meet with those new teachers.  I am sure any help with planning would be greatly appreciated.

Beginning of the year assessments is another area of need. Allen mentioned that she works with her teachers three times a week.  My heart smiled when reading this because I often worry about being in a teacher’s way if I am in their room too much.  Here she provides heavy support for teachers with assessments in the beginning of year.  

Here are a few other areas to think about when working with your new teachers:    Is there a school wide discipline program?  What are the instructional expectations for teachers?  How will they (the teachers) be evaluated?  These are all questions that will help your teachers become acclimated with your school’s culture.

Working with master teachers looks a bit different.  It is a collaborative effort.  For example, a master teacher may come to you and want help with using mentor sentences to help with teaching grammar.  Instead of you researching and reading and modeling, this step is done together.  You and the teacher work together towards the same goal.  

When modeling in the classroom, it may look more like co-teaching.  You may begin teaching the lesson to students and then the roles may switch.  This requires trust!  Teachers will need to view you as a partner in learning and understanding, a facilitator.

Both groups of teachers will need your support.  It will just look a little different.  

What is your ultimate goal in coaching teachers? My goal, as stated above, is growth.  It may be growth in the implementation of small groups, or assessments, or classroom management, or the workshop model.  I strive to help teachers grow….which means they need to be pushed out of their comfort zone.  

The greatest growth I have achieved as an educator has been working as an instructional coach.  It’s not because of the title, it’s because this position has pushed me outside my comfort zone…..way outside my comfort zone.  I wasn’t comfortable; I was uncomfortable, and this caused me to learn…to grow.

So, take a deep breath and use your coaching time as opportunities to push yourself to do something new…take a risk…do the same for your teachers and your students…and watch yourself, your teachers, and your students FLY!

The most important feature of an educator is to provide the conditions under which people’s learning curves go off the chart.  Sometimes it is the other people’s learning curves:  those of students, teachers, parents, administrators.  But at all times it is our learning curve.

– Roland Barth from Becoming A Literacy Leader