MARSHALL – It can be difficult to imagine that being surrounded for at least eight hours a day by busy, bustling children can create a feeling of isolation.
But, such is the life of the typical teacher, and it is a factor in education today that Marshall ISD’s Department of Leadership and Learning is tackling head on entering the second year of the district’s Instructional Coaching Model.
In a report to the MISD Board of Trustees during Monday’s regular July meeting, Dr. Rebeca Cooper, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Learning, said the program’s initial year in 2015-2016 was not without its growing pains. But with a full year of the Instructional Coaching Model under its belt, Cooper feels that MISD’s teachers will continue to feel and see the benefits of instructional coaching.
“Research finds pockets of excellence in schools,” said Cooper. “Traditional schools typically function as a collection of independent contractors unified by a common parking lot, leaving many teachers feeling isolated and alone. Isolation ensures that unprofessional practices and habits become more tolerable, such as doing things just to keep kids occupied or falling back into old habits because that’s what we’ve always done. Our Marshall ISD Instructional Coaching Model was developed to ward off the effects of isolation and isolated practices among our teachers.”
During the 2015-2016 school year, MISD employed 15 professionals in the Leadership and Learning Department whose sole responsibility was to provide specialized, targeted support to teachers in the district. Four content area specialists, four instructional coaches, four behavior coaches and three program specialists were deployed throughout the district to be the catalyst for systemic reform in Marshall’s schools, improving instruction and instructional practices from within.
“Instructional coaching provides the framework to strategically improve the educational experience of MISD students,” Cooper said. “It works through continuous improvement of instructional quality, reflective practice and to build the capacity of our teachers.”
MISD’s instructional coaches provide the district’s teachers with a “different set of eyes” to help with classroom instruction, while also providing input on best practices for teaching the assigned curriculum throughout each grade level.
Types of coaching within the model include Content (what is taught), Instructional (how it is taught) and Behavioral (managing the classroom). The program also is designed to provide professional development opportunities for teachers, with systemic training for and by coaches.
Cooper explained that a typical coaching cycle between a coach and teacher in the district in 2015-2016 began with an initial observation followed by a “debrief” based on that observation. The coach will then perform a follow-up observation with another debrief, followed by targeted instructional support for the teacher until the needed concept – identified through observation — is mastered.
Based on trends identified by the coaching staff, the district provided various instructional training opportunities throughout the year that included a Teacher Boot Camp Series, collaborative meetings, a staff development conference in January, and on-going training in district practices and initiatives.
“Our teachers are the most important resource we have in our school district because of their direct influence on their students,” Cooper said. “Most respected educational researchers note that the single most determining factor of success for students is the knowledge and skill of the child’s teacher. Rather than teachers simply being one factor, mounting evidence suggests that the most important factor in how much children learn is the teacher. That is a tremendous responsibility for teachers and it is our responsibility as administrators to provide them the support, training and tools they need in order to effectively fulfill that responsibility. Our coaches are not here to provide a ‘gotcha’ moment. They are here to help our teachers understand what we are asking them to teach, and how to teach it, in a manner that both student and teacher can understand more effectively.”
Cooper expressed excitement as the program enters its second year in 2016-2017, and believes the system is working as designed.
“As coaching support continued throughout the year, teachers grew in encouragement, praise and student-centered, positive learning environments,” she said. “We are looking to continue these trends with more focused and improved quality of the program in the upcoming year.”