At Maine Township High School District 207, we aspire to be to teaching and learning what teaching hospitals are to medicine. What’s more, we haven’t just talked about it, we’ve actually built an effective coaching model that is scalable to other school districts. All of our coaches are teachers. Our coaches teach half-time, and coach the other half. This allows each and every one of our teachers to receive coaching on a regular basis. In fact, this year’s seniors are the first class to go through a district where every teacher was coached every year.
Our coaching journey has taught us a lot, and we want to share some best practices for other schools and districts to implement their own coaching models:
- Allow teachers to lead staff development. In a given week, I can walk into one or more staff development courses for our teachers that are being led by our own teacher leaders. We put emphasis on growing our own expertise. So should every district. It’s respectful of teachers, and if our goal is to increase the efficacy of our teachers—which research says is one of the most powerful things we can do to improve student learning—then empowering teachers to lead is crucial. Administrative leaders come and go much more than teachers do. Empowering teachers is how you build staff development models that last.
- Give your coaches a focus. We have Teacher Trainers in areas that matter: differentiated instruction, assessment literacy, academic vocabulary, social-emotional learning, cooperative learning, and a wide variety of instructional technology areas, to name our most prominent. By articulating and developing cohorts of teacher leaders in areas that you’ve identified as important pedagogy in your classrooms, you signal clearly what you value and are supporting to help your teachers meet those expectations.
- Take the long view. Communicate and be strategic about how you build your program. The better you get, the better you can get. Keep building capacity each day, each month, and each year. Build together with your teachers around what works for your staff and your buildings. Building a great professional development program requires that everyone, from your board of education, to your teachers, to your parents and communities, understand not only what you are doing but why you are doing it: to improve learning conditions for students.
- Leverage technology. To become more effective in teacher coaching, and also teacher self-reflection, we are beginning a district-wide implementation of video study through Insight ADVANCE. We previously trained with Jim Knight on video study, and we’ve had some pockets of terrific use. Teachers will be able to record videos of their lessons on their phone, upload them to the cloud, annotate them, and share them with whomever they wish. They will have total control of the tool. We will also allow teachers to submit videos they select as artifacts for their evaluation if they wish, and we are open to allowing them to submit video in place of having some observations.
- Give teachers the chance to share their expertise. We are working to increase opportunities for our teachers to present their teacher leadership to wider audiences. For instance, we recently held a symposium for action research in partnership with Northwestern, ASCD, several other local school districts and colleges. We have had roughly 100 teachers go through our action research strand in the past six years. Teachers select a problem of practice, typically in teams, and then they conduct a study using a scientific model that identifies a dependent and independent variable (we coach them through this). They then report their findings. The results have been amazing, and our teachers have often cited this as their most meaningful PD. As a teacher goes through the program, they mentor the next group through, and I think that is a big reason why our teacher action research studies have improved each year.
In a time when public education is under attack, it is more important than ever that we make our schools the very best that they can be, which will always be grounded in great teaching. Staff development will always improve when we let teachers lead their own learning. I’ve never met a group of teachers that, once allowed to really lead their own learning, have not risen to the challenge.