Coaching for Excellence in Teaching & Learning

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When we hear the word “coach,” we often conjure up an image of the athletics coach, who stands on the sidelines of the game, watching every play, shouting out moves and pushing players to bring out their best. Like many schools and districts throughout the world, Graded has recently formed a cadre of its own Teaching & Learning coaches, who are not dressed in track pants and dripping with sweat, but echo a similar objective: to bring out the very best in our students, by bringing out the very best in our teachers.

Traditionally, professional development has taken the form of outside conferences and workshops, or even external experts coming to train teachers during a one-time, stand alone experience. These types of learning often lack consistent follow-up and reinforcement, and therefore struggle to create meaningful institutional change. Starting this 2014-2015 school year, each division gained at least one Teaching & Learning coach: Jennifer Peterson and I in the Lower School, Ange Molony in the Middle School, and Silvana Meneghini in the High School. The decision to add coaches to our staff was fueled by research proving the greater effectiveness and impact on professional growth from a job-embedded model where teachers can receive continuous support from their colleagues.

So, what is a Teaching & Learning coach and what exactly do they do? Here at Graded, we are designing a model of coaching that best fits the needs of our students and teachers, while honoring the unique culture of our community. As such, our approaches have been informed by the work of author and consultant Diane Sweeney, Jim Knight (University of Kansas) and Lucy Calkins (Columbia University).

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As a T & L coach, my overarching, primary goal is to improve student achievement. Fulfilling this goal takes many different shapes and approaches – all the while working in constant collaboration with individual teachers, grade level and subject area teams, student support services, administrators, and the Director of Teaching & Learning. Coaching at Graded includes, but is not limited to:

  • unit planning that is designed from and rooted in our standards
  • creation of authentic, engaging assessments
  • selection and integration of best instructional practices
  • analysis of data to inform teaching
  • co-teaching and modelling of lessons
  • leading coaching cycles based on student achievement goals
  • training around technology use & innovative practices
  • leadership development
  • resource development & management

In any given day, I might find myself co-teaching a lesson about adapting fables with an ELL teacher, modelling the research process alongside the librarian for 5th grade students, conferring with a K5 student about their writing as part of a coaching cycle on narrative writing, meeting with principals to plan an upcoming PTA coffee and teacher training session, and brainstorming ideas about a design challenge with my fellow coach.

My day is engaging, forces me to learn, and is deeply satisfying as I continually see the impact of our efforts on both student achievement and teacher empowerment.

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Having a coach is having someone to bounce new ideas off of and try new things with. Things that seemed previously daunting and scary seem accessible and even fun.” – Ms. Patricia Gehrels, 3rd Grade Teacher

Our coaches not only help guide us in our planning, but also encourage us to step out of our comfort zones to create amazing learning opportunities for our students.” – Ms. Maranda Schwartz, 4th Grade Teacher

“I had a fantastic experience going through the coaching cycle. I grew professionally on so many different levels. Over the cycle, I noticed that the more I expect of my students, the more they can grow as learners. I feel extremely empowered as a teacher. Watching students grow – literally every single day – was heartwarming and really just made me want to come back the following day and do more and more with them.” – Ms. Renata Ziegert, Preprimary Teacher

“Our coaches have been instrumental this year in supporting our teachers with planning and implementing engaging activities for our students, as well as with professional development goals. Their positive, proactive approach has been a very welcome addition to the Lower School and we are excited about the further development of this role.” – Mr. Vance Boisjoli, LS Assistant Principal

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