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Voices From the Field: Inside the Instructional Coaching Network

Posted on 11/14/2017 at 11:00 AM by Courtney Croatt

When the State of Iowa implemented the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Plan, many schools were able to hire instructional coaches for the first time.

The goal of the Plan is to improve student learning by improving the instruction students receive each day. There was no better way to do this than to empower schools’ best teachers to lead the effort. Through the Plan, teacher leaders have taken on extra responsibilities, including helping colleagues analyze data and fine tune instructional strategies, as well as coaching and co-teaching.

As an intermediate education agency, Heartland AEA has supported teacher leaders by offering professional learning courses and workshops. In addition to these traditional workshops, Heartland AEA also wanted to provide an opportunity for coaches to network with and learn from one another. Heartland AEA instructional coaches Kristin Orton, Nicole Patton and Michelle Vaughan have been leading and facilitating the Heartland AEA Instructional Coaching Network for the past three years.

photo of Kristin Orton


Below Kristin Orton shares a few of her thoughts about the Network and Iowa’s TLC program. 

What happens at Network meetings?

“Nicole (Patton), Michelle (Vaughan), Wendy Robinson and myself are the primary facilitators each month, although our goal is to do less talking than the participants. We strive to share a small piece of new learning and facilitate many different opportunities for coaches to have conversations with each other. We also have invited other Heartland AEA content area specialists to come in to share their expertise with coaches. Another goal we have is to invite our coaches within districts to share about the work they are doing.” 

Why has the Instructional Coaching Network been successful?

“The Instructional Coaching Network has been successful because, for many of our districts, instructional coaching is a new role for coaches, teachers and administrators. Having opportunities for coaches to learn best practices in coaching and have opportunities to share with coaches in other districts has allowed them to grow in their skills. Coaches are frequently the only one with their role in their building, and in some small districts, they may be the only one with their role in the whole district, which can be very isolating. Having this network helps them to be connected to other educators and learn from each other. Coaching is a complex skill in working with adults and requires these educators to learn and practice a new set of skills than they needed as teachers of students. This network allows them to focus on learning these complex skills in a safe, collaborative environment.”  

What should people know about instructional coaches and the difference you see them making in schools?

“The research on adult learning and coaching is very clear: coaching is a critical component for teachers to be able to successfully integrate new instructional practices in their classroom long-term. As our school systems adjust to having coaches in the buildings and coaches are learning how to do this new job well, we have many examples of how teachers are setting instructional goals with their coaches, learning new instructional practices and using those practices to improve student learning. 

“The success of our coaches depends on having a supportive school system that allows them to receive the training they need and time to engage in deep coaching practices with teachers. We are seeing a shift in many school cultures to have more collaboration between teachers and more teacher voice into school and district decisions. The presence of coaches in schools are making our schools more collaborative work environments and engaging all educators in more conversations about how we can work together to make learning more rigorous and engaging for all students.”

In the video below, you’ll hear what some of the district instructional coaches have to say about the benefits of the Instructional Coaching Network.

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