- Associated Press - Sunday, February 2, 2020

GALESBURG. Ill. (AP) - On a recent January morning, Ginny Crowl met with Churchill Junior High School math teacher Katrina Johnson in her classroom. They looked over assessment data from a Scantron test that students take three times a year.

“We look at what standards a lot of kids are missing, so we can see what holes we need to fill in,” Crowl told The Register-Mail.

The two identified an area where only half of students could answer the question.

“That would be a quick and easy review,” Crowl noted.

Together the two planned out how to address the areas where students are shown to be behind. How are the students doing on probability? Can they identify prime and composite numbers? Do they understand scientific notation? What about fractions?

Crowl is one of Galesburg School District 205′s nine instructional coaches, in a program that is just starting its second semester.

The district says the program is meant “to increase student achievement by extending the expertise of teachers.” The team of coaches are all veterans of District 205 with various backgrounds, and daily find themselves moving between district schools to observe, analyze and develop the teaching process.

The program is led primarily by District 205 Curriculum Director Tiffany Springer, a frequent champion of such programs.

“This has been a wonderful endeavor for me because this is something I’ve always wanted to do and is something I believe in,” she said.

When she was the principal at Silas Willard Elementary, Springer started a pilot mentoring program for educators. When she was hired to her current position in June 2018, she was quick to push for the instructional coaching system in the district and set its groundwork over the next year.

The second semester of the 2018-19 school year was spent preparing the program. The district had training for the program at Knox College, then had meetings and interviews throughout the spring and attended a conference. The pedagogy for this program is built off of Jim Knight, a University of Kansas researcher who has written multiple books on the benefits of instructional coaching.

Springer said she desired to implement the model in the district for “quite some time.” She said that both she and Superintendent Dr. John Asplund were big believers in increasing the collective efficacy of the district’s teachers, a phrase she believes her instructional coaching team has probably heard from her “a thousand times or more.” In education, the phrase posits that when teachers work collectively on a goal, they can positively influence outcomes for students across backgrounds.

Springer herself has coaches in her own life, consulting with Western Illinois University professor Dr. Donna McCaw and retired Geneseo Superintendent Scott Kuffel. She says every other district administrator has one as well.

According to Springer, an important part of education is not only doing the work of teaching, but responding to students and improving methods.

“Any professional who devotes her time to constantly learning and reflecting is inevitably going to improve,” she said. “The moment we become stagnant is the moment we’re not going to make any gains in our performance.”

The coaches have busy and dynamic schedules, often moving from place to place as needed. Sometimes they will be reviewing footage of teachers using a program called Swivl, if teachers allow them access to the footage. Sometimes they will be in the classroom observing, and sometimes they will be going over data.

Coaches can be solicited directly or by leaving “pineapples” outside of teachers’ doors, which means coaches are allowed to come in and observe. All coaching is confidential and not required.

The goal is to give a more objective perspective on teaching and offer a fresh perspective to new and experienced educators. Coaches may be experts in the subject of their “coaches,” but they may just as likely be teachers who bring a different point of view.

“I’m working with an elementary teacher, and my background is in high school, and another teacher is totally out of my subject area,” Instructional Coach Flor Frau told The Register-Mail. “It’s kind of neat when you come in with a different perspective. You’re not as hung up on content, and you can look at results in kind of a clean way.”

Instructional coach Stuart Schaafsma marked where the teacher he was observing stood every five minutes.

Schaafsma realized the teacher had been hovering around one half of the room without realizing it. Made conscious of this habit, the teacher is now able to offer more attention to their entire classroom.

Crowl recounted a case where she took data on what kind of questions were being asked in a class where many students had behavioral issues. Due to the behavioral issues in this classroom, most of the questions these students were being asked were lower-level yes or no questions, which did little to improve student engagement.

Coach Jared Bruening works primarily on the side of technology, and has helped put together tutorials for activities that teachers can conduct with the technology at their disposal. He says he’s received plenty of thanks from teachers, but the program has also done a lot to teach him new ideas and methods.

Part of being a coach, after all, is not only bringing in preconceived notions of what good and bad teaching is, but continuing to learn and grow in the process. The coaches meet Fridays at 8 a.m. to discuss their weekly and future agendas, with Springer heading the meetings. They’ve also read books together in order to continue their own education.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a non-reader, but as a math person I’ve read more in this position than I had in the last 10 years,” Crowl said.

The group has also consulted with East Peoria District 50, with whom they’re planning to share a quarterly coaching session where coaches from both districts can share their own experiences and challenges.

For coach Stephanie Williams, the potential for coaching can be “life-changing,” and not just in education.

“I was at my doctor’s, and she said, ‘I think I could have a coach,’” Williams said. “She just thought it was so interesting.”

According to Springer, signs of improvement stemming from this program will likely not be measurable on data until about three years in, but she noted data that points to the programs being very effective in other scenarios. Still, she believes signs are already pointing toward positive change in the district.

“What’s really encouraging to see at this point is the immediate success of some of our teachers who can’t help but share their classroom wins,” she said.


Source: The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, https://bit.ly/2O75klh

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