What better place for teachers to learn than in their own classroom?
With this in mind, the Johnston Community School District launched a new effort aimed at improving the teaching effectiveness of district educators through a peer-to-peer instructional coaching program. Selected through an interview process, Leigh Goldie, Brandon Schrauth, Lynn Lawhorn, and Michelle Vaughan were chosen as instructional coaches to serve four of the five elementaries. In their role, the coaches work one-on-one or in small groups to model effective teaching strategies and provide job-embedded professional development for teachers.
“We know that the single most influential factor in a student’s performance is the quality of the teacher,” said Deb Cale, Director of Teaching and Learning for the district. “With instructional coaches, they can look at student achievement data, see where improvement needs to be made, and then work with teachers right there in their classroom, modeling best practices side by side.”
Cale, who heads up the instructional coaches’ group, said coaches play a vital role in supporting teachers in the actual teaching environment. While the district provides professional development opportunities for teachers, Cale said it’s the in-class coaching that has the most impact.
“Research shows that if a person doesn’t have a feedback or coaching component, only about 10 percent of what they’ve learned in professional development will stick with them,” Cale said. “But, if the coaches are there to support a teacher in implementing a new practice or instructional method, the learning opportunity goes up to 90 percent.”
As the coaches head into their second semester of work, the foursome has decided to reach more teachers at once with a small team strategy. The coaches will examine student proficiency data and based on needs, approach teachers to work with. Those teachers will then become part of a small team that will learn from each other – watching modeling behaviors, being videotaped for observation, and reflecting on their teaching techniques.
Cale described it as a constant cycle of looking at student needs, cooperatively setting goals with the teacher, and refining teaching methods to improve student achievement.
“Instructional coaching is a catalyst to shift the learning culture in this district,” Cale said. “As educators, we should always be learning from one another to improve. The instructional coaches provide an opportunity for teachers to learn, practice, and grow in a very safe environment.”
Cale, Goldie, Schrauth, Lawhorn, and Vaughan have kept up with the latest in coaching methods by attending trainings at Kansas State University with renowned education expert Jim Knight. They’ve also used his literature – as well the professional writings of others – to bolster their knowledge of in-class teaching strategies. The group meets weekly to discuss observations and reflect on what they’re seeing in the classrooms.
“By preparing our coaches with a number of different strategies, they can then serve the teachers in more ways,” Cale said. “And, learning by doing – for both the coaches and teachers – is one of the best ways to learn.”
As the team looks toward the future, they are hoping to see data-verified outcomes in student achievement numbers. They also anticipate more teachers coming on board with the coaching strategy as they see their peers’ success.
“The coach becomes a partner in the classroom, making needed improvements to help students do their best,” Cale said. “When teachers do well, students do well, and that’s what we’re here to do.”