The Atlantic Union Conference Office of Education, under the leadership of Jerrell Gilkerson, education director, embarked on an innovative instructional coaching program to further support teachers in classrooms. Even though one doesn’t usually think of Jesus as a coach, He, in fact, engaged in many coaching practices and facilitated others in improving their performance. Many schools nationwide have introduced instructional coaching, in part, because school leaders recognize traditional in-service professional development is not affecting student achievement in a meaningful or lasting way. Instructional coaching promises to be a more effective way to improve instruction in schools.
Gilkerson introduced the concept with the view to build teacher expertise and raise student achievement. The Atlantic Union funded this initiative in two conferences—Greater New York and Northern New England. After hearing presentations on the benefits of coaching, 26 teachers from these conferences applied to participate in the program, however, only two teachers could be accommodated when the program was launched.
As an instructional coach, I employed a blended cycle consisting of both virtual and face-to-face practices. Additional classroom structures were also used. At the conclusion of the instructional cycle, the feedback provided will be used to strengthen the ensuing programs.
Here are two encouraging quotes, one from each of the teachers: “I found this sharing of ideas and techniques intellectually stimulating because it has incentivized me to continue to seek and try new ideas,” said a multi-grade teacher. “Duties and responsibilities are continually pulling us away from our real job—teaching. Coaching helped me to be creative. It helped me believe in myself again and [remember] why I became a teacher.”
Because of the initial success of the program, additional initiatives were undertaken during 2019. In August 2019, the Office of Education instituted a two-day instructional coaching conference to train experienced and newly-retired teachers as potential coaches and supporters. These interactive sessions were led by me and Akasha, a leadership coach. Both days started with content teaching. Thereafter, hands-on strategies, large group practices, triad practices, demo coaching, and reflections occurred throughout the day.
In October 2019, eight potential coaches who had expressed a strong interest in strengthening their coaching skills met by Zoom to continue the learning process. They independently read and then conversed together discussing relevant topics from the book Better Conversations, authored by Jim Knight. These were rich sessions. One of the impactful takeaways was that emotional connections strengthen relationships, establish rapport, and require us to be fully present in conversations.
Training will not stop here, however. Plans are underway for ongoing workshops, webinars, continued Zoom sessions, and formal coaching classes that will lead to instructional coaching certification for those who want to transition to instructional coaching.
Research concurs that instructional coaching is advantageous for teachers and, most importantly, for students. When professional improvement for teachers is carefully planned, coaching, as an individualized tool, can be a powerful and innovative means for achieving the visionary goal of the Atlantic Union Conference Office of Education.