Instructional coaches help teachers reach new heights

By: Taylor Christensen | Royal Oak Review | Published April 4, 2024

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ROYAL OAK — Instructional coaches from the Royal Oak Schools district presented how they have helped improve education in K-5 classrooms at the March 11 Board of Education meeting.

Instructional coaches work with K-5 teachers and assist in any way possible to help improve lesson quality and student education.

Three instructional coaches presented “a taste of the impact that our instructional coaches are having on the elementary program,” Anne Njovu, the supervisor of elementary education, said at the meeting.

Molly Brinker, an instructional coach, started off the presentation by saying that “we wanted to directly connect our work (with) what is passionate for you, which is your long range planning.”

“Everything that we do directly relates to what you want to do as a board,” she said.

The presentation summarized what instructional coaching does to help achieve goal one and goal four of the long range plan.

In regards to goal one, “fostering an impactful learning community where students will be embraced, accepted, challenged, and prepared,” Brinker said they have been implementing more of a “student-centered coaching.”

The coaches will meet with teachers in cycles; according to Brinker, the cycle is four to six weeks, two to three times per week.

“The coaching cycles are student-centered, and we really look at what we see and hear around our students and the goal that the teacher feels is important,” she said.

The coaches follow a protocol to keep learning cohesive, as well as flexible for the goals of the teachers.

Using a document called “Results-Based Coaching Tool,” the coaches collect data and then address the needs of the classroom they are observing. According to Brinker, using this, the coach can decide the best plan of action on how to improve learning in the classroom.

Linda Burton, another instructional coach, presented the next slide, summarizing the way coaching supports goal four of the long range plan. Goal four is to “attract and retain the best staff.”

“As we support teachers, one of our all-time goals is to make sure that their teaching experience is successful and that also we help retain them and keep them in the teaching profession,” Burton said.

Mentor teachers are placed in the schools to support and help new teachers adapt into the Royal Oak School District smoothly. Burton said that mentors need assistance at times because of their workload. When this occurs, instructional coaches step in to help.

“This year we worked with supporting our mentor teachers through coaching cycles,” she said. “Many of them set goals early on in the year and have been reaching out to us throughout the year to set up coaching cycles to work on specific needs, or just ask a question.”

The schools have also implemented shared libraries at each building, according to Burton, which allows the Royal Oak Schools district’s libraries to have approximately 22,000 new books through a library database.

“Teachers are reaching out on how to use those books and how to get them in the hands of kids, and how to use those strategies,” she said. “So it has been really exciting for elementary teachers.”

Small group instruction has been an “essential practice of the 10 essential practices in the state of Michigan for literacy,” according to Burton.

Burton said this style of teaching has been successful in meeting the unique needs of the students, and the coaches have been supporting the teachers throughout that process.

Fourth and fifth grade teacher Laura Foss and first grade teacher Sarah Ross both participated in the presentation, listing some ways the instructional coaches have helped their personal teaching environment.

Foss was once a Royal Oak Schools student and said that the impact instructional coaching has had on the teachers has been noticeable.

“(Instructional coaches) are beyond dedicated to helping make sure that not only our students are being served in the very best possible way, but also that we are encouraging our staff to feel supported and be grounded in those best practices,” Foss said.

In her own experience, she said it is easy to forget to try new things, and having an instructional coach has helped her open her mind to new teaching methods.

Foss made a point to say veteran teachers need coaches too, saying that most of the time they get “comfortable” in their own way of teaching, and instructional coaching cycles are a great way for them to step out of their comfort zones.

“Teachers that feel supported will stay here,” Foss said in regard to goal four and the impact instructional coaches have on it.

“I think it is so important that we really dedicate coaches to our teachers so that they do want to stay and they feel supported and confident moving into these new educational landscapes,” she said.

Ross worked alongside coach Linda Burton and signed up to see how instructional coaches could help her. After collecting data, Ross said Burton was able to significantly improve the students’ growth in learning.

“They absolutely soared, because we gave them strategic, very targeted instruction,” Ross said.

Teachers often get closed off in their own rooms, unable to see how other teachers teach, according to Ross, and a coach can help to shed new light on teaching and learning.

“A coach is incredibly valuable and a totally fresh perspective and a wealth of background knowledge of what they see in the classrooms of Royal Oak every day,” she said. “I grew as a teacher, and therefore my students grew as readers.”