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Instructional Coaching
Becky Gerdes
Providing Instructional Coaching to Support
Teachers in Meeting the Needs of All Students

Becky Gerdes, principal
Jefferson Elementary
Rochester Public School District

In the 2011–2012 school year, Rochester Public Schools began an initiative to more fully train building principals in instructional coaching. One purpose of this training was to utilize principals as instructional leaders to strengthen the skills of all staff members in providing high-quality, structured teaching to increase outcomes for all students.  
After a series of training sessions, principals began conducting observations in classrooms with support from their supervisors. Observations followed a common protocol that included written feedback detailing strengths observed in relation to the learning environment created by the teacher, and asking one or two reflective questions about this learning environment. The questions provided personal reflection by the teacher, as well as focus for the follow-up conversation between principal and staff member regarding the observation.
In their book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey share quality features of teacher practice in guiding the gradual release of responsibility for new content from teacher to student, in order to maximize student learning. First, the authors describe quality features of target lesson presentation, including establishing lesson purpose and modeling thinking, through teacher modeling, building student meta-cognitive awareness and teacher think-alouds.
The authors also argue that many classrooms under-utilize cooperative group learning as an essential component of gradual release of responsibility for new content from teacher to students. They describe the critical “you do it together” step, designed to take place between a traditional whole class “we do” example and an individual “you do” practice. The chance for students to work with peers on solidifying and deepening their understanding of the focus content, the author’s maintain, increases the actual learning students accomplish, making them more capable of independent demonstration of skill.
During the current school year, administration at Jefferson Elementary is  taking knowledge gained from this book to staff members through the instructional coaching framework. By providing support and feedback to staff as they practice these skills, they have been able to help staff focus on a small number of important teacher behaviors that have dramatic impact on student learning. Supporting and encouraging the consistent implementation of quality focus lessons, that include purpose and modeled thinking, helps teachers give students a clearer understanding of what they are supposed to be learning. Supporting and encouraging the use of cooperative groups allows students to solidify their knowledge through peer interaction and helps them attain a deeper understanding of content.
Having principals be instructional coaches has provided a forum for specific leadership related to improved teaching practices for all staff, leading to increased learning by all students. Within a Response to Intervention framework, this focus in quality core instruction helps “grow the green” by increasing the rigor of instruction for all.

“Many classrooms under-utilize cooperative group learning as an essential component of gradual release of responsibility for new content from teacher to students.”