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March 2016

Instructional Coaches – How do they help students achieve?

This month we wanted everyone to understand what the instructional coaches in our school system do to promote learning for our students. Therefore, I worked with our coaches to bring this article to you. I hope it brings some light to the complex nature of educating all students to their maximum potential.

In recent years, schools across the United States have steadily increased academic demands on students in reading, writing, and mathematics. While most students are able to meet these higher expectations, some students struggle. They begin to fall behind their classmates academically or may experience behavior problems in and out of school. Consequently, as the expectations for our students rise, classroom teachers across the country are faced with the challenges of meeting all students’ needs each and every day.

In an effort to help both the students and the teachers overcome these challenges, the Plymouth Public School system has developed a team of master teachers who work within each of its four buildings. This team is made up of experienced teachers who are called instructional coaches. Coaches are crucial to any school system because of the academic support they provide, as well as their strong relationships with teachers and parents. They spend countless hours working directly with students and are committed to district plans to improve instruction.

You may be asking yourself, “What is an instructional coach?” A coach in a school system, just like in sporting events, is experienced, has a good working relationship with those seeking his or her advice, and has had successful past experiences. Classroom teachers as well as administrators must trust this individual to work within the classrooms and the school as a whole. This trust enables these instructional coaches to work one-on-one with teachers, co-teach in their classrooms and offer advice on how to make their lessons better throughout the year. This is a type of embedded professional development for staff members that happens every day in the Plymouth schools. When teachers and coaches work together it is possible to provide the best instruction possible. Students will be engaged while the teacher helps all students meet high academic expectations. Coaches and teachers have frequent conversations to discuss curriculum and the best ways to ensure that all of the students are learning.

Plymouth instructional coaches also work with at-risk students in small group settings to support the teaching that happens in the classroom.

These struggling students are identified by specific assessments for each grade level. If a child shows he or she is having difficulty in a subject area, then an instructional coach intervenes. The coach may work directly with the student or will assist a classroom teacher in designing targeted lessons for that student. Moreover, all of the Plymouth instructional coaches meet throughout the year as a group to discuss the K-12 curriculum. They determine the instructional strategies that should be taught at each grade level. They also discuss lesson development so that the instruction that teachers deliver is consistent throughout the district. This ongoing work is to help increase overall student performance in Plymouth.

Another question you may have is “Why are these coaches necessary in our schools?” The state of Connecticut has adopted an approach called Scientific Research-Based Interventions, or SRBI. Within the SRBI model, there are three levels of instruction for students. Tier 1 is the classroom level core instruction that ALL students receive in all content areas. Coaches work directly with teachers to plan and implement effective tier 1 instructional methods that are engaging, challenging, and hold students to the highest educational standards. With this instruction, the goal is that most students will demonstrate mastery of the concepts taught.

Students that do not meet grade level expectations receive extra help. This help is individualized for the student and can be considered tier 2 or tier 3 level. This support is required in the SRBI model. This intervention may be delivered in a small group setting, either in or out of the classroom and is in addition to the regular classroom lessons. Students in these groups are watched closely to determine the progress they are making. Instructional coaches are content specialists who assume the primary role in the planning and implementation of all of this intervention. Without the assistance of instructional coaches, teachers would be missing valuable resources that are now available to help them on a daily basis. Coaches are in place to help students achieve and they are a crucial part of the educational framework in Plymouth.

The mission of Plymouth Public Schools is to challenge, inspire, and prepare all students for success in an ever-changing and complex world. Ultimately, all of the coaches’ work supports efforts to raise overall performance for all children, making them independent lifelong learners.

For more information on the State of Connecticut SRBI model, visit: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&q=322020 

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