Guest Post: How to Cultivate a Learner Culture in 3 Easy Steps

A school’s growth is a reflection of the culture. You can see, hear, and feel a school’s Captureculture at staff meetings, professional development, daily interactions, the office, the hallways, and so on. As instructional coaches, our goal should be to cultivate a culture in which learning occurs not only for students, but also for teachers.

How can you make a difference in your school’s culture?


  • Name and notice the great work already taking place


Any great school leader knows that the key to success is a staff that feels valued and appreciated. Amplifying the energy and productivity of a staff requires that teachers are made aware of their worth. Focusing attention on daily behavior that is valued can increase that behavior. Introducing new learning will be less intimidating if teachers know their work is highly valued. Don’t be afraid to make note of the great instruction taking place and then follow up with a question to push a teacher’s thinking even further.


  • Make connections between teachers


After naming and noticing the great work, figure out a way to get teachers in one another’s classroom. When a teacher asks about a certain strategy, mention another teacher who is also working on that strategy or suggest a classroom that they may want to observe. The best way to grow our practice is by learning from one another. As the instructional coach, we have the unique ability to serve as a bridge in the school. Seize opportunities to increase communication and collaborative experiences.


  • Embed professional development in the classroom


One of our primary responsibilities as instructional coaches is to provide great professional development. The most powerful professional development for teachers takes place in the classroom. Structures such as learning labs, learning walks, #observeme, and build-a-labs give teachers the opportunity to try new instructional practices in the classroom. This blog by Cult of Pedagogy is a great resource for effective professional development and lays out these structures. By providing teachers with on the spot teaching, learning becomes more transferable to their own classrooms.

As instructional coaches, our role is to be a leader for successful change and improvement efforts. This must begin by creating a culture in which teachers are willing to learn and take risks. Otherwise, we may fall short due to resistance and an unwillingness to grow. Taking these three easy steps to cultivate a learner culture is one way to increase your chances of success!

About our Guest Author: Tonya Moody is an Instructional Coach in Westfield Washington School District in central Indiana and has over ten years of teaching experience. Prior to coaching, she taught Kindergarten, Second Grade, and was a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. She has a passion for encouraging her colleagues and collaborating with fellow educators.  Tonya loves growing her PLN on Twitter (@MrsMoodyIC) and would love to connect with you!

Guest Post: Climb Every Mountain!

Whether you’re a new coach or a seasoned veteran, data chats probably bring you mix of thrill and trepidation.  screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-42-09-pm

The thrilling part:  Seeing quantifiable data to prove our students are gaining new knowledge and skills to become proficient readers and problem-solvers.

The trepidation:  What to do with the mediocre or not-so-great news?!

Data, though immensely valuable, has taken on a larger-than-life place in education.  It has been misunderstood, misused, and abused by many.  This, unfortunately, has led to a variety of ill side effects, mainly skepticism, blaming and shaming teachers.

So how do we approach these conversations with compassionate honesty to move our students forward?  

The answer for our school was a mix of motivation, reflection, and action – and a WHOLE LOT of sticky notes.  


We try to start each PD or data chat with “positive vibes” just like we expect our teachers to do with their classes. But, it’s not just fluff.  We are strategic about incorporating “meat” in our positive messages. For our first data chat we focused on “Scaling the Summit” which has been our Superintendent’s theme.  We used inspiring quotations and added a personal message to let our staff know that our team is capable of elevating our school to “A” status.  Our guiding question was:  How can we strategically use our resources, strengths, and time to create proficient readers and problem solvers? This question sets up our focus to shift attention away from blame, shame, and deflecting and onto reflection and action.  


Instead of looking at broad numbers, percentages, or trends, we focused on individual students first.  Each teacher received a file folder with a red (at-risk), yellow (threshold), and green (mastery) section for English Language Arts and Math.  Next, they received 4am8q9uv-jpg-large-2sticky notes with their students’ names printed. They used copies of their data from our data system to sort their students on their folders.  Students on the verge of proficiency or nearing threshold levels were placed toward the top of their level.  Finally, we used a “Here’s What/So What/Now What” protocol (available here) to identify the data trends, what conclusions we could draw, and action steps to increase our class proficiency.  Everyone was able to share their reflections and brainstorm action steps.  

This data is revisited after the each benchmark assessment and teachers are able to move their stickies up/down based on their recent performance and reflect on success and identify opportunities for improvement.

About our Guest Author: Sarah Van Brimmer is a first-year literacy coach at Vero Beach Elementary in Indian River County. She is a mother, wife, teacher, and reader.  She can be reached at and on Twitter @svanbrimmer.

Guest Post: The Other Ninety Percent

I have begun my first year as an instructional coach for a high school of 1300 students.conversation  Every day I walk by this poster that says “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  As I am only beginning my tenure as a coach, I find myself reflecting on it a lot.  

It’s overwhelming to join a new staff and begin a new job.   At first I hadn’t made a plan for how to manage all the challenges.  New tasks and people fill each day.  With all this newness, I am learning a lot! Not knowing what to expect each day, I seem to be off kilter.  At times like these, it’s easy to lose focus and escape in the daily minutiae.  But daily that poster reminds me that I have to control how I react to change.

So, I created a plan based on my foundational beliefs and school initiatives.  I established a structure and direction in which to filter my tasks.  Now, I define my problems, focus on solutions, then choose actions that correspond with my foundational belief that all kids can learn and grow.  That way when I get overwhelmed with new challenges, my foundational belief points me in the right direction.     

Our school is in the midst of a large shift.  Like any other community, change occurs hesitantly.  The unknown stands in front of us and we become insecure.   We all ask questions like:   How will it work?  What will happen to how I do things?  Why do we have to do this?   

In our ever-changing world of education, we cannot expect to maintain any procedure for long. Often schools focus on developing learning standards, curriculum, and systems only to reassess and establish new ones.  Although it’s exciting to implement better options, the continual flux becomes difficult on a staff.  

Instead of viewing our flexibility as a strength, often we get tired and overwhelmed.  And that’s where I remembered the poster:   90% of life is how we deal with it.  I wondered if my individual plan would work on a larger level.    

When staff get overwhelmed, coaches can help them regroup and revisit foundational beliefs.  Instead of focusing on change and challenge, coaches can help staff center its vision to who they are as a school.

So I tried it.  Through frank conversations, our staff realized our foundational belief – our dedication to our students.   So we remained dedicated to our students as we try new strategies, get frustrated with the unknown, and fail.  These things will happen, yet, we can try again because we are focused on our dedication to our students.

Grounding ourselves in our dedication to our students can help us steer our students toward owning their learning.   As our staff uses our foundational belief to filter new challenges and changes, we are more liable to shift successfully.  

When things get too much, we can revisit our foundations and use them to guide us to create new structures. It is then we will find our school stronger and our students growing.  That poster really helped: 90% of life is how we deal with it.  
About our Guest Author:  Elsa Andreasen Glover is in the middle of her first year as an instructional coach at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Illinois.  A National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescent Social Studies, Elsa taught 7th graders for 18 years.  She holds MAT from Aurora University and writes monthly perspectives for her local NPR station.  You can follow Elsa on Twitter at @elsainga.

Guest Post: Increase the Impact of your Feedback as Instructional Coach

A teacher was talking to me this week about her instructional coach. She said, “You can’t instructionjust give feedback to me. Giving feedback in the wrong way has no impact.” Wow.

You have so many delicate relationships to navigate as an instructional coach. Your principal, associate principal, curriculum and district coordinator, and teachers all require your attention, expertise, and feedback. You wear a different hat for each role. You take a different approach with each teacher.

Can we simplify just one of these relationships?

Can your impact be increased?

Your relationships with teachers are the most critical. Teachers have the most direct impact on student learning. That’s where you have the greatest indirect impact on student learning. Is there a way that your conversations with teachers can be simplified and more effective?

I recently completed a research study that discovered four different types of feedback given to teachers. The study show significantly positive results using these four types of feedback. How can this research help your instructional coaching?

Four Types of Feedback for Instructional Coaching

The instructional leaders in the study visited over 100 classrooms during a six month period and offered feedback over 1,000 times. The feedback they gave to teachers can be categorized into four types.

Factual Feedback. Factual feedback is the simplest to give and is given the most. This type of feedback provides teachers with the raw description of what occurred in their classroom.

Affirmative Feedback. Affirming those practices that have a positive impact in the classroom. This type of feedback recognizes and praises the strengths you notice in the classroom.

Reflective Feedback. You can give feedback by simply asking questions. Ask questions with no correct answer, but that focus on prompting reflection for rich discussion points.

Corrective Feedback. Sometimes feedback needs to direct teachers away from certain practices or modify good practices. This type of feedback is not inherently negative (and is rarely given). It states ways that the classroom environment or instructional practice can be adjusted to have a stronger impact.

You can be confident that your feedback will have a positive impact on professional learning and instructional climate. You can also be intentional about giving feedback in your conversations.

Examples of Feedback from an Instructional Coach

What do these types of feedback sound like in a conversation? See if you can spot the type of feedback in the conversation below.

Coach: “Hi Malia. Thanks for letting me come by your room the other day. Can I give you quick feedback on what I saw?”

Teacher: “Sure. I’m on the way to a meeting. Can you walk with me?”

Coach: “I was only there for 5 minutes, but I did notice two strong impacts on student learning. First, you have an anchor chart that the student repeatedly looked at. Second, you had the same graphic organizer from the anchor chart in your handout. That’s such an effective strategy.”

Teacher: “Thanks. That’s just something I started doing last year.”

Coach: “Well, you’re really a natural. Would you mind if I share these strategy with the team?”

Teacher: “Sure, I guess so. Thanks.”

Did you say the feedback was affirmative? Good. The instructional coach recognized two strengths in Malia’s classroom practice.

Of course, you don’t have to hold in-person conversations to give feedback. You could just leave it on a sticky note:

“I noticed the students really used your anchor charts. Have you thought about creating a graphic organizer to go with it?”

The sticky note gave the teacher reflective feedback. Did you notice the slight difference? The teacher can choose whether to act on it – or if the idea is appropriate in the lesson. The benefit in this case is that the teacher reflected. Your feedback create an instance of reflective learning. That’s coaching.

Research Findings for Instructional Coaches

I worked with over a dozen instructional leaders at three different school districts in the Houston area. I found that each type of feedback had positive impacts on the instructional climates of the campuses. Teachers didn’t express a significant difference in their perceptions of the different types of feedback.

We might anticipate corrective feedback being tough to give and receive, but no. It was no more or less effective than the affirmative feedback. We might guess teachers enjoy receiving affirmative feedback more than factual feedback, but no.

We had over 300 teachers in the study, I found that the type of feedback was only second in importance to the quantity. The major finding: teachers consistently reported a positive benefit from the feedback given to them.

Coaches as Leaders

You are more than an instructional specialists or curriculum expert. You are a leader among your peers, at your campus, and within your district. Your real impact is in your relationships – the interactions and feedback you give to your teachers.

Take a moment to reflect on your three most recent conversations. Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Did the conversation involve feedback?
  2. Who was giving and receiving the feedback?
  3. What type of feedback did you give?

Take the lead in your conversations. Listen to teacher’s needs, visit their classrooms, and give feedback. Affirm, describe, question, and help adjust their practice.

Instructional coaching is role that can have immeasurable impact! On campus, in classrooms, and in students’ lives. Feedback is a tool that you can intentionally use in your conversations to make that impact. How will you use these types of feedback this week as an instructional coach?

About our Guest Author: Matt Foster is a learner and educator in Houston, TX with K-12 teaching and administrative experience. He holds a MEd in Administration and a MS in Curriculum & Instruction with particular interests in culture, climate, and school improvement. You can follow Matt on twitter @mafost.

Guest Post: Who Sits In the Big Chair? Reflections on Building Collaborative Partnerships with Teachers

Last spring, I attended a day-long session facilitated by Jim Knight on using video as a tool for instructional coaching. Jim started the day with his Partnership Principles. I was equally inspired and mortified. I was inspired to learn more about how I can strengthen the partnerships with teachers I support, but mortified to think of all the mistakes I’ve made over the last few years in my practice as an instructional coach.

                                     Photo by Federica Campanaro    Otranto, Italy

Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles include these “touchstones” that guide the work of instructional coaches: Equality, Choice, Voice, Dialogue, Reflection, Praxis, and Reciprocity. I want to be able to carry these profound principles with me into each coaching session, so I’ve organized them into three memorable tips.

A Firm Belief in Equality

With each opportunity to work alongside a teacher, I am reminded that I learn as much, maybe more, as the individual sitting at the table with me. Coaching is not an exercise in educational arm-twisting. It’s not my job to convert a teacher to my way of thinking.

In this partnership, I fully expect to discover the strengths and distinctive values of the teacher, and how she approaches instruction and learning for her students. The primary responsibility for me as a coach is to listen and respond with thought-provoking questions so the lion’s share of the work is done in a collaborative manner.

Four years ago, when I went through a multi-day coaching institute, I remember balking a little at the idea that all the heavy work was to be done by the teacher. “It’s imperative that the coach ask questions that allow the teacher to choose the path for change.”

I’ll admit I struggled with that idea.

Why are they calling in the “experts” to coach and then empowering the teacher to choose? Shouldn’t I be leading the teacher to make the changes I decide should be made in the classroom instruction and practice?

It’s really difficult to admit my arrogance as a “newbie” instructional coach. Thank goodness I quickly realized the expert is and always will be the teacher in that classroom.

Jim Knight paints a compelling picture with his description of the relationship between teacher and instructional coach: “The teacher sits in the big chair and the coach willingly chooses the little chair.”

A Commitment to Choice and Voice

Implicit in this equal partnership is the idea that coaches work collaboratively to ensure teachers make their own personal, values-driven choices. The intentional way I communicate as a coach should empower the teacher to express her opinion about the solutions to specific instructional, management or assessment issues in the classroom.

Recently, I met with a third-grade team and their campus instructional specialist. We took a look at their most recent data and then I asked them to consider some instructional implications based on their analysis of the data.

The response from one of the teachers caught me a little off guard. She made an altogether different connection between the data and instruction than I would have. I was equally surprised at my initial inward response. I found myself thinking, “That’s interesting. I hadn’t considered that.”

In the past, my heart rate would have quickened, my scalp would’ve tightened and I would have struggled to control my facial expressions, body language and tone of voice.

Instead, I found myself asking questions that facilitated their design of a multi-week unit to support students in mastery of a difficult standard in the language arts curriculum. As I drove home, I was amused at the fact that it’s only taken me four years to learn it’s not my job as an instructional coach to “manipulate” the teachers I support.

(Patience, please–I’m a slow learner.)

An Emphasis on Reflective Dialogue

An effective instructional coach is clear on the importance of dialogue that promotes reflection. Teachers must have the freedom and encouragement to think through solutions and weigh the factors involved in important changes (however small) in their practice.

There’s inestimable wisdom in offering teachers the ability to embrace or reject instructional practices. True, transparent partnerships are defined by the freedom to consider and cast-off. The choice to redesign and individualize content in ways that are most valuable for the individual is critical.

It makes no sense whatsoever for a coach to dictate practices and/or classroom procedures that are an uncomfortable fit for the teacher and her students.

I had the privilege of working with a grade level team last year that was made up of first year teachers. I worried that the pressure of accountability and responsibility for this team would be crushing.

What I observed over the weeks we were together was the sagacity these ladies possessed. They had an uncanny ability to take the ridiculous amount of information and overwhelming tasks for classroom teachers and distill it to the most important bits. They asked thoughtful, discerning questions and then made decisions that simultaneously challenged and supported their young learners.

Amazed and inspired each time I left a planning session with these amazing women, I now consider them as heroes and mentors.

Instructional coaching is tricky work. I’m tempted to fret over the fact that I’m not doing my best to maintain authentic collaborative partnerships.

Not to worry.

Now that I know who sits in the big chair, I think I’ve got this.

About our Guest Author: Valinda Kimmel has flipped through lots of calendar pages since beginning a career as a teacher nearly three decades ago. For the past 7 years, she’s worked as a K-6 facilitator/instructional coach in a large school district in Bedford, Texas. After hours, Valinda loves lazy evenings and long conversations with her husband Mark, and spending time with her adult children, their spouses, and five of the most brilliant “littles” in her world. She hopes that you’ll engage in conversations with her on Twitter () and on her blog at

Guest Post: Take Me out to the Ballgame: Reflections From the Stands

This is the first summer my son has played on an All-Star baseball team.conversation We have been in
the bleachers watching him play baseball since he
was five, but he hasn’t ever really been passionate enough about the sport for our family to commit to him practicing every night and playing in tournaments all weekend throughout the entire month of June. This year something clicked, and he decided he enjoyed baseball more than he ever had before, so we decided to give it a shot. He made the All-Star team and began the nightly practices, even landing a spot as one of the team’s pitchers.

I am a terrible baseball mom. I’m not sure if my teaching background has anything to do with it, but I get really anxious when those precious boys are in high pressure situations and I can barely handle all the chatter. There is CONSTANT talking, from parents, from coaches, from the players, from other fields, and as I watched his game the other night, I was struck by how difficult it must be for these kids to filter through all the talk and focus on the voice they most need to listen to in game situations.

Some of the things that are yelled out during the games are downright comical. Well-meaning parents offer advice and affirmations, critiques and cautions that could leave even the most level-headed 12-year-old athlete slightly discombobulated.

“Be a wall!”

“Get there, get there!”

“Big hit, Buddy!”

“Baseball ready!”

What do those things even mean? Kids that have been playing baseball for eight years surely know that they need to get to the base. They know to try and hit the ball. How is being, “baseball ready” any different than just actually being ready? It seems to me that if we asked the kids, they could likely tell us they understand WHAT needs to be adjusted, what they probably need to work on is HOW. The 2nd baseman surely knows he should have grounded the ball properly and made an accurate throw to first base to get the runner out. He does not need us yelling it at him in front of his teammates and their families. What he may need is repeated practice, a technical adjustment, or perhaps even watching a video of himself to see if he can identify the issue independently. The true transformation seems to come when the coach is talking to the player on the sidelines, modeling correct form, making authentic eye-contact, and respectfully implying a belief in the player’s ability.

Isn’t that how it is for teachers? Teachers are bombarded with ever-constant chatter: from parents, from students, from the state, from their administrators, from anyone who has ever attended a school. The talk they overhear is often as ambiguous as it is in the grandstands. Well-meaning educational leaders, authors, curriculum writers, self-proclaimed experts, and even perfect Pinterest boards all add to the noisy narrative that teachers have to navigate as they make their place in the education world.

“Innovate, differentiate, document!”

“Utilize technology in an authentic way!”

“Get back to the basics!”

“Rethink rigor!”

Might we all just shut up for a minute? What these teachers need is some silence. Some calm and quiet in an educational arena that cannot stop talking. A little hands-on modeling, maybe some authentic eye-contact, and even the respectful implication that we believe in their abilities. In reality that is not going to happen. As surely as those parents will continue hollering from the stands, teachers will continue to be assailed with questions, criticisms, initiatives, and, “novel” ideas. And really, it is fine. They can handle it. Teachers want to constantly look forward. They want to look ahead, look up, continually search for better ways to reach more kids. Teaching in the Information Age is exciting. It holds the promise of authentic audience and increased collaboration.

The very most effective baseball players on my son’s team are the kiddos who have such a sense of the game that it’s almost hard to describe. These are the kids who can filter out all the noise and nonsense and rely on their own knowledge of the sport as they are making game-time decisions. They clap at the pitcher on their way to steal second base, they run from third and slide into home plate even if their coach tries to hold them back. Maybe they will score and maybe they will get called out because not every player is right 100% of the time, but how fun it is to watch a kid exude confidence in their abilities for the good of their team.

The very most effective teachers that I have encountered are the ones who have such a sense of the profession that it is almost hard to describe. These are the teachers who can filter out all the noise and rely on their own inner voice to guide their daily classroom decisions. They read, discuss, reflect, and constantly adjust their practice to ensure the most optimal learning environments for their students. They smile knowingly as the next presenter presents the next presentation. They will take the parts that will help their kids and confidently ignore the parts that will not. They will try an new approach even if their administrator tries to hold them back. Maybe it will work and maybe it will fail because not every teacher is right 100% of the time, but how fun it is to watch a teacher exude confidence in their abilities for the good of their students.
I love this quote by Leo Ernest Durocher, American infielder and MLB manager, Baseball is like church. Many attend; few understand.” Huge crowds show up to participate in educational conversations. My hope as an instructional coach is to empower more teachers to truly understand, to exhibit faith and confidence in their training. I want teachers to trust their own intentional decision-making and the power of reflection to improve practice. I hope to enable teachers to dial down the noise and focus on what is good for kids, to value relationships over worksheets, choice over power, and to stand up for the students in their care. Teaching is not for the weak. It is not for the casual attendee. Be brave, teacher friends, and get out there on the field! We are all rooting for you!

About our guest author:

Mandy Taylor has spent seventeen years in the elementary classroom, teaching grades Kindergarten through 3rd grade. She recently transitioned into an Instructional Coaching position and has a passion for literacy, a love for learning, and a fascination with public speaking. She also has become a Teacher Consultant with the Central Texas Writing Project where she serves on the Leadership Board. Her beliefs center around the importance of relationships, humor, authenticity, and love. She is a connected educator who reflects on her practice by connecting with others on Twitter, Voxer, Google, and with actual real-life humans.

Connect with Mandy:

Guest Post: Thriving In Your Work and How An Instructional Coach Can Help


I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine entitled, “Research Shows People Need These 5 Things To Be Happy At Work.” I don’t often agree with happiness gurus because growthmost of it to me comes off as very self centered and non collaborative, which as a coach, is inherently not me at all.  But this article caught my attention and while the primary audience is the business community, I saw reflections of an educator in the list. Here I offer 5 tips for using your instructional coach to help you thrive happily in your work.

Discover work that challenges you

“Reach outside your comfort zone” has become a buzz phrase in education. What does it mean – really? It means you are always working on something new. Think about what happens when we reach. We stand taller, become mindful about our balance, we focus on what it is we want to obtain, and when we cannot reach what we want by ourselves, we ask for a boost. Your instructional coach can offer the leg up. It’s hard to keep ourselves working on something new when sometimes, we feel it may be all we can do to keep our heads above water. Coaches can have a unique 30,000 foot view that connects your classroom practice to building and district vision. He can provide you with suggestions that can bring you into alignment with the expectations that push in. She can partner with you as you try a new and exciting strategy. Ask your coach to help with some of the legwork and barrier removal that halts us when we wish to take a risk.

Grow a sense of progress

A coach can be the perfect partner for formative assessment of your instructional progress. Much the same way you monitor your students’ progress and adjust accordingly, an instructional coach can help you capture data that provides a perfect jumping off point for reflection on your craft. Look at student work together and explore celebrations or imagine powerful tweaks. Set up a regular class visit for your coach where he or she can capture what you cannot in the midst of teaching. Ask for a script of your questions or one of student to student conversations. Your coach can use video or live notes over the course of weeks to capture your progress toward an instructional goal in a non evaluative way. What a great way to combat the “hamster on a wheel” feeling that can rear its ugly head in education. Finally, because we do not want to remain in a constant state of experimentation with student learning (that can stop progress too) coaches can help guide you through reflecting conversations in order to identify the right times to try new and hard things.

Ignore fear

What if I fail? So what if you do? What did you learn about your students and yourself through the process? How will that impact your instruction going forward? As a coach, it is one of my greatest pleasures to provide a bubble of security around a teacher willing to take a risk. I see it as my job to make sure administrators and fellow teachers keep a judgment free zone while a teacher is growing him or herself. A coach can keep evaluation at bay so teachers can ignore the fear of having the plan not reach expectation. Your instructional coach can help you focus on the learning that can come in spite of outcomes that fall short. In the end, you become more resilient and daring. You may inspire a colleague, reach a student in need, shift the thinking of your administration, or reignite the passion that called you to teaching in the first place, all the while able to celebrate and vent with a thought partner (your coach).

Claim your autonomy

Do you really trust yourself as a capable, expert educator? Teachers too often relinquish the responsibility of their own thriving to others. We tend to think we are unsuccessful if we do not reach every student, do not score “distinguished” on every criteria of our teacher evaluation, do not get a check on every box on the walk through document, do not get recognition from our peers, parents, administrators, or community. We don’t control these things, yet our career self-worth can be wrapped up in them. Your coach can help you claim your autonomy by reminding you to focus on the things you can control. She can help track the impact of those things down to the student level. Once you see the data that tells the story of your decision making and effectiveness, you can trust that your decisions and expertise have impact. This is the road to claiming your autonomy.


Feeling that we belong in the classroom where we spend so much time, energy, and concern can be incredibly empowering. My coaching conversations with teachers often revolve around remaining centered in beliefs about education, helping to connect with like minded educators, and helping identify areas of greatness worth sharing with others in the profession. As a coach, I try to assist teachers who feel isolated with developing connections to a tribe. Developing a professional learning network in person and/or virtually can be a key ingredient to a sense of belonging. Developing this sense takes effort and practice. This can be the role of your coach. Coaching partners can identify, question, validate experiences and feelings as you grow understanding around your practice. They can work with you to identify your own judgment and biases which can pave the way for acceptance of others – the only true path to belonging.

All of the suggestions I offer in this piece rest on the assumption that you first, have a connection to an instructional coach and secondly, that the coach is trained in instructional coaching and can facilitate thinking rather than simply consult with you on improvements. If your school or district has not yet grown a culture of coaching, be certain to connect with instructional coaches by reaching out to me on Twitter @JenniferHCox or through the Connect and Contact page here at

About the author:

Jennifer Cox serves in the role of Goal Clarity Coach at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, KY, working with staff and administration to facilitate the purposeful intersection of data, instruction, professional development, and student success. Prior to this, Jennifer served as Instructional Coach for Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, KY  where she assisted in leading building and district professional development and as facilitator for PEBC’s Thinking Strategies Institute in Shelby County.  Her work with teachers centers on increasing meaningful  literacy instruction across content areas, differentiation, and on increasing the efficacy of discourse between teacher/student as well as among students.

Jennifer’s research focus is growth mindset for teachers and students, workshop model of instruction, and leadership roles precipitating school turnaround.  She has taught in the middle and high school settings since 1997. During that time, she served as a PEBC Regional Lab Host Classroom and was Shelby County Public Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ashland Teacher Award Winner and Kentucky Teacher of the Year Finalist.  

Her academic background includes undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky in Middle School Education, Master’s work at Bellarmine University in Middle School Education where she was a Nancy Howard Merit Award recipient for Excellence in Graduate Education.  Her latest endeavor was at the University of Louisville where she earned her Ed. S. in Educational Leadership and was awarded U of L Ed. S. Outstanding Graduate.