The Transylvania Times -

School Instruction Coaches Explain Their Job


April 19, 2018

Four elementary school instructional coaches – Barbara Grimm of Brevard Elementary (BES), Anne Hardy of Pisgah Forest Elementary (PFE), Crystal Whitman of Rosman Elementary (RES) and Kimberly Moore of T.C. Henderson (TCH) – informed the Transylvania County Board of Education Monday evening of their roles in providing support for teachers and students.

Whitman said one function of instructional coaches is to help all teachers improve instruction because better instruction leads to better student understanding and performance.

“Every teacher deserves a coach,” said Whitman, who added that even veteran teachers can benefit from someone watching them teach and giving them advice and support.

Moore said that coaches are found at all levels of athletics, and that even the most skilled athletes have coaches so that they can improve their skills.

She said the same is true for teachers.

Moore used to work in Buncombe County and said that instructional coaches there are often split between two schools.

Since two schools may have different grade ranges or different student demographics, that makes it more difficult for instructional coaches to understand the needs of teachers and students, as well as build a rapport with them.

Moore said she views instructional coaches as individuals who collaborate with teachers on solutions for problems that keep teachers up at night.

Both Moore and Whitman said there is a level of respect that is established between the coaches and teachers, and they view each other as collaborators in improving student performance.

Whitman said instructional coaches also help teachers learn to self-identify their own strengths and weaknesses.

She said an unexpected role has also been serving as a liaison for parents who have general curriculum questions or questions about their child.

“That is a tremendous piece of what I do,” said Whitman.

Whitman said she initially did more modeling, showing teachers how they should teach.

But now she is more of a resource who tries to help teachers with what they need, whether it be finding specific resources, observing behavior or receiving help in reaching certain standards or teaching certain subjects.

“It just depends upon their needs,” said Whitman.

Since RES does not have an assistant principal, Whitman also conducts formal teacher evaluations, but teachers “are still very welcoming” due to the respect and rapport teachers and instructional coaches have.

“It’s very different from school to school,” said Whitman of the instructional coaches’ roles.

Since BES and PFE both have assistant principals, the role of instructional coaches is slightly different.

Grimm said research indicates that 80 percent of students should be able to learn what they need to in a regular classroom setting.

A primary function of her job is to make sure regular classroom instruction is strong.

“That is where we have some of our biggest gains,” said Grimm.

She said some students, however, struggle in the regular classroom and need more assistance or different teaching strategies.

Those students may receive individual attention from retired teachers who volunteer or those trained in the Augustine literacy program.

Grimm also said instructional coaches gather data from a variety of sources so that they know in which areas individual students are strong or weak. That includes looking not just at state and standardized tests, but also classroom assessments, behavior and attendance.

“We are looking at each child as a unique individual,” said Hardy.

Hardy said they look at data to see how students measure against their peers. If they are significantly behind, they receive evidence-based interventions – techniques that teachers have actually used before with students that have proven to be successful. Some of the interventions include phonics and decoding resources, as well as adaptive computer programs for reading and math.

“We do not lack for intervention curriculum,” said Hardy.

Hardy did say there are fewer teacher assistants and Title I reading teachers, so they have to maximize the efficiency of each instructor. For example, if first graders are reading while kindergarteners are at recess, those who assist with kindergarteners will be used in first grade classes to provide more individualized instruction.

Hardy said there is a great deal of small group instruction in a regular classroom. For those who need closer adult instruction, they might be with the teacher in one group, then work on a computer program adapted to their needs and then work with a teacher assistant.

Grimm said teacher assistants often provide a “double dose” of instruction in core subjects like reading.

Instructional coaches also collaborate with other entities, like Rise & Shine, El Centro, and Boys & Girls Club, that also provide afterschool instruction.

“We’re really blessed to have those afterschool programs,” said Grimm.

Board member Alice Wellborn asked what percentage of students, for example, in third grade need more help than what is offered in the regular classroom.

Hardy said the standard for students who do not need additional help is 80 percent, but in her experience, that figure is closer to 70 percent, so 30 percent of students need some kind of supplemental instruction.

She said that averages out to about four children in each class.

“I’m really impressed with what you all are doing,” said Wellborn.

Wellborn asked if student assessments are used to help plan appropriate instruction.

Both Grimm and Hardy said they are, but that some assessment measures are more informative than others.

Hardy said assessments can be time consuming and take away from core instructional time, but teachers need data to group students and determine their needs.

Grimm said having access to copious data lets them know which students are struggling.

Hardy said that with today’s technology, they can review a student’s data and assessments all the way back to kindergarten.

“That’s really powerful,” said Hardy.

“You’re targeting your particular students at your school,” said Wellborn

Board member Marty Griffin asked if other students were used to help their peers.

Grimm said that happens quite often but it’s all directed by the teacher.

Hardy said it is sometimes better for children to struggle and figure out the answer instead of relying on a better student to provide the answer.

“Part of learning is being wrong sometimes and struggling with things,” said Hardy.

Jeremy Gibbs, chief academic officer for Transylvania County, said all four instructional coaching positions are funded through Title I, a federal program. Some teachers and teacher assistants also are funded through Title I, although funding for teacher assistants has been cut.

“There used to be many more teacher assistant positions,” he said.

Gibbs said the county does a good job of keeping class sizes small, even in those grades in which the state has not placed a mandatory cap.

Gibbs said school staff, including instructional coaches, also work to align curriculum and instruction between schools so that when a student transitions from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school, the transition is smooth.

Board member Betty Scruggs McGaha praised the instructional coaches for their enthusiasm and their efforts to not leave any child behind.

“It’s just another benefit of small community schools and staff members who care for every child in that school,” added Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi.


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