We are finally coming to understand as educators, and as a nation, that effective, high-quality coaching is as essential to creating high-performing schools as it is to creating championship national sports teams. It is universally accepted that outstanding coaches are necessary for building, developing, and sustaining winning teams. While the importance of educational coaches is not yet universally accepted, they are, in fact, equally vital to creating, improving, and sustaining high performing schools.
Coaching is the cornerstone of the ISA Approach. The ISA coaching method effectively solves the dilemma of how to embed, individualize, and sustain professional development as part of the authentic work of school staff. It also de-isolates the profession and ensures that teachers and school leaders receive non-judgmental, non-evaluative guidance from a master educator. Coaching the ISA way capitalizes on the best professional development practices and draws on the most effective forms of coaching, including supporting whole school change; building staff capacity school wide; improving teacher classroom practice; creating and supporting high performing teams; and increasing leadership ability at all levels. Because every coach is grounded in ISA’s mission, seven principles, and three overarching drivers, integrity of execution is possible in each coach’s actions and decisions, even across disparate sites. [Read the full article.]
In this issue of the ISA Newsletter, we focus on coaching and its impact on teaching and learning, particularly in mathematics. As we work together to prepare students for college and careers, the need for rigorous, inquiry-based, engaging instruction, especially in math, has never been clearer. Also, enjoy the feature on Queens High School for Teaching in recognition of the 40th anniversary of IDEA this year!
Gerry House, Ed.D.
A Math Coach's Perspective
Jonathan Katz has been an ISA math coach since 2005 and was an exemplary middle and high school math teacher for 24 years. Today, he's ISA's Senior Mathematics Specialist and author of "Developing Mathematical Thinking: A Guide to Rethinking the Mathematics Classroom."
What does your coaching method look like in your daily work with teachers?
JK: Actually each day is different depending on the teacher’s needs. For example, I might observe the teacher in the classroom to help identify what’s working, what’s missing or what may be improved. The teacher and I will meet after class to discuss what happened during the lesson and why. While I may offer a specific suggestion or recommendation, my real purpose is to use inquiry to help the teacher reflect about her own practice. My role is not to try and fix teachers but to honor who they are, and let them know that they are not alone in executing the teaching and learning process. This approach allows them to begin to truly hear and process the critical questions that are the essential first step toward improving their own practice. Once teachers become conscious of their own beliefs and methods, and why they do what they do, they can begin to be more intentional about what they teach and how they teach it.
How do you get teachers to accept your asking them these critical questions?
JK: No coach can be effective without first establishing a trusting relationship with the teacher. So first I listen to learn who they are, what they believe about teaching math to their students, what approach they use. Once they begin to see me as a non-judgmental supporter, not an evaluator, then we can deepen the conversation and start to use questions to reflect deeply on their own practice.
What are some examples of the kinds of inquiry questions that you pose?
JK: I may ask, “What is math and why do we teach it?” Teachers’ answers to this question provide a great deal of data about their pedagogy. They tell me if they envision math as a series of procedures and recipes or if they see it as being concept-driven and applicable and relevant to students’ lives. As the teacher and I are engaging in this inquiry process, I am also modeling ways for her to engage her students in a similar process. It is critical for teachers to probe into their students’ thinking about math. “What do your students understand?” What are their misconceptions about this particular math concept?” What is the source of their confusion?” Teachers cannot adjust their instructional practices and get improved results without continuously informally assessing what their students’ thinking is about the math problem, concept, or performance task.
What exactly is the ISA approach to teaching mathematics?
JK: ISA is committed to developing students who can think mathematically. Through the use of inquiry, we coach teachers to begin to see math as a deeply connected set of concepts and ideas. We support teachers as they shift their thinking and practice of math from the purpose of helping students learn discrete rules and procedures to the purpose of helping students try to understand the meaning of concepts and their connections to each other. Procedural understanding comes out of that deep understanding. As a part of our coaching, we also help teachers and the school to align the math curriculum with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS.) [Read the full interview here.]
A Math Teacher’s Perspective
Mary Ellen Tyrrell teaches Geometry at the Institute for Health Professions in Queens, NY. She is a fourth-year math teacher.
How did you learn about ISA and its coaching support?
MET: I was introduced to ISA as first-year teacher when I attended a daylong professional development at a Winter Institute. When the facilitators presented the inquiry process, it immediately made sense to me. I found what they shared useful and brilliant and have been working with them ever since.
What is most helpful about the support you get from your ISA coach?
MET: Everything! They provide curriculum, lessons, and incredible professional development. Their coaching helps me gain a deeper understanding of mathematics and how to teach it. My students and I no longer treat math as a series of procedures; it is a discovery process for us that is driven by inquiry. Not only do they learn more and learn it better, they remember what they learn because it makes sense to them. Teaching math as a series of connected concepts has a huge impact on my teaching and their learning. They have procedural fluency and can accurately use all of the same formulas that are taught in a traditional classroom, but they also have a clear understanding of why the formulas work.
How has your own teaching changed as a result of working with an ISA coach?
MET: My teaching now starts with a big math idea. Then I often present a math task that has many connections and multiple points of entry. To successfully complete the task, students must demonstrate a deep knowledge of math concepts. Initially, I used the ISA-developed tasks, but now I often design my own. My growth as a professional has been amazing. Students also enjoy discovering multiple approaches to a problem, but they know they must always provide sound evidence to support their problem-solving approach. I would not be the same teacher without ISA coaching. The coach and I are both committed to helping students learn more and become more critical thinkers. Together we are making that happen.
[Read the full interview here.]
Brooklyn Preparatory High
Now it its 11th year of operation, Brooklyn Preparatory High School is one of ISA’s most mature schools. The school currently serves 489 students and boasts an 83% graduation rate, which is 15% higher than both the city and borough average.
Throughout the four years a student attends Brooklyn Prep, educators teach the habits of mind (thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, gathering data through the senses, striving for accuracy, etc.) and habits of work (organization, perseverance, eagerness, etc.) and reiterate their importance in students’ road to success. These qualities and skills, when combined with exposure to diverse opportunities, help prepare students for college and career experiences. Read the full story.
Queens High School for Teaching:
Has No Limits
At Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences, every child has the chance to grow and develop to their fullest potential because no child has to struggle to simply belong. Queens is an amazing school where seniors help a wheel-chair bound classmate to mount and ride a horse; where a student with special needs is selected prom queen; and where one female classmate invites a male classmate with challenges to the prom because she doesn’t want him to be left out.
Forty years after the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law’s spirit, not just its letter, is alive and thriving at this extraordinary school. “Inclusion is the cornerstone of our school culture,” says principal Jae Cho. “Our philosophy of respect and acceptance for all students is a non-negotiable one that impacts every aspect of our school’s life.”
First opened in 2003, in partnership with the Institute for Student Achievement, Queens has a student body of 1,200 students, 21% percent of whom have special needs. “Our students’ disabilities run the gamut,” explains Cho. “They are not screened for admission; this is an opportunity high school, and we take all levels of students from the highest performing to the lowest performing. The only consideration for not accepting a special needs student would be the student’s safety.”
Queens also supports about 30 students from District 75, which serves some of the New York City Department of Education’s most severely challenged students. “It is important for our special needs students and our general education students to be fully integrated,” Cho states. “All of our sports, arts, and after school activities are full inclusion.”Read the full story.
What Works Clearinghouse
The Institute for Student Achievement model has been federally approved as an evidence-based whole school reform model, with at least one study that meets the What Works Clearinghouse criteria. ISA's model may be used now in federally funded School Improvement Grants and is the only approved whole school reform model for high schools!
ISA in the News
Dr. House was featured in the Spring edition of SouthEast Education Network (SEEN) Magazine. Her feature, entitled Helping Persistently Failing Schools lays out key facets of the ISA Model.