Brooks is one of 23 instructional coaches in the Rockford Public Schools at the elementary level. The coach is a student-centered position that helps teachers focus on a learning target. The coach and the teacher work in a cycle, which typically lasts six weeks. They begin by talking about student needs in reading and math. They look at data. They review what students are supposed to be learning. Then they form a goal.
"The joy is how transparent it is, how black-and-white. It's a step-by-step process," Brooks said.
At Whitehead Elementary School, instructional coach Renee Guse welcomes the opportunity to partner with teachers. The point is not to fix the teachers, she said. "We watch the students. We want to look at student engagement."
Guse and Brooks were among nine instructional coaches in the district who took up a challenge: to prepare a presentation for the fall conference of Illinois Council of Instructional Coaching at Northern Illinois University-Naperville. The coaches were joined at the Oct. 22 conference by two principals: Carolyn Kloss of Hillman and Pam Miner of Whitehead.
The two principals joined their coaches to present one of five sessions at the conference, "The Coach and Principal as Partners." Kloss said one of her primary messages was the importance of trust: how teachers should feel free to take risks without the fear of being negatively affected or evaluated.
"A coach is not an evaluator. A coach is not a spy," Kloss said. "They are not running to us and telling us." It's also important principals protect the coaching time and don't ask coaches to do tasks unrelated to their role, such as classroom sub, Kloss said. "A coaching cycle takes time. You have to meet, plan, be vulnerable, look at data."
The goal of the coaches is to reach 90 percent of the teachers in their buildings by the end of the 2018-19 school year. Brooks and Guse are confident they'll reach that goal in their building. Kloss believes the program already has been successful at Hillman in raising awareness about setting goals and what you do to reach those goals.
The coach program is empowering for teachers because it's student-centered, according to Susan Fumo, Executive Director of School Improvement.
Brooks of Hillman agrees. She said one of the best feelings as a coach came when she worked with a teacher struggling to offer rigor in her class. Suddenly, "it happened. And it was marvelous. The teacher just exploded after that."
These schools and their coaches were also represented at the conference: Brookview (Mari Thor); Froberg (Susan Bukove), Haskell (Cortney Schermerhorn); Lewis Lemon (Chana Payne); Riverdahl (Pamela Gantner); Washington (Elizabeth Hand); Kishwaukee and Nelson (Chalea Walters).
The Those Who Excel program recognizes employees who demonstrate excellence in their jobs and go above and beyond their regular duties.
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