Chicago Public Schools Area 13

Thought this would be a fun shot.  This picture was taken after a recent planning retreat I led for the Chicago Public Schools, Area 13 Leadership Team at Hamburger University. This team is doing great work for kids in 28 K-8 schools on the south side of Chicago.

Have a great week.

Examining our own values and beliefs about teaching and learning

Being a reflective practitioner is a prerequisite to working as a coach. “Rock star” or master teachers are often unconscious of all that they are doing that makes them rock.  To support others and effectively intervene requires them to reflect on precisely what they do, so that they can:

  • Articulate methods and practices that work for them
  • Explain why they work
  • Demonstrate how they work
  • Support others in adapting to or modifying them to best serve their own practices
  • Assist others in seeing the “big picture” of how the practices and methods fit overall into the delivery of instruction.

Similar to one’s work with students, one’s work with teachers includes strategic interventions to establish self-sufficiency.  Thoughtful reflection with them encourages greater awareness of their practice – and hopefully leads to explore successes with colleagues.

Attitudes about professional growth begin at the individual level, and commitment to professional advancement depends on a myriad of factors.  Those who are less confident about their teaching practices may be hesitant to engage in candid discussion, and to fully embrace what coaching may offer.  Others with unrealistic confidence in their own abilities may feel that coaching of any sort is unnecessary.  Sadly, an additional segment of teaching professionals adopt the stance that  “this too shall pass “- sometimes due to initiative overload, sometimes due to inadequate follow-through during prior efforts, and sometimes due to simple cynicism.

How Great Leaders Support Coaching

The ideal coach/principal relationship is one that has open lines of communication first and foremost. The communication begins with conversations regarding the direction and vision for the school. Principals and coaches must share a common vision for the direction and focus of the school each academic year. They must also agree upon how to put that vision into practice. This additionally means that the pair should develop a share understanding of all teachers’ needs. Constant, open communication is necessary to ensure that progress is being made (and data-backed). The coach and principal should develop a common understanding of all interventions, best practices, stat/district requirements, professional development needs, curriculum, etc.

These types of discussions early in the year will help later avoid conflict. The coach and principal need to feel comfortable enough to approach one another any time with concerns about clarity, roles and situations within classrooms or the school. These conversations serve as recognition that no one person has all the answers and that often, the principal and the coach bring different perspectives to a given situation. In the end, these perspectives can inform better decisions. The conversations should lead both the principal and the coach to explore possibilities – often possibilities that each individually could not see.

The dialogue also has to be meaningful and go deeply into issues. Often, time constraints may cause the coach and the principal to take only a surface level look at the issues facing the school. Consequently, each meeting should include but not be limited to:

  • Principal concerns
  • Coach concerns
  • Problem solving regarding those concerns
  • What the coach has done since last meeting
  • Discussion of interventions
  • Reinforcement of the commitment to trust between/among the coach and his advisee(s).

The Interpersonal Aspects of Coaching

A well-known athletic coach is criticized for having often belittled those he coached – in particular, he is alleged to have focused on the weight and eating habits of the minors he ostensibly was retained to help. This type of behavior is not effective coaching – it can be destructive and appear as an exploitative effort to attain triumph at any cost. For us, this behavior has no place in the world of coaching in any profession. Regrettably, some individuals who have entered the field of education engage in deliberate cruelty under the guise of “I’m-just-being-honest” or the perennial “hey, gotta be accurate” mantra. Virtually every adult, in every profession, has seen them in action at some point; otherwise civilized people somehow wired to take pleasure in seeing others embarrassed or robbed of dignity. Accuracy in how we help teachers reflect is critical – but deadly if delivered with malice, or perceived as malicious. The effective coach recognizes this very human component of the work, and structures interactions accordingly. Sensitivity to others does not create a duty to be inaccurate or to ignore the problematic; it simply compels fundamental respectfulness.

“Get Outa My Face” Opposition

Easily recognizable, this response often (but not always) can be readily addressed by immediately acknowledging it straight on.  The acknowledgement comes with one caveat; however, to maximize effectiveness, it must be firm but non-confrontational.  Example lead in phrases can include things like “I’m picking up some anger about…” or ” I get the sense that this is not something you want…” or ” I don’t want this to be an intrusion on your work, and I think there are ways we can make sure it’s not…”  The key is to engage teachers.  Often that’s best done by soliciting information from them about them as opposed to talking about coaching or its goals.  The most difficult part in confronting “Get Outa My Face” resistance is remaining poised and appearing confident-particularly when te behavior can have the sensation – or actuality – of being a personal attack.  Consciously acknowledging that the individual is likely carrying unresolved baggage can help keep perspective-even if it doesn’t negate the offensiveness of the conduct.  The bottom line is this:  breaking through resistance is hard.  And there are times when, for a variety of reasons, the individual is simply going to be unwilling or unable to move beyond anger or resentment.  It’s rare but can occur.  When good faith efforts fail after a reasonable time, the remedy is not to keep on pushing, but to re-think whether the dynamics can be altered.  If they can’t be, for heaven’s sake, stop!

No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind has had some positive effects on our culture, and on the way we educate our children.  Those positive effects remain outweighed, however, by the tremendous design flaws inherent within NCLB.  Despite the avowed intent of the Act, certain inherent inequities in education-that were acknowledged 30, 50, and even 80 years ago- remain intact in the United States.  Part of this is rooted in an indefensible argument that-as a matter of constitutional “states’ rights”-each state may customize academic standards to varying and often provincial extremes.  New and rewritten laws flow freely from federal, state, and even local politicians in the form of E.S.E.A., I.D.E.A., A.D.A., Section 504, and so on.  The legislative mandates grow and undulate, without cohesion and without genuine effectiveness.

The Devil’s in the Details

Details do make a difference, and exploring them remains essential when it comes to coaching.  What is meant by details?  Primarily, all the things that go into communicating with a student, which at a minimum include things like:

• The volume at which a person speaks

• The words chosen

• The tone used

• Eye contact

• Strategic use of movement

• The manner is which the teacher has orchestrated the surrounding environment

• Attitude towards students and subject-matter content

Even with support, sometimes teachers do not immediately recognize the strengths or weakness of their teaching behaviors.  Part of the coach’s role is to help teachers become more conscious of and zero-in on the details of their practice.  To do that, a coach must first have observed and accurately identified those behaviors and affecting learning among the teacher’s students, and have a clear sense of how to move the teacher toward modifying, enhancing or eliminating certain teaching behaviors that do no support or accelerate student learning.  It means having a Plan.

Go Farther!

A terrific coach knows that there is always work to do; that there is always a means towards improvement.  Think about it:  The overwhelming majority of Olympic-level athletes have coaches.  These athletes, considered the best in the world, still strive each day to improve and perfect their performance  The parallel between athletic coaching and teaching-behavior coaching is straightforward:  both involve the support of professionals to increase the mastery of their art.  It is a means of assisting individuals to be more than they are at the moment-regardless of how “great” their performances are at the moment.

NEW STUDY: For-profit vs. non-profit education management organizations

In a newly released study on Education Management Organizations (EMOs) by Miron, Urschel and Molnar (find it at ) there are noteworthy findings.  For example: Of the schools managed by nonprofit EMOs, 60% made AYP and 40% did not. This can be compared with the schools managed by for-profit EMOs, 53% of which made AYP and 47% did not.

While I was surprised that the for-profit companies did not lag farther behind their non-profit counterpart EMOs, they do lag behind.  One example of the problem presented by for-profit EMOs is their need to return profits to executives and shareholders can greatly skew the allocation of resources to school-needs.  One school I am familiar with can allocate only 1% of its total revenue toward teacher training and professional development.

We have roughly 900,000 children attending public charter schools and public schools operated by EMOs (for-profit and non-profit combined).  While these students are over-representative of those from poverty backgrounds–they are also those for which we must step up our academic game the fastest.

If you are affiliated with a public charter school or public schools operated by an EMO, find out how much is allocated to train and support teachers.  For the work to improve, the resources must be sufficient and aligned.



CICS Longwood School–Mixed Feelings

Someone just sent me a terrific holiday gift–children who are students at CICS Longwood School in Chicago singing with their hearts lifted.  It was a real treat, but stirred mixed feelings for me.

While CICS Longwood provides this enrichment in the Arts, it is like so many other public and public charter schools in America.  Far too many experiences in the Arts–especially in Music–have been relegated to extra-curricular and after-school.  These decisions are largely due to expected crunches in time and funding.  When we decided to attack our national record of unacceptable achievement gaps, especially in Reading and Mathematics, we dropped all or most commitments to the Arts in most all schools everywhere.

What we have neglected is the significant complement to core academics that the Arts can and do provide (when taught rigorously and as part of an academic program).  We know what rich and rigorous musical training can do for the cognitive capacity of all students in their work in other core subject areas.

Great schools such as CICS Longwood must determine a way to provide rigorous Arts programs for more of its students.  Their quality of life and their academic potential depend on it.


P.S.  Still, I loved that recording of students singing with their hearts high.


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