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June 28, 2018
Vol. 13
No. 20

The Coach Antidote to Burnout

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      What's the deciding factor for those who stay or leave teaching? Many people outside the teaching profession think money is the only thing that affects teacher retention. If teachers were paid more, they argue, they would stay longer. That just isn't the whole picture. Teacher retention requires more than a good salary; it requires a change in culture, climate, beliefs, and practices to provide an environment that is conducive to learning and reduces the likelihood of teacher burnout. Richard Ingersoll's research indicates that "teachers departing because of job dissatisfaction link their decision to leave to inadequate administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline, low salaries, and a lack of collective teacher influence over schoolwide decisions" (2001). It's not all about the money.
      Teachers are some of the only practitioners who do not practice with each other. They close their doors, teach alone, and think they are the only ones experiencing the challenges of the moment. They fear admitting they need support. After all, they went to college and should know all the nuances about educating their students. They plan lessons, scour the internet for appropriate resources, anticipate explaining important concepts to their students, manage classroom procedures, maintain student records, pray for few classroom interruptions, and hope that if they are observed by their administrators, it's on a good day. All this without a teaching and learning partner to coplan, visit, and debrief about classroom instruction.
      According to education researcher Jane Hannaway, teacher performance plateaus at four years. "Teachers work in isolation. They learn what they learn and then they plateau. They get no valid input" (Meyer, 2009). So, how do they nourish their professional growth and learn to improve their practices? Teachers need 50–80 practice hours, yearly, to integrate new learning into their repertoire of skills (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). That means, once they learn something new, teachers need time to internalize the information and tailor the instruction to fit each of their students' needs and learning styles. At the same time, they must continue to prepare to meet each day's learning goals. They are members in a community of learning and practice but don't have the "luxury" of working with each other to discuss instructional practices that ensure relevance, rigor, research, and repair.
      About 8 percent of America's 3.4 million public school teachers move or end their teaching careers each year (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Where is the lifeline to support teachers and help them grow their practice? Where is the lifeline that reminds teachers why they became teachers? Who promotes the notion that teachers are making a difference in the lives of their students all day, every day?
      An instructional coach can be the trusted, skilled, experienced practitioner to support teachers' evolving needs in nonevaluative ways. Effective instructional coaching is job-embedded teacher professional development. Coaches transform professional development into professional learning, ensuring that the learning becomes part of the teachers' repertoires.
      Coaches provide ample, ongoing opportunities for teachers to converse about their practice and collaborate regularly with teaching colleagues, while offering timely and descriptive feedback that helps teachers become more reflective practitioners. They engage teachers in productive, analytical, thought-provoking conversations that yield changes in practice; promote inquiry-based learning designed to help teachers take ownership of their learning; and reinforce the notion that learning is an individual and collective responsibility.
      More importantly, instructional coaches are partners, guides, teachers, collaborators, and colleagues who support the learning community. They are engaged participants in a collaborative process that takes time, consistent relationships, great leadership, and lots of humor! Not only do coaches work side-by-side with their teaching colleagues, they help create a growth mindset that values continuous improvement through one-on-one and small group support. Instructional coaching influences what students learn, increases student engagement, builds teacher capacity, and helps both students and their teachers become life-long learners.
      Coaches are adept at building strong, collaborative relationships. They honor and value the teacher's expertise, and they understand how collective problem solving can improve teaching and learning and, ultimately, prepare students for the future. Maybe coaching is instinctive or intuitive; maybe it's the ability to talk, learn, laugh, listen without judgment, and share together. Whatever combination of these traits, coaches have "it" and are essential in creating an environment that values teaching and learning, the greatest salve against teacher burnout.

      Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R. C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., and Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.

      Ingersoll, R. (2001, Fall). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal(38)3, 499–534.

      Meyer, J. (2009, April 22). Researcher: Teacher improvement plateaus after 4 years. The Denver Post. Retrieved from http://blogs.denverpost.com/coloradoclassroom/2009/04/22/researcher-teacher-improvement-plateaus-after-4-years/143/

      Sutcher, L, Darling-Hammond, L., and Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

      Ellen B. Eisenberg is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). Established in 2009, PIIC is supported by the Annenberg Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It is a statewide resource for developing and supporting the delivery of consistent, high-quality professional development around instructional coaching and mentoring. Her work involves helping school districts plan an effective instructional coaching model built on PIIC's Before/During/After cycle of consultation and the four-quadrant framework of effective core coaching elements.

      Eisenberg's experience with instructional coaching evolved through her 35-year teaching career and includes working with a whole-school reform model designed by Johns Hopkins University from 2000 to 2005 and her work as the executive director of the Pennsylvania High School Coaching Initiative from 2005 to 2009. Funded by the Annenberg Foundation, it was the United States' only multitiered teacher coaching initiative, providing trained teacher leaders—called coaches—to high schools across Pennsylvania. Eisenberg has authored and coauthored several articles and has presented several times locally, nationally, and internationally.

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