Instructional Collaborators: Guiding Teachers to Continuous Improvement

Guest post by Melissa D. Hensley

Throughout my tenure as a middle and high school principal, the consistent request from teachers has been for ongoing, non-evaluative feedback about their pedagogical practices. Early in my career, this meant completing classroom walkthroughs, collecting data about instructional strategies, and offering recommendations. Providing this general feedback took a lot of time and often failed to improve instruction. I wondered, how could I help teachers get the ongoing feedback they wanted in a more efficient and effective way?

My leadership style is collaborative. I work to develop programs and structures that support and empower my staff and students. So when two of my teachers told me about the Instructional Collaborators program they learned about while at a workshop, I saw this as an opportunity to give teachers the continuous feedback they desired in a collaborative way.

What is an Instructional Collaborator? 

An Instructional Collaborator (IC) is an on-site professional developer who partners with teachers to assist them with the implementation of proven teaching methods. Our ICs are current teachers carrying a full course load who voluntarily give up 20 minutes of their planning period twice a week and collaborate with volunteer teachers to identify goals for improving the instructional delivery process.

Participation in the IC program is voluntary and participants’ names are kept confidential by the lead teachers of the program. School administrators are unaware of the discussions that take place between the IC and the teacher. The program is entirely teacher organized and managed.

Guiding Reflection

The role of the IC is to guide the reflective practice that will result in ongoing instructional improvement. They meet teachers where they currently are in their practice and offer choices for learning. Essentially, they are coaching a process that encourages teachers to think about instructional strategies before implementation and helps them analyze data to determine whether the strategies worked. To support this coaching process, ICs use the double-loop reflection model, which asks teachers to act upon the reflection and then re-reflect. ICs listen to teachers with the intent to learn, understand, and respond rather than telling them how to teach.

A Partnership of Equals 

A key factor in our program is ensuring balanced decision-making by never taking the role of an expert. The partnership between the IC and the teacher is a relationship between equals. Both have opportunities to express their point of view and believe that each teacher’s thoughts and beliefs are valuable. One of the primary benefits of this partnership is that each individual has access to multiple perspectives rather than one leader’s perspective. Giving teachers access to multiple perspectives expands their teaching repertoire and empowers them to make individual choices that are best for their teaching style, classroom, and students.

Positive Growth

Now in its second full year of implementation, the IC program shows promise and positive results. The lead ICs meet with me on a quarterly basis to share how the program is progressing and data regarding the implementation of the school’s core curriculum framework, seven instructional strategies that are utilized in every classroom. The data shows that teachers in the program are making improvements in many areas of instructional planning, instructional delivery, and classroom management.

Teachers in the program report a greater willingness to try out new techniques in their classrooms and express more confidence in their teaching skills. They appreciate the time they have to work with the ICs and reflect upon their instructional experiences. In addition to the participants reacting positively, our ICs have expressed how much they are learning, too. This experience has enhanced their skills in using the new teaching practice and their ability to collaborate with other teachers.

The IC program has provided our teachers a way to receive the ongoing feedback that they want and need to become better educators. Our instructional collaborators cultivate reflective practices that improve teaching and ultimately student outcomes. The collaborative framework also helps build leaders in the school and creates a sustainable program that will endure beyond the tenure of the current administration.

Could an instructional collaborators program help your teachers receive ongoing feedback?

If you’re interested in learning more about our IC program, feel free to contact me at mdhensley@shenandoah.k12.va.us.

Melissa D. Hensley serves as the principal of Central High School, a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Woodstock, VA. She is the 2016 Virginia Secondary Principal of the Year. 

1 Comment

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Thanks for sharing, Melissa. The IC program sounds like a winner. Since teachers have to use some of their planning period to participate, have any teachers expressed that they would like to be part of the program if they had more time to do so? Have you considered other ways to involve teachers that doesn’t take away their prep time?

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