A different type of coach is emerging in the Lawrence County school system, and school leaders hope coaches in the classroom can make a lasting difference for students.
The school system has seven “instructional coaches” — an offshoot of the “reading coaches” who have been in elementary schools for the past decade. But this year the state allowed the transfer of funding for a new program that is taking the job to a different level with new, ambitious goals, Superintendent Heath Grimes said.
The coaches are in all county schools. Veronica Bayles and Susan Hamilton serve R.A. Hubbard and Hazlewood. Jennifer Hogeland works with East Lawrence Elementary, ELMS and ELHS. Bridget Johnson works in Moulton Elementary, Moulton Middle and LCHS. Taffy Pierce and Teresa Rutherford serve Mount Hope, Hatton Elementary and HHS, and Renee Stephenson works at Speake and assists with Moulton Middle and LCHS.
“Reading coaches have been in our system for the last 10 years,” Grimes said. “The instructional coach idea has been floated for some time, but systems such as ours couldn’t necessarily afford extra positions. This year the Alabama State Department of Education saw the importance of the coaches, realized the reading coaches had done almost all they could do in just K-3 classrooms, gave us the flexibility to move the funds to K-12 and encouraged us to do so.”
The initiative is aimed at upper-grade levels and is designed to encourage teachers to use the most innovative strategic teaching methods available. The theory of moving to upper grades hinges on the fact that elementary teachers already are trained to teach those methods.
Grimes said strategic teaching engages students, not the teacher, in talking, listening, writing, investigating and reading.
“Lessons are broken down into before the lesson, during and afterward,” he said. “Students should be engaged in a variety of activities in each segment of the lesson.”
The entire school system is adjusting to the instructional coach role, especially the first year as the job takes shape. The response from teachers isn’t always happy.
“Anytime you add a new program or change things, there is resistance,” Grimes said. “As great as this move is, it is no different. We must support people through the change and help everyone see the big picture: That this is better for our students.”
The strategic teaching methods are designed to be used in all subject fields and can be integrated into each lesson. Research shows encouraging results when the methods are used with adolescent learners, according to the state Department of Education.
Instructional coaches, much like athletic coaches, encourage teachers and work with them when they run into issues with the new teaching methods. The coaches work in all grade levels. They meet with strategic teaching teams and sit in on faculty meetings.
The coaches have been through a whirlwind of training as the program takes shape in its first year.
“We have been presented a lot of information this fall, but it’s all been very educational and exciting,” said Johnson, who moved into the coaching job from a first-grade classroom after 11 years of elementary teaching. “The strategic teaching methods are something we are all passionate about, and there’s no doubt in the long term they will make a difference for our students.”
Johnson said she has enjoyed being in all the schools and working with teachers in all grade
“It is definitely a change from being in a self-contained classroom,” she said. “But it’s fun because each day brings a new opportunity to encourage or help a fellow teacher and work toward our bigger goal of improving the way we teach our students.”
Grimes said the instructional coach is going to be a “very important tool for improved instruction.”
“We must continue to train the coaches and principals in order for them to understand how an instructional partnership works,” Grimes said.
He hopes the system will be chosen by the ALDSE Alabama Best Practices Center’s Instructional Partners Program.
“That will bring excellent research-based support to our system,” he said.