Instructional Coaching For Secondary School Transformation

This is the second in a three part series on instructional coaching and professional learning. The first post, The 7C’s to College and Career Competency, focused on a learning model that can be used from the classroom to district level for organization of instruction to authenticate and personalized learning.

Last spring Lori Vandeborne (@MrsVandeborne) was a elementary principal in Marion City Schools. Her elementary school was making great progress on next generation learning. The blended learning journey of  Benjamin Harrison Elementary was featured in a Dreambox Learning blog Why Blended Learning? Why Now?

This year Lori is back in Marion schools but this time as an instructional coach for nonprofit META Solutions. “It was difficult to leave my students and staff, however I knew that this new position would be a better fit, I have 100% focus on instructional improvement.”

Lori noticed a difference in relationships as a coach, “teachers are more welcoming and honest, now that I’m not in an evaluative role.”

“As an instructional coach I work with students, teachers, principals, and directors on defining and realizing their personalized learning vision and connecting the dots,” added Vandeborne.

They started with a vision setting day where Lori holds discussions with the teachers to determine their understanding of personalized learning as a team. This helps her to determine the direction and the model of instruction to lead the teachers towards within the spectrum of personalized learning. For both  Grant Middle School and Harding High School, the teachers began by identifying the differences between teaching for achievement and teaching for growth.  Through reflective conversation Lori asks probing questions to guide teachers towards a model of personalized learning to addresses both teaching for achievement and growth.

Marion coaching






After much discussion and brainstorming they determined as a team that students will move through tasks or learning zones based on student formative assessment data. This is the foundation for teaching both achievement and growth.

The math team integrates results from ALEKS, MAPs NWEA, and daily formative observations to personalize the following learning paths:

  1. Small group instruction: intervention or new content
  2. ALEKS:  30 minutes daily,  data used to drive instruction
  3. Authentic Assessment: problem-based Learning
  4. Inquiry Lab: hands on tactile activity
  5. Online resources: module activities flipping instruction and assessment Google Classroom
  6. Practice: independent workbooks that align with small group direct instruction
  7. Interactive Notebook: tactile learners creating a scrapbook for instructional use and referral

The model developed by this team is represented in the following graphic:
Screenshot 2015-09-24 20.07.14

As a former secondary special education teacher, Vandeborne is right at home in middle school math classroom with a focus on personalized learning. Her coaching focuses on probing questions–she lets teachers come to their own conclusions. As teachers progress, she poses the questions “How can we make the instructional design better for more personalized and more authentic learning?” The teachers then provide the solutions that best fit their style of teaching and the student population they serve.

About the candor and transparency of coaching,“There was a lot of pushback in the first three weeks.” said Lori, “but with learning came support and we are showing quick gains.”

She tracks progress and helps plan next steps in detailed notes in a shared Google Doc (sample below) that is also summarized on a whiteboard in Lori’s office at the High School where she can conference and speak with the teachers.

Marion Grant Math

When Lori walked into class on first day of the school year she saw direct instruction with students in rows, however she witnessed potential for personalized learning by starting small and thinking big. Coaching started with listening to teachers, meeting with teacher teams, and going through data. At Harding High School she began this process with a more individualized inquiry based approach to professional learning. Lori co-teaches and co-constructs a pathway with each individual teacher and scaffold the learning starting with one and moving on while tracking back to build capacity.

Early in the semester a veteran teacher was inspired–she moved desks and launched a station rotation model the next day. The teacher told Lori, “In one day I met one-on-one with more students than I talked to last week in my classroom.”

The simple classroom innovation served as a slingshot, others saw her success and it helped propel the culture shift. This shift started with a station rotation model and through modeling and questioning has also resulted in a task list. Next came independent rotations, now the focus has shifted towards the more authentic problem-based learning and interest has spread into all of the core subject areas. Lori continues to work with one teacher at a time then swing back and check in with those who have gained momentum. The use of this data driven approach to personalized learning is beginning to pay off!

Preliminary data is promising. Midyear MAP assessments shows significant growth for all students. Lori noted, “We are finally pushing our highest students beyond the expected. They have met above year end growth projections before the mid-year mark.”  The comparison results between the Math teachers with access to ALEKs, those using the personalized learning approach, and those who have not begun this process yet is as follows:

marion coaching results

The numbers indicate a significant increase in student growth where the coach is working with the teachers and the students to navigate pathways towards obtaining personalized learning.

Coaching Framework

Founded in 1979 as an IT support center for 36 school districts in north central Ohio META Solutions (formerly  TRECA) also provide back office and instructional support (featured here). After a couple mergers, META now serves more than 100 Ohio districts.

META Chief Instructional Officer Tim Hilborn said a dozen other districts participate in their Leadership Institute and receive similar customized coaching in support of Next Generation Learning Environments. District superintendents also participate in a collaborative learning network.

“What makes us unique,” said Hilborn, “is the combination of certified teachers that are also Apple Professional Development Specialists and the R&D projects we have done have created a set of powerful capabilities.”  

On instructional leadership Vandeborne reflects regularly with John Carder (@Carder_John), the high school assistant principal, and and Adam Kunkle (@akunkle10 ), middle school principal. They approach the work as a team. Lori expresses, “This first semester, we were priming the canvas and setting the stage for the Marion City Schools secondary teachers to create a masterpiece of learning.”

Lori expresses that she counts on her Professional Development Specialist teammates at META Solutions for advice and resources. They have played a large role in the development and fine tuning of the strategies and implementation processes utilized. The foundation is set and together with META Solutions, school administrators, teachers, students and the community, Marion City Schools is authenticating learning experiences for their youth who are the future leaders of Marion.

In her new coaching role Lori collaborates with Steve Fujii (@_StephenFujii), Director of College Career Success. Together they represent an outside-in, inside-out change strategy.  

With superintendent Gary Barber, Fujii has been conducting business community conversations about the portrait of a Marion graduate–a description of what grads should know and be able to do (adopted by the board last week; more on that in the next post).  

While Lori is provoking adult learning and supporting quick instructional experiments, Steve’s role is to align collective impact of what’s working. This inside-out, outside-in approach combines Lori’s inside classroom support outward in tandem with Steve’s community inquiry to connect the outside thinking inward, ultimately linking learning to employability demands. Blended learning models are organically formed by teacher teams and supported by leadership. Vandeborne stresses, “The administration has taken away roadblocks for these teams to succeed.”

Vandeborne started on math redesign where results came fast. She is now extending her coaching into English Language Arts. They have already begun implementing cross-curricular Problem Based Learning projects with their Science and Social Studies peers.

Marion City Schools are taking advantage of community conversations, leadership collaborations, and instructional coaching. Steve Fujii says, “Think Big, Start Small and SCALE FAST.”



Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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