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Classroom coaches: Federal Way teachers improve their craft

Gail Williams, left, and Sondra Maier, discuss Williams’ lesson plan for teaching her fourth-graders time and measurements. Maier is an instructional coach at Adelaide Elementary School. Williams is a second-year teacher at the school. - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Gail Williams, left, and Sondra Maier, discuss Williams’ lesson plan for teaching her fourth-graders time and measurements. Maier is an instructional coach at Adelaide Elementary School. Williams is a second-year teacher at the school.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

Teaching teachers may seem a bit redundant, but the Federal Way School District has made it a priority.

Some have already seen positive results.

"Test scores are shining," Adelaide Elementary principal Jason Smith said.

Adelaide has two instructional coaches. Smith, who heads up the school district's improvement plan, said the coaches play a large part in improving student learning.

The culture of the building and the conversations are much more focused on individual student achievement and academic success, he said.

"There is greater alignment in K-5, now that we are all on the same page," he said.

Instructional coaches are a fairly new concept, with the Spokane school district serving as one example, Smith said.

Adelaide began the program two years ago, moving teaching veterans Sondra Maier and Lisa Bloomer to the role of coaches. Maier, a teacher for 15 years, coaches teachers in the older grades. Bloomer, a 10-year teacher, coaches in the younger grades.

The methods of coaching vary for each situation. Maier and Bloomer stress that they are there to support the teachers and help focus on improvement — not evaluate the teachers.

"Our job is to work as partners on a team," Bloomer said.

"The misconception is that if you are receiving coaching, then there must be something wrong," Smith added.

Each day, Maier and Bloomer work with different teachers. They go over lesson plans, help teach in the classroom or serve as an extra body on hand to help with large classes.

"It's nice to have someone else's eyes," second-year teacher Courtney Eylander said. "It's not someone telling you what to do. They suggest."

Kay Jimenez, a 20-year teaching veteran, said the instructional coaches help find new ways to teach and gather materials for class.

"They can take small groups of students that aren't meeting standards and work with them," Jimenez said.

The teachers admitted they were a bit skeptical at first.

"It made me a little nervous," Eylander said. "Someone there judging me. The side-by-side (teaching) terrified me, but it was a really good experience."

Eylander and the others have also come to depend on having the coaches in the Teacher Resource Center — where Maier and Bloomer have organized hundreds of resources for teachers, as well as coffee and goodies.

Side-by-side

The newer teachers get a little extra attention from Maier and Bloomer, and can request extended classroom visits.

Second-year teachers Gail Williams and Jake Booker did that — getting some side-by-side teaching for a couple of weeks in their fourth- and first-grade classrooms.

Before beginning a unit on measurement, Williams met with Maier to go over her lesson plan. Maier assessed how much they can fit into one day, along with the best way to add a hands-on art element to the lesson — without spending too much time on the graph lines.

They spent 20 minutes in a back-and-forth discussion before heading to the classroom, meeting the students on their way back from P.E. for their lesson on telling time.

"It's really comfortable," Williams said of the side-by-side teaching. In this case, it helps that Williams interned as a student-teacher with Maier three years ago. "I even raise my hand," she added, laughing.

"We have to have fun," Maier said.

After each lesson, during the next break, Maier and Williams meet again to discuss what worked and what didn't work.

At the first-grade level, Bloomer explains a game to the young students and also helps round up the students once the game begins, keeping them on task. All the while, Bloomer is taking notes on the children. Bloomer and Booker will meet later to discuss where the children are at as far as comprehension of adding to 10.

Instructional coaches are used in all of the Federal Way schools now, and as a major component of the district's plan to improve WASL/assessment test scores.

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