Cassandra Madewell is in her fourth year of teaching 9th grade English in Lewisville Independent School District near Dallas, Texas. Inquiry By Design has been working with LISD for the past three years, and, in addition to the pedagogical changes within the IBD curriculum, Cassandra and her teammates credit their instructional coach, Tammy Williams, with revolutionizing the instruction in their classrooms.
While Cassandra had never worked with an instructional coach before, she is an athlete, so she understands the role and value of a coach. She and a colleague were developing a unit over the summer and her district leader suggested they contact their area coach for some ideas. Cassandra describes their meeting as “love at first sight.”
Tammy didn’t come in telling us what we needed to fix but was so affirming of the things we were doing well and doing right. Also, she has so much experience, so it was great to be able to benefit from that and have another set of eyes and ears.
IBD: Talk about specific things Tammy does that impact your instruction.
Cassandra: Most importantly, Tammy’s relationship with us is not evaluative at all. That’s not to say that she’s fluffy, only telling us we’re wonderful. She’s just very straight and very real with us, but the only thing at stake is that we want to do the best we can for our students. She plans with us, of course, but she also comes in and co-teaches or models lessons with our class so that we really get to see the shifts and strategies she’s suggesting in action. And then we debrief about what she models, and then we try it and she observes and then we debrief again. This is so different from any experience I’ve ever had because typically the only feedback you get as a teacher is evaluative. Even then it’s limited to whether you’re proficient or not, but with minimal detail and not usually helpful. You don’t feel like the goal is to make you the best you can be, whereas with a coach that IS the goal.
IBD: How has Tammy developed a relationship of trust with you and your team?
Cassandra: She’s honest with us about things that are working and things that aren’t, and we can hear that from her because she also cares about us as people. She doesn’t just care about the job we’re doing with kids; sometimes she tells us to stop working and go home to be with our families. It’s not just about the job; it’s about us as whole people.
IBD: How has coaching impacted your instruction beyond the specific lessons where your coach plans or works with you?
Cassandra: Well, we went to the Inquiry By Design trainings in September (Reading and Writing Across Multiple Texts: Being and Unbeing: A Study of Four Poets and Reading and Writing About Informational Texts: Reading Intelligence) and it was so helpful that we got to actually experience the curriculum. Usually trainings are just “Here’s the stuff. Go use it.” but you don’t get an idea of what it actually looks, feels, and sounds like. So we loved the experiential approach full of examples, and collaboration, and addressing questions right up front. Well, that’s exactly what coaching is on a continuous basis. We have continual opportunities for reflection, and questioning, and discussion around what we’re doing. In the past if something seemed like it went smoothly, I considered it successful and just moved on. Now I really think about whether it was the best way. Did students get what I wanted them to get? Would I do it that way again? What was the value? What was the purpose? Now I only end up doing what I feel really strongly about, and I get rid of anything that doesn’t best serve the students and the learning goals. I’ve never been able to say that before as a teacher.
IBD: How often are you able to work with your coach?
Cassandra: Well, we meet a couple times a week but when the pre-AP teachers saw the kind of work that our on-level students are doing they were amazed because it’s more rigorous and the discussions are richer than what’s happening in their classrooms. They started asking for coaching too, so now, unfortunately, we have to share her. We really want her input on everything we do. She offers a different perspective, and we all need that. Everyone who wants to do a good job at anything needs that.
IBD: Did you or your team ever feel hesitant about asking for coaching?
Cassandra: Never. I think we all feel really proud that we are teachers who want to grow, learn, have feedback, be intentional, and be the best we can be for our students. Coaching has absolutely made me a better teacher. I can’t imagine anyone passing the opportunity to work with a coach.
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 1)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 2)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 3)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 4)
Improving Our Practice: A Case for Coaching (Part 5)