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Instructional Partners Pilot: A Remarkable Year

August 10, 2012 | Tags: instructional partners, coaching, alabama best practices center, professional development
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by Cathy Gassenheimer
Over the summer we've been sharing the reflections of school-based teaching coaches who participated in the first year of the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot Program, supported by the Alabama State Department of Education and facilitated by the Best Practices Center.
When these teacher leaders began our professional training program in the fall of 2011, they arrived with a variety of titles -- teacher, reading coach, instructional specialist, assistant principal for instruction, and more. By year's end, they were all fully vested in a new job descriptor: Instructional Partner.
You'll see how that happened -- and why "partner" is a very different role than "coach" -- as you peruse these nine accounts of the Year One Instructional Partners Pilot experience.
The essential goal of the IP project (which has expanded this fall to serve a second, larger cohort) is to prepare teacher leaders, including reading coaches, for roles as school-based "instructional partners" who facilitate transformative professional learning among their peers.
As you read these wonderful accounts of professional growth, I'm certain you'll come away with a clear understanding of why ALSDE leaders and our ABPC staff and consultants are both excited and energized about the potential for Instructional Partnerships to raise school performance and student achievement to unprecedented heights in Alabama.
Here's a quick guide to all of our first-year reflections.
A Confidence-Building Year
By Kala Carlson, instructional coach for Attalla (City) Elementary, where she was reading coach prior to 2011-12.
"The Instructional Partners training has impacted my own professional work in a positive way. Teachers are understanding the need for purposeful planning, identifying instructional targets, creating student-friendly objectives, aligning instruction with common core standards, and much more. But I think the most important understanding of all is this: we are a team, and a team must work together and have a common goal to meet."
We're Enlisting Teachers' Help and Leadership, Not Telling Them What to Do
By Alyson Carpenter, instructional coach for Columbia Elementary School in Madison City, where she was a literacy coach prior to 2011. (Allison is our ABPC teacher-in-residence for the 2012-13 school year.)
"As I talk with my colleagues in the IP pilot program, I hear them saying many of the same things (I believe). We can forgive past mistakes and let go of guilt because we have shifted our perspective about professional growth and are no longer “telling” teachers what to think, believe, or do. We are enlisting their help and leadership in a shared vision for our schools and their future."
Administrators and Teachers Can Be True Partners
By Jeanne Welt, assistant principal for instruction at Bob Jones High School in the Madison (AL) City Schools, where she was the instructional coach for two years before stepping into her combined AP/IP role.
"The greatest reward (of the IP experience) comes from the insights I've gained about myself.

We should be humble about this work -- there is so much to know and so much we not only give but gain from working with other teachers around practice."

Understanding the Partnership Role: My Third Year Was Really the Charm
By Allison S. Alexander, the instructional partner at Attalla's Etowah Middle School during 2011-12.
"ABPC created the online Instructional Partners Learning Network to support our pilot project experience. It is fabulous! I learned so much from my IP colleagues during the past year by sharing resources inside our Ning site...articles, samples of work we were doing in our schools, answers to questions, twitter help, and so much more. I've never had a "go to person" before, but through this online community, I always knew I could count on help from my wonderful colleagues."
Now Teachers Know They Are the Experts and We Will Support Them
By Belinda McCay, the instructional partner at Locust Fork Elementary in Blount County.
"I think the shift from trying to fix teachers to a joint effort to improve our instructional practices in partnership has had the greatest impact on my school. Teachers know they are the experts and that I will support them in every way possible. They also know that I have the resources available to answer any question they might have about any subject."
My Journey as an Instructional Partner
By Alisa Huffaker, the instructional partner at Lincoln Elementary in Talladega County.
"The Instructional Partners Project has helped me think more deeply about my own coaching practice this year. The weekly reflection journal and our blogging opportunities inside the Ning site also provided a level of accountability that helped me to assess my ongoing work, set goals for myself, and work at them until they were achieved."
My Pathway to True Instructional Partnership
By Jacquelyn Flowers, the instructional partner at Discovery Middle in Madison City Schools.
"My biggest learning from the IP pilot is that we cannot rest on having made AYP or be satisfied that we are teachers who 'work at a good school.'

Good isn't good enough. Our school can be great if we all work together on instruction, using the partnership approach."

How I Made the Shift from Reading Coach to Instructional Partner
By Angela Hosey, a reading coach turned instructional partner at B.B. Comer Elementary in Talladega County.
"Before the IP Pilot experience and all we learned there, I would have simply provided my answers to their questions. What I have learned through truly partnering with teachers this past school year is that it isn't about my answers, but the answers that we develop together."

I've Grown So Much in the IP Pilot Garden
By Carmen Buchanan, an instructional coach at Liberty Middle School in Madison City.
"I believe I grew so much because of the “garden” that I was planted in this year -- the Instructional Partner Pilot. It's comprised of a phenomenal group of educators dedicated to improving instruction, helping teachers grow, and raising student achievement. They showed me how important it is to grow personally."

Our expanded second cohort has already spent some summer days participating in their first Instructional Partners professional learning retreat -- part of which was spent with Year 1 veterans. We're all excited about Year Two!
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