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  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

When educators ignore the elephant in the room

There is a problem in many schools today. Though I have not visited every school in America, in my state, or even in my city, I've seen enough in my 19 years to form a few generalizations. See if you find fault with any of these overarching truths.

Truth #1: Within each school are students who fail to make adequate progress every year.

Truth #2: Most schools have support systems in place, such as tutoring or pull-out remediation, designed to help students close the achievement gap.

Truth #3: Despite the best efforts of schools, some students fall further and further behind.

If we can agree with the truths above, it then behooves educators to rethink their solutions. If even one student falls through the cracks, then we have not fulfilled our duty. As educators, our job is to ensure that ALL students learn and grow, not merely some or even most.

I believe one cause for failing schools is that we've all come to accept that there is an elephant in the room. Instead of moving it out and reclaiming its space, we've grown comfortable with it. We ignore it and simply accept its presence as a fact of life.

That elephant is bad teaching. Most schools do not have adequate mechanisms in place to improve Tier 1 instruction, otherwise known as the instruction that happens in every classroom every day. Schools either leave teachers alone and hope they'll be alright or use a more top-down approach to aggressively monitor instruction, learning objectives, and lesson plans. Yet even the schools whose administrators walk into classrooms daily find that monitoring instruction is a whole lot easier than improving it.

The elephant in the room in schools today is that some instruction is poor. Rather than address the root cause, some schools have taken to addressing the symptoms. They set aside money for tutoring, hire interventionists, and focus on test prep to incrementally increase test scores.

But what if schools could move the elephant out of the room? What if substandard instruction did not have to be accepted as a fact of life? How can schools improve their Tier 1 teaching and largely eliminate the number of students who need remediation?

That's where instructional coaching comes in. Now, I know what you're going to say - "We have a reading coach," or "Our school has an instructional facilitator." While your school might have a highly capable person in a position that includes the term coach or facilitator in his/her job title, that doesn't mean that what s/he does is coaching. Many people I've worked with in these positions are pseudo-administrators, splitting their time between coordinating the testing program, serving lunch duty, and pulling out small groups of students for support.

True instructional coaching works with teachers to improve their instruction, following a research-based model to help educators hone their craft. It's built on the character of the coach and collaboration with the cooperating teacher. It raises the level of instruction so that all students excel, not just the able ones.

For schools to take the next step in achievement, they should strongly consider addressing the elephant in the room. Instead of scheduling more walk-throughs or hiring more interventionists, why not improve the base level of teaching in classrooms? If you'd like to explore instructional coaching options, including web-based solutions, please read more here.

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