Debbie Slocum was an elementary classroom teacher for over two decades before she learned about instructional coaching. Her interest began in 2013 when she was teaching third grade and the District introduced an instructional coaching program. “I fell in love with the process immediately,” said Slocum. “I had been teaching for 24 years at that point and had never seen myself teach.”
Slocum has now been an Instructional Coach at Byron-Bergen for seven years. That first interaction led her down a path that included participating as a panelist in a national webinar hosted by Swivl, a company which produces technology for reflective teaching practices. The webinar entitled “Building Trust Through Reflection: A Discussion with Swivl” featured Slocum and two other panelists, Mandi Olsen and Brenda Tonanek, both K-12 Instructional Coaches.
The Instructional Coaching program is a 1-on-1, confidential process where teachers video record classroom lessons. The lessons are then analyzed by an Instructional Coach for certain data. Data could include the number of times students are given an opportunity to respond, the amount of time given to students to respond, and time the teacher is talking compared with the time students are responding. The analysis will include positive aspects of the lessons as well as areas for improvement.
In the Swivl webinar, Slocum compares instructional coaching to looking in the mirror. “You look in the mirror every single day. You see your reflection and you fix what you don’t like immediately. And sometimes you will go and get a second opinion. So, when you reflect, you’re looking not at your appearance but your teaching.”
Slocum implements the Elementary School Instructional Coaching program where she has a 95% voluntary participation rate. Diana Walther, the Jr./Sr. High School's Instructional Coach, also boasts an almost 90% participation rate.
“Obviously we want to improve student learning,” said Walther. “Instructional coaching helps replace ‘one and done’ professional development. It provides consistency. That reflective practice is so powerful and it’s all about what the teachers want to get out of it. The data can point to areas for improvement and then I can present strategies to strengthen those areas and then we can reflect again and again. It’s pretty cool.”
“Teachers are life-long learners,” said Slocum. “This program gives them the opportunity to reflect and grow year after year. It’s a continuous priority because everything’s changing. Our expectations for the kids keep changing. Technologies keep changing and the culture is changing. There’s a need for continuous reflection to keep up with the changes.”
In addition to implementing the Instructional Coaching program at Byron-Bergen, Slocum and Walther run the trainings at Genesee Valley Education Partnership (GVBOCES) for the GLOW region instructional coaches cohort. They were asked to take on this role in 2019. This cohort has about 20 instructional coaches who gather three or four times per year.
“Byron-Bergen made an early commitment to instructional coaching,” said Superintendent Pat McGee. “As such, our team is on the forefront of not only the regional movement but the national movement. I am very proud of Mrs. Slocum and Mrs. Walther and the impressive contributions they make to our District and to the practice of instructional coaching.”