We are all familiar with the study by Joyce and Showers that represents the value of coaching in regard to educator learning and application of skills.


The concept of coaching has developed, in part, because traditional professional development has been criticized for offering workshop-type sessions with little or no follow-up support (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Novick, 1996). Garet and colleagues (2001) identified aspects of professional learning that correlate with changes in teachers’ knowledge and practices inclusive of ongoing training at the school site and integration into the daily work of teachers supported by feedback and reflection.

Coaching fosters a culture of trust and collective efficacy.  Perhaps because coaching has been so widely embraced, many different models of this form of PD now exist and coaches fulfill a wide range or responsibilities  and provide support in all academic areas as well as supporting teachers with classroom engagement and management. The goals of coaching include: Improving teaching practice, with a particular emphasis on increasing the use of practices shown to be highly effective, including evidence-based practices (Knight, 2009; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010; Neufeld & Roper, 2003; Snyder et al., 2015), and improving learner academic and behavioral outcomes through improved teaching practices (Bean, Knaub, & Swan, 2000; Joyce & Showers, 2002; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010; Snyder et al., 2015).  The chart below identifies 3 different types of coaching

This resource from  The Art of Coaching by  Elena Aguilar provides a number of resources for coaches and a model for leadership in coaching.

Last year, I wrote a blog post for Learning Forward Nebraska on the power of this Instructional Rounds for job-embedded professional learning. Since then, I have continued to participate in Instructional Rounds and still believe they provide an amazing learning experience. However, I often get asked the question, “What if my building is not ready for Instructional Rounds?” I love this question because it demonstrates an understanding of the importance of culture and how establishing a culture of learning plays a crucial role in building professional learning experiences. Instructional Rounds do not just happen on their own. They take time to prepare and are most successful when participants are open to learning and sharing. So how do we get there?

Ultimately, the goal is for education professionals to be able to spend time in each other’s classroom, engage in professional discourse, and build a culture of continuous learning around instructional practices. This requires vulnerability and trust (see Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code). What are ways you might edge toward a culture of learning that integrates Instructional Rounds? The following structures are designed to get people into each other’s classrooms and begin sharing and discussing:


Peer ObservationPineapple Classroom#ObserveME

  • Two teachers each play the role of observer and observee.


  • Two teachers take turns visiting each other’s classrooms.
  • The observer shares feedback and/or takes notes on agreed upon practices. (Could be building goal)
  • A debrief on the observations occurs.


  • Teachers agree on a time for each observation.

Culture Building

  • The two teachers get to pick who they are comfortable working with. They also get to pick the time and topic. This helps teachers gain a sense of comfort with visitors in the classroom.

  • Classroom teacher is INVITING teacher observer to see SPECIFIC PRACTICE
  • Teacher observer is the LEARNER


  • Classroom teacher invites other teachers into classroom for informal observation (no forms, no feedback)
  • Teacher observer can take notes
  • Teachers go to classroom at the designated time to watch


  • Weekly chart created where teachers “advertise” interesting activities they are doing in the classroom (approx. time, room #, brief description of lesson/strategy)

Culture Building

  • Teachers comfortable with visitors in the classroom get a chance to show a skill or practice they are proficient in. Teachers are welcome to attend. They do not have to ask permission and they have a choice in what they want to see.

  • Classroom teacher and teacher observer
    • Classroom teacher is SEEKING FEEDBACK 
    • Teacher observer is the LEARNER


  • Classroom teacher makes a sign that welcomes teacher observers into the classroom
  • Classroom teacher seeks specific feedback 
  • Teacher observer fills out feedback note or Google form (QR code)


  • Classroom teacher posts sign on door with feedback forms and/or URL
  • Teacher observers visit anytime to provide feedback

Culture Building

  • Continuous learning is front and center as a teacher is specifically asking for feedback. A teacher gets the opportunity to choose where they might go and visit.


Building a culture of continuous learning amongst professionals is akin to how we build a classroom community with students. It requires invitational teaching pedagogy and a clear vision of success criteria. Small steps of professional collaboration through structures like Pineapple Classroom or Peer Observation can lead to more formalized sharing through Instructional Rounds. Stay the course and visualize your success for 2020! 

“I observed a 2nd grade classroom. I was surprised about how similar 2nd grade and middle school was.”

“I learned a new style of student reflection.”

“Getting students up and moving, using music as a timer, and using current events as a segue into the learning.”

“I really enjoyed the way she taught hooks for stories. It may have been an elementary-level classroom, but it was something I could most definitely apply in middle school (or even high school)!”

These are a few of the take-aways of the observing teacher during peer to peer observations in the district I serve.  Teachers in our district have been participating in peer observations for the past several years, 88% of teachers surveyed last spring responded that they felt observing and giving their peers feedback was a valuable learning experience. 

As a result of participating in peer to peer observations, teachers are able to learn from each other, to recognize and build on their strengths, and collaborate with their peers to discuss challenges. Peer observations are a great way to follow up on a professional learning experience by providing an opportunity for teachers to apply what they have learned while at the same time receiving nonjudgement feedback to move forward. By giving teachers choice in who they might observe, peer observations with feedback also allow for a more personalized professional learning experience.  For example, a teacher might choose to observe a teacher who is effectively using a strategy they may be interested in trying, or they might observe someone working on a specific professional goal to give feedback. Peer observations allow for real-time professional learning that builds teacher confidence and opens the door for teachers to reflect on their own practice. 

Cambridge Assessment International Education Teaching and Learning Team cites research to support peer to peer observation.  They state, “So, by observing one of their peers teaching a lesson, the observer builds on their current knowledge and ideas for teaching. But peer observation doesn’t just increase knowledge of teaching and learning; it can also increase confidence. In their research on peer observation in higher education and schools, both Rhodes & Beneicke (2002) and Hendry & Oliver (2012) link peer observation to increasing a teacher’s self-belief (also known as self-efficacy). The observer may be inspired to try something new in their own classroom or come away from an observation feeling that what they are currently doing is in line with good-quality teaching and learning.”   

There are many different approaches to peer to peer observations.  Schools might engage in Instructional Rounds, for more information on Instructional Rounds you might read the Instructional Rounds Blog on the Nebraska Learning Forward site by Todd Tripple Ed. D.  Our district has found this process to be very effective in not only allowing groups of teachers to observe highly effective teaching practices, but even more importantly, allowing those groups of teachers to have a conversation about effective teaching and learning practices. Then reflect on their own practice, thinking about how what they observed fits with what they are already doing or what they observed might spark an interest in something they want to add to their toolkit or learn more about. Debriefing and self-reflection are key components of Instructional Rounds.

Many teachers in our district participate in the Academic Literacy Project (ALP) though ESU 10 in Kearney.  One element of this project is Learning Walks, where teams of teachers observe each other and provide feedback on the ALP strategies.  A specific observation form based on the ALP strategies is used to assist teachers in identifying instructional strategies and routines they observe in the classroom.  Sometimes video of the classroom instruction is given to teachers who were observed. Paired with peer feedback, this allows teachers to self-reflect on their teaching. Learning Walks have been valuable for our teachers because it validates the observed teacher by identifying effective practices they are using. This format also opens communication by encouraging the observing teachers to ask questions about something they may have wondered, or to give a suggestion of something that might have made a significant difference in the lesson. As a participant in Learning Walks, I have had the opportunity to witness teachers giving each other specific suggestions during the feedback sessions that could make a significant impact on student learning if implemented.

Another approach is to have teachers invite each other into their classrooms to give and receive feedback on a professional goal they are working towards.  On the Teacher2Teacher blog, 12 #ObserveMe Tips for Getting Feedback From Your Colleagues, gives some great examples on how to encourage this practice in your school.


In his book ‘Leadership for Teacher Learning’, Dylan Wiliam (2016) says teachers should adapt and modify techniques they see to make sure they work best for them. Even if these are small changes, they can have a big effect on students’ learning. Don’t be afraid of adapting approaches for your own classroom and your learners!


“…the ability of teachers to modify the techniques to make them work in their own classrooms is an important feature of any effective model of teacher development.”

Wiliam, 2016


I highly recommend the practice of peer to peer observation as an opportunity to personalize professional learning. Yes, the planning involved and time it takes to allow teachers the opportunity to debrief and discuss feedback might be a challenge. However, the instructional and professional benefits are well worth the time and effort it takes to organize and sustain these opportunities. The Learning Forward publication, The Tools for Learning, Summer 2018, Vol. 21, No. 3 The Expert Next Door is a great resource to get you started.


Cambridge Assessment International Education, Teaching and Learning Team. “Getting Started With Peer Observation.” Cambridge-community.org.uk. N. p., 2019. Web. 23 Oct. 2019.

After 13 years working in the Professional Learning Field- I have learned at least one very important thing.  Teachers learn and implement the learning when they can apply it to their teaching.    Woah!! That is not really a mic drop moment.  It is kind of a “duh” it took you 13 years to figure that out?  Not really- but we do continue to do things the same ol’ way in many cases- like let’s do a workshop to show them a process or new curriculum or even a new assessment. OR how about the sit and get we do before school starts so we all get the same message?  OR even having the counselor and the specials teachers at the inservice meeting because “it’s not fair if they get time when the other teachers don’t.” We need to stop the insanity. We must move towards a more personalized, job-embedded approach to professional learning in order to help all teachers and students thrive

Here are a few instances of how our ESU has  promoted job-embedded professional learning for our schools..

Instructional Coaching- in a few of our schools we coach teachers that want to change, get better, or improve their practices.  Most of the time-the teachers being coached have approached their principal with a question of how to get better at something. Those principals reached out to us in many cases so we could provide non evaluative feedback to the teacher based on what that particular teacher wanted to get better at.  Now that doesn’t mean that we are experts at everything so we can then pass on our “expertness” to the teachers. NO WAY!! It only means that we are really good at giving feedback or questioning strategies on a goal set by the teacher and following that teacher’s directions on what data to collect and share back.

Implementation coaching- in a few more of our schools we have helped deliver initial PD on a particular concept (like writing instruction) and then we have coached the teachers in the implementation of that concept.  The teacher is in charge of what piece they would like to implement- we come along side of the teacher and offer feedback and questioning on what data they have asked us to gather. Sometimes like above we use video, observations and face to face meetings.

Personalized PD- in other schools we have introduced a concept of personalized PD where all staff chose an area that they want to get better at- set outcome goals, create a plan and research the topic, then implement it in their classroom.  One example is instructional strategies. They learn about 1 or 2 particular instructional strategies-perhaps from their instructional model and then implement it. Once implemented, they share with the admin team and/or staff the results. Collecting baseline data before or after and/or sharing with PLC teams can  certainly help with the implementation.

I encourage our Nebraska schools to think differently about professional learning.  If you don’t have a PD a curriculum department-use your ESU’s to help you build a continuous, job embedded professional learning plan.  Once you think differently about the PD, and implement your plan, you will get different results for sure. Our teachers and our students deserve it.

Eileen Barks

Top Ten Books to Add to your Summer Reading List


It is finally starting to act like spring which means that summer will be here before we know it. Ah, summer–a time in which all educators take their annual three-month vacation. Yeah, right. Most educators utilize the summer break for graduate coursework, planning and preparation for the upcoming school year, and hopefully to squeeze in some much-deserved family time! In the hopes that you are also able to carve out some time to read, here is a Top Ten list of titles to consider!


#1 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

Written by Dr. Brené Brown…need I say more? Dare to Lead is her work on shame, vulnerability, and daring greatly applied to the work environment! I also recommend checking out her Dare to Lead Hub for accompanying resources to help you dive into this gem! Not familiar with Dr. Brown’s work? Check out her widely-viewed “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk!


#2 – Take Time for You by Tina H. Boogren

Educators are notorious for neglecting their own needs for the sake of everyone else. Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Dr. Tina Boogren dives into addressing our self-care needs at each level of the pyramid. With an active Facebook group lead by Dr. Boogren and accompanying Solution Tree Reproducibles, the ongoing support to apply this work is second to none! If you are looking to apply this same work with students, check out Motivating & Inspiring Students:  Strategies to Awaken the Learner. (Dr. Boogren is a co-author with Dr. Robert Marzano, Darrell Scott, and Ming Lee Newcomb.)


#3 – They Call Me Mr. De by Frank DeAngelis

Grab a box of tissues and dive into this newly released title by the retired principal of Columbine High School in Colorado. Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine on April 20, 1999. Despite experiencing unspeakable tragedy as the building leader, he pledged to remain principal until every student in the Columbine feeder schools had graduated. Now a national speaker and consultant on leadership and school safety, Mr. De shares his story of not only heartbreak & loss but also of hope & resilience. A powerful read you won’t want to miss!


#4 – Unleashing Great Teaching by David Weston & Bridget Clay

Based on the research and experience from the Teacher Development Trust (UK), this book is a practical guide to help you implement effective professional learning! Multiple examples, checklists, and easy-to-implement ideas designed to remove barriers and foster continuous improvement are included.  A webinar recording is also available to assist in the processing of the content in this book. Whether you lead at the district, building, or team level, this book can help you “unlock the secrets” of great professional development!


#5 – All Learning is Social and Emotional by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Dominique Smith

“Social and Emotional Learning” (SEL) has become the latest education buzzword. However, it is sometimes misunderstood to be just for certain content or specific groups of students. Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Dominique Smith contend that ALL learning is social and emotional. What educators say, how we interact, what materials and activities we choose…it all has an impact on students and their learning. This book describes their model for integrating SEL into every classroom and with every student, every day!


#6 – Fierce Conversations:  Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott

When considering basic skills, “communication” is always on the list. However, it however, it is anything but basic. It is absolutely critical to the growth and success of any organization. Fierce Conversations gives you ways to transform everyday conversations both at work and at home. You can also explore the Fierce Conversations Blog for additional related content. SHAMELESS PLUG:  ESU #3 is hosting a “Fierce Conversations Workshop” this summer…click here for additional details or to register! (If tackling tough but important conversations is something near the top of your list, Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, and Heen as well as Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Greeny, McMillan, and Switzler are recommended!)


#7 – Leading with Focus:  Elevating the Essentials for School and District Improvement by Mike Schmoker

Following up on his best selling book “Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning” (ASCD, 2011), Mike Schmoker shows district and school leaders how to apply his work to their roles. He gives practical advice for simple, focused leadership with streamlined practice focused on student learning. If you are looking to move your district’s continuous improvement process from theory to practical implementation for maximum impact on a daily basis, this is the book for you!


#8 – Professionally Driven:  Empower Every Educator to Redefine PD by Jarod Bormann

Growth mindset + intrinsic motivation + sustainable autonomy = Professionally Driven Educators! Jarod Bormann, a Technology Integration Specialist at Keystone AEA in Iowa, aims to move educators past the traditional top-down, sit-and-get professional learning experiences. It puts teachers in the driver’s seat to research, integrate, reflect, and share their own personalized learning journey as a true professional. The Professionally Driven website includes many support materials, including sample journeys, printable materials, videos, articles, and more!

(If personalized professional learning is what you are after, Personalized PD:  Flipping Your Professional Development by Bretzman, et al. is also highly recommended.)


#9 – Invent to Learn (2nd Edition) by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Dr. Gary Stager

In this recently released second edition of the proclaimed “bible of the maker movement in schools,” educators can use this practical guide to tap into students’ natural inclination to tinker. This book can help you to launch a makerspace in a learning environment and guide you to infuse the making mindset in all learning environments, every content area for every student. The Invent to Learn website is a highly recommended resource, including their blog and list of resources sorted by chapter, type, and topic!


#10 – Whatever you want!

Summer is the perfect time to dig out that book you’ve been wanting to read forever. Enjoy a lazy morning on the front porch with a cup of coffee and the latest intriguing mystery by your favorite author. Spend the entire afternoon in the shade with a trashy romance novel and a gossipy tabloid magazine. Whatever it is, summer is about slowing down to take some time for yourself and your to-read list!


Post Written by Kate Carlson, Instructional Technology Consultant – ESU #3 LaVista, NE

Instructional Rounds to Foster Growth: A Process, not an Event

Todd Tripple Ed. D.


A process, not an event. This is what I keep going back to when thinking about designing effective professional learning experiences. Events absolutely have a place in a systematic approach to professional learning. However, how do we ensure the learning continues throughout the year? Instructional Rounds are a way to provide this job-embedded, relevant, ongoing professional learning.


What are Instructional Rounds?

Instructional Rounds occur when groups of teachers visit classrooms to observe an identified problem of practice or essential question. Instructional Rounds are not synonymous with evaluations/walkthroughs. In an evaluation or walkthrough, the teacher is the learner and receives feedback on his/her practice from their evaluator. This feedback is designed to help the teacher grow in his/her craft. In the Instructional Round format, the observers are the learners. These non-evaluative learning observations provide an opportunity for participants to learn and apply knowledge with a community of learners in an effort to systematically enhance the learning experience for students.


Who participates in Instructional Rounds?

The beauty of Instructional Rounds is anyone can participate. Remember, rounds are about systematic learning. The more people participating, the more systematic learning taking place. In our district, we have had teachers, teacher leaders, building administrators and district administrators all participate in Instructional Rounds. Having various stakeholders involved has created a common understanding and vocabulary. When we talk about the practices we observed, each person involved in the Instructional Rounds are all on the same page.


How do Instructional Rounds work?

To improve the probability of success with Instructional Rounds, it is important to spend some time planning for the experience. First, it is important to define a Problem of Practice. Richard Elmore (2016), author of Instructional Rounds in Education refers to a problem of practice as “Something that would make a difference for student learning if we improved it” (p. 102). Establishing the problem of practice helps define the time spent in the observation. There is simply too much happening in a classroom to observe everything in a 10-15 minute visit. Defining the problem of practice helps observers focus on a key teaching practice, which serves as the focus of post-observation discussion.

After a problem of practice has been determined, it is important to identify who will serve as group facilitators. The role of the facilitator is to help the Instructional Rounds process move smoothly. The facilitator leads the pre-observation conference, guides participants through the observations, keeps track of time, and leads the group debrief upon completion of the observations. Below is a sample Instructional Rounds structure.


Why Instructional Rounds?

Instructional Rounds require pre-planning and resources, however, the benefits received are well worth the effort. Whether observing a classroom management technique, instructional practice, or a component of a new curricular adoption, Instructional Rounds provide a structure for job-embedded, ongoing and relevant professional learning. In a time of budget constraints, rounds provide answers and support without leaving the building.


Sample Structure:
Total Time: approximately 90 minutes

  • Time can be adjusted to meet your specific needs and time constraints.

Pre-Observation Conference (10 minutes)

  • The pre-observation meeting sets the stage for the observations. The facilitator can provide information on the classes to be observed and provide a reminder of the problem of practice. Transition to Classes (2 minutes)

Observations (45 minutes)

  • It is important to see multiple classes during Instructional Rounds. A 10-15 minute observation is sufficient when a problem of practice has been identified.  Transition to Debrief Area (2 minutes)

Post-Observation Debrief (30 minutes)

  • During the post-observation, the facilitator leads the group through a discussion about the observations. The discussion should focus on the established problem of practice. It may be helpful to have some discussion questions scripted for the debrief conversation.




Todd Tripple is the Director of Staff Development & Instructional Improvement for Millard Public Schools. He can be reached at: tetripple@mpsomaha.org




City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2016). Instructional Rounds in

Education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge

(Massachusetts): Harvard Education Press.

Joining Learning Forward Nebraska for me has been a no brainer.  I work in the field of professional development and Learning Forward is THE Professional Learning Organization.  I work with teachers, paras, principals, and superintendents every day – helping, supporting, coaching, teaching, and ok-sometimes cajoling – them to the next level, next step, next improvement/level in their practice.

Learning Forward Nebraska is all about getting better at this craft we call education.  It is about associating myself with like-minded individuals; me getting better at what I do; and using the tools (free in many cases) to help me.  I joined because I saw this as an organization that had momentum and leverage. In our education world- the constant is improvement. School Improvement, Classroom Improvement, Legislative Improvement, Professional(Educator) Improvement.  Learning Forward Nebraska has helped me understand that thinking through the system of professional learning will lead to a change in practice that will affect all students.

So, it is not about the pen or the squeezy ball or the notebook of sticky notes that I got when I joined.  It is about the relationships, the conversations, the planning, the systematizing of our craft of professional learning and knowing that I have a cadre of experts behind me-helping me through it all.  

Members are needed to network and share about Learning Forward Nebraska during Administrators’ Days. Here is a link to sign-up for a 1-hour time slot!

Plan to attend the 2017 LFN Annual Business Meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, July 26 over lunch break on NDE Day of the NCSA Administrators’ Days Conference in Kearney from 11:30 to 12:15.

The meeting agenda will include highlights of 2016-2017, a vote on the proposed constitution and bylaws, installation of newly-elected board of directors, and a report from president Scott Blum on the strategic plan for 2017-2018.

LFN Screen shot of website

In 2016 Learning Forward Nebraska found Paul Burner of Slide Arts Graphic Design in Lincoln who worked with us to develop a professional-level website.