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KU News Release

August 10, 2005
Contact: Dan Lara, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU program uses instructional coaches to help Topeka schools mentor teachers

LAWRENCE - When teachers in the Topeka Public Schools return to their classes this fall, they will have the benefit of a University of Kansas program that is helping them to identify and use the best teaching practices available.

For the past six years, the KU program Pathways to Success, a part of the School of Education's Center for Research on Learning, has placed instructional coaches (ICs) in the teaching ranks of all the public middle and high schools in Topeka to partner with and guide the regular classroom teachers in everything from professional development to solving discipline problems in class. The results have been positive, according to Jim Knight, KU-CRL research associate and project director for Pathways to Success.

" Instructional coaches are onsite professional developers who teach educators how to use proven teaching methods," Knight said. "Instructional coaching and teaching quality has become an important issue since the No Child Left Behind Act became law. It has emphasized how important professional development can be. Our approach is different than just sponsoring a couple of workshops. ICs are in the classroom with teachers every day. The whole life of an IC is teaching other teachers."

Knight recently published an article in the trade publication Principal Leadership that describes Pathways to Success and how it has improved student achievement and student comprehension. Pathways to Success employs 10 ICs in Topeka schools. A similar program, Passport to Success, is being used in schools in seven counties in Maryland. Funding for both programs comes from the federal government's GEAR UP program.

" We enjoy our partnership with KU," said Jim Glass, grant specialist for Topeka Public Schools and the school system's liaison for Pathways to Success. "The program has been a phenomenal success. It has helped our teachers do a better job of teaching core subjects tested by the Kansas state standards. Our district has seen test scores in math and reading rise significantly."

Data published in the Principal Leadership article describes three reasons why using ICs can be a good option for school improvement efforts, Knight said.

First, instructional coaching leads to implementation when the right conditions are in place. In both the Topeka and Maryland programs, well-constructed instructional coaching programs have consistently generated implementation rates of at least 85 percent, with schools getting every teacher to use several effective instructional practices. In contrast, previous studies have shown that only 10 percent of teachers implement at least one teaching practice through traditional "in services."

A second benefit is that ICs also can make sure teachers' faithfully follow scientifically proven instructional practices, Knight said. Pathways to Success studied the importance of following proven practices by comparing the results of middle level students in what is referred to as "high fidelity" classrooms with middle level students in "low fidelity" classrooms. The results showed that students in high fidelity classrooms improved on the number of complete sentences they could write by 13 percent while students in low fidelity classrooms improved by just 4 percent.

To better understand how ICs help teachers, researchers recently conducted a survey of teachers who had watched an IC provide a model lesson in Pathways to Success schools. Teachers later said that watching an IC made it easer for them to implement a given teaching practice, increased their fidelity to the instructional model, increased their confidence and enabled them to learn other teaching techniques. From a teachers' perspective, watching a coach in the classroom was an important part of professional learning.

" We spend a lot of time working with teachers to get them on the right foot," said IC Devona Dunekack, who works the Topeka schools. "We are the extra set of hands when they need help. We are the first people the teachers should come to when they need to know how to do something."

A third benefit of instructional coaching is that it promotes positive conversations in schools, Knight said. By providing support to teachers and changing the type of conversations that take place in schools, ICs make an important contribution to school reform.

" ICs spread a 'healthy' virus in schools," Knight said. "What ICs do is get the teachers on board with what the ICs are doing, meeting in the schools with the teachers and letting them know they are available. They start working with the teachers. The ICs provide something that is powerful and easy for the teachers to follow and it catches on. Word travels extremely fast in schools. If we have something that helps teachers and reaches kids, everyone wants to get on board with it."

When hiring individuals to become ICs, Knight looks for previous teaching experience and an "infectious" personality. Knight also looks to see how quickly individuals pick up on information and how flexible they are in presenting it.

" The IC has to be an exemplary teacher," Knight said. "We conduct interviews, and then we ask our candidates to teach a lesson."

Knight said school systems in eight states have contacted him about implementing Pathways to Success programs.

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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