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Rabbi David Saltzman Ed.D January 4, 2022

Striving For Excellence: Why We Chose Coaching with BetterLesson

Rabbi David Saltzman Ed.D

BetterLesson Instructional Coach and Director of Teaching and Learning

At the Yeshivah of Flatbush, just as we believe in empowering students, we also believe in empowering teachers. Teachers should be able to select their areas of growth and determine what success looks like. Each year, teachers are asked to reflect and self-assess their practice using our Yeshivah of Flatbush Teacher Excellence Rubric and evaluate their strengths and areas for growth. Each educator then chooses a unique goal that they want to work on. Once that area of focus is identified, leadership and the teacher work together to design an improvement plan and monitor progress over time.

The Problem

The problem we faced is not unique to any one school: We were ready to take our teacher professional development to the next level but did not have the systems, time, or personnel to offer personalized growth opportunities, guidance, and coaching for every teacher. That’s when we turned to BetterLesson.

Why BetterLesson? 

As a former BetterLesson coaching participant and as a current coach, I have firsthand experience with the benefits of 1:1 coaching.

BetterLesson 1:1 coaching allows teachers to develop and evolve at their own pace.

Through a BetterLesson coach’s guidance, structure, and direction, teachers can choose their area of growth and develop and implement strategies together. Since our teachers each chose their own unique teaching domains for improvement, BetterLesson gave each teacher the chance to pursue their unique areas of growth and personalized professional development.

The Process

For the program, we selected fifteen teachers in various subjects who were in their first to fourth year of teaching (plus a few veteran teachers who were excited about the opportunity). After meeting with an administrator and reviewing the self-assessment rubric, we introduced the teachers to the next step: 1:1 coaching through BetterLesson. We explained the process and goals of their 1:1 coaching—how Better Lesson would match them with a coach who was knowledgeable in their growth area, which information would be shared with an administrator, the basic coaching structure, and their time commitment. The goal was to demonstrate that coaching was a safe endeavor in a non-evaluative environment. Teachers realized that working on a goal and enhancing their skill set was for their benefit and the benefit of their students. It also showed teachers that this was a school-wide initiative, not targeted towards anyone specific, to establish that everyone can improve. Since the teacher chose their personal goal, they all were motivated to enroll in the program.

Because our self-assessments to identify growth areas occur in February and March, we opted for a four-meeting cycle from their self-assessment date to the close of the school year. Coaching meetings were held about every two weeks starting from after Passover break and continuing through the beginning of June.

From their first meeting, the teachers discussed their personal goals with their coach and then, using the BetterLesson Lab, the coach suggested strategies that would help the teacher meet concrete goals with their students.

Guided by the coach, each teacher measured results and learned to improve through the Try-Measure-Learn reflective and iterative process. A few stories are below.

The Outcomes

While each teacher had unique goals, they all benefited from the experience of a coach to try new things in their classroom and see specific and measurable growth in their teaching practice.

Mrs. Inez Betesh, Fourth Grade General Studies Teacher

Goal: Provide targeted feedback to her students

Inez and her coach designed a student-friendly rubric to communicate quality criteria and guide students to assess their work using these criteria. In addition, Inez was able to cultivate a growth mindset in her students by helping them understand that rubric grading is not the same as receiving a final grade, that learning is a process, and that feedback can assist in helping students improve. Finally, through micro-grouping, she provided targeted feedback based on the rubric and students were able to revise and enhance their work.

I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a BetterLesson coach. She provided me with the guidance, knowledge, and support needed to help me better meet the needs of all of my students. Together, we designed a way to provide feedback to students through micro-grouping and student conferences. These strategies were extremely beneficial and efficient for both the students and me.

Inez Betesh

Mrs. Dalia Bergman, Third Grade Judaic Studies Teacher with 20 years of experience

Goal: Help students make better choices about their behavior

Dalia and her coach designed an eight-step plan for her to implement, starting with creating and improving class rules and procedures with students. Then, they talked about the experience and measured the results at their next meeting. Finally, through reflective questions, Dalia’s coach helped her improve the next time she tried the strategy.

My experience with my mentor exceeded my expectations and I benefited from each session. Our meetings were short and highly effective. She professionally handled each session. My coach demonstrated empathy and quickly understood the issue I brought up for discussion. She knew which strategies from the BetterLesson Lab would help me reach my goals. I appreciate how we worked together and how she guided me to find a solution rather than telling me what to do.

Dalia Bergman

Mr. Hillel Schoenfeld, Elementary and and Middle School PE Studies Teacher

Goal: Help students transition smoothly from homeroom class to PE

Based on the goal, one suggested strategy was to add a whiteboard to the class with the schedule written on it. Then, as students transitioned into PE, Hillel empowered them to read the directions and start stretching independently. For the younger students, he set up cones with a picture of the exercise so they could get started immediately.

My BetterLesson coach was very flexible to meet according to my schedule. She was organized and prepared with resources and strategies to help my students reach their goals. She took detailed notes and researched materials between meetings so we could maximize our time together. One strategy we explored was the Modeling and Repeated Practice of Expectations, Routines, and Procedures. As a result, I made some immediate changes that improved the class.

Hillel Schoenfeld

Lessons Learned

These are just three examples from the cohort of teachers that were coached. Besides the advancements made by these individual teachers to improve their practice, as a collective we learned the following lessons:

  • Empowering teachers leads to engaged professional development. We trusted our teachers to self-reflect honestly on their practice, determine their areas of strength and growth, and forge their development pathway with a non-evaluative coach. Having a non-judgemental avenue to learn helped motivate our teachers to spend the time and effort to improve.
  • 1:1 coaching is an exceptionally effective method to impact change. Our teachers are diverse with varied experience teaching different grade levels and subjects. A one-size-fits-all professional development does not fit all. There was no way to meet the needs of our teachers and our learners without the personalized attention through BetterLesson coaching.

Look at the three examples. Each teacher crafted their personalized pathway with the help of a coach. Using the BetterLesson Lab, which is full of strategies for all types of teachers and situations, the coach/teacher team designed individual and targeted plans based on the specific needs of each teacher.

  • Creating a culture of teacher learning and improvement takes time, but you don’t have to do it alone. It’s difficult to change behaviors and shift mindsets. Encouraging people to reflect and admit their challenges requires a carefully planned process and a supportive environment. Likewise, bringing teachers on board and adopting new practices takes time, collaboration, and flexibility. Schools, administrators, and teachers do not have to change school culture in isolation. BetterLesson worked collaboratively with us every step of the way. They understood our goals, offered advice, and helped us shape our coaching plan. We had a true partner in achieving our goals to empower teachers and personalize professional development.

Next Steps: Strategy Showcase! 

At the end of the school year, we positioned ourselves to take professional development to the next level. For our final professional development day of the year, we designed a Strategy Showcase where teachers could present any strategies they successfully implemented during the year to their colleagues. A number of BetterLesson teacher participants took this opportunity to demonstrate and share their learning and growth. The feedback was phenomenal.

We are looking forward to expanding the number of teachers in our next cohort and taking advantage of even more of BetterLesson’s resources.