Archive for Thursday, April 28, 2005

De Soto district phasing out associate principals for learning coaches

Learning coaches teaching teachers

April 28, 2005

Instead of directly teaching students, the job of several district instructors next year will be more like teaching teachers to teach students.

In a move the district hopes will place more emphasis on student learning, De Soto USD 232 has taken a step toward implementing its plan of a learning coach in every school. In elementary schools, full-time learning coaches will eventually replace associate principals; secondary schools will have one of each.

At its April 4 meeting, the Board approved appointing six district staff members as full-time learning coaches for the 2005-2006 school year.

Currently, three elementary schools have associate principals who also are half-time learning coaches. They are Tim Smith at Starside, Kim Gracy at Prairie Ridge and Kim Barney at Riverview.

Joining them next year as full-time learning coaches will be Mike Murphy at De Soto High School and Kelly Webb at Lexington Trails Middle School, as well as Lori Bradley, Mize Elementary; Carrie Lillig, Clear Creek Elementary; Josh Kindler, Monticello Trails Middle School; and Kim Spencer, Mill Valley High School.

Learning coaches' jobs are to instruct teachers in curriculum and instruction. They don't have administrative duties like student discipline or teacher evaluations.

Bret Church, the district's secondary curriculum coordinator, said the designation of 'coach' was a noteworthy one.

"Coaches are trying to make people better," he said. "They're not necessarily there to be their boss."

Church said learning coaches were De Soto's interpretation of the "site-based staff developers" concept. In-building learning coaches would be a more accessible version of what many districts had -- an itinerant, district-level administrator.

"We're trying to change that model," he said. "We want the learning coach to be a part of the culture of that building, not just a visitor of that building."

Murphy said he was interested in curriculum construction and looking at each school's "big picture." Having an in-building learning coach, he said, would help personalize the school to fit its individual students' needs.

Murphy and other learning coaches also will be able to act as mentors for teachers, especially those in their first semesters. Leading teacher collaboration would be an important role for a learning coach, Murphy said.

"When teachers have questions for me, I'd like to be able to say 'Well, here's what I've seen,'" he said. "I'd like to get teachers to share those, too. Each teacher's got really unique ideas and strategies for stuff."

Barney said teachers at Riverview took advantage of having a learning coach in the building on a day-to-day basis.

"There's just a revolving door; they're always e-mailing me, coming in," Barney said. "I'm just immersed in the culture of the school. That's different than if I was going in as a consultant."

Keeping up with improvement requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind act is a driving force behind implementing learning coaches, Church said.

The state defines what must be taught in order to align with assessments, and teachers decide how to teach it, Church said. He said learning coaches' first role would be to help teachers stay on top of curriculum requirements.

"These people will be curriculum and assessment experts regarding the things the state and NCLB is requiring us to do," he said.

Barney said her curriculum research helped relieve some of the burden from teachers so they could spend more time in the classroom.

"I'm trying to do the legwork," Barney said. "It streamlines everything so that their time and energy is spent on student learning."

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