Engaging and Rigorous Instructional Practices


At the core of most professional development efforts seems to be the desire to move people beyond what they know or learn (information) to what they do (implementation).  Instructional coaching has two critical roles; 1) moving new learning into practice; and 2) going deeper into the feelings, beliefs and assumptions of the individual than typical professional development.  As it relates to implementation of best practices, coaching helps to move educators from a place of compliance to a position of personal commitment and from novice to proficient users of the new learning.


When we first began partnering with schools and supporting teachers in engaging students, we ran into an interesting phenomenon.  Many of the teachers would continue to teach as they always had and then stop and insert one of the strategies they had learned.  Seeing this from the outside, it had a feel of “teach a little, engage a little” and then back to teaching. It often felt as disjointed to students as it did to us as classroom visitors.  The expectation of seamless integration was not taking hold. Since that time, we have learned a great deal from the amazing teachers we have worked with over the years.  Three of these lessons include: the importance of a shared definition of active engagement; an understanding that active engagement is intentionally and seamlessly embedded throughout learning activities; and changes in student cognition must occur in order for solid engagement and learning to occur.  Taken together, these three components positively impact student outcomes.


As classroom practitioners, we are often searching for practices and strategies that will help our students find greater success on assessments.  We want them to succeed on all assessments: SAT, ACT or any other test of college readiness; state, quarterly or benchmark assessments; and those we use in our classrooms to determine mastery and guide our instructional decisions.   We also know we want students to be able to use what they learn beyond the assessment; we want them to connect to future learning and to promote interest and inquiry that lead to more complex understandings.  Prior to an assessment, our desire for student success and preparedness often finds us engaging students in review sessions. Research indicates it is not enough to simply have review sessions; it is the quality and structure of these sessions that make the difference for students, ensuring review reflects the ever-increasing rigor and complexity of our assessments. 


Many social studies teachers would likely agree that the goal of education is to mold students into “well-rounded global citizens.” Essential to ensuring that growth are student-centered classrooms that promote student voice, choice, inquiry, problem solving and the generation of new ideas. Unfortunately, many of us struggle in making these conditions a reality in our classrooms. This is what experts in the field of education call the “knowing-doing gap”.  The reasons for this gap are quite varied.  Changing our practice can be scary and may require making ourselves vulnerable.  Changing our practice also means we might have to put more time and effort into rethinking our approach, but it does not always take a major rework to enhance the effectiveness of common practices we use in our classrooms.