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October 1, 2011
Vol. 69
No. 2

The Professor as Coach

When professors work in local schools, opportunities for coaching abound.

The day begins with a meeting with an elementary school's leadership team to review data from a survey on the school's culture and a profile of student engagement in classrooms across the school. The professor in residence facilitates the conversation, guiding the team to analyze the data and create an action plan to address areas of concern. Later that day, the professor goes to another school to convene an inquiry-based community of practice for classroom teachers. The professor works with the teacher facilitator to help the group choose an action research inquiry question related to each teacher's area of interest. A typical working day for this professor takes place entirely at K–12 schools. He is part of a professor in residence program that unites universities and K–12 schools to improve teaching and learning.
In recent years and largely in response to the pressure generated by high-stakes testing, school districts around the United States are providing instructional coaches to work in schools with a large enrollment of struggling students. Typically, the instructional coach is a skilled teacher who supports teachers in improving the effectiveness of their instruction. The coach becomes a "teacher on special assignment" who works in classrooms with teachers and provides targeted professional development.
A professor in residence is a different type of coach. These coaches are university faculty who are directly embedded in districts and schools. As liaisons between the university and the school district, they identify and provide resources and support for teachers. This field-based clinical faculty member functions as the "human link joining the sometimes theoretical world of the university with the demands of day-to-day classroom practice in schools" (Morris, Price, & Armstrong, 1997, p. 55). Professors in residence are comfortable in K–12 classrooms, teach graduate courses, and move freely between the school district and the university.
By keeping one foot in the university and one in the school district, professors maintain rigorous academic credentials as well as the respect and confidence of teachers, which makes them uniquely suited to serve as informal coaches who provide nonevaluative guidance for teachers (Jennings & Peloso, 2010). Whether he or she is a master teacher who is joining the ranks of university instructors (Simpson, 1997) or a professor entering a public school classroom to work directly with students (Burstein, 2009), the professor in residence's goal is to enhance the relevance of teacher education programs. Becoming immersed in resident school districts gives professors time and consistent interaction with teachers and administrators; such a relationship develops trust and provides a foundation for informal mentoring and coaching.
The Teacher Leadership for School Improvement graduate program, allied with the Lastinger Center for Learningat the University of Florida, exemplifies the potential benefits of a professor in residence program. Winner of the 2011 Distinguished Program for Teacher Education Award from the Association of Teacher Educators, the program provides job-embedded, context-sensitive graduate education and professional development for teachers and principals in low-income schools in four large Florida school districts: Collier, Duval, Miami-Dade, and Pinellas County Schools. Each partner district is home to one or more professors in residence who live and work in the community rather than at the university, which may be as much as 300 miles away.

Defining the Professor's Role

In a blended format of online and face-to-face classes, professors in residence teach the core courses of the university's teacher leadership graduate degree program to practicing teachers in partner schools. Core course topics include teacher inquiry (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2009); culturally responsive pedagogy (Tileston & Darling, 2008); differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2001); curriculum design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005); and teacher leadership (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009). Professors also serve as local advisors and mentors for teachers in the program, and they are liaisons to on-campus university faculty who teach the specialization and elective courses.
The professors in residence work with university faculty to ensure that coursework is job-embedded and responsive to the specific context of the participating teachers' schools. This connection enables the coursework to affect student learning in real time, as teachers in the program implement strategies they learn in class and immediately report on their effectiveness in course discussions and assignments.
The program has teacher inquiry or action research at its foundation; professors in residence work with all teachers in partner schools, not just graduate students, to support the development of a schoolwide inquiry stance in which teachers identify problems in their practice, implement changes, collect and analyze data, and share the results publicly (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2009; York-Barr & Duke, 2004). The professors coordinate teacher inquiry in the partner schools and organize an inquiry showcase in the spring of each year. This year's fair included presentations titled "Communication Malfunction: 'I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words'"; "Reinforcing Vocabulary Instruction for ESOL Students"; and "Identifying Math Gaps to Improve Math Gains."
The professors are also strong advocates for intercultural competence and educational equity in partner schools. And they coordinate the collection of formative data on school culture, teaching practice, and student engagement in partner schools. Using these data, they coach and mentor school teams in making data-driven decisions, such as creating communities of practice to identify and apply strategies that address the needs of the lowest performing 25 percent of students in each classroom.

Professors in Residence as Coaches

Among their other responsibilities, professors in residence take on the informal role of coach for teachers in the graduate program, teachers who want to do action research, building administrators, and district administrators. This informal coaching role has many advantages for teachers. Teachers perceive the professors as having expertise attributable to both their level of education and their prior experience in teaching. The professor does not evaluate (in terms of job performance and salary scale) and is therefore seen as safe. In addition, the professor in residence is at the school, so he or she is often available for short, targeted conversations during the school day. But despite being at the school, the professor in residence is an outsider who is largely uninvolved in school power struggles and personality conflicts.
Professors in residence offer coaching to partner schools that have been chosen in collaboration with school and district leadership. The relationship usually begins with a summer institute in which school leadership teams work with the professor in residence to develop action plans that address their school's goals for the coming year. Then, the professor works with the whole leadership team or with individual team members to provide ongoing follow-up support throughout the school year.
For example, an elementary school in Miami worked closely with a professor in residence to create a series of job-embedded professional development sessions that centered on topics covered in the graduate program at the university. Every teacher at the school could choose to participate in a course that focused on either differentiated instruction or culturally responsive pedagogy. Teachers then applied these strategies and collected data on their effectiveness, which they shared at the annual showcase.

Providing Support and Pressure

The relationship between professors in residence and teachers is characterized by support and pressure, both of which are equally important to the success of the relationship (Knight, 2007). Support is an essential component of coaching. Inquiring into one's professional practice is intense work, and everyone needs affirmation that his or her work is both valued and valuable. However, support without pressure poses the risk that educators will feel so satisfied about their practice that they won't make improvements. The professor in residence knows that providing some pressure is crucial to professional development.
Professors in residence play an important role in organizing and coordinating teacher growth—providing both pressure and support in the service of enhanced student achievement. This balance of support and pressure is particularly crucial as teachers participating in the graduate program develop their portfolio to demonstrate their growth as master teachers, teacher researchers, and teacher leaders. The pressure ensures that teachers will take risks and use what they have learned. The professors are vital in providing support in the form of encouragement, feedback, and resources as teachers implement their ideas for curriculum units for students or professional development workshops for colleagues.

The Results

  • Increase their use of strategies to promote higher-order thinking in students (Poekert, 2008).
  • Move voluntarily into formal and informal leadership roles beyond their classrooms (Boynton, Castañeda, Diaz, Ohlson, & Poekert, 2010).
Student achievement has improved in schools with professors in residence. Researchers used three years of data from the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test to study the growth of students in schools with a professor in residence compared to schools not in the partnership. Findings showed significant growth in math achievement for all three years and significant reading growth for two of the three years. Students in participating schools outperformed their peers in all comparison points, with statistical significance in five of the six data points (Leite, Adams, Ross, & Butler, 2008).
Anecdotal data support a possible influence on administrators through informal coaching as they are being trained to lead work in communities of practice. Professors in residence offer book studies; support area superintendents in providing professional development in principal meetings; and work individually and in small groups with principals on issues such as equity, student engagement, and school culture. As a result of this work with principals, we have seen a marked change in both the principals' ability to share leadership with their staff by delegating administrative functions to members of their leadership teams and in their willingness to engage their faculty in conversations centered on race, ethnicity, culture, language, and poverty so that their schools can better serve their students.
Although the professor in residence model is relatively new, the preliminary outcomes signal that it may serve a vital role in providing targeted, specific support to teachers and principals. The National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education (2010) recently called for teacher education to be "turned upside down" so that clinical practice becomes the central focus of teacher preparation programs that focus on improving student learning. As the role of instructional coaches becomes more prevalent and colleges of education struggle to become more relevant, this model provides a clear example of how university partnerships with schools can be built around clinical practice in a way that improves teacher and student learning.

Boynton, S., Castañeda, M., Diaz, R., Ohlson, M., & Poekert, P. (2010, April). Job-embedded graduate education for teachers: Working intensively in high-needs schools. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Burstein, J. (2009). Do as I say and do as I do: Using the professor-in-residence model in teaching social studies methods. The Social Studies, 100(3) 121–127.

Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2009). The reflective educator's guide to classroom research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers develop as leaders (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Jennings, G., & Peloso, J. (2010). The underutilized potential of the hybrid educator in teacher education. The New Educator, 6, 153–162

Leite, W., Adams, A., Ross, D., & Butler, T. (2008, March). Impact of comprehensive school reform on student achievement in high poverty elementary schools. Paper presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.

Morris, J., Price, M. A., & Armstrong, D. (1997). Teacher educators for today's diverse learners: A model for the preparation of interprofessional clinical faculty. Action in Teacher Education, 19, 55–63.

National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education. (2010). Transforming teacher education through clinical practice: A national strategy to prepare effective teachers. Washington, DC: Author.

Poekert, P. (2008). Ready Schools Miami: The impact of a collaborative professional development initiative on teacher practice. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Florida).

Simpson, F. M. (1997). Professor-in-residence: Redefining the work of teacher educators. In China-U.S. Conference on Education: Collected Papers (pp. 109–116). Beijing: China (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 425 412).

Tileston, D., & Darling, S. (2008). Why culture counts: Teaching children of poverty. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255–316.

End Notes

1 The Lastinger Center for Learning is an endowed center at the University of Florida that partners with school districts to support teacher learning in struggling schools. Teachers in these schools are eligible to enroll in the Teacher Leadership for School Improvement program.

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