June 22, 2022

Helena Schools adds instructional coaches to assist teachers

HELENA — For the past two years, teachers at Helena Public Schools have worked hard to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district has also invested in supporting the teachers themselves, bringing in more instructional coaches.

“I like to say that I can help teachers teach,” said Helena Middle School coach Christy Mock-Stutz.

Mock-Stutz is now one of 19 instructional coaches working in the district.

“I really see my role as side-by-side, working with teachers — helping them with resources, helping them with ideas, helping with planning, helping analyze data,” she said. .

On Wednesday, Mock-Stutz sat down with Roxanne Shockley, a seventh-grade English teacher, to review some data on student progress. She will also work with teachers on strategies – modeling teaching methods and helping them set goals.

Mock-Stutz, who previously worked for four years as an instructional coach in Chicago, says data now plays a much bigger role in education, so it’s a major topic she’s been working on with teachers.

“Knowing they have someone to go to with those important data questions. How are my students? What does this data point mean? How can I use that to guide my teaching – I think it’s really important to have that resource person for them,” she said.

Helena Public Schools first introduced instructional coaches to some of its schools about four years ago as part of a literacy grant. Central Elementary School was one of the first to use them.

Principal Nick Radley arrived at Central this year, after years at the Four Georgians Elementary School, which did not use a coach. He said he was immediately impressed with how the instructional coaches helped create consistency across the school.

“Each class at Central posts a schedule every day showing what the learning goals look like for that literacy or math or science and social studies lesson,” he said. “The standard is written on the board, what teachers expect them to be able to learn. It happens every day in every classroom, so the kids come in and know what the expectations are.

Radley said it was helpful to have someone think about school-wide teaching.

District leaders say that during the pandemic, instructional coaches have played an important role in helping plan the shift to remote and hybrid learning.

“The coaches were able to do the groundwork with the curriculum and set the lessons, so the teachers could focus on the instructional part,” said Joslyn Davidson, district program and instruction administrator. “I think it made a big difference.”

Davidson says the pandemic and associated disruptions have exacerbated not only academic gaps, but also social gaps, as some students simply hadn’t had the experience of being in a classroom or at their current schools.

“It’s kind of a system-wide reboot,” she said.

This year, as part of their attempts to fill those gaps, the district has committed to putting a coach in every school. Leaders say support has been a key tool.

“We’re on track to meet year-end targets, even though they seemed to be very high at the start,” Davidson said. “It’s that light at the end of the tunnel, like, ‘Oh my God, it works.'”

Radley says he’s happy to see more instructional coaches in the district.

“The best value for money comes from what our teachers provide for our children, and the more support we can provide in these areas, the better off we will all be,” he said. “I would say the coaches in every building – pre-COVID, during and post – is a good thing to have because it prioritizes us being the best we can be.”

The district says the instructional coaching positions were funded by a Montana Literacy Grant, federal Title I funds and federal COVID relief funds.