Class Action: Teaching the Teachers

Professional development.

It’s a phrase you often hear in the business world. Whether for CEO’s, doctors or athletes, it’s not uncommon for professionals to have a coach, someone who brings new ideas and a fresh perspective to their work.

Now that idea is taking off in the classroom - and taking seasoned educators to another level.

Felicia Douwes, a Spanish dual immersion teacher affectionately known as “Maestra Douwes” at Valley View Elementary in Pleasanton, has been teaching for more than a decade. But this semester she’s trying something new. Maestra Douwes is trading places with her students and turning her white board over to “the coach” - Duane Habecker.

Habecker is one of eight instructional coaches in the Pleasanton Unified School District. They’re experts in literacy, technology or, as in Habecker’s case, mathematics. And they go into the trenches to teach veteran teachers.

“My job is to provide the same information the old style of development would have provided but in a more efficient way,” he says. “I actually model how to do it. It’s an apprenticeship, and a kind of model for training.”

Pleasanton Unified Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi says coaching for new teachers is standard but coaching for educators with decades of experience is novel, in that it elevates not just one teacher but an entire staff.

“It’s continuous learning. I think you want to continue to improve,” Ahmadi says. “When you’re in the classroom, you’re pretty isolated unless you team teach with another teacher.”

The district uses general funds to pay for the instructional coaches. The program has been so successful the Pleasanton Partnerships in Education Foundation has raised funds to add a ninth coach next year.

“Our goal is to have these coaches impact other teachers who are great teachers, who want to do things differently, and to continue to improve so that we have lots of coaches,” explains Ahmadi. “So you can be a coach to your next door neighbor. That’s the real impact.”

And while the instructional coaches may focus on helping teachers, Habecker says it’s the students who get the biggest takeaway.

“We all need to be life-long learners,” he says. “One of the things I want the kids to see is we’re all learners.”

In the future, Superintendent Ahmadi hopes to use money from Governor Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula to hire coaches for teachers who work specifically with English learners.

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