An interview with Carrie Baldwin '00, '01, Senior Instructional Coach, City Year Boston
This is the first in the blog series "Building Blocks of City Year Service." Each month, we will be taking a closer look at a particular aspect of service. Instructional coaching is the observation and training process that AmeriCorps members undergo to help them deliver better service.
CYB: What does instructional coaching look like?
Carrie Baldwin (CB): Instructional coaching is the process by which we continually evaluate and train AmeriCorps members (ACMs). We do it to ensure that they deliver the best possible support to students.
It consists of observing ACMs in service with students. Then, the coach and ACM meet and discuss strengths and areas for improvement. The coach and ACM decide on one or two concrete new strategies to implement immediately in the following two weeks. These strategies are small things with a high potential impact. In subsequent sessions, they discuss whether and how they implemented the suggested new strategies. Each corps member has 10 sessions spread out over their 10 months of service.
CYB: When you are observing an ACM, what are signs of strength?
CB: One strength is the ability to make an academic activity engaging or like a game- rigorous, but also fun. A strong ACM is on the same page with their partner teacher. Students are responding to their redirection, they have expectations of students. The ACM is utilizing things they learned in a training, they are utilizing feedback from prior instructional coaching sessions.
CYB: What is an example of a common growth area and how do you respond to trends across the corps?
CB: We map out the trainings the corps will receive at the start of the year and intentionally leave some trainings unplanned so we can customize them to respond to trends. One trend last year was that ACMs needed to ask higher order thinking questions; when checking for understanding, more analysis questions. (For example, instead of asking, "Who was the main character?" asking, "Why do you think the main character did what s/he did?") So we gave a training mid-year on writing and asking better, more challenging questions of students.
CYB: Among the five instructional coaches at City Year Boston, you have a combined total of 40 years of teaching experience. How does that experience inform your coaching?
CB: All of us know what excellent teaching looks like. We all taught for between 5 and 13 years. We all worked in schools where we were coached regularly. We all got better because we were coached and got frequent feedback from great educators. We understand the power of coaching.
CYB: What do you love about instructional coaching?
CB: I love being able to share my own experience. There were plenty of times that I screwed up as a teacher – being able to pass that on, being really honest, saying to an ACM, where I can just be like "I've been there. I've been in the same exact position and here's something that helped me."
The most rewarding feeling is when an ACM comes up to me and says "I'm so excited because I used the action step we agreed on. I went for it, I tried it, and it worked."
And finally, I love supporting ACMs and celebrating their growth throughout the year. Sometimes, something that was a previous challenge and action step becomes a strength that we highlight in their sessions later in the year. Getting to play that part in an ACM's development throughout the year that they can bring to whatever they do next – that's the most fulfilling thing.