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Instructional Coaches work side-by-side with teachers

Instructional Coaches work side-by-side with teachers

When asked to describe her job, Plumas Unified School District Instructional Coach Susan Frediani’s eyes light up. “Where to start?” she asks her colleague and fellow IC Yvonne Casalnuovo. “We’ve learned a lot since we started four years ago,” Casalnuovo says, smiling.

With a combined amazing 65+ years of teaching experience between them, Frediani and Casalnuovo are able to offer insight and strategies for both new and veteran teachers through a variety of channels, including Instructional Coaching, implementing training for new initiatives like understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and helping to structure the district-wide meetings for specific subject-area educators. They also work with analysis of student assessment data as well as coordinate the district supported teacher Induction program.

Instructional Coaching connects coaches with teachers to help them enhance teaching and learning so students are more successful. Started as a practice by Jim Knight of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, an Instructional Coach encourages self-assessment as a tool to identify areas for support or skills-building. “Before I became a coach, I went through the coaching process. Watching a video recording of myself in the classroom really showed me my strengths and areas for growth,” says Frediani. Together, the teacher and the IC discuss the teacher’s current situation, goals the teacher would like to set, and ways the IC can best provide help to reach those goals. “Sometimes support means classroom management techniques and sometimes it’s providing resources or instructional strategies. As a coach, every conversation is dependent upon focused listening,” explains Casalnuovo.

Christina Russo, a Transitional Kindergarten teacher at Quincy Elementary who worked with Casalnuovo, says prior to her first visit with the coach, “I was nervous and wondered if this was an opportunity for the coach to look for what I'm doing wrong or to judge me. I was surprised how encouraging and positive the experience was.” Russo heartily recommends instructional coaching to her fellow teachers, saying “It's so helpful to have someone in your class whose main goal is to help you be the best teacher you can be.”

Russo’s sentiments are echoed by Quincy Jr. Sr. High School teacher Jena Hurst who worked with Susan Frediani. Hurst says “The most valuable thing that I received was the general support and guidance with individual situations. Discussing different scenarios helped my teaching.This is an amazing opportunity that we have in our district."

As part of an innovative California awareness campaign, Frediani and Casalnuovo are currently bringing training to district administrators, staff, and instructors on understanding how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can impact student behavior. When aware of how serious childhood trauma like violence, abuse, homelessness, and neglect can harm a child’s brain, affecting how a child acts in the classroom, staff can respond with insight and empathy to help the child return to a frame of mind where learning can happen. Some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a negative effect of ACEs, which affect 65% of adults according to the Let’s Get Healthy California Task Force. The aim of the training for school staff is to help students learn to become resilient in the face of difficult circumstances.

Frediani and Casalnuovo also help support instructors in grade level and/or content area teams to discuss issues they may be having in the classroom, questions about curriculum, and other topics of interest. Facilitated by teacher leaders, the goal of these team collaborations is to discuss and implement results-oriented instructional strategies and curriculum review for every attendee. Informational flow with peers is an efficient way to share ideas and problem-solve, and the Instructional Coaches help support the teacher leaders in any way they can to optimize these professional experiences.

While Casalnuovo and Frediani work collaboratively on many tasks, they also manage projects independently. For example, Casalnuovo works with the development and analysis of district wide math and reading assessment data. The data identifies both levels of achievement and progress. Principals and teachers then use the results to determine targeted areas of need for intervention and additional student support. 

One of Frediani’s specific assignments is to manage the new teacher Induction program, a two year mentorship program required by the state of CA for new teachers to clear their preliminary teaching credentials. Frediani matches candidates with coaches who share similar teaching areas and helps guide them through the required project cycles. Both Casalnuovo and Frediani serve as Induction coaches to new PUSD teachers as well.

Knowing there is a dedicated pair of Instructional Coaches at PUSD to assist newly-hired teachers as well as veteran teachers provides a strong layer of support in PUSD’s commitment to achieving the District High 5s.