Dr. Nathan D. Lang-Raad is an educator, speaker, and author. He is the Vice President of Strategy at Savvas Learning Company. Throughout his career, he has served as a teacher, elementary administrator, high school administrator, and university adjunct professor. He was the Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, as well as education supervisor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. He was also the Chief Education Officer at WeVideo. He serves as the US State Ambassador for the Climate Action Project, a collaboration between the United Nations, World Wildlife Fund, NASA, and the Jane Goodall Institute, and an advisor for TAG (Take Action Global).
Nathan is the author of Everyday Instructional Coaching, The New Art and Science of Teaching Mathematics co-authored with Dr. Robert Marzano, WeVideo Every Day, Mathematics Unit Planning in a PLC at Work, The Teachers of Oz, co-authored with Herbie Raad, Boundless Classroom co-authored with James Witty, and Instructional Coaching Connection.
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Instructional Coaching Connection
Daniel: I find it kind of wild that instructional coaches aren’t more widely adopted within our industry because they are just so effective. I had an instructional coach as a novice teacher. I was an instructional coach for many years and that was one of my favorite positions to serve. The impact an instructional coach can have is tremendous, the value that he or she can create within their community. Long story short, instructional coaches matter, and today’s episode focuses on instructional coaching. My friend Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad has an A, has a book, many books on instructional coaching. Today he joined me on the show to talk about his latest, which is called Instructional Coaching Connection. I highly recommend that you check it out. There’s six different pathways in terms of building your instructional coaching practice, and today we’re going to have an in-depth conversation around that topic. Hey, it’s Danny and welcome to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers . Those leaders who are invested in their continuous growth to challenge the status quo and are designing the future of school now. We’ll be back after a few short messages from our show’s sponsors.
Daniel: Establish Your Legacy with Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Learn from Harvard Business and Education School faculty. As you develop the frameworks, skills and knowledge you need to drive change improvement in your learning community. School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time. Give your students more opportunities to learn in class by monitoring the talk. Time for teachers and students. Check out Teach FX for yourself and learn about our special partnership options for Ruckus makers at Teachfx.com/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder, who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid or traditional educational setting. Learn more at organizedbinder.com. Hello, Ruckus Makers. We’re here today with Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad, who is an educator, speaker and author. He’s the vice president of Strategy at Service Learning Company. Throughout his career, he has served as a teacher, elementary administrator, high school administrator and university adjunct professor. Basically, you’ve done it all, which is super cool. He was the director of Elementary Curriculum and instruction for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, as well as education supervisor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Also the chief education officer at We video Nathan is author of Everything Instructional Coaching the New Art and Science of Teaching Mathematics, co-authored with Dr. Robert Marzano. We video everyday mathematics unit planning in a PLC at work. The Teachers of Oz co authored with Herbie Redd and Boundless Classroom, co-authored with James Whitty and the latest book Instructional Coaching Connection, which we highly recommend every ruckus maker pick up. His website is Dr.LangRaad.COM. We’ll have that for you in the show notes. Nathan, welcome to the show.
Dr Nathan: Thanks, Danny. I appreciate you having me on.
Daniel: Pleasure. The pleasure is mine. We’ve been connected for a while, but I’ve reached out. I said, “Why don’t you come back?” There’s not too many people that have been on the show multiple times. You are now a part of an elite. I need to figure out the percentage. It’s probably like 1% of my guests or something like that.
Dr Nathan: Quite special. Thanks for that.
Daniel: Very cool. I want you to bring us back to your days in Metro Nashville. At the time, you’re the director of curriculum and instruction. From what I remember in terms of your story, you had to lead three major changes in a single year, which is almost unbelievable to think about. Looking back on it, can you tell us that story? What were those changes and how did you approach that in one year?
Dr Nathan: It’s kind of crazy because in education we always say just one change is going to take several iterations and probably years to actually implement completely. But the way it kind of fell, I was, of course, in the state of Tennessee at the time and there was a new set of standards. Which also with the new set of standards comes a new assessment. So you have that happening. And then also the state had decided to have a new kind of evaluation system for teachers as well. We had three major changes. There’s other micro changes within those three major changes as well. You have new scope and sequences that have to be developed, you have a new curriculum that has to be aligned. Really three major changes which probably results in lots of mini micro changes as well. I always say that those changes could not have happened successfully or effectively without the help of the instructional coaches that I worked alongside. We had coaches in every single school building and the principals were gracious enough to allow coaches to come to our professional development building. We worked on scope and sequence documents. We worked on all the supports necessary and needed for teachers to be able to implement all of these changes in the classroom. It was a story of, yes, a lot of work that got done and a lot of change that happened. But the stars and the hero of the story where the instructional coach is that I had the opportunity to work alongside of. It was a big year but a lot of wonderful work happened and I am so very proud of the work and the coaches that I had the opportunity to work alongside of.
Daniel: When you think of all that work that you put in there and reflect on how it happened and how it happened effectively, what do you think is number one, insight maybe you had from that experience?
Dr Nathan: I think that coaches, especially instructional coaches, are such masters of their craft. They have so much knowledge, they have so much expertise and so much is required of coaches. I think there’s a lot of pressure put on a coach to know things at the drop of a hat. The work allows coaches to really be very transparent about their practice, about their work. And I think it requires us to really just be very authentic about what we believe about education, how we can best support teachers. A big part of this work was being able to kind of have a very authentic experience about what best practice looks like, what best practices in teaching and learning and collaboration look like.
Daniel: How do you think you get to that level of authenticity? Authenticity is something that I really think a lot about myself. I can actually celebrate a milestone with you right now live. I found out this morning, I asked my lawyer, I said, “Have we got the trademark yet?” In my latest book, I talk about this framework for professional development. I call it the ABCs of powerful professional development. The A stands for authenticity, be belonging, see for challenge. So when people say those words like, “My Spidey sense goes off” and I’m like, “Okay, tell me more,” because I’m always very, very interested in that stuff. What were the conditions or how did you set up that space so you could have an authentic conversation about real learning and what you wanted to discuss?
Dr Nathan: A great question. I’m glad that you mentioned that because I don’t want authenticity to become a buzz word or a cliché like, “Oh, here we go again. We’re talking about authenticity.” So maybe I should use a different word. Maybe sincerity is a better word. I do think that you have to have a culture for it. I think you have to have buy in. And everyone who comes to the table agrees that, hey, we are going to have to be able to share at a level and B, be vulnerable and be able to be kind of honest about where we are. You have to have a safe place for that. Many times we worked in very small groups and we kind of scaffolded or staggered the schedule so coaches could come in at different times, be able to do the work within those smaller groups, we were able to develop a kind of the culture for having more transparent conversations. Working at those kinds of smaller groups did allow us to have more visibility, I think, and have more vulnerability and authenticity. It really does have to do with the culture and the expectations that you set in the very beginning about how we’re going to work together.
Daniel: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And then that group size sometimes is almost an afterthought, but that’s a key ingredient too. In terms of how people interact and whatever. I see a thread throughout your work and even this story had to do with instructional coaches. I’m just curious, what’s the passion there? You seem to speak on this topic and provide a lot of great resources and training there. I’m just curious. Why instructional coaching?
Dr Nathan: Coaching is fascinating to me. When coaches first started to become prevalent in the school system, there was still a lot of ambiguity about what a coach does, what is the role of a coach? A lot of times they represented master teachers. And many of them are still today and still are considered very much masters of their craft. But I think I was fascinated by the impact that coaches can make in a building, because this coach is not an administrator, they’re not an evaluator. They also typically wouldn’t have a classroom or a student. They weren’t down to the typical seven periods of day in a high school or an elementary school where we had students transitioning into a class or maybe a self-contained classroom. So they had this kind of opportunity to be able to support teachers across the building. And I think that just being able to partner alongside a teacher and say, “Hey, you know what, I support you. I’ve been where you’ve been before. I know what it’s like. I know it’s a relentless job, but I also know it can be the most rewarding job. I’m here to support you and partner alongside you. “And I think this is something that’s just really amazing about that posture that a coach can take with their school building. On a personal level, I saw the amazing and remarkable work that was done by a group of coaches. So I think because of that personal experience, it definitely kind of put on my radar, “hey, this is a really important role and a very important position. We have to make sure we are doing our very best to support our coaches.”
Daniel: As a novice teacher, I had an instructional coach in my reading classroom and she was invaluable because I had great training preparing me. But you still have so much to learn and. And seeing somebody who has years of putting in the reps and experience to say, “Danny, try it this way.” And it’s like, Wow, look how effective that is. Happy to have that experience in one of my favorite roles myself was as an instructional coach, too. And everybody has different models. At the time I taught two classes and the rest of the time I supported teachers. But that was a really fun role for me because all the ways I asked them to stretch themselves, I was doing in my class also, and I would invite them, come observe me and give me feedback and critique my teaching because I’m learning just like you. Those are some things that work for me. All right, enough about me. This is about Dr. Nathan. I really encourage everybody to pick up your book Instructional Coaching Connection. Go get that today anywhere that books are available. And Nathan, there’s six pathways in your book. Can you just give us an overview of what those six pathways are?
Dr Nathan: I’ll come back at two and explain the title of instructional coaching connection. I made a kind of comparison or analogy which is a kind of map of all the neural pathways in the brain. When you think about coach and all the many different facets of the school building and the classroom that a coach supports, it really did remind me of this connector and the connections that coaches make on a daily basis. It’s not necessarily just the connection around the relationship. There’s a lot of work and writing around the relationships that coaches have. I do talk about that in the book, but there’s a deeper level and kind of a more structured pathway that coaches can operate inside of to make sure that they are supporting teachers. But yes, relationships are definitely the kind of the cornerstone of successful coaching. A few of the pathways in the instructional coaching kind of connect. One is really that leadership. And even though a coach might not be a principal by title, which we’re glad they’re not, because that puts the coach in a different light, they do have to model what good leadership practices are so that sometimes you have to be a change agent. Sometimes you have to be a listener, sometimes you have to have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and sometimes you just get to ask questions. And so you kind of operate inside of this ebb and flow of becoming a listener or providing advice. But no matter what, you are partnering alongside the teacher and you’re creating this environment where a teacher can feel comfortable, much like you had said earlier on, about you asking a coach to model alongside you or provide feedback and critiques. That’s a hard place to be. Initially, you have to really get to a place where you feel very comfortable, kind of being vulnerable as a teacher and being okay with,”Hey, you know what? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know all the strategies, but I would love to learn from someone who has had experience in pedagogy and is kind of master of their craft.” I think that’s very important.
Daniel: Absolutely. I want to get into the leadership pathway and that was an important point too. It’s not just having the title like you’re a leader. If you choose to show up and create more value for your organization, I believe you’re a leader and you’re making change happen. But would you rest a little bit more on relationships? Because that is such a key, key component. When you riff think about is there a go to strategy that you might use or, you are a doctor, so what would you prescribe that we do?”
Dr Nathan: One of the most important parts of this relationship building between a coach and a teacher is there’s a mutual understanding between the coach and the teacher, that no one needs to be fixed and no one’s no one’s job is to come in and tell you what to do or how to run your classroom. It really is about striving to be yourself and the coach building this kind of environment where the teacher remembers why they got into teaching and taps into that passion of the passion around learning, the passion to help students grow and evolve and learn and think and ask questions. One of the best parts of being a coach is that cheerleading kind of mindset of, “Hey, you know what, I celebrate you, I’m here for you. This is all about your experience and. Striving to be more yourself and loyal to yourself and tapping into that confidence.” As a coach, I’m here to support and cheer you on. I think it takes that kind of level of understanding and mutual understanding between a teacher and a coach.
Daniel: Yeah. Brilliant. Cool. Nathan, I love our conversation. We’re going to get some messages from our sponsors really quickly. And then when we come back, I do want to talk about that leadership pathway. Learn how to successfully navigate, change, shape your school success and empower your teams with Harvard Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Get online that fits your schedule. Courses include leading change, leading school strategy and Innovation, Leading People and Leading Learning. You can apply today at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning. But the average teacher gets these talks 75% of class time. Give your students more opportunities to learn in class by monitoring their talk time. Check out TeachFX.com/blbs. Today’s show is also sponsored by Organized Binder, a program which gives students daily exposure to goal setting, reflective learning, time in task management, study strategies, organizational skills and more. Organized binder has a color coded system which is implemented by the teacher through a parallel process with students, helping them create a predictable and dependable classroom routine. You can learn more and improve your student’s executive functioning and organizebinder.com. We are back here. We never left. But here we are with Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad and he has a book that is really powerful called Instructional Coaching Connection. We definitely want Ruckus Makers to pick that up. We were just talking about relationships before the sponsor break and could you expound on that a bit more and what people will find in your book when they pick it up?
Dr Nathan: As a coach, there’s a wonderful opportunity to pick up a lot of expertise as you’re going from classroom to classroom. One of the great kinds of leadership responsibilities is being able to provide some context for teachers. And so not that we want teachers to be like other teachers, we want them to be exactly themselves who they are. But being able to say here, here’s kind of as a school, here’s what we believe and here’s as a community of learners, here’s what we here are kind of agreed upon norms and our commitments that we’re going to make to our students and being able to to have kind of that context as a guide. And so that’s really important for a coach as a leader to make sure that they are always creating that context and being able to point back to what is that? Northstar What is that compass that we have embodied as a community of learners?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. No, there’s a quote that basically talks about, if one does not know to which port one is sailing, then no wind is favorable. I think that’s from Seneca, the stoic philosopher. But those norms and agreements that center us. It’s that compass as you’re talking about. And without it, you’re going somewhere. But are you going to be happy with where you end up? Do you have any advice in terms of instructional coaches because it’s holding peers almost accountable to agreements and norms that are co-authored that’s not necessarily comfortable and easy for everybody. What would you say to the Ruckus Maker listening, whether they’re a principal or instructional coach and they need to say, “Hey, Nathan, we agreed on this.” How do you approach that?
Dr Nathan: It really starts from the very beginning, just a very open, honest conversation about what our expectations are for the year. Let’s say a coach is either coming into a building brand new or maybe they’ve been to a building 20 to 30 years. They have new teachers joining the team. I think it’s always important just to have that initial conversation about what do you hope to get from a coaching teacher kind of relationship? And it almost always goes back to some kind of growth. We all agree that we have to be able to agree upon how we’re going to work together if we’re able to grow and be successful together. There’s always a statement about communication and there’s no such thing as over communicating. I think the same goes with these norms and these agreed upon shared practices that we are very direct and kind of explicit about. Here’s exactly what I’m hoping to get from. This relationship. Here’s exactly what I’m hoping to get from this coach teacher partnership. And I think if we don’t have those norms and those practices from the very beginning, it could seem just kind of like a haphazard way of working. And it’s important that we’re able to always circle back around to what we agreed to do together as a team.
Daniel: Talk to us also about the pathway to emotional intelligence. That’s another concept that I’m really focused on. I’ve worked hard over the years to grow my own emotional intelligence and self awareness and that kind of thing. But in the context of your book, what is something practical? You can offer the Ruckus Maker listening and watching in terms of emotional intelligence.
Dr Nathan: What I can say is that you have to be very kind of in tuned with making sure that you’re responsible for your own actions, mood and behaviors. Sometimes as a coach, we might bring our team together. And let’s just say someone on the team is not having the best day and maybe they seem kind of cranky and everyone has a bad day. Everyone may experience a low mood. And I think sometimes as humans, maybe because of our empathy, we won’t take responsibility for someone else’s behavior or mood. And so we might change the way that we had anticipated kind of running the meeting based on one person’s behavior. I think we have to be really careful about making sure we’re responsible for our behavior and our mood and making sure that the other person is responsible for their behavior and that we’re not taking that on unnecessarily. But at the same time, we are compassionate. We understand what it’s like, again, to we’ve been as a coach and a leader, we’ve been in the classroom, we’ve been a teacher. We understand the challenges. And we also understand that there’s lots of other things happening in the day outside of school that could be a challenge for a teacher. Having compassion and also asking questions I think is another good sign of someone who’s emotionally mature and intelligent. They’re able to not make assumptions. And just because someone may be behaving in a certain way to not take it personally and say,”Oh, this is an assumption I’m making based on what’s happening here.” I think always asking questions is a good practice to really get to a place where we can offer someone support. And sometimes that support isn’t going to be a solution. Sometimes someone just wants to be heard. So maybe they want empathy. And when things I write about in the book are asking the question, Do you want empathy or do you want a solution? Or maybe it’s both. Maybe they want both. I think it’s good to get in that place of asking questions, showing compassion and being responsible for your own behavior.
Daniel: I love that question so much, too, because as a leader, it helps you really frame like, what’s the purpose of this discussion, right? I’m always trying to go into solving problem mode and I don’t know if you can relate, but even in my personal relationship with my partner, I tend to do that and she’ll be like, “Dude, just listen, I don’t need the problem solved. I need somebody to listen to me and that’s somebody is you.” Thank you for highlighting that out. Now, before I get to the last few questions, I asked all my guests. Like I said, we recommend that everybody picks up instructional coaching connections, building relationships to better support teachers. What was your favorite part of the book? This is the last call, Ruckus Maker. Here’s why. To go get it.
Dr Nathan: Yeah, I think it was being able to step back after writing the book and being able to think through all these different pathways through coaches to help and support teachers. I think it’s stepping back and just looking at this to the magnitude of impact that a coach has and telling the stories I was able to share from a personal level or other stories that I’ve just picked up along the way, working with coaches, it’s amazing the level of impact that a coach has. And even if it’s just working with a few classrooms or maybe one or two teachers, the impact goes a long way because every teacher is going to have probably anywhere from 25 to 150 students. And so a coach does have a tremendous impact. I think that was probably the most exciting kind of reflection from writing the book.
Daniel: I love to tell leaders I support. I help powerful people remember how powerful they are. And I think you’re saying that in just a different way. You have a tremendous impact in value. So thank you for your contribution to our field and for the book. And like I say, go pick up instructional coaching connections. Nathan Now if you could put on all school marquees around the world a message. Or a single day. What would your message be?
Dr Nathan: I think you should always strive to become yourself. I talked a little bit about that earlier, but notice I didn’t say become a better you or a better version of yourself, because I think that sometimes incorrectly makes it like a deficit model. So I like to say always strive to become yourself. And that really gets you to a place where you’re thinking daily at a very introspective level and a very deep level about who you are, what you value.
Daniel: And it makes a lot of sense. And now you are building your dream school. You’re not limited by any resources. You’re only limitations, your imagination. How would Nathan build his dream school? What would be the three guiding principles?
Dr Nathan: I would say a school should be developed around critical thinking because initially our schools were not designed to promote those skills. It was really designed for productivity and scalability. I think designing a school around how to teach students to be critical thinkers is definitely one major principle. The other would be teaching students to question everything, including what the teachers say. I think we should be developing healthy, skeptical learners and then also independence of mind, teaching students to think independently and having the confidence to believe in themselves, to ask those questions and search for answers.
Daniel: I’m pretty sure you’re describing a school perfect for developing the next generation of Ruckus Makers . I approve. That’s a wonderful school. Well, Nathan, thanks so much for being a part of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast. Again, we covered a lot of ground today for everything we discussed. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Dr Nathan: I would say really listen more and hone in. There’s so much going on. There’s so much required. I think many times we are asked to respond and give answers and be an expert, but sometimes we just need someone to truly listen. I would say listen more.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast ruckus maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter at @Alienearbud if the better leader is better schools podcasts is helping you grow as a school leader then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at @AlienEarbud and using the hashtag #blbs. Level up your leadership. Betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”