Douglas ESD instructional coaches, Allison Whitworth, Ryan Zeedyk and Beth Yarbrough provide learning opportunities to teachers.

Student success is a priority for school districts in Douglas County. Douglas ESD’s instructional coaches provide trainings to educators that benefit students. Instructional coaches walk alongside districts to complement the incredible job they’re already doing.

To best serve students in our community, we know that successful teachers never stop learning. Public school teachers are required to complete professional development units as a part of their licensure. The instructional coaches’ role is to provide meaningful support to educators.

Douglas ESD’s three instructional coaches have more than 60 years of teaching experience between them. This doesn’t include the time spent in their roles as instructional coaches. Each coach brings their own expertise from math, science and technology to elementary education. As educators, instructional coaches must also complete the same number of professional development units each year as classroom teachers.

“Teachers are lifelong learners. By learning, we’re modeling learning for students,” said Ryan Zeedyk, instructional coach.

Teachers don’t always need to travel to learn something new, thanks to local learning opportunities. Instructional coaches provide training virtually, at school sites and Douglas ESD. Instructional coach training is offered at no additional cost to districts. From one-on-one consultations to group settings, topics include classroom management, lesson planning, consultations and more. For instance, learning walks facilitated by instructional coaches allow teachers to visit classrooms in a district to benefit from the expertise here in our own community. “As instructional coaches we’re able to see all of the amazing things happening in schools,” said Allison Whitworth, instructional coach. “We have the ability to connect teachers with each other.”

“When we’re planning our professional development curriculum, we ask teachers what they want us to offer. The needs of students are changing, and how teachers teach curriculum changes,” said Beth Yarbrough, instructional coach. Data also helps shape what is offered.

The school year kicked off with a three-part New Teacher and Mentor Summit, which will wrap up in May. This workshop is designed for educators new to the teaching profession. Teaching is an in-demand field. “This workshop helps ensure that people new to the teaching profession are supported,” said Yarbrough.

Workshops are also relevant to more experienced teachers. At a recent Music and Art workshop, primary school teachers sang songs together and created their own class songs. Whitworth led the class. “Music unites us and connects us,” she shared. “Singing with young students makes them feel welcome and helps with transitions throughout the day.” Whitworth spent more than three decades in a classroom. Now she’s passing knowledge along to other teachers. “Coaching can benefit anyone. Even Michael Jordan had a coach,” she added.

Instructional Coach, Allison Whitworth sings with teachers during a recent Music and Art workshop.

Glendale Elementary teacher, Tabitha Maldonado attended the music workshop. She has already applied what she learned in her first-grade classroom. “I have incorporated more singing into my morning calendar time. It helps the students remember the information better . . . and is more fun and less redundant than some other ways of learning,” she said. “My class has been loving some of the songs so much that they are singing them at recess and snack together and bonding in a way that they haven’t been before.”

Glendale School District Superintendent Bridget McMillen shared the benefits of instructional coaches. “Instructional coaches have provided a valuable resource to Glendale School District,” she said. “They have integrated into classrooms, supported teacher growth and provided ongoing training for our staff. As a district that has several young teachers this resource has been incredibly helpful in developing core teaching skill and providing support as they develop their instruction.”

Beginning Sign Language for any Classroom is a new opportunity for local educators. “The class size was busting at the seams at 36 students, and now there’s a waitlist,” said Zeedyk. He added that teachers are interested in sign language to learn another way to connect with students.

Additional workshops are planned throughout the year. Topics include tribal history, science, game-based learning and engaging secondary classrooms, to name a few.

Local educators attend a professional development event. 

Recently, Douglas Regional Educator Network (REN) collaborated with Winston-Dillard School District to offer a professional development event for educators across the county. The theme focused on building relationships with all students. The instructional coaches were included in the lineup of breakout session presenters and covered topics such as purposeful play, collaborative learning and problem solving.

“We’re building a community where we can practice together,” said Zeedyk.

Many moving parts help children learn and thrive. Douglas Education Service District is one of the moving pieces. The agency partners with school districts and organizations. The goal is to increase opportunities for all children, from birth to adulthood. This article is part of an ongoing series that features programs and people who help students succeed.