The Next Great Tool for Teachers? Instructional Coaches

“When teachers stop learning, so do students.”
—Jim Knight
Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction

Instructional coaching might possibly be the best non-technological advancement to the field of education since the advent of the classroom. Many other industries see the benefits of coaches on a personal level. We often seek the counsel of personal trainers, financial advisors, and life coaches. With the rapid evolution of the ways we access information and the variety of ways students can demonstrate learning, teacher utilization of professional coaching is long overdue.

How can educators possibly keep up with all of the research, technological advances, and mandates? This is where instructional coaching made a marked difference in my teaching practice and now, as an instructional coach, I continue to seek feedback and learn from members on my team.

Instructional coaching is a non-evaluative partnership between teachers, coaches, and administrators. These relationships are mutually beneficial to all participants. While most instructional coaches are experienced educators, they are not experts in all aspects of teaching. Instructional coaches learn alongside teachers to stay up to date on research-based best practices. Moreover, instructional coaches can help visualize practices in the classroom via modeling, co-teaching, or video recordings. Instructional coaches can help teachers reflect on and discover unrecognized intricacies of their practices through coaching cycles, which include a learning piece. During this learning piece, instructional coaches work with teachers to make effective pedagogy a tangible entity.

pullquote-when-teachers-stop-learning-2

Additionally, instructional coaches can serve as a liaison between teachers and administrators. Now, this is the part that sometimes makes people uncomfortable. The thought that pops into people’s minds often is: “Wait … I thought you said instructional coaches are nonevaluative?!” Well, rest assured, we are. Many school districts have strategic plans, and building, team, and individual teaching goals. Administrators and coaches alike have a responsibility to ensure the entire faculty understands the district’s vision and works together to achieve those goals. The difference between administrators and instructional coaches is that administrators are 1) evaluators and 2) have about 1 million other things on their plates. Coaches can focus their attention on individual teachers/teams and work as partners addressing components of The Big 4 as outlined by Jim Knight: classroom management, content, instruction, and assessment.

We do not exist in isolation in any facet of our lives. We reach out to others for a variety of reasons: child care, advice, recommendations, etc. As a professional educator, reaching out to your instructional coach can render the same results. As an administrator, leveraging the capacity of instructional coaches will help guarantee you meet your personal and building goals. Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, when you collaborate with an instructional coach, you have an impartial partner in a shared journey to best meet the needs of students. Together we can determine your goals and put them into practice.


See you next year, ISTE!

The Otus team enjoyed our time in Denver. We loved seeing all the amazing educators learning in sessions, exploring in the ISTE playgrounds, and walking through the Expo Hall.

As a team we enjoyed the enthusiastic atmosphere, an exciting Rockies game, a competitive video arcade expedition, and great conversation over food and drinks.

Big thanks to Denver and to all the educators who made ISTE 2016 great. You rock and inspire all of us at Otus. Here is a little video we made to show just how much fun we had this week. See you next year!


Otus Google Integration

As far as television shows go fictional portrayals of classrooms have proven to be long-standing fan favorites. In the 1970’s we laughed alongside the sweathogs in Welcome Back Kotter. In the 80’s we brushed up on our history knowledge with the characters of Head of the Class. In the 90’s we admittedly aligned ourselves with one of the cast members of Saved By the Bell and in the 00’s we recited the tagline from Boston Public “if you thought being a student was hard, try being a teacher”.

Recently, at Otus HQ we had a philosophical conversation about this question: “If a new classroom television series was to air today what would it be called?” We came to the conclusion that the show might very well be called, I Dream of Google.

Both teaching and learning are experiencing a rapid metamorphosis in the way content is accessed, instruction is delivered, students are assessed, and materials are managed. This transformation is due in large part to Google. For teachers, Google Drive (docs, slides, forms, sheets, etc) has played a leading role in this change. Google Drive was the first cloud based system that “took off” in education. In turn, many teachers and students have a strong affinity and loyalty to Google.

Due to this love for Google, when teachers first hear talk of implementing learning management or student performance systems they worry that these systems will force them to stop using Google Drive. With The Otus Student Performance System, this is simply not the case. Otus is a company created by and run by educators; we understand and value the many offerings of Google Drive*. We also honor teachers’ time. Otus does not require you to abandon work that has already been created or ask teachers to change for the sake of changing. This is why our system integrates with Google Drive and enhances the functionality of Google Drive features in a classroom setting.

Teachers continue to use Google Drive with Otus and gain additional capabilities such as automatic grade reporting, immediate and easily accessible feedback, standards based grading, and split-screen rubric grading. Otus also organizes documents and presentations by student and class. This functionality virtually eliminates the need for teachers to ever have to search their drive for items or figure out who is missing an assignment. An additional bonus of using Otus with Drive is that students are use Otus to turn-in assignments rather than sharing through Google. This process eliminates “shared with you” email notifications and helps teachers get one step closer to the lofty goal of an email inbox at “0”.

As much as television shows portray classrooms to be all fun and games, at Otus we know that “real-life” classrooms do not come with a built-in laugh track. Teachers work tirelessly to make sure that the needs of their students are met and that all students are performing. Otus’ integration with a proven K12 asset like Google Drive is one of the many ways that Otus strives to make teaching and learning in the 21st century as seamless as possible. Otus makes tasks more efficient and effective so teachers can do what they do best: ensure that all students experience success.


Creating Student Portfolios

In the age of blended classrooms and digital learning, the popularity of student portfolios has exponentially increased. Digital student portfolios can continue to be used for their original purpose of highlighting work that the teacher or student is particularly proud. Parents will no longer have to take up closet space or secretly dispose of paper portfolios when their children go to sleep (no judgment, parents- we get it). The Otus Student Performance Platform makes building student portfolios easy and efficient. Teachers or students simply “star” assessments and activities they want to add to their portfolio.

Using student portfolios as a tool to help increase student learning in addition to showcasing final projects is a relatively new take on an old tradition. Try one of our 5 favorite ways to maximize student learning with portfolios in Otus.

1. Student Goal Setting (.5)1

Back to the basics. Have your students use data to determine 3 skills-based/standard-aligned goals for each of the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Goals should be skills-based in order to make them applicable to as many content areas as possible. Students can then document their rise towards meeting their goals in all of their classes by adding examples of work that show growth.

2. Teacher Student Feedback (.75)

As you assess your students’ work, add items to their portfolios with actionable feedback. For example, you have a student who struggled with a portion of an assignment. You can star this assignment and add the item to the student’s portfolio with your feedback, “You seem to be struggling with comprehending this text. What other strategy could you try?” When the student tries another strategy and succeeds you add the new item with new feedback, “Performing a focused read really seemed to help you comprehend this text. What do you think was the difference?”

3. Student self-reporting of grades/mastery level (1.44)

Have students assess their own work using a rubric that you have co-created with them. They can do this digitally, on paper and upload, create and upload a video, or use a variety of other mediums to add their self-assessment to their portfolios.

4. Examples of mastery learning (.58)

When students are able to see examples of work at different levels (approaching, meets, exceeds standards, or A,B,C, D) they are able to better understand what is expected of them. Use this year’s student portfolios to help inform next year’s students of expectations.

5. School-home communication (.52)

Student portfolios can promote the school-home relationship as they provide more than just a grade. Student portfolios become the vehicle for driving parent/teacher conferences and furthermore encourage constant and consistent conversation between parents, teachers, and students.

This list is by no means a comprehensive compilation of ways you can use student portfolios. These are provisional examples that can be tweaked to best work in your classroom. Try them out and see what you think. Please consider sharing your experiences using portfolios with your students; we would love to hear your success stories!


1. Numbers indicate effect size of on student learning as researched by John Hattie of the Visible Learning Institute in his synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement. Criteria that score above a 0.4 are considered to have a greatest impact of student learning.


Sharing Bookshelf Resources

“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, you cannot get more time.” - Jim Rohn

As an educator, this quote really hits home. In fact, in a survey of 20,000 teachers, 76% said that if they had to identify one thing that they wanted more of it would be time.1 Time to plan. Time to assess. Time to instruct.

Lost instruction time is one of the obstacles teachers diligently try to avoid, but inevitably encounter. The lesson plan was succinct. The materials were copied and organized. The lesson should have gone off without a hitch. But, then the notorious timesuckers reared their ugly heads. The copies were missing a page. Johnny and Susie could not remember their passwords. Mikey did not seem to have the faintest idea of how to access the online textbook. That leads us to wonder just how much instructional time is lost due to transitions in the classroom? The answer is (on average) 10 minutes a day. Played out over a school year 10 minutes a day equals a whopping 1800 hours or 6 full school days.2

The Otus Bookshelf gives teachers the gift of time. Gone are the days of taking instructional minutes to direct students to the right webpage or delaying part of a lesson because more copies are needed. Otus streamlines the process of sharing materials and eliminates wasted instructional time due to website navigation and password issues. Students can access third party content (Khan Academy, Actively Learn, Newsela, Raz-Kids, etc.) as well as access shared articles, videos, and any other shared content.

The Otus Bookshelf makes sharing items as uncomplicated and quick as possible. In fact, teachers do not even have to be logged into Otus to share links or resources. The Otus Chrome extension allows teachers to add items (third party content, articles, resources, instructional tools) to the Bookshelf of one, some, or all of their students from any location.

Let us paint a picture for you. On Sunday afternoon, with your last few hours of the weekend ticking away you sit down to lesson plan. You start to surf some of your favorite websites for materials. You find several resources that you want to share with different groups of students. In the past, you would save/email the resource link to yourself to print and copy the next morning (average 7 minutes) or share the link via email or other method with the appropriate students (average 4 minutes). But, now you have the option share resources using on The Otus Bookshelf (average 30 seconds). If you replace printing and sharing via email with the Otus just once a week for an entire school year you gain approximately 3 hours of time. If you do this once a day for the entire school year you gain approximately 5 full school days!

On that note, go unwrap your gift from Otus and enjoy the extra time.


1. Scholastic study "Primary Sources," Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
2. Susan Hentz, Educational Consultant


Creating Custom Student Groups

Flexible grouping is one of the hallmarks of high-quality and effective differentiation. As esteemed educator, author, and differentiation expert Carol Ann Tomlinson explained, “[an] important principle [of differentiation] is that of flexible grouping... you need to systematically move kids among similar readiness groups, varied readiness groups, mixed learning-profile groups, interest groups, mixed interest groups, and student-choice groups.”

Otus enables teachers to implement the tutelage of Tomlinson. Otus gives the user complete control of the arrangement and quantity of groups. Using our colored flag system, teachers assign multiple flags to students (LE, gifted, tactile learner, etc). Then, teachers choose a group type (similar readiness, varied readiness, learning style, etc.) to group and regroup students as frequently as needed.

Teachers can create groups using custom criteria. Additionally, classroom and assessment performance analytics within Otus can be used to inform and assist group creation. Once groups are created teachers can push out differentiated materials, activities, and assessments to the appropriate groups with ease. As students’ and teachers’ needs change, teachers can easily add or remove students from groups. Otus helps make flexible grouping efficient and effective!

To find out more about how to create groups in Otus, try our interactive tutorial, in-app chat support, or message our helpdesk. We welcome your questions and feedback!


Tracking Student Behavior

Studies show that schools that successfully implement positive behavioral intervention systems (PBIS) are proven to have significantly lower rates of bullying and higher rates of academic success. The key word in the previous sentence is successful. Otus helps quantify the success of the PBIS framework by collecting and analyzing data on four basic criteria.

1. Set clear expectations.

With Otus’ Recognition function you can customize the behaviors you would like to track for your class or school. Students are able to monitor their recognition and see their progress. Many schools use the three Rs (respectful, responsible and ready) approach and specify the behaviors within each category for example, “Be Ready: Bring All Needed Materials to Class”.

2. Teach Social Emotional standards.

Otus can be used as your warehouse for your social emotional curriculum whether it is a curriculum developed by you or purchased by your district. You can share materials and administer assessments through Otus. The assessment data for each student will be housed along with their recognition data.

3. Implement a rewards system.

Otus’ Recognition points also can be given as reward to students. Students will strive to achieve the goal behaviors to see their points rise.

4. Use data to inform decisions and track growth.

Otus allows you to have all of your data in one place. This allows for a comprehensive view of each student and helps to more accurately track growth.

The functionality that Otus provides for tracking student behavior is just one example of how Otus serves as a tool for educational initiatives. Check this feature out today and let us know what you think!