Sunday, November 30, 2014

ISTE Coaching Academy Series - Course 1 Reflection

I started the ISTE Coaching Academy Series several weeks ago and am just finishing the first of six courses.  The course is aligned with the ISTE Standards for Coaches, which include six standards involving (1) Visionary Leadership, (2) Teaching, Learning, and Assessments, (3) Digital Age Learning Environments, (4) Professional Development and Program Evaluation, (5) Digital Citizenship, and (6) Content Knowledge and Professional Growth.  You can see the full description of the ISTE Standards for Coaches here.  You can see all of the ISTE standards (for teachers, students, adminstrators, and computer science educators) here.

Before I even got started with the course, I re-read through the ISTE Coaching Whitepaper, which you can download for free here.  I originally came across this Whitepaper when I was applying for my current position back in May.  This really helped me to wrap my head around the purpose of the coaching role and the benefits it has for teaching and learning. (You can see another great article on the benefits of coaching from Tech & Learning here). The authors lay out a clear "Situation, Problem, Solution, Result" that succinctly summarizes why coaching is one of the most effective types of professional development that a district or school can invest in.  There is so much good stuff - please download the article and read it in it's entirety.  The "Content Highlights" as stated on the ISTE website are: 

  • Introduction to three coaching models that provide highly effective professional development
  • 10 tips for leveraging technology, coaching, and community** [definitely read this part!]
  • 5 key benefits that result from the integration of technology, coaching and community
  • Introduction to the ISTE Standards for Coaches
Here is a portion of the executive summary that really stuck out to me along with a couple of comments.
Situation: Effective use of technology is essential for learning and teaching in a global, digital age.
We must leverage technology to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences for our students!  This includes assessment resources and ways to measure student achievement using technology.  If we want students to be productive digital-age citizens and be able to compete in a global, digital workplace, we must integrate technology effectively into all aspects of education! 
Problem: Many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments
"Just giving a teacher a technology tool and expecting him or her to maximize its learning potential is a strategy destined for failure" - How often does this happen?  Way too much... 
Solution: Coaching, combined with communities of learning, is a highly effective job-embedded professional development model
PD must be intensive, ongoing, focused on the classroom, and occurring during the teacher's workday.  We also have to allow teachers to collaborate with their colleagues to solve problems and share ideas. 
Result: Teachers experience technology as an effective tool for professional learning and develop the skills to powerfully use technology to improve student learning. 
Indicator of successful PD?  Teachers are implementing what they've learned.  Coaching allows there to be a scaffold of ongoing support and growth that allows for a lot of low-risk practice and feedback.  Quote from one of my fellows: "I'm more willing to try things this year because I know you'll be here to help me when I fail!"  Coach is customizable and personal to the teacher being coached. 
WhitePaper Citation:
Beglau, Monica, Jana Craig-Hare, Les Foltos, Kara Gann, Jayne James, Holly Jobe, Jim Knight, and Ben Smith. Technology, Coaching and Community: Power Partners for Improved Professional Development in Primary and Secondary Education. N.p.: ISTE, 2011. PDF.

    Let's jump in to my reflections and learning from Course 1.  The focus of this course was on Standards 1 (Visionary Leadership) and 4  (Professional Development and Program Evaluation).  This course was really helpful in thinking through my coaching plan (even though I'm already in the middle of the year and a lot of my plan was pre-planned before I took the position), goals, and the vision for my role in managing the change process across my site.  It also helped me to evaluate my professional development experiences so far (both as participant and leader) and think about how to make them more effective in actually making change in the classroom.

    We were able to explore the characteristics of effective professional development, which is defined as professional development that actually changes the way teachers teach.  We were given some stats - if teachers are just given Theory and Practice, there is a 5-15% classroom application rate.  However, if you add to those two Coaching, Study Teams, and Peer Visits, there is an 80-90% classroom application rate.  It is clear that PD needs to be so much more than "sit and get, come to the monthly requirement and have no follow up training, support or accountability, have a nice day!" sort of thing that I think way too many of us have experienced.  It's important to note that Coaching, Study Teams, and Peer Visits are all things that encourage collaboration and reflection - and that is key in any form of teacher growth.  

    If I think of what helped me to grow and change as a teacher, it was exactly that.  Before I started blogging myself, I was reading other teacher's blogs and gleaning from them.  I was in my Master's program doing an Action Research Project that required a lot of data collection but also reflection and analysis.  Then, I began implementing the flipped classroom model with a lot of research and reading.  When I started actually publishing my reflections on this blog, it really allowed me to think through the things I was trying and what I was doing to help my students grow.  Blogging, Twitter, and just the online PLN that has been developed from those two things has been huge in my professional growth and development.  It has given me a space to learn and try new things, but then receive feedback and suggestions for changes or improvements - that ever-so-valuable collaboration piece!

    So how does this apply to the teachers I work with?  Not every teacher is comfortable or ready to get out there and blog or get on twitter to connect and reflect with educators outside of their comfort zone.  This is where coaching comes in, giving those teachers the safe space to reflect as well as the guidance needed, since reflection does take time and focus.  They can receive training on a certain thing, be given time to play with it in a "safe" and "I'll be here when you fail" space, receive follow-up support and encouragement, and a structure, safe way to implement new practices via co-teaching and model lessons. 

    We also looked at the qualities of a good coach.  A few that stuck out to me (this is not all-inclusive) were:

    • Ability to build trust with peers - this is huge.  I actually really liked the fact that I started this position in a brand new school and district as it eliminated the need to "transfer" relationships from colleague to coach.  While many teachers know about my blog or follow me on Twitter, I try to keep a low profile in terms of "my expertise" and focus on meeting them where they are and helping to meet their needs.  Trust is critical because we are challenging our fellows and pushing their thinking.  We can't come across as a 'know-it-all' or someone who is judging them.  They must know that we are here to support them and that they can trust us to keep a level of confidentiality.  The course gave six building blocks of trust: Compassion, Communication, Commitment, Collaboration, Ability, and Integrity.  I hope that I model of of these aspects to my teachers, and I have definitely seen their confidence and willingness to try new things grow as our relationship has grown.
    • Communicates well and listens to teachers.  This ties in to building trust.  If a teacher knows that you care about what they are experiencing and what they are thinking, that helps them to build confidence and trust in you.  I strive to be a good communicator who listens to teacher needs and finds ways to meet them where they are and take their next step, wherever it may be.
    • Can show teachers how to replace what they are doing with something better, not just present technology as an add-on. Teachers already have so much on their plate.  Add all the new Common Core stuff, and then throw laptops at all their students, and they are overwhelmed.  One of my focuses (foci ;)) this year has been to present technology as a solution to a problem they have - something they want to do or are already doing non-digitally and show them how to make it more efficient or effective with a technology tool.  When I did some workshops a few weeks ago on Google Forms, Doctopus, Socrative, and Online Annotation Tools, they were all advertised in terms are "Are you looking for a way to..." - it didn't mention the tech tool, it presented a solution.
    • Provides a safe, risk-taking environment and is non-threatening, non-judgmental, and accepting.  If the teachers don't feel safe, they won't be willing to try.  It's the same for our students.  I was thinking yesterday about my collegiate basketball experience as an analogy for risk-taking and growth.  I only played for 1 year due to multiple injuries (torn meniscus, ruptured achilles tendon, and herniated disc in my back), but it was such a different experience than my high school playing years... and it was all based on the coach.  My high school coach was encouraging, even during failure.  He inspired us to take risks, try new skills, and was always looking for improvement, not perfection.  I felt free to play, learn, grow, and enjoy the sport.  When I got to the collegiate level, after just a few weeks, I felt strapped down. I felt anxious.  I was always worried about the anger and disappointment that would ensue if I made a mistake. I was not able to take risks because it might be "wrong".  I was afraid to try because the eyes were always looking for the failure, not the improvement or successes.  In a situation where I could have continued to grow and flourish, I shut down.  I want to be like my high school coach to the fellows I work with.  I want to "inspire them to take risks, try new skills, and look for improvement, not perfection".  I want them to "feel free to play, learn, grow, and enjoy teaching and learning with technology".
    While I am far from the perfect coach, these are a few of the qualities I am continuing to work on as I grow professionally.  Seeing the list of qualities and reflecting on each of them really gave me a goal of different areas of strength I need to keep nurturing and different areas of weakness to focus on improving in.

    Another area we looked at in this course was the Coaching Cycle.  We use a three-stage Prebrief-Implementation-Debrief cycle, but I really liked some of the areas that were included in this cycle.  They started with Assess and Set Goals.  I think this is something I can do a better job of next year when I start working with my teachers.  Assessing means not only evaluating their technology skills but also their instructional strategies.  This may mean starting off by just being in the teacher's classroom and debriefing on the instructional strategies they are already using, and identifying goals and areas for growth.  I think this approach would help us to begin with a focus on instruction and less on the technology.  Once we have set some initial instructional goals, then we can assess the teacher's technological readiness, areas of strength, and areas of weakness.  From those two pieces of data, we can set goals that marry the instructional and technological together.  Some goals will be more instructionally focused, others will be "learn the tech tool" focused, and others will coincide so seamlessly you may not even realize it.

    After these two starting phases of the cycle, which I think are important to revisit 3-4 times throughout the year, the model was similar to the three-stage cycle we use.  They called it "Prepare, Implement, Reflect", but it was the same idea.  In the prepare stage, you may be planning an activity or project, you may be sharing lessons and resources, you may be creating or adapting materials, or you may just be reviewing or learning tech skills (or any combo of those).  Throughout the prepare phase, it is the role of the coach to ask probing questions that will help the teacher to make their learning activities more innovative and technologically-rich (all with the goal of greater student understanding and engagement).  The implementation phase can be modeling, co-teaching, or just cognitive (coach observing), but it is important to bring up areas that may need to be adjusted throughout the lesson and have a way to assess student learning, even if it is just one lesson.  Lastly, the Reflect phase is all about determining the effectiveness of the lesson implementation and setting the stage for the next cycle.  In the last few weeks, I have been modifying the prompts in my coaching journal to include more goal setting and reflection on effectiveness of the lesson.  As I've written before in one of my last reflections, the two debriefs I've done with these prompts have gone very well and I felt they were effective tools for reflection.

    The next section talked about creating coaching norms.  The whole purpose of norms is to help teams or groups work together more efficiently.  We were able to see a lot of different examples of norms and were asked to come up with 3-5 for our coaching.  Here is what I came up with:

    • Start and End on Time - be respectful of both coach and fellow's schedule.  If something comes up, communicate in a timely manner before meeting time.  Be committed to the schedule and block off the time on your calendar.
    • Limit Distractions - Meetings are for planning and debriefing.  Schedule other times for "venting".
    • Hold yourself personally accountable and accept ownership for your own learning - I am there to coach, facilitate, and teacher, but it is up to my fellows to work with me and help carry out the mission.
    • We will discuss issues, not people - Our overarching goal is to focus on student learning and how to improve or deepen the learning currently happening in the classroom with the support of technology.  Stay focused on this "third point"

    Our culminating assignment was to develop a coaching plan and give feedback on other's submitted coaching plans.  We also were given a reflection guide, but heck - I'm a blogger... it was much easier to synthesize and reflect on here - then I have the added benefit of sharing my learning with others and receiving feedback, thoughts, and experiences from you (please comment and share!) 

    Thanks for reading!

    See all of my ISTE Coaching Academy Course Reflections here:
    Course 1 Reflections 
    Course 2 Reflections,
    Course 3 Reflections
    Course 4 Reflections

    Course 5 Reflections

    Course 6 Reflections

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