Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Five Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Being a Digital Learning Coach this Year

This post is Part 1 of my year-end series on Coaching
  1. Successful Coaching is Built upon Relationships First.  For a teacher to invite me to play a role in their professional practice is a huge step.  It’s scary opening the doors of your classroom and your mind to let someone else in.  Relationships and trust are huge.  I’m not an administrator, I’m not here to be judgmental – I am a collaborative colleague and a thinking partner.  I can’t go into a coaching relationship as the expert with ideas of how to “fix” things.  It’s about getting to know the teachers, finding out their strengths, setting goals, sharing ideas, and taking steps to help move them forward.  Sometimes this will mean pushing them beyond their comfort zone, but that is doable when there is a relationship and trust as the foundation.  I consider the teachers that I have worked with this year true friends and not just “fellows” that I’ve worked with. 
  2.  A “Tech Coach” is not an IT person.  Being a “Digital” Learning Coach, many teachers assume I am there to help with AERIES, Illuminate, and Haiku.  Maybe even tell them why their computer won’t turn on, their printer won’t work, or how to work their projector.  While I am fairly well-equipped to answer these questions, I would much rather work with teachers on tackling upcoming lessons, projects, or other ideas in the classroom and brainstorm ways to improve and enhance it – usually by using some form of technology tool.  I don’t think I communicated this very well at the beginning of last year, but so much was new I don’t think I even knew what to communicate!  I feel like it’s much clearer for me this year what my role is, which will help me to be able to better communicate it to the staff I work with.  If they understand what you are really there for, it will allow you to use your time more effectively and also (hopefully) open up more doors to reach more teachers when they see how you can help them.
  3. It can’t be “Tech tool First”, it must be Pedagogy First.  During Coaching Meetings, I always try to start with, “So what are you teaching in the next week or so?”  As we discuss the learning objectives, concepts, activities, or other plans, then we begin to talk about a possible technology tool that could support that.  That will usually mean I will have to support my fellow in learning the tech tool as we plan the lesson.  This embedded learning of tech tools makes it much more meaningful and reminds teachers that we must have a purpose for the tools we use.  They must be used because they support the learning objectives and not just because they sound cool.  If we start with, “I want to use ________ [insert tech tool here]”, that’s completely backwards.    Many teachers will have some ideas in mind of what they want to work on during the year, based on what they have heard or seen.  It’s important to start off with some basic tech proficiencies (making sure they know how to use Haiku with their students, how to do basic stuff with Google Drive, etc) so those don’t become barriers to the learning.  However, beyond that, it should all be tied directly to a learning outcome that is coming up.
  4. You must be able to step in and out of the three roles of coaching fluidly.  I learned about the “Cognitive Mode”, “Collaborative Mode”, and “Expert Mode” during my initial coaching training last September.  We were asked to go to an area of the room based upon where we thought we spent most of our coaching time.  The majority of people went to Cognitive, several went to Collaborative, and I believe one stood in Expert.  I stood in the middle.  First, I was still overwhelmed with all the learning that was being shoved down our throats and didn’t have time to process yet.  But secondly, I really believed (and still do) in the value of all three roles.  It depends on the fellow and the part of the coaching cycle you are in.  Cognitive mode is awesome for reflection and for guiding fellows through making sense of what they want to do, how they want to do it, how it went, and how to improve in the future.  Collaborative mode is perfect for sharing ideas, brainstorming plans, and figuring out the most effective way to implement a tool or strategy within the learning objectives.  Expert mode is important when sharing a new tool and explaining how and why it could be used in support of what is being planned.  Even within one coaching meeting, I will play all three roles based on our conversation and the situation. [see my original post with more details on these three modes here.]
  5. You must be in their classrooms, with their students – modeling, co-teaching, or observing/collaborating – often!  This is one area I feel I failed at in the first semester of coaching.  I was so focused on trying to figure things out, get things organized, support my teachers with the very beginning tech questions they had just coming in to the fellowship, that I wasn’t always in their classrooms just getting to know them as teachers.  They also must know the different purposes of me being in the classroom.  If it’s a specific lesson we planned together, I might model the lesson one period and they will teach it the next.  We might co-teach during the period.  Or, I simply might be in there as an observer and collaborator for us to reflect on later. There is one teacher I worked with that the first time I was in her classroom, I was asked to walk around to mark off homework. Ack!  Communicate with your fellows what your role is and why you are in there.  When I am in there just observing, it allows me to see the teacher in their element and brainstorm ideas for what could be done to help enhance the learning already going on.  There was an activity in one class where the students were “collaborating” on a chapter of reading, but were all writing on individual pieces of paper in four different squares and weren’t actually talking about anything.  I asked her, on the fly, if I could do something different with one group of four students.  She was open to it (again, it’s about the relationship), and so I set up a collaborative Google Doc between the four students and had them type in different colors so they could see what others were saying.  I showed them how to digitally comment on each other’s work as well.  Just by being able to see and share each other’s thinking facilitated the group actually talking to one another about what they were writing instead of just staring at their own paper.   Because of this experience, we ended up piloting collaborative Google Docs (even sent out via Doctopus!) for one entire class period over the next month, and by the second semester, she was ready to do it for all of her class periods.  She noticed more engagement, more writing, and a higher level of work since they were able to see what other people were contributing and add on to that.   My whole point of this story is that none of it would have happened if I wasn’t just in this fellow’s classroom on a normal day, while she was doing her normal thing, in order to learn more about her as a teacher and gather ideas for ways that technology tools could improve or enhance the teaching and learning in her classroom.

This post is Part 1 of my year-end series on Coaching

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