Sunday, July 12, 2015

Coaching: Who should be a fellow?

This post is Part 3 of my year-end series on Coaching

One of the coolest things about my job as a Digital Learning Coach is that teachers actually apply to be fellows.  It’s about moving willing teachers from “Good” to “Great”, and is not something that is “forced” on them by administrators or evaluators.

With that being said, applying to be a fellow can be very scary for some teachers.  It’s not easy to open up your classroom and be transparent with your teaching.  It’s hard for teachers who aren’t used to having people in their classroom besides their yearly evaluation to see a coach as a non-evaluative person.  It’s also hard to open yourself up to moving out of your comfort zone and changing the dynamic of your classroom.

I try to summarize my role to teachers like this:

I am a collaborative, non-evaluatory, non-judgmental thought partner and collaborative colleague who strives to help you enhance and improve the teaching and learning in your classroom by finding effective, efficient, engaging, and enjoyable uses of technology.  As we work together, our processes are personalized to fit your needs and desires and our pace is individualized to challenge you appropriately.  My goal is to meet you where you are and offer you resources that uniquely respond to your particular needs.

If teachers are considering being fellows, here are some questions they should reflect on. I don’t send these out as a list of questions to them, but they do guide conversations I have with interested fellows.

One of the first questions teachers who are thinking about applying ask me is, “How much time will it take?”  The general answer to that question is “1 hour a week during your prep period”, which is used for coaching meetings where we will plan lessons that incorporate technology and prepare for implementation.  In addition to that, we ask them to reflect (which I will be incorporating within the coaching meeting this year), share with others (which should occur during department, PLC, or staff meetings), and participate in a few “big” after school events such as a beginning of year Kickoff (meet other fellows, make some connections) and end of the year Techstravaganza (event for fellows to share in a mini-conference style).  I try to emphasize that the one prep a week is being used to plan things that they would already be spending that time doing, but now you have someone to collaborate and share ideas with, and you have support in trying things you weren’t sure about before.

More important that being willing to commit to the “time commitment”, fellows need to commit to a mindset shift.  This goes along with the questions above.  They need to be open to learning new things, and to trying new things in their classes.  A fellow will not grow if every suggestion is answered with “That won’t work for my kids” or “I don’t have time for that in my class”.   They need to be open to the process of reflecting and thinking deeply about their practice – it’s not easy to open yourself up to things you aren’t sure about, but they must be open to making mistakes (in a supportive environment) and not always knowing the answers.  It’s okay if the students know more than you when you are trying out a new tool to help their learning!  Utilize the collective knowledge of the room to help everyone get better.  A fellow needs to have a flexible classroom approach where everything is not just set in stone the “way it’s always been done”.  If their mindset is not open to things they haven’t tried before or “changing it up”, it will be very hard to grow.  Being a fellow really is a professional learning opportunity, and I would argue that it is the best professional development opportunity a teacher could ever sign up for – and it’s free! 

Not all fellows begin with that “Open Mindset” described above, but develop it over the course of the year with the guidance of the coach.  I would say that is one of the hardest parts of being a coach – helping a teacher to shift their mindset so they are open to learning and trying new things, open to taking risks, and open to making mistakes and learning from them.  While it is one of the hardest parts, it's also one of the most rewarding to be a part of a teacher's journey as they grow and find success in trying new things!

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