Monday, September 7, 2015

My Life as a Digital Learning Coach - Week 1 Reflections (Year 2)

I've wrapped up my first "official" week back to work, starting my second year as a Digital Learning Coach.  "Official" means that I've been back sporadically for pre-school events since August 10th, but now the teachers are back and students started last Tuesday.

The beginning of the year has been much crazier than last year, and I really think it's because of the relationships I was able to build with teachers over the course of last school year.  At this time last year, I was brand new, was just figuring out Haiku (our LMS) and everything else myself, and didn't really know anybody.  Now that I've built the foundation with the teachers at my site, they are much more comfortable coming and asking for help, whether it be a quick question or something more involved.

[For those of you that are new to my blog... My role as a Digital Learning Coach has me at one high school site 4.5 days a week (the other .5 day I'm with the other DLC's across the district, there are about 12 of us for grades 6-12, 6 middle schools and 4 high schools).  I support all of the teachers at the site (110) but specifically focus my work on teachers that have applied to be "fellows" in a year-long Tech Fellowship.  This year, I am working with 11 teachers: 5 math (3 of them as a group, the other 2 individually), 2 social science, 3 English, and 1 Science.  You can read a little more about my coaching setup and other details on my Coaching Page here.]

On Monday, which was a Teacher Work Day, I opened my schedule up for my new fellows first, and ended up being booked solid from 8am-3pm (with a 15 minute lunch :)), working with 10 teachers, 8 of them being new fellows.  Most of them were just getting set up for the year, needing help on Haiku or Google Classroom.  However, with a few of them we actually designed some "First Day of School" activities using Padlet. 

For the Padlet Activities, students wrote their name with an adjective (you know, like "Creative Crystal" or something like that), wrote something about them (one teacher had them write 3 facts about themselves, another had them write the best part of their summer), and then take a selfie with their webcam to post to the wall.  Both teachers who used this activity loved it and said the kids were engaged.  In addition, they were able to get to know the students more quickly, as well as the students learning about their classmates.  They used the privacy settings to "Moderate Posts" so the students didn't see each other's posts until the teacher approved them.  This allowed the students to not be as apprehensive in posting their picture because it wasn't going to appear right away - they would have time to "retake" it if needed.

Google Classroom was presented at our Summer Institute and there are a TON of teachers (fellows and non-fellows) on board with using it.  While I still love my Doctopus (mainly due to the ability to push out documents in groups, the ability to view assignments both by assignment and by student, and the ease that Goobric is with it), teachers that have not really used Google Drive with their students before are jumping all over it!  There is so much potential for transformative, formative, feedback-based instruction when students use Google Drive for their work.  I'm very excited for this, if you couldn't tell :)

On Tuesday, we had a training with our team of DLCs, and we had some great discussions and did some activities to help frame our work for the year.  Our "Word of the Year" is YET, which goes along with the District's summer reading book of "Mindset".  We are not perfect, we are still growing, we are not there... YET!  

One of my favorite activities was a Communications Style Survey / Discussion, which you can find here.  I am dominantly a Thinker, and it was great to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of my dominant communication style and how to improve communication with those of different styles.  I am doing this survey with my fellows over these first few weeks as well.

Wednesday started my first "real" day on site.  Thankfully I did not open up my calendar to teachers in the morning because I had plenty of work to get done.   Over the next 3 days, I met with 18 teachers in person, worked with 2-3 over the phone, and countless more via email.  I've decided to continue using Doodle for my appointment calendar for non-fellow teachers to schedule time with me.  I've found it very easy to add to my calendar each week (I try to be scheduled about 2 weeks in advance), and I get an email (and a push notification from the Doodle app on my phone) anytime a teacher signs up for a time.  I do have to manually add it to my calendar, but otherwise it's very simple.  I did try using Google Calendar appointment slots last year, and I just ran into too many kinks that I tried Doodle and liked it. 

I was able to have my "initial fellow meeting" with nine of my eleven fellows this week.  The purpose of the initial meeting is to have a conversation, get to know one another, and launch some ideas for the year.  My initial meeting had three main parts:

1. Conversation about Coaching Experience & Expectations
I gathered different questions from multiple books and resources this summer and had an informal conversation with my fellows.  I didn't ask every question to every fellow, but I did take notes as we talked so I could remember the key things they said.  I didn't use these questions last year so I didn't know exactly how it would go.  I ended up being really happy with how it opened our discussion and set the focus for the year. Some of the questions I found very useful were:

  • Have you worked with a coach before?  If so, describe your experience and what did / did not work well.  What has prompted you to explore coaching now?
    • Most of my fellows had worked with a coach in a non-academic capacity before, such as in athletic coaching, and we were able to begin to make the connection between their role and my role.  I like how several fellows said the coach "Gave her exercises to do, babysat her while she did them and helped her through it, and would tweak things if she wasn't doing them correctly in order that she would do them more effectively". One even mentioned the coach "anticipating where he would go wrong, knowing the pitfalls and trying to avoid them."
    • Some quotes (paraphrased / summarized):
      • "I don't know what I could do with what I already do to transform it in a technological way"
      • "I see all the things other teachers are doing and want to do it as well.  Coaching gives me somebody to teach me and walk me through it so it's not so overwhelming" 
      • "I want ways to make things easier - I'm not 100% sold that all "this stuff" will make students more successful right now"
      • "I always want to be growing and learning.  I don't feel comfortable jumping in and exploring myself because I need to be taught more.  I get overwhelmed by too many ideas because I think I should know them all right now and put too much pressure on myself.  Coaching will help with all of this."
      • "I'm comfortable with technology and like what it has to offer, but want to be held accountable to go and explore more things with a little more push.  I'm more interested in how the technology actually affects pedagogy and less just how to use it."
      • "I'm always learning and want to maximize the way I do things.  I want more hands-on practice beyond just a conversation."
      • "I'm a huge fan of tech but want to be able to combine that with my love for teaching.  I want to use tech in a meaningful way, but not just use it to use it - it needs to benefit my classroom."
      • "I like having the support and consistency of meeting, as well as the positive accountability that coaching provides."
  • What are you hoping to get out of being coached?  What do you hope your students will learn as a result of our work?
    • This is a great question to see where they are at - do they see me as a "tech-fixer", do they see the bigger picture of how technology should support pedagogy?  Do they see the connection (and importance) of impacting student learning?
    • Some quotes (teacher gains)
      • "I don't want to learn 500 things and not remember any of them.  I want to practice the same things over and over again to get good at them" 
      • "I want to not be afraid of using new things anymore"
    • Some quotes (student gains)
      • "Students gain resourcefulness from using different tools and use that to their advantage"
      • "Allow students to think at a higher level, engage them more, less busy work, be curious"
      • "Make learning more meaningful for students, improve engagement, improve student self-direction in their learning"
      • "Give them a more rich / dynamic experience; allow them to organize things to their advantage.  Have them know how to use different apps / programs more fluidly so they can focus on the learning."
  • What is your understanding of what coaching is and what my role is?
    • I phrased this more like, "If somebody walked in that didn't know me or my purpose, how would you explain my role and purpose to them?"
    • This was another eye-opening question to see how much they understand the big picture of my role.  I was very happy to not hear things like "fix my tech problems" - most if not all of my fellows saw at least some aspect of the pedagogical / technological connection. 
    • Some quotes:
      • "A person knowledgeable in technology that also taught math who can show us how to incorporate tech with both routine stuff (help the teacher) and with the content (help the teacher help students)"
      • "Can help me learn how to make tech and math complement each other instead of clash with each other"
      • "Expose me to the technology that is out there and then help me learn how to effectively use the ones that I choose"
      • "Assist me in creating and implementing lessons that have new technology in my classroom.  Show me tools that I didn't know existed and help me figure out why to use different tools."
      • "Someone who is 'more expert' in technology than me that I can have conversations with about pedagogical approaches and can act as a sounding board for thinking through ideas."
      • "Give me support in new ideas and ones that I have had little thought on; a resource so she can stop focusing on the 'annoyances' of technology and actually be able to use it in my lessons."
  • What concerns do you have about our work together this year?  What challenges do you foresee us facing?
    • Different challenges mentioned were time, pressure (internal and external), concerned if things don't work having to go back and reteach, concerned about making sure the line between "tech support" and "coaching" is clear, being able to give appropriate feedback with larger class sizes, making sure students actually bring the technology with them.
  • More individual / personal questions:
    • Is there anything I should know about you that would help me in my work with you or make our work more effective?
    • What do you know about the way you learn and communicate best that would be important for me to understand?

2. Explanation of Digital Documents on Haiku and Google Drive
I pushed out several different documents to them at the beginning of the year for our work together.  I talked them through the organization (all the Google Docs are embedded on Haiku as a type of portfolio for the year) and the purpose of several of the documents we'll be using throughout the year.  This was fairly brief and I just wanted them to see that the documents on both sites were the same, understand the "running documents" we will keep throughout the year (agendas, lesson plans, tech toolbelt, sharing log, and journal) as compared to ones we will look at just as we get started and set the stage ("first meet" discussion questions, coaching focus, norms, tech proficiencies, classroom management plan)

3. Our Purpose, Commitments, and Plan for the Year;

  • I explained how I describe my role to others, which for a lot of them closely aligned with at least some of their comments:
    • To develop technologically self-sufficient teachers
    • To enhance teaching and learning by effectively integrating technology into the learning activities
    • To facilitate a non-evaluative, collaborative partnership always seeking to improve teaching and learning.
  • I talked about the non-evaluative relationship we have and that they will see me talking to admin about whole-school issues but our coach-fellow relationship is confidential.  While there is already a foundation of trust between me and the fellow since this is my second year at the school, I still feel like it was important to address up front.  If I had any fellows that were brand new to the school and didn't have a previous relationship with me, I may go into this a little bit more and do some more trust-building.
  • I explained the coaching cycle [prebrief - implementation - debrief] that we'll start in a couple weeks after we work through the foundational "big picture" technology.
  • We looked at how TPaCK relates to both our relationship and how we approach things.  I told them the "sweet spot" is where content, pedagogy, and technology all overlap and that both of us bring different strengths in all three of those areas. Our goal is to work together to enhance all of those areas and make sure we consider all three when planning lessons.  I described the way we approach lessons is, "What content are you teaching?", "How are you planning on teaching it?", and then "What tools would support / improve / enhance what we want to accomplish?".
  • I gave them a "homework assignment" to begin reflecting on some pedagogical focuses for this year.  I asked them to come up with at least one "big idea" focus to start the year off (although it will change throughout the year and with each coaching cycle).  This will help to launch our discussion next week as we continue to get to know each other, talk through some different topics such as Norms for our meetings, Classroom Management with Tech plans that they have, the importance of reflection and how that will look this year, and begin working on the "tech proficiencies", which are the "big picture" things that will be used throughout the whole year like Haiku, Google Drive, Google Classroom, etc. 

This first week really was great and I'm looking forward to working with all of my amazing fellows this year.  I hope to continue to blog once every 1-2 weeks... we'll see how it goes this year :)

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