Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Year of Coaching … Explained

This post is Part 2 of my year-end series on Coaching

I wanted to outline the basics of how I structure a year with my fellows.  This obviously gets tweaked a bit for each fellow, since coaching really is about personalized, individualized professional growth and development, but it will give you a general idea of my workflow.

Beginning of Year
  • Build Relationships.  Get to know your fellow.  Find out about them as people, be in their classroom to learn about them as teachers, ask about their goals for the fellowship (and work together to set pedagogy-first goals), learn their strengths.  This obviously doesn’t just happen at the beginning of the year, but you must start off that way.
  • Tech Proficiencies.  The beginning of the year is crazy, as teachers are setting up routines, students are shifting in and out of classes, and you are building trust.  Use this time to support the teachers in things that will save them time and headaches later… Do they know how to use Haiku (our LMS)?  Can they add content blocks of various types to help support the learning going on in their classroom?  Do they know how Google Drive works, what “the cloud” means, what a “collaborative document” includes?  Can they organize files and folders within Google Drive and create new documents, sheets, slides, or drawings?   There are some “foundational” tech tools that all teachers should be comfortable with, and you can start the year off laying some groundwork with things you know they’ll definitely need and use as you start the “real” coaching.

Throughout the Year
  • Coaching Cycle.  The basic coaching cycle is “Pre-Brief – Observe – Debrief”, and can take anything between 1-3 weeks.  It will flow differently with different teachers, and you must be willing and able to adjust accordingly. 

a.       During the pre-brief is when you ask “So what are you teaching in the next week?” and start brainstorming what lesson(s) to focus on.  As the teacher describes the purpose and goals of the lesson, and you probe to learn more about what the teacher wants the students doing / learning / producing, you can suggest different tool(s) that might help support that.  You can model for the fellow how the tool works and describe how it would improve / enhance the lesson.  Depending on the fellow, you may show them the tool and ask them to reflect on how they think it would impact the lesson.  As you collaborate together, you can reflect on different aspects of the lesson, what the expected outcomes are, and potential roadblocks that they may face during class (and how to overcome them live in class).  It’s also during this prebrief time that you will collaboratively decide what role the coach will play during the lesson – will it be a modeling or co-teaching lesson?  Or will it just be an observation / collaborative time?

b.      The observation is where the rubber hits the road.  At this point the fellow is equipped to follow through with whatever was planned, and the coach is there to support in whatever way necessary.  This is awesome for apprehensive teachers because you are not asking them to try something new (taking risks…) without the support of the coach.   It is also valuable because the coach is able to see how things go and begin thinking of questions to ask the fellow during the debrief time to aid in their reflection.

c.       The debrief can occur in several different ways.  I would try to do a quick 1-2 minute debrief with the fellow at the end of the class period, sometimes even holding my camera to the side to film it (for our reflective purposes only).  I would also ask the fellow to reflect with a few questions within the next day or two to prep for our next conversation.   Ideally, our next coaching meeting would occur within a couple of days, and we would be able to do a deeper debrief of the lesson and begin to think of next steps.   There are a lot of great questions you can ask during the debrief that will help the fellow to reflect and continue moving forward.

Reflect on Journey (Journal / Blog)

a.       I tried several different methods this year of having fellows reflect.  None of them worked quite perfectly, but I kept modifying trying to figure it out.  The biggest thing is if they don’t set aside specific time to get it done (like I used to do with blogging about my classroom every weekend), then it won’t happen.  For some teachers, it is hard to understand the value of the journaling and to get them past talking about the “what’s” and “how’s” and move towards the “why’s” and deeply reflect on the impact on teaching and learning.  

b.      A few things I tried this year: 1. Leaving a coaching meeting a few minutes early to give them time to do the reflection then.  Problem: as soon as I walked out the door they would start working on something else.  2. Sending out a weekly email on Fridays to ask them to reflect on the week. Problem: No personal communication, sometimes too far removed from what I wanted them to reflect on.

c.       What I’m trying for next year:  I want journaling to just become a natural process and a piece of the whole coaching cycle.  I am going to make a two-column interactive journal where I can reply to them once a week and it can be more of a conversation.  I will also be able to model for them what reflective journaling looks like rather than just “this is what I did”.  The first 10 minutes of our coaching meeting will be journaling time, where both of us will take time to reflect on specific things from the past week.  That way it’s not taking more time out of their week, it’s intentional, and it’s “just the way we do things”.  Because I’ll be in there and it’s before our meeting, there won’t be the issue of moving on to other tasks.  If there are fellows that decide they want those first ten minutes for something else, they are welcome to do the journaling before the meeting.  But, then it is their decision and in their hands, rather than another time suck I’m “handing” to them.  My goal is that as they consistently journal, they find value in the purposeful reflective process and it will have an impact on our work together.

Reflect on Growth

a.       Video Interviews: We try to have 2-3 video interviews with the fellows at the beginning, middle, and end of year.  These are only for us, posted on our shared Haiku page.  I think this is a valuable reflection tool besides the journaling because actually speaking it and then hearing yourself talk about your growth later will be such a clear picture of your journey.

b.      Tech Self-Assessment: 3-4 times throughout the year, we will have the fellows do a tech self-assessment.  The purpose of this is to track growth in a more quantitative way.  It is more focused around their comfort with using specific tech tools.  I’ve modified it throughout this year so the teachers rate themselves on a scale of 1-4 (1=I know the tool exists and its basic function, 2=I’ve worked with my coach using the tool, 3=I’ve worked with the tool by myself, 4=I feel fully comfortable using the tool to improve / enhance teaching and learning).  There’s no “golden number” because the self-assessment will grow throughout the year as we try new tools.  The goal is that each time we take it, we see growth.

End of Year

Set Goals & Reflect on Growth

a.       As we come upon the last month or so of coaching (which ends about 2-3 weeks before the school year does), I begin doing some formal goal-setting with my fellows.  This year, we started by filling out their “Tech Toolbelt”, which listed out the tools they used, how they used them, were they successful tools or not, and would they use them next year.  Next year, I’m planning on having them fill out their toolbelt as we go through the year so it won’t be such a large project at the end of the year.   After they fill out the toolbelt, we start talking about goals, focused on objectives / purposes supported by tools.  We do this over the course of a couple weeks to give time for the fellow to process and really think through what they want to focus on as they continue to grow.  The process of going through the tech toolbelt and setting goals is huge in reflecting on their growth throughout the year.

This post is Part 2 of my year-end series on Coaching

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

Why I haven’t blogged much this year…

I’ve struggled this year with blogging.  I’ve talked about it with several colleagues, and my thinking has been that it is more difficult to reflect on my practice in a public forum now that it is not about my classroom, but about my work with other teachers.   I have been trying to find a framework from which to blog from, and am really hoping to get back into it next year by sharing lessons and strategies that we implement and possibly having my fellows guest blog as they reflect on their practice.  Where I struggle is that I always strive to be authentic and reflective – discussing both my successes and my failures.  I don’t feel like it is appropriate to discuss others successes and failures.  It is my goal to find a happy medium, as I’ve learned so much from coaching and truly believe it is the most valuable form of professional development that a school or district could implement.
It’s gone through my mind – if I’m not blogging, does that mean I haven’t been reflecting this year?  

I consider myself a highly reflective educator.  I ask my fellows to be reflective and to journal on our process.  Why am I not doing the same? I feel like I have had to find other ways this year to reflect and grow since I haven’t written most of it down. Thankfully, I have had an amazing group of colleagues who are really open to sharing, learning, growing, and reflecting on our practice.   When I was in the classroom, I was on an island.  My only form of connection was through finding colleagues on Twitter and reflecting on the forum that this blog has become.  Now, I feel lucky and blessed that I have people I can connect with in person who understand my role and purpose as a Digital Learning Coach.  I’m not sure if any of my colleagues read my blog, but if so… thank you for being such amazing partners in collaboration as we work together to support teachers!

In conclusion, blogging is not the only form of reflection.  However, there is huge value in taking the time to actually write things down.  There is also tremendous benefits from going back and reading what you have written (which you can’t do if it’s just a conversation).  So, my goal is to begin to find ways to reflect and actually blog again as I go through this summer of sharing and learning at conferences and begin my second year as a Digital Learning Coach.  Please check in with me – hold me accountable – and challenge me and stretch me in this goal.

Headed to #ISTE2015!

I’m on my way to Philly for ISTE and I’m so excited for the chance to meet up with colleagues and learn from others.  I’ve got a pretty busy week planned, but purposely scheduled time for “down time” this year instead of just trying to go-go-go.  If you are there, I hope to get to meet up with you and collaborate. 

On Sunday, I’ll be at the TeachMeet all day.  I’ve never been to a TeachMeet, but I’ve been told it’s like a pre-planned EdCamp.  It also looks like there is a lot of time for informal collaboration, which I am excited about.

On Monday, I’ll be leading the session called “Create yourfirst TouchCast Today!” from 11am-12pm.  It’s a BYOD / PreRegister session that is completely full right now, but you can always try to stand in line and see if you get in!  It should be a fun albeit crazy session as there are 150 people in one room learning about the basics of making a TouchCast.

Monday afternoon I have my “WSQing your Way to #FlipclassSuccess” session from 4:15-5:15pm.  I presented this at CUE this year, but made a few tweaks and am excited to share again.  One of the things I love about this WSQing session is that it presents a mindset and a framework of things for teachers to consider in order to successfully flip their class.  The WSQ is a specific tool that helps to address the ideas in the framework, but there is so much room for flexibility, teacher modifications, and personalization of the idea.

On Tuesday, I have my “Flip Your Class From Start To Finish” workshop from 8:30-11:30am.  This is a paid workshop, and when I last checked there were just a few spots left.  The plan is to hit upon basically everything you need to start flipping your class (or learn more to find more success if you’ve just started).  We’ll discuss the shifts in a flipped class, mindset, WSQ, etc, but also spend some time on content creation, actually make a short screencast, and address the issue of what to do in class time.  I’m hoping to also discuss communication with parents and administrators, common hurdles, and a few other topics, depending on time.

On Wednesday, I will be a part of the panel for “Many Methods to FlipClass Success” with Ayelet Segal from TouchCast, Brian Jones, and Timonius Downing.  I’m very excited to share with these amazing educators the different ways we have shaped our classes to find success within the flipped learning model.

I have several sessions marked to attend, namely a few on Coaching Strategies and 1:1 tips / tricks / tools.  I’m trying to narrow my focus and not just attend a bunch of random sessions to fill my time, but really choose ones that I can reflect on to implement in my practice.

Will you be at ISTE? I hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Upcoming Webinar: WSQ (Whisk) Away to FlipClass Success

I hope you will join me at my upcoming webinar hosted by Learning Bird and EdWeb.Net
WSQ (Whisk) Away to FlipClass Success:
Designing an Effective Flipped Learning Environment
Presented by Crystal Kirch, Digital Learning Coach
Thursday, Jun. 11 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time
See more details and description here
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