Thursday, June 5, 2014

What do you want to be when you grow up?

For the past several years as I've been working towards my degree, I've struggled with exactly what I want to do when I complete my PhD. Where might I work? What type of work do I hope to do? Where can I make a difference?
These questions have become excruciating over the past few months in particular, especially as I narrow in and focus on the topic of my dissertation. This is the point in my education that will define me as a researcher, an educator, a philosopher. It's a pretty important decision. While I have so many areas of interest (literacy, professional development, technology, leadership), when I narrow this down I'm afraid of what I might leave out.
But at one point, that quiet voice that whispers in the back of my mind became clearer. We all have that voice that resonates quietly within us. It's the voice that is difficult to hear amidst the din of our insane worrying, debating, fretting, and doubt. The one we often choose to ignore.
It was in this moment of clarity that I realized it's not "what" I want to be when I grow up. It's who I want to be right now. Who I want to continue to be in the future. The type of person I would see as my best self.
So, I've created my vision of who I want to be. Starting now.
1. Someone who understands and appreciates the value of people.
2. Someone who prioritizes people over "things" or accomplishments.
3. Someone who steps back to really listen and observe.
4. Someone who is able to problem solve with resiliance.
5. Someone who values the input of others.
6. Someone who is able to contribute her own input and ideas.
7. Someone who is able to speak up for those who are unable to speak up for themselves.

Sure, I still need to narrow down my dissertation topic. This will still define a part of me professionally. But there is comfort in knowing I will still choose how I will define myself every day.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Paradigm Shift

Blogging can be both a way to share information, as well as a way to reflect on the part of the blogger. It is a little unnerving to use this blog as a way to reflect on potential dissertation topics, but I'm doing so much reading lately. This forum can serve as a way to both share and reflect. And if I get feedback and ideas in the process, even better.

I am currently going back to read an oldie but goodie, New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning by Lankshear and Knobel (2003). Perhaps the area I am struggling with the most, as an instructional coach, is the paradigm shift of the 'deep grammar of school' (i.e. teacher-centered classrooms) to thinking about a statement like this:

‘for perhaps the first time in human history, new technologies have amplified the capacities and skills of the young to such an extent that many conventional assumptions about curriculum [and pedagogy] become inappropriate’ (Lankshear and Bigum 1999:460)

I realize that the implementation of the Iowa Core should potentially help teachers see the value of teaching with a student-center in mind. Implementing the Universal Constructs and the Eight Standards for Mathematical Practice will definitely help boost students skills in the areas that they will need to function well in an information-rich society.  Yet in an age of accountability to standardized testing, how many teachers will focus on a checklist of Standards, Benchmarks, and Objectives (SBOs) that they will feel compelled to 'cover' rather than focus on the deep learning processes of the former? Until we show teachers that by using the former, students will gain conceptual understanding of the SBOs. This will take master teachers who are willing to let go of teacher-centered classrooms, giving students more control over their learning. This is uncomfortable for many teachers who have been educated in a much different manner.

We live in exciting and frightening times. The world is changing more rapidly than in any other time in history. Keeping up in the educational world means guessing what the future might hold for our students. This will continue to be uneasy times for educators.


Lankshear, C., and Knobel, M. (2003). New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning. NY: Two Penn Plaza.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Four Cs of Appy Hour

Next week, our tech cadre will again host an "Appy Half-Hour" in which we share new apps we've tried with our students. When we first received our iPads, this was a great way to collectively think about ways to use the iPads with students. I think we all have noticed, however, that not all apps are created equally. When considering Bloom's Taxonomy, many apps hover at the end of "remembering" on the taxonomy. Many educators have worked to create lists of apps that might support all areas of Bloom's Taxonomy, such as Diane Darrow, Kathy Schrock, and Richard Byrne. It really isn't about having a lot of apps as it is about how the apps are used with students.

A point made by Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2013) is that educators have been striving for over 30 years to achieve meaningful technology use in the classroom. They suggest that technology integration should not focus on technology integration. Rather, the focus should be on technology-enabled learning, and the pedagogy to support it. Students must be engaged in relevant, meaningful, interdisciplinary work (Iowa Core or Common Core, anyone?). This means a shift in how we approach professional development opportunities for teachers.

For our next Appy Half-Hour, we will focus more on the Four C's (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication). Our teachers are already doing amazing things with students in these areas. Having the opportunity to showcase this will allow other teachers to see how apps they are already using could be used in new and different ways. I can't wait to see the amazing things they share.
Ertmer, P., and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2013). Removing obstacles to the pedagogical changes required by Jonassen's vision of authentic technology-enabled learning. Computers & Education, 63, 175-182.

Monday, April 29, 2013

NOT Crazy

This blogpost is in support of my colleagues who serve in the unique role of "coach". Whether a literacy coach, math coach, instructional coach, or other, there are definitely unique demands to your position that require careful consideration. These are the things that you wish someone would have told you about before you signed on the dotted line. Not that it would have kept you from becoming a coach, but it could help to put things into perspective (and help you to say, "Hey, I'm NOT crazy!").

In a recent article by Hunt and Handsfield (2013), the authors examined how literacy coaches negotiate their jobs including looking at issues of power, positioning, and identity. Through a literature review, the authors point to studies in which coaches struggle to implement district mandated curriculum that conflicted with teachers' practical knowledge. Positioning the coach in this way narrows the role of coaches and positions other teachers as deficient. Other coaches negotiate their identities based on their own and others' expectations of the role of coach. Coaches have a political role "as they navigate the 'complicated intersection between power and learning'" (p.52). Even the language a coach uses can position them as an expert or a learning partner.

In this particular study, Hunt and Handsfield (2013) used a constant comparative analysis to examine three small stories and a vignette of coaches enrolled in professional development for literacy coaches. The study took place in a suburb in the Midwestern United States. The district that was studied was implementing partnerships in comprehensive literacy (PCL). Seven literacy coaches were included in the study.

In reading the coaches responses throughout the study, I found many things that parallel what I have observed in my own career. Perhaps my favorite line was, "You have different expectations from different people telling you different things". I'm not sure if this is worse than no one telling you what to do at all?

There are several implications listed by the authors as a result of their research. First, although roles of coaches can and should be outlined, that is not enough for successful coaches and retention of coaches. Instead, "coaching requires complex negotiations of current understandings of the
purposes of institutional spaces, the meanings of professional development, and the
nature of teacher learning". Coaching should be dependent upon individual teacher need and school contexts.

My favorite implication was that coaches must have time for exploring the emotional aspects and challenges of their work. This was a powerful statement, and something I've never been given permission to do as a coach. Meeting with colleagues is a learning time, focused around Eaker, Dufour and DuFour's (2002) four questions (What should students know and be able to do? How will we know if they know it? How do we respond if they do/don't know it?). Of course, this naturally happens when you are problem solving with another coach, but this usually happens on a weekend phone call. Giving coaches permission to express the emotions related to their position can help them to navigate their position in a healthy way.

I also particularly liked the implication that coaches need more than a "tool kit" of "best practices". Giving coaches time to role-play scenarios (I know my colleagues are cringing at that, but hey- I don't make this stuff's in the research!), analyzing audio and video of teachers and coaches at work, and working through case studies together. Also, giving coaches time to analyze their own small stories can be beneficial.

I absolutely love my work as a coach. I am grateful for the staff I work with. I would love to be able to support my coaching colleagues with this information I've just read. To better serve my staff, I need colleagues who can support and be supported by the implications listed above.

Eaker, R., DuFour, R., and DuFour, R. (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Hunt, C., and Handsfield, L. (2013). The emotional landscapes of literacy coaching: Issues of identity, power, and positioning. Journal of Literacy Research, 45(1), 47-86.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What did you learn today?

Not exactly a quote from my latest read, Embedded Formative Assessment (Wiliam, 2011), but definitely my favorite take-away so far. "What did you learn today?" is often something we ask our children when they arrive home from school. It's also something we (hopefully) close our day with in our classrooms before students walk out the door. But most importantly, it should be something we are asking ourselves each and every day.

You see, (one of) the most important piece(s) to formative assessment is not necessarily the questions you ask, the activities you've set up, or how you are collecting evidence of learning. It's the LISTENING that is happening as you are trying to understand what students really know, and what they are missing. You can make assumptions about a piece of paper with a written answer to a question on it. You can also make assumptions about a written prompt that a student turns in. But only through actually listening, digging deeper, and seeking understanding do we truly get to the heart of what a student is understanding.

Interestingly, one needn't apply the principle of listening to just our conversations with our students. You could easily learn today from a colleague, a boss, a parent. Truly listening means seeking understanding, without presuppositions or bias.

So...what did you learn today?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Choosing Your Words

So...telling your boss you are a "wasted piece of human flesh" might not be the best way to start off your week. One of the most frustrating parts of coaching is navigating district initiatives, building initiatives, PLC initiatives, and individual teacher initiatives. Organizing your time in the most effective way can be frustrating because  you need a goal or a purpose for driving your work. When all of these initiatives clash, or at least seem to lack a flow in the same direction, it can make you feel...well, like a "wasted piece of human flesh" (again, don't ever say that to your boss).

It all comes down to understanding what you can control, what you can't control, and how to best manage your time. Another colleague sent me the link to Dianne Sweeney's podcast this week. Sometimes things just come your way that you REALLY needed to hear. So, just like with my teachers...when I'm unsure of where to start, I need to focus on students.

I really don't think it is a coincidence that a friend tweeted this post at the beginning of the week, and by the end of the week I've had more conversations about student learning, student needs, and responding to this than I have for the past two weeks. So breathe easy. When things start to feel unmanageable or out of control, pick the one thing that you know is THE thing and start there.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Coaching Q & A

This Wednesday I have the opportunity to be on a coaching panel for a class at Drake University. The professor for the course kindly sent me the questions in advance. What a better place to reflect on these than here on the blog?
    1. How do you manage your time, and how do you communicate how you will spend your time to the staff? 
      I try to focus my time by setting priorities that will help our building reach our goals. I used to post a calendar outside my door but found the only person who used the calendar was our building principal. I now share my calendar with the building secretary and  administrator. I try to share my role and priorities with our building leadership team.
    2. Compare and contrast your role as a literacy coach to your role as a classroom teacher.
      Both roles are very challenging, rewarding, and exhausting in very different ways. I always have to be thinking ahead to that next question, next response, that will help move a team or teacher forward in their learning. The same is true when you are working with students. You need to have a solid understanding of adult learners.
    3. What is the ratio of time you spend working with teachers and working with students?
      I can't put an exact ratio on this, but I should find most of my time is spent with teachers. My job is to help them reflect on their practice and set personal learning goals. If I am the one working with students it is only so the classroom teacher can observe their students or observe a strategy I am modeling.
    4. How did teachers and parents first react to you as literacy coaches?
      I have had a parent (not from our district) almost physically attack me because "why do our teachers need someone in their room telling them what to do?!" After explaining what my role really was, she had a better understanding. I felt like our first couple of years we really had to sell the program as many school board members were unsure of the value of the role. Now that teachers see the value of the role, I feel I can focus on more important things.
    5. What did you do to gain the staff’s trust?
      With every interaction, you have to come from a place that's genuine. There really are very few bad teachers out there (and none that I have ever worked with). Everyone is trying to do what they think is best for their students. Once people understand that you are genuinely there to support this, they find it easier to trust you and work with you.
    6. How do you work with resistant teachers?
      Again, this goes back to the trust issue. Also, different teachers need me for different reasons. It depends on what their learning needs are. So while it appears they are resistant, they really may just not need my help in a particular setting. If teachers are resistant to something, it's because they have a belief about what you might be talking about. If they don't understand the connection of how the strategy will help their students (or feel it is a waste of time) they will be resistant. Can you blame them?
    7. What was included in your preparation to be a coach?
      We were able to attend a coaching seminar and a workshop our first year as coaches. We also were able to meet as a PLC to learn from each other. Since then I have completed the Literacy Coaching Certificate program through Iowa State. Most of my preparation has come from reading on my own and working with my team.
    8. When considering making the move to becoming a Literacy Coach, what would you suggest doing to prepare for this role
      First and foremost, ask yourself why you want to make the switch. If your answer is because it's easier than being in the classroom, you will need to rethink becoming a Literacy Coach. Read a lot...about coaching, about literacy, about adult learning and best practices in the classroom. Read about inspiration and data. Never stop reading!
    9. How/when are you evaluated?
      I'm evaluated on the same criteria and time-line as a classroom teacher. The artifacts in my portfolio look a little different and I use video clips from PD or classroom modeling rather than teaching.
    10. What is the most challenging aspect of your job?  The most rewarding?
      The most challenging aspect of my job is the constant nagging of "Did I approach that situation in the best way? Is there something else I could have asked, done, or said to move the team or teacher forward? Did I push too hard? Did I shut learning down?" I literally lose sleep over these things.
      The most rewarding aspect is watching a teacher look at student learning in a new way, share out what they've tried, and reflect on how it went for students and what they might try next time. When collaborative teams are able to do this where they might not have been doing this before is also a great reward.
    11. What is one source of inspiration (a book, a person, etc.) that has helped you through your journey as a Literacy Coach?
      My fellow coaches are always a source of inspiration. They are amazing people who are always willing to share out resources, how they have problem solved through challenges, as well as "coach" me through situations. 
      Also, anything by Jim Knight, Steve Barkley, Carol Dweck, and Susan Scott are always great resources.
      Seriously...start with people first! Just like you would do in a classroom. And know that you will constantly be learning along the way.