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.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What DOES Research Tell Us About Tech Integration?

There is no way I could spend the last two weeks pouring through the literature on professional development and not share. I am specifically looking at professional development in technology and how it might lead to effects on student learning. My initial search through EBSCO examined professional development and literacy coaching. This brought up 23 articles total that relate to student achievement. I broadened my search to coaching and student achievement. From this search, I narrowed 107 articles down to 40 articles that actually address student achievement in the research. Finally, I searched coaching, professional development, technology, and student achievement. This brought me zero results. So, I settled on ten articles focused on professional development and technology integration, one which included a mentor as part of the professional development.

One thing that stood out most for me as I poured over these articles is the importance of teacher self-efficacy in implementing new technologies in the classroom (Overbaugh and Ruiling, 2008). Teachers need to see the value for their students of implementing new technologies. They also need to believe that they have the skills to do so. This makes sense, instructional-y. You are more willing to put in the time and effort if you feel you are capable of something. Think of Vygostky's zone of proximal development. If a task is out of our reach, we simply cannot accomplish it. Without providing the appropriate scaffolds for teachers, we can't expect them to implement new technologies with students.

Professional development for technology integration for teachers needs to be learner centered (Polly and Hannafin, 2010). Teacher development needs to focus on student learning, be teacher-owned, and focus on developing both content and pedagogy. Teachers need to examine their beliefs and actual instructional practices to reconcile the differences between them (John Hattie would support observations and self-examined video-tapes of lessons). Also, more time spent on collaborating around lessons and in-class coaching, results on classroom observations were significantly improved (Martin et al., 2010). Teachers also need scaffolding with in-class implementation of new practices. I can see how the role of a mentor or coach would fit here nicely. In fact, Kopcha (2012) found that participants in a model which included a mentor in Year 1 of implementation, and not Year 2, reported their improved instruction and beliefs were attributed to the mentor and professional development provided by the mentor.

Overall, there is very little research published on student outcomes and professional development in technology integration (and none on instructional technology, coaching, and student achievement). We do know what best practices tell us for professional development (more to come on that). And we do know that technology integration is directly tied to teacher self-efficacy. I hope this information has been useful. I will continue to update as I learn more.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting Technology RIGHT

What a great learning day at SAI with Scott McLeod and Angela Maiers. I was so disappointed that not more of my colleagues and supervisors could have been there, but was grateful to have our building administrator there.

Today's blog is really just a reflection on what I picked up from today's session. The overarching theme was getting technology RIGHT:
T.ime and Talent

Sadly, most of the learning that occurs in school is in a static setting. Real life is integrated, not static. One thing Angela Maiers pointed out is that the Iowa Common Core is set up for educators to look at as a list of what we want students "to be", not what we want students "to do". Therefore, we must think about the skill sets students need, set a purpose for work and problem solving, and allow students to do the heavy lifting. Teachers can no longer be the "sage on the stage". We must learn from each other.

There is no way to encapsulate all of the big ideas here, but another take away was a process Scott McLeod walked us through in incorporating the many pieces from the Iowa Core and integrating technology into a single lesson plan (not necessarily a one-day and done plan, but a series). Going through this process helped me to think through how I might structure a collaborative process with staff. Getting feedback and input from others is such a powerful way to improve on your work!

Finally, (and I know this is not what the conference was about, but these parts are fun, too) the amazing tools we were able to walk away with. Just for fun, I really enjoyed the Visible Tweets. This can be used to display learning of staff and students alike. Also, a big thanks to Mark Moran for sharing Dulcinea and Sweet Search (a search engine for students with quality sources that have been looked at by staff). Mark suggests having students cite at least 2-5 resources when completing a project or paper. Sweet Search is just one place to start.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Word Up

What happens when you put together curious educators who have a passion for their work, sprinkle in a couple of questions, and add a platform for sharing? Amazing conversations happen, that's what!

I certainly don't mind speaking in front of an audience when there is information to be shared. But I would much prefer to create situations in which smart, capable people are responsible for the heavy lifting.

Today, our leadership team was posed just a few questions. From this, amazing reflection, questioning, and sharing of classroom practice ensued. The following is a Wordle that represents our conversation:

I can't wait to hear the conversations that will stem from this one. Any time that student learning is put at the center, and caring, imaginative teachers respond, great conversations (and action) will happen!