A couple of weeks ago I wrote about coaching and how a good instructional coach can make a difference for teachers and administrators. It's entirely possible you agree with that but aren't too sure what to do next or that you've had an experience with an instructional coach that wasn't all that positive but your gut tells you to rethink this proposition. Whatever brings you here. let's talk about instructional coaching.
You'd think most folks would understand instructional coaching--what it is and what a good instructional coach can accomplish. Experience tells me that's not the case.
The wonderful image to the left explains a lot of what instructional coaching is all about and one of the most important elements is non-evaluative feedback. One hopes it's on a regular basis, but that can be a challenge. But let me back up a bit.
In 2015, the incomparable Jennifer Gonzalez wrote about being an instructional coach. As she points out, there are reading coaches, math coaches, literacy coaches, and technology coaches. Then there are those of us who are generalists who can and do work with classroom teachers across grade ranges and content areas. My work is about pedagogy and, where it makes sense, an effective integration of technology. Gonzalez interviewed others to get their perspectives on coaching and reports what Elena Aguilar told us in The Art of Coaching: work on the relationship AND listen more than you speak.
I know the teachers with whom I work have expertise and experience. I cannot underestimate that. My job isn't to tell them how to teach; my job is to help them gain perspective on themselves and their students so they can maximize their skills and abilities in the classroom. My job is to help teachers figure out ways to help their students use their natural curiosity to learn how to learn.
Heather Wolpert-Gawron found herself making the transition from classroom teacher to instructional coach, and once that role became a full-time one, she notes she was able to mold the position to meet the needs of her site and her teachers. It's no surprise that the first function she lists is that of mentor. Again, listen more than you speak as you build that relationship. I find the teachers with whom I work often need me to help them filter the thousand-and-one things flying through their heads, and to help them brainstorm and to focus on ideas that they can make work. Unlike Ms. Wolpert-Gawron, I'm not permanently located in a district so my teachers see me once or twice a month. And though I'm available electronically, we make much more use of our face-to-face time.
One of the other roles listed by Ms. Wolpert-Gawron is that of professional development coordinator. When an instructional coach is really listening to a teacher, the coach can calibrate the professional development to meet the needs of a group of teachers or as many teachers as possible. Though we know one-size-fits-all is not ideal, our only option is often meeting with all faculty. So one of the things we need to be able to do is speak generally but engage specifically. In a word, differentiate.
What else do instructional coaches do? Again, Ms. Wolpert-Gawron is spot on: research, curate, and publicize. Most of the districts with which I work have created an email account for me so we can create an internal Google Classroom so I can share resources with teachers. And I can model how to organize and use Google Classroom at the same time! I use Edmodo for another district because that's what we started with three years ago.
Not too long ago I did a PD session with a group of teachers and we talked for quite a while about the 6 Qs: IQ, EQ, PQ, CQ, CRQ, and IMQ. The 6 Qs have a logical place in the corporate space, but it was clear that the teachers were quite thoughtful about the implications of these Qs not only for them, but for their students. They were particularly interested in the passion quotient and the courage quotient because they struggle with kids who aren't willing to persevere and they wondered if it's because they don't have the courage to fail. Teachers talked much longer than I expected; it was rich and so insightful for me. In fact, that conversation went so well, I'm planning to introduce some administrators to the concepts to see what they think and how the 6 Qs might influence how they interact with their teacher leaders.
I think a key role of an instructional coach is learner. When I have a teacher ask me about something and I get to scurry around the internet looking for resources or crowdsourcing colleagues to see what they know or have used. And then I get to play to figure out what might be best for that teacher and those students. But then I get to share that learning with others who may not even know that's a question they wanted to ask.
Whenever I learn something new, I get to think about "my" teachers and who might find what the most useful. I share with everyone, but I might send a separate note to a specific teacher because I want them to remember that even though I'm not always with them, I'm usually thinking about them and I want their very best for their students.
I always tell my teachers that our time together is not my time, but theirs: it's for their learning and growth, it's for their support and encouragement, it's for them to let me partner with them to help find some solutions or help them think through tools and resources that will meet a learning objective or help their students stretch.
Peg Grafwallner, writing for Edutopia, underscored how often the instructional coach provides that opportunity for processing. Just recently I was reminded of the one-legged interview, one of those strategies I'd forgotten--which reminded me of the conversations I often have with teachers who have forgotten effective strategies they used to use because their immediacy was crowded with all the new stuff. So the one-legged interview is called that because the conversations should last as
long as you can stand on one leg. The questions are designed to invite teachers to process or to reflect. Non-judgmental; non-evaluative. A short conversation that may remind me of something or spark something for the teacher or lead to a longer conversation that invites more processing and reflection, more opportunities for me to rummage around the internet and find cool stuff.
So when you're thinking about hiring an instructional coach, either full-time or as a consultant, keep these roles in mind: mentor, listener, encourager, researcher, curator, disseminator, PD coordinator/collaborator, partner, and learner. Your teachers will thank you.
Monday, February 12, 2018
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Before we can assess how well it is working and what changes, if any, need to be made, we have to know what it is. In this case, the “it” is personalized learning and personalized learning has caused educator quite a bit of agita over the years.
In October 2014, Sean Cavanaugh of Education Week attempted to provide some discernment in his article “What is ‘Personalized Learning’? Educators Seek Clarity.” For many, technology provides the fulcrum for personalized learning. Eliot Soloway was quoted as saying “Many technology-based approaches to personalized learning amount to nothing more than tailoring or personalizing the reading of texts to students of different abilities—rather than personalizing a mix of activities that give students a richer and more meaningful educational experience.”
Teachers are often asking about different reading levels or lexile levels. As Soloway notes, they want different kinds of texts for different reading abilities. Teachers seem to conflate differentiation with personalization but that may also be because personalization seems too daunting. So rather than ask what personalized learning is, perhaps the better question is “What is personalized learning supposed to be?”, or, even better, “What could personalized learning be for students and their learning?”.
In 2017, Audrey Watters, she of Hack Education who likes to rattle comfortable ways of thinking, presented at an OEB Midsummit in Iceland and said, among other things, “But I contend you cannot analyze digital technologies and the business and politics of networks and computers without discussing how deeply embedded they are in what I’ve called the “Silicon Valley narrative” and in what others have labeled the “California ideology” – and that’s an ideology that draws heavily on radical individualism and on libertarianism.”
She has a point. Let’s look at who is investing millions of dollars into personalized learning: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Why? Well, because they can, of course. The more suspicious of us would see marketing opportunities behind the alleged philanthropy. On the other hand, we know that online organizations want access to a lot of our information and they already gather beaucoup amounts of information through every transaction and every click online. Why? In theory so they personalize the ads we’re shown. And they do. It’s eerie, and a trifle annoying. (“Stop showing me ads for stuff I’ve already bought!” I tend to shout at my laptop, when I actually pay attention to the ads, which I rarely do.) Anyway, we can see the direction in which personalization is heading and has been heading, since back in the day when Burger King first started telling us in 1974 that we could have it our way.
Cavanaugh reported that Andrew Calkins, then deputy director of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, asserted that “[t]rue personalized learning calls for a ‘rethinking and redesign’ of schools, which could require them to overhaul classroom structures and schedules, curricula, and the instructional approaches of teachers.” We all know the on-going argument that teachers’ roles much change so they are “more like those of coaches or facilitators than ‘content providers.’” We also know the practical complexities of that model, especially for younger grades.
What we do know is that software is only one component of providing students with a possible pathway for personalized learning. But there is more to consider.
We also know that teachers and administrators still struggle to understand what personalized learning is or can be. Too many think it requires individualized lesson plans or requires 1:1 access for students. Kenya Ransey observes that ‘[l]earning is the primary focus, and technology can be along for the ride—or not. What does it look like when technology is not at the center of a personalized learning experience?” She also asserts that “it’s critical that we realize that once we all consolidate around a standardized definition, it will no longer be personal.” I’m not sure I agree with that, but I’m not yet sure why.
There are certainly plenty of educators who are not fans of personalized learning. Most of that resistance seems to be based on a lack of understanding of what it is and can be; that is, a lack of a concrete definition and clarity of expected outcomes. However, plenty of educators echo Audrey Watters’ concern that it’s simply an opportunity for large organizations to gather information about users for their own capitalistic purposes. Well, there is that and, let’s face it, every edtech organization wants to gather data on students for a range of reasons.
Robyn Howton is one of those teachers who crashed and burned a few times on her way to implementing personalized learning in her classroom. She did research, tried and failed a few times, made adjustments, and kept going. In her ISTE article, she refers to the Rodel Teacher Council Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware as a resource. At the time she worked without 1:1 in her classrooms and realized that she made some errant choices about which technology to use when. Howton had some great a-ha moments when she analyzed her lessons and realized when and how she might have used technology more effectively which helped her determine which tools to use. (She refers to some great tools, too!)
One of Howton’s most important lessons was to give her students choice: “Class often starts with a mini-lesson, which then flows into students making choices about what they need to do next to meet specific learning targets aligned to the standards.
Writing for the Christensen Institute, Elizabeth Anthony notes “the magic of blended learning lies in the instructor’s ability to leverage technology to personalize learning rather than the mere use of certain software programs. A classroom can incorporate technology without actually changing the classroom model and the way students learn.”
What is interesting to me is how often blended learning is mentioned in connection with personalized learning and how occasionally there is reference to competency-based learning in conjunction with personalized learning. We have a lot of trends in education and that causes much of the confusion. Can you implement personalized learning without blended learning? Is competency-based learning an option in personalized learning? Should we be implementing competency-based learning instead of personalized learning?
But wait. This is about personalized learning and trying to figure out what that is and what it means. I don’t mean to oversimplify but I think Robyn Howton found an important key: student choice. Every teacher has objectives or learning outcomes for every lesson. The question to be asked is whether or not students have to demonstrate their learning in the same exact way and if they have to follow the same exact path to get there? If not, students have choice.
I think another challenge is that teachers think personalized learning, like blended learning, needs to be something they do every day for every lesson. That doesn’t make sense. Younger students won’t have the learning tools yet and some high school students may lack the maturity to make good decisions. And not every teacher can implement personalized learning in the exact same way every year. In fact, for middle and high school teachers, they may not implement personalized learning in the exact same way in every class.
I also think personalized learning is an aspiration for some teachers and they cannot be expected to make that transition overnight. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate Howton’s article and her reflection on her transition to blended and personalized learning. In fact, I think she offers something of a template for teachers interested in trying to implement personalized learning in their classrooms.
Teachers should start small, with one lesson. It’s not just teachers who have to learn how to conduct a class using personalized learning. Students will need to be taught to think differently about their learning and trust that it’s okay for them to have choice.
No one should expect dramatic changes overnight. It will take time and patience. And it will have to be okay to blow it every now and then, and then learn from the experience and what students can report from their perspectives. After all, it is about the students and their learning and what makes the most sense for them to be successful.
Cavanaugh, Sean. (2014). What is “Personalized Learning”? Educators Seek Clarity. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/10/22/09pl-overview.h34.html?r=2043444587
Christensen Institute (2018). Squaring Personalization and Digitization in 2018. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blog/squaring-personalization-digitization-2018/. Guest blogger Elizabeth Anthony.
Herald, Benjamin. (2017). The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/11/08/the-cases-against-personalized-learning.html
Howton, Robyn. (2017). Turn Your Classroom into a Personalized Learning Environment. https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=416
Personalized learning infographic. https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/personalized-learning-special-report-2014/a-working-definition.html
Ransey, Kenya. (2017). What personalized learning is not. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-09-01-what-personalized-learning-is-not
Watters, Audrey. (2017). The Histories of Personalized Learning. http://hackeducation.com/2017/06/09/personalization