As a technology coach, one of my responsibilities is to “Advocate for policies, procedures… to support implementation of the shared vision represented in…technology plans and guidelines,” according to the ISTE Coaching Standards, (ISTE, 2017).
I had an opportunity to contribute to the shared vision and future planning of my department during the second year of my masters studies. My department was undergoing a revision in departmental goals and program outcomes. Our director asked faculty to evaluate what was important for our students to learn and/or demonstrate prior to leaving the university. Understanding that 21st century skills are an integral part of the future workforce, I suggested we included elements of digital citizenship.
This contribution was influenced by an informal assessment I had conducted of our department digital citizenship readiness where it was identified that digital communication was an area of improvement for our students. Therefore, as part of new our digital citizenship goal, each program made a commitment to hold students accountable to digital etiquette. Figure 1.1 highlights the outcome of that commitment.
I worked with the instructor of the introductory FCS course to build the evidence of mastery for this departmental goal using posts from this learning portfolio and modules I have previously created in Canvas (learning management system). Implementation of these assignment are currently taking place. We will evaluate the assignments to compare outcomes to our benchmarks at the end of the quarter.
If the foundation of effective peer coaching is collaboration, good communication is one of its pillars. Mark Ladin, CMO of Tiger Connect, an IT company, shares this mindset by defining communication and collaboration as one and the same. He argues that both communication and collaboration function on the exchange of information, however without good communication, you can’t have a functioning collaborative relationship that yields productive results, (Ladin, 2015). Therefore, eliminating miscommunication in partnerships promotes good collaboration, (Lohrey, n.d.). Collaborative communication offers many benefits including: creating flexible work environments that promote trust and familiarity, enhances decision-making by tackling problems through various angles, and increasing overall satisfaction of the collaboration process, (Lohrey, n.d.)
The ISTE Coaching Standard (1D) calls for coaches to implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms, (ISTE, 2017). A peer can feel comfortable enough to implement suggested strategies, when good communication between the collaboration peers is established. If good communication is central to collaboration, what miscommunication is common during peer coaching and what are some strategies to avoid it? This question does not readily yield concrete results on peer coaching alone, but rather there are several approaches to reasons for miscommunication including: modes of communication, a variety of communication barriers, and types of information given that may lead to miscommunication.
Modes of communication.
While mode of communication may not be the first thing to come to mind when considering miscommunication, the impact communication delivery has on conversation comprehension is compelling. According to Willy Steiner, an executive career coach, the degree of communication effectiveness compared to information efficiency differs when offered via face-to-face, telephone, or email communication, (Steiner, 2014). The author argues that face-to-face communication offers the best information efficiency (i.e. better understood) while email is most effective (i.e. quick). This can be further compounded by factoring in three types of communication: visual, verbal, and non-verbal. Face-to-face communication allows for better understanding in all three communication types, though it is the slowest communication mode. Email is the quickest mode but tends to promote higher levels of misunderstanding in verbal and visual communication and does not allow for any interpretation of non-verbal communication, (Steiner, 2014). A research study on adult learners using information communication technology found similar results. The aim of the study was to determine what type of information communication technology would better support virtual coaching. The results found that email was useful for the exchange of information but lacked the ability to create authentic communication experiences or relationships, and often led to more miscommunication, (Ladyshewky & Pettapiece, n.d.). Use of telephone technology was more effective than emailing because phone calls offered more verbal cues, while video-conferencing (mimicking face-to-face communication) was just as efficient as face-to-face conversations if technical issues are not present, (Ladyshewky & Pettapiece, n.d.). As a result, communication comprehension is a major consideration for avoiding miscommunication. When possible, face-to-face or similar communication modes should be used to help build relationships and deliver the most amount of understanding while limiting email to information transfer only.
Research shows that face-to-face communication better maximizes understanding and relationship building in collaborative partnership. However, even in face-to-face environments, several barriers may create inadvertent miscommunication events. According to the Coaching Room Company, there are seven potential barriers that may lead to ineffective coaching, summarized in figure 1.1 below.
Considering that many of these barriers involve understanding and respect of the coaching peer, developing a good collaborative relationship prior to working on the mutual project is essential for avoiding miscommunication.
Peer coaching invites the coach to step into a leadership position in which the goal is to collaborate and facilitate work with a peer toward a mutual goal. Another area of potential miscommunication may stem from how the coach leader presents information to the peer. Figure 1.2 below lists the various information communication errors that may arise in leadership.
It is not only important to consider how communication is performed but also what is being communicated. Forbes Coaching Council expands on the communication errors provided in Figure 1.2 to focus on information clarity. Miscommunication can occur when the message is non-individualized or personal, (Forbes, 2018). Using the same strategies, communication techniques, and information to various coaching peers can harm the coaching relationship. A common miscommunication is use of vague, generic language or messages leading to lack of clarity in direction. The peer is left feeling like they are missing out on important information or that the information they were provided was not delivered effectively, (Forbes, 2018). To help eliminate the lack of direction, clear expectations that are developed by both parties can help promote the shared vision contributing to better collaboration. The peer leader should avoid communicating only negative outcomes, instead include the positive outcomes to avoid creating an image that the shared work is not successful, (Forbes, 2018). Lastly, it is crucial that the coach recognize their bias and remember that the process is not about their wants but the needs of the peer being coached. Business coach Tony Alessandra said it best, “You can choose to connect with others from their perspective, the way they want to be communicated with by modifying your own presentation style; or you can choose to meet only your own needs – facing the consequence misconnecting with others…,” (Alessandra, 2015).
Promoting good communication. Several of the communication barriers addressed above stem from how communication is delivered, what information is delivered, and how each party perceives that information. Good communication is established when both parties feel safe, comfortable, and trust one another in their collaborative environment. Both hold the responsibility of keeping an open-mind into the process and commit to relationship building. Only after good communication occurs between coaching peers can good collaboration exist.
Inquiry is a powerful tool used by teachers to foster curiosity and independence within students. Instead of spoon-feeding content, students reach their own conclusions. Popular options for incorporating inquiry in the classroom are 20-Time or Genius Hour where students explore a topic of their own choosing. Inquiry is about more than just student-driven projects; it’s also a methodological shift where you respond to questions with other questions instead of simply providing an answer. For example-
Student: Why does the character react like that?
Teacher: Let’s consider the character. Pretend that you are his same age and have his same motivations and fears. What would you feel like if your best friend betrayed you?
Inquiry is truly an art. Having seen the power of inquiry for students, I wanted to consider its application and impact when used by technology coaches to support teacher development. One component of ISTE Coaching Standard 2 is to “coach…and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design.” (Iste.org, 2017)
Avoid learned helplessness and empower teachers: Foltos points out that taking on the role of an expert who has an answer for everything can do more harm than good when coaching teachers: “Successful coaches realize that routinely taking on the role of expert with answers is the wrong path toward collaboration and capacity building.” (2014) A downside to simply providing answers without encouraging independence through inquiry is that teachers come to rely on the coach. Inquiry, on the other hand, is empowering.
Implementing Inquiry as a Coach
Begin with specific need: Instead of one-size-fits-all professional development, scholars like John Dewey encourage teachers to identify specific content-area problems and then explore possible solutions. This problem-solution method is effective because it “unleashes an inquiry process in which the quest first for definition, then for resolution becomes a compelling necessity” (Demetrion as cited in Ermeling, 2012). Coaches can play a valuable role in guiding teachers toward identifying needs and then creating plans to meet those needs.
The three lenses: Ermeling presents a fascinating argument for why educators seeking to grow with the inquiry method must learn to see their subject matter through three lenses. The first is the lens of the researcher which asks the teacher to “formulate hypotheses, collect data, rely on evidence for decision-making, and generalize from findings.” The second lens requires an educator to “sequence and connect students’ learning experiences.” The final lens, that of the student, “represents an educator’s capacity to view instruction through the eyes of the student, anticipate their thinking and use this knowledge to build experiences.” (Ermeling, 2012)
Creative data sources: To measure the efficacy of any newly implemented strategy, teachers are encouraged to collect data which can then be shared with a coach before planning the next steps in the inquiry cycle. Evidence should drive reflection, analysis, and next steps. Coaches can assist teachers in moving beyond traditional assessments in order to gather data. In Ermeling’s exploration on the features of the inquiry process, he includes “student work, student interviews, student questionnaires, checklists, self-assessments, portfolios, systematic classroom observations, test results, [and] audio or video recordings from the classroom” as valid data points for teachers and coaches to consider. (2012)
Give it time to stick: Inquiries that expand throughout several months or even the entire school year are preferable to short, brief inquiries. The reason for this is so that a coach and teacher can definitely state what cause produced what effect. (I would add the personal caveat that what works for one group of students may not for next year’s batch.) This investment requires a shift away from a focus on the “length of time or number of strategies” and towards “persit[ing] long enough to arrive at some important findings–tangible and explicit cause-effect connections between instructional decisions and student outcomes.” (Ermeling, 2012)
Tool of Inquiry: Probing Questions
Probing questions are an effective tool of inquiry which “are designed to get the teacher to think more deeply about and develop answers to the issues important to him or her.” (Foltos, 2013) Probing questions can and should be used at any point in the Inquiry process described in the previous section.
Do’s and Don’t of Probing Questions
Don’t ask if you have a preconceived answer in mind
Do paraphrase the teacher’s perspective before beginning
Do use open-ended questions
Don’t be afraid of simple questions
Original source: The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar
When I think about using inquiry in coaching, I am reminded of the following Proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The beauty of inquiry is that you can give a teacher the tools necessary to investigate and solve future problems for themselves.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.
Ermeling, B. (2012). Improving Teaching through Continuous Learning: The Inquiry Process John Wooden Used to Become Coach of the Century. Quest, 64(3), 197-208. doi: 10.1080/00336297.2012.693754
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching (1st ed.). Corwin.
Foltos, L. (2014). The Secret to Great Coaching: Inquiry Method Helps Teachers Take Ownership of their Learning. Learning Forward, 35(3), 29-31.
Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 6 Oct. 2018].
I have a dilemma. No one comes to my office hours anymore. I made this realization years ago when I would find myself alone in my office, staring at the clock, waiting for my “shift” to be over or filling that time with grading and lesson planning. On average, I’d probably have 1-2 students come see me before the end of the quarter and it was usually because the situation was dire. Later, I changed my approach to be more flexible. I didn’t have fixed office hours so that students could make appointments with me that better accommodated both schedules. Students would approach me either in class or via email to set up an appointment time. For a time, this strategy worked very well to catch struggles and issues earlier on. Despite all of these efforts to be available for students, resolving major issues, addressing prolonged absences, and discussing successful study strategies are not what the typical student emails me about. Now, students email me about anything and everything.
It wouldn’t be too bad filtering through emails, if students also didn’t have the expectation that professors respond to any email with 48 hours, during which all of the responsibility for investigating that question gets placed on the instructor. “I wasn’t sure what to do, I was waiting for a response from you,” is the usual response I get if I was too busy to answer a non-urgent email. It’s difficult not to become frustrated in this scenario when about 2.5 hours of my day is spent answering emails. With work-life balance considered, that means that ¼ of my day is spent unproductively. During that time, I could have been working on assessment, lesson planning, or updating content with current research.
This is not the only email communication concern I have. At least three times a quarter, I need to gently correct the students that choose to address me by my first name as opposed to my professional title- Professor Vlad-Ortiz. To their merit, once corrected, students do not repeat that mistake. What happens far more often is unclear communication and informal tone. Emails starting in “I need you to…”, or “lift my registration hold…” demonstrates a misunderstanding of the formality needed to address faculty. Rather than phrasing their request politely, it reads more like a demand. Because of the implications and expectations loaded into each of these emails, it is important to investigate and address appropriate strategies for teaching effective email communication to students.
Why is all of this important? Understanding how to properly communicate online, including email, is part of good digital citizenship. The skills of knowing email appropriateness, tone, and formality are essential to be successful in the 21st century. Though there are several other caveats to good online communication, I’ve identified three basic email communication components to help students get started in practicing successful digital citizenship.
All emails to educators, regardless of their title, should be formal. The educator-student dynamic is professional in nature so communication should reflect that relationship. Addressing professors by their professional name not only establishes that formal relationship, but as Molly Worthen, Assistant Professor at University of North Carolina, explains, in a world where formality is on the decline, using a professor’s title helps to ensure respect regardless of the professor’s race, age, and gender, (Worthen, 2017). This is particularly important considering that it is the more privileged students that tend to violate this formality, (Worthen, 2017). Along the lines of respect, the tone of the email should be polite and courteous. By sending an email, the sender is asking for the professor’s time and consideration on a particular manner. Worthen brilliantly explains that requests should not sound like a text message nor communication with a customer service representative, (Worthen, 2017). As with my examples above, the professor doesn’t need to do anything, as in “I need you to lift a hold from my account,” or “I need to register for your class…” but rather understands that the sender is asking for a favor. As Mark Tomforde, Associate Professor at University of Houston, very accurately describes, professors are incredibly busy, so emails should truly represent issues that can’t be resolved through any other means. Using email to request anything and everything trival is a disrespectful of the professor’s time and expertise, (Tomforde, n.d.). Emails should demonstrate that the sender has already taken several steps to solving the problem on their own and clearly defines how the reader can help resolve that problem, (Purdue, n.d.). Ideally, the issue should be quickly resolved through one email and the sender should be able to distinguish when it is appropriate to talk in person as emails should not be substitutions for real conversations, (Tomforde, n.d.).
Role of the Educator. According to the ISTE standard for educators, the role of the educator is to “…inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world,” (ISTE, 2017). The key words in that definition are “positively contribute” and “responsibility participate”. The issues addressed above indicate that there is a weight to the actions and intentions set-forth in email and other online communication. The responsibility of the student is to create communication that is both framed positively and courteously while taking the responsibility for the resolution of the email’s request. One of the indicators for this ISTE standard charges educators to “create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community, (ISTE 2017). Relationships and community rely on the actions of many in order to be successfully built. In building a healthy online community, we can’t expect students to just know how to behave and communicate properly. Skills are not intuitive and should be taught. In order to address this ISTE indicator, I’ve compiled three solutions or strategies can be used to reverse the current culture and promote good digital citizenship for our students.
1) Professor Modeling. Teaching digital citizenship is a shared responsibility, so it is important for educators to actively address and model proper practices on a regular basis, (Crompton, 2014). In addition to using good email etiquette when communicating with students, professors should give students opportunities to explore and practice good etiquette. This can be achieved through explicit learning. For specific examples, Helen Crompton provides three scenarios of how digital citizenship can be modeled by professors in the classroom. Another example is an activity that Mrs. Jizba created in which she has students write two emails, one to their friend and one to their principle. She engages the students in a conversation about what content, tone, and choice of words are appropriate in each scenario. This simple activity clearly demonstrates how students establish the norms of good digital citizenship through modeling and practice.
2) Explicit language in department handbook that is then repeated in syllabi. Just as there are codes of conduct at each institution, departments should include standards of conduct for online communication. In order for these standards to have impact, each faculty member should mirror these standards in their syllabi. Through these collaborative efforts, the message of appropriate online communication is clear and consistent. Both Worthen and Tomforde share their guidelines to help with standard development.
3) Holding students up to the expectations. Just as important as modeling and creating language in the department handbooks and syllabi, is holding students up to those expectations. That means addressing any violations in a gentle and professional manner. For example, when students address me incorrectly, I respond back with, “We are a formal institution and ask that students address all faculty by their professional title, in my case you would address me as Professor Vlad-Ortiz. Please know that I am telling you this not to reprimand you or make you feel bad, but simply to let you know of our institutions professional standards so that you avoid potentially offending faculty in the future.” As Worthen concludes, it’s all about treating students as adults, (Worthen, 2017). As educators, we prepare students for the real world. If we do not hold students to these expectations, they will not be successfully prepared for their future professional lives.
This quarter in my Masters in Digital Education program, I’ve truly begun to question decision making behind the scenes and how those decisions are both shared and acted upon by district staff. Continuing to look to ISTE Standards around Professional Development and Program Evaluation, I further wanted to explore how administrators advocated for technology needs in their building and create opportunities for all staff to actively participate in Tech PD.
A recent study conducted by SAM Labs surveyed 250 teachers in the United States and concluded that 78% felt they lacked adequate training needed to meet the demands of technology in their classrooms effectively (Bolkan, 2017). Of those surveyed, 82% felt classroom technology helps prepare students for future careers. However, only 37% surveyed claimed to learn how to use technology during their free time. This means that 63% of the teachers surveyed rely on Professional Development opportunities and coaching to explore how to effectively implement new technology in their classroom.
A study shared by The School Leaders Network, found that principal retention is a national concern. Their 2014 survey found that 1 out of 4 administrators leave their schools each year (Cohen & Pearson, 2018). In addition, 50% of new principals quit during their third year. With these trends, it’s easy to see how teachers are left waiting for strong leadership, or someone to advocate for what their building needs.
Not wanting to get too much into why this is an issue, I would like to add that our nation’s largest district, in New York City, has taken action to better support administrators. Starting in 2014, they created a program that makes leaders out of veteran principals who take a year leave from their building to serve as a coach for other new administrators in their district. Each coach provides 8 hours of support per new administrator each month. This strategy not only offers support to the new administrators but allows the veterans to experience what is happening in other buildings as well. In their first year of the program, they were able to raise retention of third year administrators to 75% returning for the fourth year ((Cohen & Pearson, 2018).
Again, this scenario of coaching administrators, is not necessarily happening nationwide. Therefore it is important to understand that many districts still have high turnover, or frequent shifting of administrators from one building to the next. This creates barriers for teachers feeling supported with new curriculum, tech integration, and the sense that someone is advocating on their behalf.
What can administrators do to better support their staff’s needs?
Given the data from NYC, administrators who feel supported are more likely to remain on the job. Districts need to provide professional development opportunities for administrators in order for them to become or remain effective leaders. Administrators need to understand how to empower their staff to take risks and explore new ways of thinking and teaching. Eric Patnoudes, a former teacher and instructional technologist, states that districts must have a unified vision for technology use that is explicitly shared with administrators and educators. In his post Professional Development Isn’t Just for Teachers, he raises three questions for administrators:
Are teachers required to integrate technology during classroom observations/evaluations?
When we say “paperless classroom”, what is the actual goal?
How should a district define student engagement, and can it be observed?
Now assuming districts are offering Tech PD to administrators, how can they further support their staff? Edtech Magazine shared 6 Strategies to Help Principals Become Technology Leaders. Although this article was published more than a decade ago, the data above indicates we need administrators to offer more Tech support to staff.
Six great tips towards a shared vision of tech integration:
Establish the Team – principal identifies teachers who are pro-tech and creates a tech leadership team to serve the school
Assess Facility’s Needs– Create a needs assessment for the school to guide the direction of the tech leadership team for Professional Development (working on this through a needs assessment right now with Instructional Assistants in my building.)
Model Tech Use and Practices – Principals can use PD sessions to model technology use (the article recommends admin model effective tech use on a daily basis)
Recognise Effective I.T. Use – Reminder that technology use should enhance student learning and is simply a tool. Tech integration needs to connect to the student learning outcomes and be seen as a way for students to express their understanding in a way that would not be possible without the tool.
Encouraging Excellence – Admin should encourage tech use and promote best practices through having teachers share lesson ideas or create a video of what they’re doing. Some schools offer other incentives for best practices as well.
Provide Support and Training – Admin need to ensure staff feel fully supported with tech changes being placed on them. Training needs to be on-going and provide multiple opportunities for staff to feel technology is effectively working for them, not just adding to their work day.
Administrators have such an important role in the climate of the school. For staff to take chances and be motivated to try new technology, they need to feel supported by admin. In turn, admin need to feel supported by their district. The stakeholders, whose tax dollars often fund technology, need to be part of the vision of the future. Most importantly decisions need to be made in the best interest of the the student learners, how will technology enhance/support their learning in a new way.
When districts support administrators with opportunities to learn from each other, they can in turn model technology use for their staff and share the district’s vision for tech integration. If needs are not being met, it requires administrators to speak up and advocate for change, to seek out alternatives that may better suit their student population. Too often technology is introduced through an email or one day PD session. As PD becomes more personalized, staff need to feel their administrators are approachable and available for further training and support. We know technology is not leaving the classroom any time soon. It’s time for districts to be transparent with their vision of technology and encourage more collaboration around effective integration and support.
Anyone who’s ever worked in a school, knows that the school day for teachers does not end when the bell rings. The question many then ask is, what are teachers still doing at school 2 hours after the bell, or why was there car parked there all day Saturday? Looking at this week’s coaching standards for my Masters program (see below), led me to question how teacher’s find balance in their lives to avoid wearing too many hats or living the life of the spinster teacher of a hundred years ago who dedicated her entire life to the children and the community?
This school year has taken my career in a new direction, owed to pursuing my Masters in Digital Education Leadership. Teaching full-time and trying to find time to support others with tech integration has proven to be a challenge. Staying at school late is not an option for me or my family. Working on weekends in the classroom would only be possible if my 5 year old came with me.
So then, how can I effectively model tech integration for others with the responsibilities of a classroom teacher?
Through reflection, I kept getting drawn back to three main factors: common traits of teachers, resources, and understanding personal boundaries. Our mentor text this quarter, Peer Coaching, frequently refers to relationships and resources. In hindsight, I wish I had thought about all of this in August, but as I prepare for Winter Break, it gives me time to rejuvenate and set new goals for the second half of the school year. I also need to remind myself, this time I am the student, learning how to better support colleagues.
Common Traits of Teachers
Having established that relationships are vital to a coaching partnership, has led me to think about teachers in general. What common traits can be found amongst teachers? According to Teach.com, there are five common personality traits found amongst great teachers:
Focusing on understanding the common traits lends itself to generating enthusiasm for collaboration and recognising colleagues strengths. Part of coaching is helping others recognise their strengths and how to use them to intentionally support student growth goals. In addition to recognising teacher strengths, it’s important to survey teachers to know how they might be interested in supporting colleagues. For example, those teachers that are extremely creative, let them share some lessons that they’ve had great success with. For the teacher’s who struggle with getting specific students engaged, seek out those who’ve had a positive connection with that student. Coaching is not just about supporting all staff, but also about how to manage a supportive collaborative environment.
Understanding Limitations with Resources
Resources is a broad term, yet extremely impactful with tech integration. Resources can bring the best intentions to a halt. As a classroom teacher, I am not fully aware of resources available or the politics about how they are distributed in the district. What I do know however, is that without support from administration, access to technology, and time to collaborate, my mentoring/coaching efforts are doomed to fail.
Integrating any new curriculum or tool requires thoughtful planning in order to be sustainable. As a classroom teacher, and not a coach, I struggle with time to ask and find answers to questions before trying to jump in and support my colleagues. This means that planning in isolation, even with the best intentions, is likely to end in frustration. In regards to technology, coaches and mentors must first consult administrators, tech specialists from the district, and possibly content coaches before simply supporting a teacher’s vision with digital tools. This again, requires time, which may turn some teachers away from implementation.
Juggling Multiple Roles
As mentioned before, teachers work well beyond the bell. Emails abound offering or requesting teachers to be part of a PLC, lead after school tutoring, coach an after school activity for students, or participate in Professional Development. How can teacher mentors and coaches then find time to collaborate with others?
Teacher mentors and coaches can easily fall into a trap of taking on too much. Despite their enthusiasm and dedication, teachers can take on more than they can handle. Pedro Diaz, the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute, offers some great advice in his post How to Avoid Taking on Too Much Work. First, he identifies the common traps when asked to take on another task at work. Three common problems, which I know I’m guilty of: we want to please others, our lack of self-awareness, and we don’t think we have a choice.
Moreover, Diaz offers strategies on how to approach multiple responsibilities. He emphasizes learning how to wait. It’s okay to think about something without committing right away. While contemplating, ask yourself what specific role you’re being asked to support, will you need further training to complete the task, and does it fit into your schedule?
As I prepare for Winter Break, I want to be realistic, proactive, and fully engaged in what I’m doing. In order to to achieve these personal goals, I’m looking at the school calendar for next term. Along with teaching, I am responsible for state testing for 4 grade levels. I want to continue mentoring colleagues with tech integration and encourage others who are showing interest.
Knowing that I will be asked to participate in other areas as well, or fill in, I’ve realised I need to give myself time to reflect before committing. Wanting to adhere to Diaz’s advice, I’ve created The Juggling Act criteria (see above). Before taking on anything else this year, it’s important to ask: what is the specific task, time commitment, skills required, and if anyone else is similarly qualified to complete the task. Then before saying, yes, consider workload so that I don’t jeopardize my current commitments.
This week in my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am continuing to explore ISTE Coaching Standards 1 and 2 by investigating what effective student learning looks like. Just as norms are an essential part of a peer coaching relationship, so too is a shared vision for what effective 21st-century education looks like. This shared vision creates a starting place for any collaborative work.
As Les states, “Communication and collaboration skills are vital to helping coaches build a relationship with peers, based on respect and trust, and assist peers to develop answers to the issues they face as they work to improve teaching and learning for their students. Effective coaches use these sets of skills and trust as a springboard to encourage their learning partners to take risks and adopt innovative teaching and learning practices. ”
As we begin thinking about the 21st-Century skills that teachers must interweave into their curriculum, I believe that one of the most important is communication. This communication piece led me to my question for this post. Precisely, how can we communicate to educators that quality professional development can come from your professional learning network? When I imagined this conversation with a potential person I am coaching I wondered if they might not appreciate a line like this. Perhaps this educator would not like that I used a “buzz” phrase like PLN or that I asked them to break out of their comfort zone. As it states in Designing Classroom Environments, “Teachers must be enabled and encouraged to establish a community of learners among themselves (Lave and Wegner, 1991). These communities can build a sense of comfort with questioning rather than knowing the answer and can develop a model of creating new ideas that build on the contributions of individual members. They can engender a sense of the excitement of learning that is then transferred to the classroom, conferring a sense of ownership of new ideas as they apply to theory and practice.” This is why I decided to take a deep dive into Stone & Heen’s book Thanks for the Feedback: the Science and art of Receiving Feedback Well.
Within the book the authors explain how giving and receiving feedback is a skill and even goes as far as to say it is an art form. I will admit that at times in my life when I have received critical feedback without any positive elements it was tough to recover and become motivated to work afterward. I had a couple of particularly harsh interactions with an AP Literature teacher in high school and with one of my bosses when I first became a teacher. It is just happenstance that these were both women whom I admired and obviously wanted positive reinforcement but instead received some feedback that led me down unproductive paths. As the authors wisely explain “we swim in an ocean of feedback. Each year in the United States alone, every schoolchild will be handed back as many 300 assignments, papers, and tests. Millions of kids will be assessed as they try out for a team or audition to be cast in a school play. Almost 2 million teenagers will receive SAT scores and face college verdicts think and thin” (pg 2). And as the end goal within this process is to always keep those teens or students in mind I want to look at specific element within the “Learning Design Matrix” (Learning Design Matrix.doc) “receive real-world feedback on their work from an audience or subject-matter expert from outside the school.” Then to take that feedback and “Reflect on, revise and improve their work while engaged in learning”. These two elements of receiving feedback, taking it, processing it, and then making productive changes is indeed a learned skill.
Applying this feedback loop to Adult learners who can then pass it along to our students of the future.
Stone and Heen go one to say, “it doesn’t matter how much authority or power a feedback giver has; the receivers are in control of what they do and don’t let in, how they make sense of what they’re hearing, and whether they choose to change” (pg. 4). Now that I have changed careers and moved into the EdTech sphere and received a new title that probably did not exist in the same capacity twenty years ago I can say the review process is essential. Keeping an open two-way communication between a whole team is a constant necessity, from morning stand-ups, sprint meetings, project managing, and weekly check-ins. It is important to give constructive feedback to peers on their work and receive feedback in the same manner. It must push the project forward, and if something you are excited about gets push to next quarter or next year, you have to think about the company as a whole. I say all this because as an educator I felt much more self-propelled. My day-to-day was consumed by what and how I wanted to proceed through the material. I was able to read the room, and I knew my students the best to gauge where to go next. Teachers are all very skilled project and program managers, and I wish they were perceived more so in the professional world. Needlesstosay I mean to explain this because when I entered my new world of EdTech the number of stakeholders in “my” projects grew. The ownership of plans and projects is shared and constantly refined as more minds are consulted. Therefore, I would state that for peer coaching, teaching, learning, and 21st-century skills this feedback loop is instrumental to teach. And as Stone and Heen wrap up their argument of the necessity for feedback they explain “Indeed, research on happiness identifies ongoing learning and growth as a core ingredient of satisfaction in life” (pg. 4). Meaning that humans crave the continual learning process, but the only way to get better at something is through practice. If we are trying to motivate students and teachers, we must make it clear that we are not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or put anyone down. As peer coaches and teachers we see this all as practice to help encourage the user to gain experience and eventually become proficient at a particular skill.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
National Research Council. 2000. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/9853.
Surveying the Educational Leadership Landscape: A Digital Education Leadership Mission Statement
In 21st century culture, leadership is a word with, at best, ambiguous connotations. Our media, politics, workplaces, and interpersonal relationships are too often characterized by political pragmatism, economic opportunism, and the abuse of power and control, and these behaviors are too often intertwined with our assumptions about those who seem to lead. Yet we continue to look for leadership.
As a country that views education as a path to both national and individual wellbeing (Duncan, 2013), we often turn for leadership to the sphere of education. We look to school systems and classroom teachers to provide equal access to opportunity (Jones & Bridges, 2016) and we look to higher education leaders to create opportunities for all adults to attain a degree or credential (Bailey, Smith Jaggars, & Jenkins, 2015). Despite its high burnout rate, the field of education continues to attract the service of those who desire to see new generations grow up to be self-effective, ethical citizens who enjoy and share the fruits of their labors. This vision gets at a clearer view of leadership.
Leadership is essentially a form of giving. Leadership gives out of its own assets in order to create a common good, and also creates relationships that allow others, in turn, to give. Teachers become teachers because they recognize the leadership capacities of all learners. Leadership is also a form of creating. Leaders build intra- and interpersonal bridges. They draw together faculty and students, teachers and administrators, and stakeholders from both educational and other sectors. Leaders build not only personal and cultural bridges, but practical ones. They unite theory and practice, teaching and learning, quality and flexibility, society and individuality, and pedagogy and technology. Leadership, finally, is itself a process within the larger process of learning. Leadership belongs to the realm of application, transfer, new environments, and innovation—the realm of the end-goals of learning.
If these three points are true—that leadership involves giving, creating connections, and applying learning—it is worth suggesting that we allocate more initial and ongoing opportunities to develop the leadership capacities of students, teachers, and administrators alike. That notion is one of the themes this blog suggests. Another is the value of coming to terms with the digital age in which we find ourselves.
Digital education leadership
The pace of digital innovation that is a leading characteristic of 21st century culture is one that raises questions of who has power and control in designing and living within the digital systems that increasingly govern commerce, government, culture, and education. The advent of social media as a force that intersects all of these domains has resulted in the self-contradictory views many individuals hold of their lives—whether online, offline or in an increasingly blurred in-between— as “radically determined,” yet “radically free” (Ticona and Wellmon, 2015, p. 60). Online and blended or synchronous learning formats are changing our views of both K-12 and higher education, and of both teachers and learners. The pace of change exposes planning gaps in how educational institutions have engaged with matters of privacy and surveillance, intellectual property, ethical behavior, and matters of psychological, attentional, and physical wellbeing (Ribble and Miller, 2013). While instructional design and educational technology constitute lucrative new career fields, attitudes within education toward technology range from uncritical “boosterism” to nihilistic pessimism (Selwyn, 2016).
This culture-changing sea of new affordances and hindrances, both technological and human, is one in which leadership is more needed than ever, and also one in which new models of collaborative and flexible leadership are emerging. The impingement of new technologies for knowledge construction and transmission in every domain of educational administration and culture has also led to member networks of educators and administrators who have helped to re-articulate the leadership capacities that must now encompass digital capacities. In models of digital capability such as that developed by Jisc (2015), educational leadership has the opportunity to consider strategic planning, faculty development, management systems, student outcomes and institutional values anew and for larger ends as these play out in the ways technologies and curricula are adopted and assessed.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed technology standards that underlie the work of scholar-educators in defining the ethical, legal, curricular, and extra-curricular considerations that 21st century educators and policymakers must pioneer (Ribble and Miller, 2013). The educational and cultural affordances of technological innovations such as social media platforms, peer-to-peer media for knowledge and content construction, and a culture of open development and access create an exciting landscape for leadership development. These technological affordances also come with complications that can exacerbate existing problems—whether within society or within educational institutions—of equity, ethics, and wellbeing. ISTE’s coaching standard 5, Digital Citizenship, articulates some of the leadership values I seek to cultivate within this new/old landscape.
Educational leadership in this new/old landscape calls not only for ethical grounding in the ability to evaluate and use new and emerging technologies, but for cultivation of disciplinary knowledge and pedagogies. As a leader I seek to engage the following three areas of leadership through corresponding guiding principles.
The new/old ethical landscape
We live in a world in which technology can create new social and educational problems or magnify existing ones, such as distraction, cyberbullying, inequitable access to learning tools, and the devaluation of teaching. Adequate reckoning of the issues of privacy, property, and participation by teachers and learners alike is yet to be accomplished. New opportunities for the corporate influence of testing companies, for-profit online education providers, and entrepreneurs create both new opportunities for learning and for disenfranchising teachers and learners. While it is easy to see how surveillance and data analysis technologies can create an increasing educational culture of compliance, regulation, and accountability, it is also possible to see how technologies can promote democratic participation, faculty agency and innovation, and flexible and individualized learning opportunities for an increasingly diverse student population (Chapman, 2016). This is where, as an educator, I see that perhaps the foremost leadership contribution I can make in this new/old ethical landscape is to build trust, respect and equity in the learning communities I belong to, so that teacher and learner agency and innovation, rather than automatization and regulation, can be the hallmarks of educational technology. My first guiding principle as a technology coach involves engaging this new/old ethical landscape and ISTE Standard 5b.
Guiding Principle 1: Foster the development of ethical maturity to build learning cultures characterized by trust, truth, and respect.
The new/old pedagogical landscape
Although originally educated as an interpreter of literature, I, like many other English scholars have migrated into the field of rhetoric and composition, and from there to the world of the digital humanities. The scope of what is involved in the teaching of writing, as mapped out in the hypothetical construct developed by White, Elliot & Peckham (2015), reveals the holism and complexity that I love and still find daunting about teaching writing.
Studying with compositionist Joanne Addison and others in the field of writing studies has supported me in mining the pedagogical riches of those fields, from the 3000 year old western tradition of rhetoric and critical inquiry, to the capacities of Genre Studies, English for Specific Purposes, and Teaching for Transfer pedagogies to support and scaffold student learning in the real-world genres of their majors and career fields. My training in second language acquisition, my study of how open-access postsecondary institutions address the needs of multi-lingual writers, and my work as a curriculum developer, professor, and writing center coordinator have given me opportunity to engage the range of linguistic diversity that students bring to our shared learning spaces, and to give essential consideration to these learners’ even greater diversity of culture, preparation, age, and cognitive development, as I design courses.
I began coaching alongside teaching as a graduate teacher instructor and curriculum development mentor for a K-6 reading comprehension program. Today, as an English and humanities faculty member, one of my goals is to help teaching colleagues across the disciplines identify areas where both writing and/or technology creates obstacles or opportunities in their teaching and use Writing Across the Curriculum pedagogies and technology integration best practices to harness the power of writing and/or technology for content learning. As I enter deeper into the world of the digital humanities, I continue to develop disciplinary lenses through which the critical study of literature, ethics, and rhetoric can interrogate the use of digital technologies in education. I aspire to provide technology coaching that draws upon my experience with cross-curricular models for writing pedagogy and localized curriculum development to help both faculty and students gain equitable access to teaching and learning technologies. My second guiding principle addresses this new/old pedagogical landscape and ISTE Standard 5c.
Guiding Principle 2:Apply the disciplinary and critical capacities of the humanities and education sciences to cultivate the use of technology for teacher and learner agency and equity.
The new/old technological landscape
Leadership in this new landscape is not just the ability to adopt current and emerging technologies (be they cuneiform, alphabetic script, moveable type, or technological tools, platforms and services) to envision and teach to the job skills of the future. While the presence of technology in education is nothing new, and technology—the craft and creativity of shaping what we find in nature—is merely a defining aspect of what it means to be human, today’s technological landscape is undergoing a paradigm shift. Emerging technologies continue to create not only new modes of transmission, but new realms of knowledge, new ways of constructing knowledge, and new opportunities for empowering or hindering equitable participation in knowledge-making and sharing. As a technology coach, my role is not just to keep abreast of technological tools and affordances and use these to inform policymaking and help faculty develop curricula. My role is also to promote equitable access for faculty and students to best teaching and learning practices and to create collaborative learning cultures. My final guiding principle engages this new/old technological landscape and ISTE Standard 5a.
Guiding Principle 3: Communicate and apply knowledge of current and emerging digital capabilities resulting in the effective and equitable design and use of learning resources, curricula and systems.
Bailey, T.R., Smith Jaggars, S. & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Chapman, R. (2016). Diversity and inclusion in the learning enterprise: Implications for learning technologies. In N.J. Rishby and D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 287-300). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Jones, M., & Bridges, R. (2016) Equity, access, and the digital divide in learning technologies: Historical antecedents, current issues, and future trends. In N.J. Rishby and D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 327-47). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Ribble, M., & Miller, T.N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: Connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of asynchronous learning networks, 17(1), 137-45.
Selwyn, N. (2016) The dystopian futures. In N.J. Rishby and D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 327-47). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Ticona, J., & Wellmon, C. (2015). Uneasy in digital Zion. The hedgehog review: 17(1), 58-71.
White, E.M., Elliot, N., & Peckham, I. (2015). Very like a whale: The assessment of writing programs. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. p. 75.
Beginning my second year of Grad School has me shifting from learning about digital education as a teacher and into the role of coaching supporting other educators. This year I’ll be exploring more of the ISTE coaching standards, beginning with Standard 1: Visionary Leadership. B. Contribute to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans at the district and school levels. For my first post I’ll be exploring how coaches can successfully inspire and assist peers with planning, implementing, and evaluating technology integration.
What is a coach?
When I hear the word “coach”, I immediately envision my dad. My dad has played and coached sports since before I was born. Having limited coaching experience myself, my memories are as a spectator and what I’ve observed over the years. As I thought more deeply about the label “coach”, I realised there are a lot of parallels between what I saw in my dad and what I’ve seen in education.
Take basketball for example. My dad would spend hours watching teams play at various levels, always with a notebook in hand. He’d write down plays, ideas, and enjoyed talking to our family about what he looked forward to sharing with his team. He started each season hoping to help his players develop new skills and be better athletes both on and off the court by the end of the season. During practice he’d explain, model, select players to carry them out, and modify based on the outcome. Nothing was ever set in stone. He guided them, but never did things for them. A coach can’t run on the court to help a player when they get nervous and players learn to work together, communicate, and actively be in the moment if they want to win. No matter the outcome of each game, there was always discussion about what went well, what they can try to improve before the next game, and praise about what the players achieved, not praise of the coach.
I feel these strategies also apply to peer coaching in education. Gaining insight into coaching through Les Foltos’ book, Peer Coaching, I’m beginning to see coaching as an extension of working with students. We want to inspire others to challenge what they know and continuously explore new skills. We also want teachers to have a toolkit of resources that they can recommend to students so that students can explore which tools help them succeed. So what qualities are needed to establish a positive coaching relationship? After looking at sources from multiple countries, a few key principles keep re-surfacing.
Trust and Support vs Judgement
Understanding of the Education System
In peer coaching, both educators need to be willing participants. In addition, they need to feel supported by others (colleagues, administrators, district). Both educators also need to see the value in collaboration and establish a realistic goal that they are trying to achieve to increase student achievement. The teacher needs to be willing to take risks, explore, and understand that the partnership is fluid .
If the participants do not already know each other on a personal or professional level, then the next step is to take time and understand the needs of the teacher and the students. Les Foltos recommends that coaches spend the first meeting getting to know the teacher and allowing the teacher’s needs to guide the direction of their time together. What is also implied with establishing a relationship is that the coach’s role begins as a listener, not someone offering advice. As a listener, coach’s can paraphrase their understanding of the teacher’s needs and begin to understand the teacher’s perceptions and experiences with technology before discussing integration.
Trust and Support vs Judgement
Teachers need to feel they can trust their coach as a friend, not someone who’s coming into their classroom to judge them. Establishing trust takes time. For the partnership to be effective, the coach needs to enter without power, judgement, or evaluative mindset. The coach should appear knowledgeable but not assume the role as expert, creating a hierarchy in the relationship. Trust is also important for when challenges arise in order for the partnership to remain intact.
Understanding of the Education System
I’m sure most teachers can relate, but when I think of Professional Development trainings that were a waste of time, a few reasons immediately come to mind: 1. mandatory attendance, 2. the presenter has no idea what my student population is, 3. the presenter knows nothing about the resources available in our district, 4. this has nothing to do with my content area. The worst trainings combine all four!
For example, I teach ELL offering language support during reading and writing. A few years ago, our district adopted a new Math curriculum with mandatory trainings for all certificated staff. So I sat there for three days, frustrated at my use of time. I quickly learned all the teachers who teach Math were also frustrated and do not see how this curriculum would work in their classroom, it added fuel to the fire and a mob mentality. Our speaker promoted using the curriculum on computers and tablets during the lessons on a regular basis and talked about great tech features. The problem was we did not have a computer lab and averaged 1 device to 5 students. His lack of knowledge about our district led to a group of educators leaving the training frustrated rather than excited to try what he’d presented.
Point being, coaches need to do some research, and ask questions to better understand the building they’re serving and the teacher needs. Even within the same building, peer coaches need to look at the specific grade level and content area they wish to support. Coaches need to see the teacher’s classroom environment before offering any recommendations. In regards to technology, what already exists in the building or district, who else might be available to observe in action, and what options are available to help the teacher successfully integrate technology in the classroom? What concerns does the teacher have about technology integration?
Time is a big factor for teachers. It feels like there is never enough! In a peer coaching partnership, both participants need to establish a timeline for the long-term as well as protocols to follow with each meeting in order to respect each other’s time. In addition, realistic goals and timelines need to be discussed and adjusted as needed. This ties back to willing participants. If teachers feel pressured or that something will be lost versus something will be enhanced they will begin to resist, and coaches have to work much harder to bring them back on board. Meetings should typically have an agenda, protocol, allow time for the teacher to feel their time is validated and end with an action plan. This ties into communication.
With time being valuable, to respect all involved, communication preferences should also be discussed in the early stages of collaboration. Today there are so many ways for teachers to collaborate beyond the classroom. Once communication methods are in place, these can be used as reminders for upcoming collaboration. For example, if email is the chosen form of communication outside of scheduled in-person meetings, then the emails should serve as reminders for both participants responsibilities for how to come prepared. This may also require communication with other staff in the building, administration, or outside. Teachers need to feel they can reach their coach and receive feedback in a timely manner.
Connection to Technology Integration
Technology can be daunting for teachers. There are so many unknowns, and for teachers who are used to be in control, adding digital devices into the classroom can create anxiety. So how can peer coaches then use the above guiding principles to support their colleagues? Coaches need to do research after each meeting so explore what tools are available that could meet the teacher’s needs to enhance student achievement. With that, coaches need to share technology as an approach to help students meet grade level standards and develop 21st century skills. This needs to be done carefully to avoid teachers feeling pressured to add more to their day.
In conclusion, like sports, peer coaches need to recognise that teachers come in with a wide range of abilities and strengths. The coach needs to support teachers in recognising their long term goal and create opportunities for them to work towards successfully meeting that goal. The coach’s role should guide the teacher to independence and self-discovery for what works best for them and their students, while providing access, not direct instruction. Although this is simply the tip of the iceberg, I feel it’s a starting point for me as I look into peer coaching opportunities within my own building this year.
Cited by Queensland Government
Brown, L. (2014, February 28). The Importance of Trust. Retrieved October 14, 2017, from http://teachforall.org/en/network-learning/importance-trust
Cavanagh, M., Grant, A., & Kemp, T. (2015). Evidence-Based Coaching Volume 1 : Theory, Research and Practice from the Behavioural Sciences. Australian Academic Press.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
“Role of Coaching in an Educational Setting.” Queensland Government, Department of Education and Training, 29 Jan. 2015, from education.qld.gov.au/staff/development/performance/resources/readings/role-coaching-educational-settings.pdf
SPU’s Digital Education Leadership graduate program is inquiry-based. Students "play"and ask questions about emerging technologies, building real-world products for digital teaching and learning.