Category Archives: Communication

EDTC 6105: Visionary Leadership and Peer Coaching

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.

  • Willingness
  • Personal Relationship
  • Trust and Support vs Judgement
  • Understanding of the Education System
  • Time
  • Reciprocal Communication


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 .

Personal Relationship

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.

Reciprocal 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

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

Community Engagement Project – EDTC 6104

Increasing Family Engagement Through Digital Portfolios

This summer I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone.  In my own building, I worked as the Site Coordinator for summer school, my first time truly managing other staff and being in charge of a building.  With my Masters program through SPU, I’ve submitted my first proposal to a conference.  While this has been daunting, I have enjoyed both challenges.  Having taught ELL for seven years, I’ve taught summer school, both initiated and led before and after school programs, and attended workshops, but have never sought out a leadership role.  This summer has shifted my own perception of what I’m capable of and how I can contribute to others.

Trying New Strategies to Engage ELL Families

One of my greatest challenges as an educator and coach has been communication with families.  Working in schools where the majority of the parents are not native English speakers, communication is often limited, lost in translation, and we frequently rely on students to be the translator to get messages through to families. Based on my own experience in Title 1 schools in two different states, ELL families are less likely to initiate communication with teachers and less likely to use email as a frequent communication tool. Numerous studies agree that in general, low-income and/or ethnic/racial minority families are less likely to participate in school events and certain aspects of the children’s education. (Dong-shin Shin and Wendy Seger 2016). Many of these same families have limited access to technology and less exposure to 21st century skills.  Therefore, I feel it is important for teachers to not only introduce 21st century skills to students, but also help coach their families in how to use technology as a communication tool, professionally, and share their funds of knowledge.

What do we know about family involvement in Title 1 schools?

The most extensive research comes from the Hoover-Demspey and Sandler study known as the HDS Model.  Their findings claim parent involvement is based on these key factors:

The Parent Institute, 2012

This chart supports evidence that parents who do not speak English or were not educated in the American education system are more likely to find it difficult to participate at the school site. Furthermore, these families may have varying cultural views on what parent involvement entails based on their own cultural experiences. Particularly in low-income/immigrant families, parents may be limited in time by constraints related to their occupation, caring for other family members, or cultural commitments. So how can I connect families to what’s happening in the classroom when they are unable to attend our events? How do we support our illiterate parents?

This past year I’ve been searching for digital tools that help connect with families and offer translation.  Partially motivated by several great digital programs students have used for projects without a common way to share their work with families. I was fortunate enough to attend the International TESOL Convention to learn more about what other teachers are doing around the world and what I might be able to apply in my own building. These challenges inspired my quest for a better system to increase parent engagement, empower students, while still meeting performance standards.

My search led me to discovering digital portfolios.  With the intention of supporting students and increasing family engagement, the platform I am most eager to explore at this time is Seesaw.  

Digital Portfolios – Empower Students and Engage Families

My Proposal

Searching for conferences to submit proposals to was a foreign concept to me.  After looking at larger conferences, I decided to do some google searching of my own and happened upon the WAESOL (Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages) website.  I was so excited to see that they were accepting proposals for their 2017 conference to be held this upcoming October.  My greatest challenge was the deadline to apply, in July.  I had anticipated having all summer to explore apps, compare, and learn.

The 2017 WAESOL Conference will take place in October in Des Moines, WA.  My proposal was for a Teacher Demonstration session which is 45 minutes.  Knowing the conference targets ELL teachers, I feel I have a fair understanding of the participants who attend these workshops. Also, knowing the state standards we all address, I felt I could really streamline how digital portfolios can support teachers, students, and families.

How can I encourage others to buy in to using digital portfolios?

When thinking about how to get others excited, I thought back to various workshops I attended at the TESOL convention.  How did speakers get and maintain my attention? Beyond teachers wanting to learn about the topic, I want them to understand I am like them.  I am currently teaching, at times overwhelmed feeling I can’t take on anything else, yet wanting to serve our population and advocate for the ELL families in our state.

With attendees coming from around the state, we share the same teaching standards, evaluation systems, language barriers, gaps in formal education, as well as successes and challenges.  Rather than simply digitizing portfolios, this platform allows us to record students speaking and reading which is critical in their language development.  Students can monitor their own progress as well as have some control over the work they choose to publish.  Parents will have the opportunity to become involved digitally without needing to come to the school.  

In lieu of adding to the work day, digital portfolios can create a classroom system where students become more actively involved in their published work with the awareness of an authentic audience. Attendees will be able to make connections between digital tools and what they are already doing in the classroom. How can I achieve this in just 45 minutes?

Below is a mini-version of my slide presentation.  Starting with questions to gauge the audience, I might modify the direction of the workshop.  My intent is to truly highlight strengths of Seesaw and how it aligns well to tools and standards already utilised in K-12 classrooms. Again, by addressing the standards met and how teachers can use digital portfolios as evidence of their own professional growth, it is simply modifying how teachers capture the work already taking place.

After sharing how Seesaw can work for students, teachers, and parents, attendees will have the opportunity to explore Seesaw or another platform on a personal or shared device. Attendees will log in to a mock class as a student and be asked to upload photos, record audio, and take notes.  The audio and note-taking questions will align with teacher background which in turn will give me a better understanding of the who’s in attendance. If teachers prefer another platform, I’d like to hear about it and why it works for them.

Why Seesaw?  

So Why Seesaw?  Yes, there are other great platforms out there, however at this time, I am choosing to implement and promote Seesaw.  As mentioned in previous posts, many of our ELL students come from high poverty families without internet access, consistent working phones, first generation to have formal education.  Seesaw does not require an app like some other platforms. At this time, Seesaw allows teachers to assess reading, writing, and speaking, which all ELL teachers do anyway, now they can simply store data in one location. Seesaw offers voice messaging, which most platforms do not.

For example, we’ll look at one of my students from Guatemala.  He speaks Spanish. Great! We have Spanish support in my building so easy solution is send home all information in Spanish.  However, neither of his parents had more than 4 years of school.  His mother struggles to read in Spanish and his dad works long hours.  Who will translate? His mom does however have a phone and they frequently go to a coffee shop where she can access free wi-fi to chat with family back home.  How can I utilize this knowledge to support the family?  His mother can use the QR code to access Seesaw and look up his published work while she’s at the coffee shop and leave him voice messages.  

How else can Seesaw help?  Parents can give access to other family members.  We have many students who go to outside agencies for after school tutoring.  Those agencies then contact us wanting progress reports.  To eliminate this step, we could simply give the access to Seesaw and they can log in on their own to see how the students are performing as well as give feedback.  It’s another way to show students we all work as a team to support their academic growth and language development.

How does Seesaw support teachers in the classroom?  In my limited experience (one month) Seesaw has great support for teachers using the platform.  Through frequent email updates, I’ve learned about free webinars, updates to the system, Facebook groups to join that are grade level or content specific, and have joined a new group of educators who vary in experience. This is one of the driving reasons why I feel I can recommend Seesaw to others.  I may not know the answer to a question, but I feel I now have a support network I can quickly turn to and be directed to the person who has the answer.


The Parent Institute (2012) Why is parent involvement important? Retrieved from

Park, S. S., & Holloway, S. D. (2012, November 30). No Parent Left Behind: Predicting Parental Involvement in Adolescents’ Education within a Sociodemographically Diverse Population. Retrieved August 13, 2017, from

Shin, D., & Seger, W. (2016, January 13). Web 2.0 Technologies and Parent Involvement of ELL Students: An Ecological Perspective. Retrieved August 13, 2017, from

EDTC 6103 – How do we promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility?

This week we were asked to look at ISTE Teaching Standard 4, “Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.  

Encouraged by Jason Ohler’s article on Digital Citizenship, I set out to see how I could support my school to be more proactive rather than reactive to internet safety. Ohler made several points that resonated with me. His explanation of “character education” allowed me to reflect on my current school, previous school, personal education, and stories I’ve heard from friends.  We can’t wait for our students to navigate the digital world and ask questions, we need to provide guidance to our students as well as their families. In a world that inundates us with media, we need to guide our students through intentional thought processes rather than let them develop their own moral compass over time.  We need to create opportunities for digital education and invest in ethical inventory resources not just tech resources.

Immediately several questions came to mind about my own school district.

  • How does my district support teachers and students to be responsible digital citizens?
  • What training and education is provided for staff and parents?
  • What curriculum / resources are commonly used in the district and at what grade levels?
  • Who are the decision makers?

I first contacted someone from our district IT department who serves schools in my region. Then I reached out to my librarian, who is only at our school part time. I posed these four questions (see above).  The responses were similar on each question.  Our district is so large and digital devices vary greatly both in brand and quantity depending on the school.  With 99 schools, we do not have a unified approach other than librarians infusing some Common Sense Media lessons into their library time. Some schools have been able to fund Technology Instructors in K-5 schools who teach Digital Citizenship, but it varies depending on the school. Our decision makers appear to be our school board, staff at the district level, and admin.  In regards to technology and digital citizenship, it appears that our community, families, and students have little to no input. We do have links on our district website, but only in English.

Finding Resources

My biggest challenge is finding online resources available in other languages.  Common Sense Media has Spanish option, but how do schools such as mine support the other families in understanding internet usage and digital citizenship? We have ¼ of our families that need translation support.  My quest led me to Michael Gorman’s blog, sharing 10 resources for teaching Digital Citizenship.  Gorman provided great resources, with an abundance from Common Sense Media, yet most only appeared to be offered in English.  I can only imagine showing a video to the families at my school and having to pause constantly to allow translation to be shared in 6 or more languages.  There has to be something more efficient!

The one resource Gorman shared that truly came through for me was from Australia. Navigating a few quick clicks I discovered  The Parent’s Guide to Online Safety. The Australian Government provides online safety for parents in 15 different languages.  Although the guide provides contacts in Australia, the bulk of the information applies to strategies to support families with issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, unwanted contact, social networking, and having children who spend too much time online.  If resources exist like this in other languages in the US, I’ve had a hard time finding them.  Which leads me to believe a lot of the families I serve would also struggle with finding this information.

Supporting Families in Digital Education

Technology is constantly changing, students catch on to trends, explore new websites and share apps way before we catch on.  According to David Andrade’s article earlier this month, more than 75% of teens now own cell phones and more than 90% communicate online.  These facts alone are reason to ensure parents are aware of support systems that exist, parental controls, ways to report abuse, etc.  Take for example a story from Connecticut three years ago.  A new social media app, YikYak, allowed users to post messages anonymously.  Anyone active on the site within a mile and half radius could see the message.  A high school in Westport, CT. became inundated with hateful speech, citing racist, Islamophobic, sexist, and homophobic comments.  By the end of the first day, most of the students with access to cell phones had downloaded the app.  The school staff were in shock.  It is because of the unknown that we need to explicitly teach Digital Citizenship.  We need to be able to educate parents on how to monitor what their children are doing and provide tools for them to have meaningful conversations at home.

With 6,000 ELL students, and nearly 14,000 students from non-English speaking homes, we should provide similar resources to Australia’s Online Safety Guide in the 8 languages we offer translation for.  These should be on our website accessible for families, students, and staff.  At present, schools in my district tend to approach most incidents on a case by case basis. A large percentage of our families do not have internet at home and many parents may be unaware what their children are exposed to.  This does not prevent their children from being protected from cyber bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, or understanding the consequences of sharing on social media.


I want to continue advocating for our ELL families and in this particular case, that means helping develop resources that are shared in the top 8 languages.  Having these resources available on our district website accessible for parents and staff is the first step.  Sharing these resources with parents and staff will be the next step.  How can we truly expect parents to model expected behaviour without giving clear expectations, support, and guidelines?  With 55,000 students in our district, I think we can do better.  As educators it’s time we model responsible internet use and promote digital education for families in addition to students.


  • Andrade, D. (2017, May 15). Teaching Students Digital Civility Goes Hand-in-Hand with Tech Rollouts. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from
  • Ernst, A., & Harmoush, V. (2014, June 20). Teaching digital citizenship in a ‘yakking’ world. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from
  •  Gorman, M. (2017, February 27). 10 Digital Citizenship Resources – Web in the Classroom Part 3. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from
  • Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest. 77(8). pp. 14-17. Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age

EDTC 6103 Module 3: Modeling Digital Age Work and Learning

For my reflection this week, I’ve been asked to look closely at ISTE Teaching Standard 3.  Unlike my previous focus of incorporating digital tools in the classroom, this standard has me searching for ways to improve communication with parents. The particular pull out students I serve all have primary languages translatable by other support staff in my building.  The challenge is knowing how best to communicate and collaborate with parents to truly help integrate them into the American education system.

Spring is an extremely busy at my school with multiple events, testing, field trips, and summer opportunities.  In a school where the majority of parents speak a language other than English at home, we provide translation in 7 languages.  Although this does not meet all the language needs of our families, it covers the majority.  Our bilingual assistants are working extra hours providing translation to families in person, over the phone, or simply transcribing information for teachers to send home.  

ISTE Standard 3 has me questioning what I can do to improve both communication and collaboration between parents and staff in my building.
  • Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation.
  • Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats.


Nicole Krueger’s article “3 barriers to innovation education leaders must address” sparked my interest in looking for innovative ways to enhance communication.  She mentions barriers such as community resistance, access, and policies.  My district is definitely impacted by access and policies.  Working in SE Seattle, our public schools all have a high ELL population. We have  great families, yet they do not have to same background with the American education system and connections to openly advocate for equitable access to learning and technology.  I work with a dedicated staff who value culture, provide opportunities for parents to be involved, yet I feel it is the same parents I see at most events or volunteering in the classrooms.  Our Caucasian population are the minority in the building, yet their parents make up the majority of our PTSA. This led me to question how can we increase our parent involvement and communication when there is an obvious language barrier?

After reading a thorough article about the challenges of ELL parent involvement in Arizona, I began to categorise my reading into what we already do and what we can discuss as future implementations to increase involvement.  In their research, Arias and Morillo-Campbell, noted that 10% of the schools in the USA hold almost 70% of the K-5 ELL students.  Of those schools, similar to my building, nearly half the students receive ELL services.  This is the demographic of parents we need to truly support.


Getting To Know The Community

Having only been at my current school for less than 3 years, I still feel relatively new to the community.  With that, I am not sure what has been tried in the past, what has been successful that may have been forgotten about, and who might be able to best bridge the culture gap to promote further collaboration between parents and staff. Regardless of cultural background and education, these parents need to be understood, have their wishes for their children heard, be included in decision-making, and given multiple opportunities to integrated into our school communities.  What are we doing beyond annual conferences, newsletters, and emails to truly support these families?

Just like our students who learn in different ways, we need to provide our families with communication options, training, and support.  Knowing not all of our parents are literate in their primary languages, there are families who benefit most from face-to-face or phone communication.  Then we have the parents who are working more than one job, unable to come to school who appreciate emails or letters home.  But how do we know those parents are truly receiving all the information we send?

Tech Tools to Connect with Parents

Using an after school program as my pilot group, this week I started using Remind. Instantly I felt excited at the possibilities of having tool that keeps phone numbers private, works in a text like format, and allows me to include images with the text.  The true selling point though was reading that they support 70 languages. To further explain why I love Remind as a tool, it allows me to send a quick message to parents without all of our phone numbers appearing.  I can also change the language, create the message in advance, and receive feedback from parents.  

This week we only had 2 parents who could attend our soccer game.  I already had 5 parents join Remind.  I was able to send a reminder about the game, take a team photo to send out, and let parents know the ETA for the team returning to school. Two parents responded within minutes after I posted.  Prior to Remind, I’ve had little communication with parents other than sending letters home to sign and return.  Frequently our organisation has last minute changes to scheduling which I always regret not being able to notify families in a more timely manner.  I’m hoping that Remind can be used to overcome these challenges for at least some of the families. The photo feature is also great, as I can share photos of the games and events for those parents who are unable to attend.

In addition to using apps like Remind, Common Sense Media shared a blog titled 6 Tech Tools That Boost Teacher-Parent Communication. I love the idea of having blogs linked to our website that feature student voices in primary languages and student work for parents to connect with outside of the classroom.  These tools are great, however, many create barriers with our ELL families due to lack of internet access, non-translatable data, lack of understanding to make sense of the data, and cultural differences. Although the school could lead workshops and trainings on how to use these tools, they require additional supports in order to be successfully implemented into a high poverty school.

Non-Tech Strategies

So how can we still increase communication and collaboration without tech tools?  We need more opportunities such as focus groups to get a better understanding of the cultural understanding of our parents regarding education at school versus at home, homework, what a classroom looks like, American expectations of parent involvement, etc.  We should be encouraged to do home visits.  Without truly understanding the families we serve, how can we truly serve their children?  Schools should also find ways to participate in community meetings for various ethnic / language groups and work on collaborative strategies to break down cultural barriers.  Without leaving the school, our ELL families deserve more than one parent-teacher conference per year.  I know that if I moved to a new country right now, I would hope I could meet with my son’s teacher multiple times to ensure he is actively engaged, showing academic and social growth as well as meeting other criteria.  When schools have a large group from the same culture, we could also give leadership opportunities to families to instill some of their educational best practices into our school.

Next Steps

This standard has given me a lot to think about.  Having never visited schools in China, Vietnam or Somalia for example, I have limited understanding in how our education systems differ.  This gives me room to grow as an educator, to learn more about where our families are from and how to work together to successfully bridge the gap between school and home. My first step will be collaborating with our bilingual staff to learn more about what they’re hearing from families.  

I have several ideas I’d love to discuss with my colleagues and administration as we start planning for next year. In particular, I feel our school website definitely has room for improvement.  Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I look forward to exploring what other high poverty schools with large ELL populations have successfully implemented to integrate ELL parents as valued members of the school community.

Resources – Communication management (Module 3, Innovative designer)

Module 2 is about investigating ISTE Student Standard 4: Innovative Designer – “students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” In response to Innovative Designer Indicator 4b, “students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks,” where digital tools are defined as “brainstorming tools, flow charts, drawing or mark-up tools, 2D or 3D design software, note-taking tools, project-management tools,” I asked the investigation question:

What project management tools are there?

My investigation question is fairly narrow, and my answer is even narrower…but I am so excited about it! At the suggestion of program director, Dr. Wicks, I looked into which is a communication management tool. It’s basically a place to create discussion channels (i.e., chat rooms) for group/project/team members. And these channels are only available through invite – the world doesn’t have access to them.

When it comes to group communication, I’m a huge fan of FB, and until Slack, nothing else has been able to compete. But as a student, I have observed that students tend to keep their FB activity fairly separate from their school activities, and some students don’t want to be on FB. In my experience, communication between peers often happens through texts, emails, comments within Google Docs, and LMSs like Blackboard and Canvas. Rather than go through what I think the disadvantages of these platforms are for group communication, I’ll jump right into…

What I love about Slack for online, group communication (from 5 days of playing with it):
  • Notifications and tagging – two communication features which I think are an absolute must if you want to foster a sense of community or “teamness” during online interactions. The notifications are super customizable, and I’ll just note that you can even tell Slack to notify you when a specific word or phrase is said! What?! Love it.
  • The apps – I’ll mention this right now because notifications are most effective, I think, when they come from an app. There are desktop and phone apps; I have both.
  • Threaded comments – if notifications and tagging are a first-tier must, threaded comments is a second-tier must. It’s just super necessary for discussion organization.
  • Edit your comments – in a school setting, when I find a typo in my post/comment and can’t edit it, it drives me bonkers.
  • /remind – you can set a reminder for yourself…OR someone else! Even more conveniently, with the click of a button you can also have Slack remind you about a specific message.
  • “Apps and integrations” – Not to be confused with the Slack apps themselves, there are tons of things that you can add to your Slack group, like polls (I recommend Polly), RSS feeds (I recommend RSS), dice rolling, and calendars.
  • Other convenient features: star messages, see all starred messages, see all things you were tagged in, private messages, multiple channels, and search discussions.

Slack is super easy learn and very intuitive – getting started is a breeze. There is a lot to explore and Slack just keeps surprising me with cool things!

Regarding any downsides or limitations (that I’ve seen within these 5 days):
  • I wish the apps and integrations had user ratings. I sent them /feedback about that from within Slack (super cool feature) and they quickly got back to me – they’re working on how to do that well.
  • Slack uses a non-trivial amount of computer memory in order to run (~375,000K for desktop app; ~475,000K in Chrome), but what can you do? So does running FB (~501,000K in Firefox).
  • There are free and paid versions of Slack. Limitations on the free version are: search limited to the 10,000 most recent messages, storage capacity limited to 5GB, only 10 apps or integrations, and voice and video calls limited to two people. For a list of differences based on version look here.

The limitations don’t deter me – they are what they are and something to keep in mind. If Slack were integrated into a 10 week college course, a class of 30 students could go past 10,000 messages if they’re very active. They’d have to average over 33 messages per student, per week. Regarding storage, 5gigs is quite a bit of space. That’s about 16 hours of some .mp4 video files I have, twice as much space as I have on my free Dropbox account, and way more space than the 100MB of storage that Google Sites gives you! 10 apps/integrations is quite a bit, and there are other ways to do free group voice/video calls.

Using/Moving Over to Slack

Getting a group of people to use a new communication product can be a little challenging. It’s another thing to log into and check, another program to download and run, another app to put on your phone. Another thing to learn. But to me it seems worth it. Among other groups that could benefit from Slack, I think it could be a great tool to help students manage project communication as they work on their innovative designs.


ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from

Slack. (2016). App directory. Retrieved from

Slack. (2016). Pricing guide. Retrieved from

Peer Coaching: The Vision vs. The Reality


Aspects of Successful Coaching

All quarter we have been exploring what make a successful coach. Sometimes this seemed like a really broad question. There are certainly a plethora of small aspects that can contribute to a successful coaching plan and relationship. I do know that there were some major ones that resonated with me.

Building a relationship. Relationships are so vital in many different situations. In coaching work, they serve as a beginning foundation that supports the weight of your collaboration, communication and future goals and results. Building a relationship involves respect, trust, common understanding and a willingness to learn, and even fail. The relationship should feel friendly, supported, personalized, flexible, private and manageable. As Les Foltos writes in our invaluable peer coaching resource this quarter “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration,” “Successful coaches build capacity not dependence” (Foltos 2013). In other words a coach’s job is to facilitate learning. We are not there to “be the experts” or support learned helplessness. We are there to provide support and resources and pose probing questions that can help further the learning and exploration.

A Willing Peer. A successful coaching relationship involves two willing parties. Willingness to learn is at the forefront of success. A growth mindset is important for everyone involved. The coach, the peer and even admin should be involved in the coaching plan and the final goals and outcomes in mind. A good coach will create an environment that encourages (manageable) risk taking and assure their partner that it is okay to fail.

Communication Skills. In the past few months, I have become very aware of the communication skills that are most successful in a coaching relationship. Active listening helps promote a relationship. A coach needs to be intentional about removing any distractions from the environment. This has been eye opening for me. There were so many times I believed I was being an active listener, but when I actually learned what that looked like I can tell you most of the time I was not. Your mind should be clear. The conversation becomes priority. Your body language and facial expressions should reflect genuine interest and support. This is not a time for the coach to jump in and immediately insert their thoughts and solutions about the topic presented. As Foltos writes, “If you are really good at listening, you let the speaker finish and then pause and reflect briefly before speaking” (Foltos 2013). Other tools like paraphrasing, probing questions and clarifying questions have immensely improved my communication skills as a coach.

The Real Thing:

It was one thing to find a willing partner and collaboratively create a good coaching plan, but I found it was quite another to see that the plan was actually implemented. Going into it, my partner and I had laid out a basic schedule of days to meet and set some pretty simple norms that drove our meetings. Five trainings, four unheard of sporadic snow days, three days of conferences, and one family craft night later the reality began to look a lot different than the intended plan. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to be exposed to a real life picture of flexibility and adjustment. I feel better prepared for the reality. However, our progress and timeline was greatly adjusted.

Our goals

Our general goal was to help facilitate a healthy core within our kindergarten instruction while promoting first grade readiness for iReady testing the following year. This connected to an overall school goal of maintaining a minimum of 70% of all students at benchmark and at grade level. We chose to focus on implementing better formative assessment strategies to strengthen knowledge of student learning and understanding, while adjusting future instruction. We also chose to focus on specific activities that were already being done in the classroom by improving them with 21st century skills like collaborative work and creative opportunities.

We started by exploring the app Plickers. Together, we learned the ins and outs, created class accounts and prepared materials. Plickers looks a lot different when you use it with kindergarten. It is a lot more adapted and scaled down. A specific intro lesson is a must. Our plan was for my peer to observe me teach an introduction to Plickers lesson to a group of kindergarteners, and she would do the same with her class. We would follow that up with more real application of Plickers within existing learning activities. Scheduling became our biggest obstacle. Because we both hold classroom roles, the only opportune time for us to observe each other would be when we had opposite art blocks. She would come in and observe the lesson on a Thursday and then we would meet and plan for her to teach it the following Monday when I could observe her. We had this layout planned several times, but were thwarted by crazy weather and lack of time.

Next Steps

As I am writing this, our school district has gone into a premature winter break due to our fourth snow day. The biggest thought on my mind is “What comes next?” We intend to continue our coaching work when we return to school in January. Our next step will be observing and implementing an introduction to Plickers lesson. Then, we will look at activities and lessons already being taught where Plickers will naturally fit and benefit the kids and teacher. When that is completed, we will select a specific learning activity that is already being done in the classroom to assess using a Learning Activity Checklist, most likely focusing on just one area. We will modify that lesson and teach it with the improved changes. After the modified activity, we will reflect on the process and create a way to successfully measure student outcome. Phew! That seems like a lot left to do. However, I think once we finally get into a rhythm, that is hopefully not interrupted by anymore weather, the flow of our plan will start to feel natural.

Closing thoughts

Though we were faced will a real world display of obstacles, I feel very confident about what work was completed. The timeline certainly looks different now, but our goals and outcomes still remain the same. This experience definitely reiterated the importance of communication and flexibility to me. This quarter has really taken my knowledge to the next level. It felt good to take all of our knowledge and skills we have been gathering for the past year and start to apply them in a hands on real-life situation. I look forward to our work in the near future!


Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration.

Students as Contributors Adding Value to our Communities

Many years ago, I worked in a school where student learning involved solving real-world problems. One example is when third graders interviewed city transportation officials as well as school district operations managers, parents, and staff to design a new parking lot and traffic pattern for the congested unsafe lot. They used math to design model […]

EDTC 6105 | Module 2 Resolution

Module 2 Exploration: How can I successfully build peer to peer learning experiences with faculty, including peer coaching opportunities, in a higher education setting?

ISTE-C Standard 1: Visionary Leadership
d. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms
ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

This scene from The Big Bang Theory (with bonus subtitles) accurately depicts a conversation where both participants aren’t feeling listened to; in fact, they are speaking about completely different topics within a the same conversation and both want empathy and understanding from one another, though they aren’t willing to give empathy and understanding themselves. Although Leonard tried to establish a norm of listening and responding, the lack of empathy, inquiry, and equal contribution to the conversation made it impossible for the conversation to go anywhere and ultimately left both Sheldon and Leonard frustrated.

Like many relationships and partnerships, successful communication between a group is not possible without established trust and respect. In fact, I was recently reminded by the article Ahhhh! Emotions in My Classroom” that practicing communication and collaboration skills is not merely for adult peer relationships, but is something we can consistently practice and model for our students. Like building trust and respect among students in a classroom, a rapport needs to be built between members of a Professional Learning Network before successful communication and collaboration can happen. This rapport can come from an intentional commitment to norms that are created prior to working together (Foltos, 2011). Some commonly established norms that help increase trust and respect are:

  • Avoid side conversations
  • Say on agenda
  • Self-regulate
  • Listen respectfully
  • Discuss issues, not people,
  • Assume positive intentions (Meyer et al., 2011r)

While establishing a set of norms prior to working together can establish trust and respect for a group, rapport can also be built more informally and often leads to further opportunities for professional growth. In Everyday Conversations as a Context for Professional Learning and Development, Niel Haigh highlights how conversations between colleagues, where a rapport has already been established often lead to the kind of relationship and professional development  peer coaches desire. A balance of inquiry and advocacy makes a conversation successful, “where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others” (Senge, 1990, p. 9). Haigh focuses on the prerequisite of “conversation” before “discussion,” which I felt echoed the communication skills highlighted in chapter 5 of Peer Coaching, where trust and respect, as well as communication and collaboration norms preceded any discussion or plan to move forward with an idea.

There are four  key communications skills that are norms of collaboration, as introduced by Les Foltos in Peer Coaching:

  • Active Listening: body language, block out competitive thoughts, let the speaker fully finish
  • Paraphrasing: designed to focus on the speaker, don’t include the pronoun I
  • Clarifying Questions: simple and factual, designed to get full picture
  • Probing Questions: start with a paraphrase, encourage learner to dig deeper, increase ownership

The main takeaway is that even if the responder/peer coach has the answer, the coach is asked to erase that answer from his or her mind and focus on helping the learner “…formulate their strategies. It is ultimately their answer” (Grace Dublin, p. 85). Ann Hayes-Bell shared some excellent resources for peer coaches from the School Reform Initiative of probing question sentence starters that put the learner’s need at the center. ISTE-C Standard 2 outlines a coach’s responsibility to “coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences.” This is wholly impossible without creating a learning environment of trust, collaboration, and respect. Ultimately, it’s impossible to implement technology innovations within schools and classrooms if a relationship of trust, respect, and collaboration is not created between a peer coach and a learning partner.


(2012, November 16). Bad Listeners. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from

Eynon-Lynch, M., & Gehlsen, M. (2016, October 12). Ahhhh! Emotions in My Classroom. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Neil Haigh (2005): Everyday conversation as a context for professional learning and development, International Journal for Academic Development, 10:1, 3-16

Senge, P. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: strategies and tools for building a learning organization. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Module 2 EDTC 6105 Peer Coaching: Consider This

huge red ball caught between building with a man pushing on it

In my last blog post I emphasized the need for a district vision for the work of the coach. This week, I’m going to examine another crucial piece that will lead to success, well-developed communication and collaboration skills. In Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Les Foltos (2013) states, “I have asked asked hundreds of Peer Coaches over the years, and they consistently respond that communication and collaboration skills are a prerequisite to successful collaboration” p. 77.

One of the most important of these skills is the art of listening. In general, are you a good listener? Have you ever been told you are? Have you ever made a conscious effort to improve your listening skills? Take this quiz to reflect on the quality of your listening. While not written for specifically for a school coach, the quiz brings up some great points. For example, repeating points back to clarify understanding. Another is paying attention to body language, yourself and the person you are speaking with. Use of leading questions is yet another; the list goes on. Good active listening is valuable to many facets of life.

Good active listening is valuable to many facets of life.

In chapter 5 Les Foltos zeros in on active listening, paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions, and the use of probing questions. He states, “In addition to repeated practice, experience has proven that coaches develop these skills more effectively if the learning exercises includes opportunities for participants to provide feedback to peers.” This means, we need to practice and then talk about and reflect on the process. Role-playing with someone is a good idea and will improve your skills. I believe this is what he is saying!

I want to make another point. Click and look at the quiz again. Notice that the choices are not yes or no. We are all on our own continuum of listening skill development.

We are all on our own continuum of listening skill development.

As a technology coach I know this. The question is, do I daily try and get better? I should. As I reflected on this, I realized that I would like to improve the quality of my clarifying and probing questions. I did some web-searching and found the work of Gene Thompson-Grove and Edorah Frazer (2002). I also found many derivatives of their work. They are known for their work around coaching questions stems. The first resource I found that builds on their work was on the School Reform Initiative website. It tackles clarifying questions vs probing questions. Clarifying questions are questions of fact and probing questions are ones that cause deeper thought to happen before an answer can be given. It offers suggestions for framing your probing questions and also provides sentence stems (starters) to form probing questions. For example, “When have you have you done something like this before?” The wide-openness of that question would make someone think; the reference to the past would cause the someone to make connections.

Another resource, that my colleague Ann Hayes-Bell directed me to, was a page on Elena Aguilar’s website. She is the author of the text, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. She goes so far as to break types of questions down further. She includes cathartic, catalytic, supportive, and more types of stems. I also did some reading of articles by Gene Thompson-Grove and Edorah Frazer. What I read on this page grabbed me. It said, “Think of probing questions as being on a continuum, from recommendation to action to most effective probing question.”  Effective was the word that grabbed me. As you recall, I had said we are on a continuum of listening skills. We are also on a continuum of the quality of our use of paraphrasing, development of clarifying questions, and the use of probing questions!

That said, where does this fall on the ISTE Standards for Tech Coaches? It falls under Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, standard 2f, “Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences.” I think Foltos makes this connection clear on page 99, “Communication skills, particularly probing questions, can play a vital role in encouraging teachers to think more deeply about their practice, take risks, and adopt innovative teaching strategies.” This work also falls under Visionary Leadership, standard 1d, which states, “Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms.” A coach really is a change agent. I would conclude that the further we are on the continuum of collaboration and communication skills, the greater impact we would have on our learning partner and our school or school district. Again, it comes back to being intentional when the decision to hire a coach is being made. I’ve made a short video that highlights the points that need to be considered by administrators and coaches.

Works cited:

Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from

Mind Tools Team. (n.d.). How good are your listening skills? Retrieved from

PJMixer. (2009). It just won’t fit. Retrieved from

Thompson-Grove, G. (n.d). Pocket guide to probing questions. Retrieved from

Supporting Risk Taking and Innovation

Successful coaching is achieved through three sets of skills: collaboration and communication, lesson design, and technology integration (Foltos 2013). Success with lesson design and technology integration depend on effective outcomes of collaboration and communication. Without a strong foundation of collaboration and communications skills, the peer coaching relationship will not facilitate quality lesson design and technology integration.

This week, I explored the essential question of what role communication and collaboration skills play in successful coaching? Through the course reading, I begin to understand the idea that “Collaboration needs to be taught and learned”(Foltos 2013). This was something I had to reflect on. Collaboration, to me, has always seemed like a natural thing that can be more of a strength for some people than others. I knew it could be facilitated and promoted in various effective ways, but it had never been phrased in such a way to me. However, the more I thought about it, teaching and learning communication and collaboration is exactly what I have been doing through my educational journey thus far. I have been experiencing through an authentic and organic delivery that I couldn’t even identify unless I took the time to reflect upon it, and isn’t this exactly how it should be for teachers and students?

Coaches can do several things to develop those vital communication and collaboration skills. They can be intentional about:

After exploring all of these, I felt drawn to investigate strategies on how to model and promote risk taking in a peer coaching relationship.

In an online post from the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning through Indiana University Bloomington, Greg Siering outlines five key things that teachers can do to manage the risk inherent when fostering innovation. He suggests teachers:

Take an incremental approach. Too many big and new changes to instruction can be overwhelming not only to the teacher, but students as well. Small and manageable changes and risks allow the teacher to focus on the details, techniques and implementation of the new components. If the teacher’s new approach should happen to fail, it allows for the proper reflection and adjustment. It becomes a small failure that won’t have a big impact on the students or teachers. Failure should be an understood and welcomed risk. “Peer Coaches model risk taking and recognize that taking risks may occasionally mean failure” (Foltos 2013).

Do their homework. Teachers and coaches should take the time to properly research the innovations being explored. This includes researching the accounts details of real teachers partaking in similar experiences. You can hold a vast amount of knowledge and pedagogy, but  as the article puts it, learning about other teachers’ lesson “headaches,” can more realistically prepare and inform the teacher.

Involve students. Include students in your teaching effort. Inform them when you are trying something new, whether an approach or a piece of technology. Students can provide valuable feedback that can help you adjust changes accordingly.

Involve their chair (or administration). Involve administration early on in the process to build support. Communicate that student progress and outcome may look different while implementing new changes. Share plans of managing the risk and innovation with your admin and what plans are in place to assess the outcomes of the innovations. As the article states, getting your admin on board “may also help you build a stronger reputation as someone committed to the department’s educational mission.”

Document efforts and results. These innovations and changes that a teacher is implementing are created by the coach and teacher in a very purposeful way, which should include documentation and records. Why should teachers take any risk at all, if there is no proof of their process and outcome? Documenting the efforts and results can not only help refine the innovations over time, but can also create evidence of student learning outcomes.

Teachers may relate more strongly to a specific component of supporting risk and innovation. For example, some additional feedback from peers and colleagues in my cohort this week, has especially emphasized the value of having vital support from administration. Many teachers don’t feel comfortable trying much of anything new at all without support from administration. All the components above are vital to keep in mind when promoting risk taking in a peer coaching relationship.


Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration.

Managing Innovation (and Risk) in Your Teaching. (Jan. 2012). Retrieved October 23, 2016, from