A Strong Hex Foundation to Professional Learning

What are key ideas to designing professional learning that includes a process of ongoing evaluation that emphasizes improvements for using technology for high-impact teaching and learning? Based on ISTE Coaching Standard 5C #1 Consistent purpose …

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Professional Learning: the Importance of Empathy and Environment

How do adults learn according to neurological research? How then should professional learning be designed and implemented? How does facilitating active learning and providing feedback lead to building the capacity of educators? ISTE Coaching Standard …

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The Art of Giving Meaningful Feedback

Educators pour their hearts and souls into teaching. When I was a classroom teacher I started pinning posts about classroom decor and learning activities on the first day of summer break. I kid you not. I loved what I did and I wanted to give it 100%. I think this is true of most teachers. Teachers don’t enter the profession because of the pay or the recognition, they do it because they love kids and they love learning. They spend countless hours decorating, designing engaging curriculum, and grading papers on their evenings and weekends. And while many teachers want to be the best that they can be, it is sometimes hard to open up our classrooms to outside feedback and scrutiny. I think that is because we pour so much of our soul into our craft that feedback becomes a very personal thing and being vulnerable is hard. That is why it is vital that coaches take the time to develop trust with teachers and carefully think through how they can encourage, empower, and support teachers in their professional learning.  There are 3 different types of feedback. Each is important and needed in our schools.  While Coaches can be cheerleaders and highlight the various successes happening on campus, the main type of feedback they give is aimed at helping teachers reach their goals. Grant Wiggins defines feedback as “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal” (2012). In extensive research done by John Hattie, it was found that giving formative feedback to teachers (aka offering coaching), has an effect size of .90 on student achievement (Bright Morning, 2016). If coaches can effectively offer teachers feedback, then we can have a tremendous impact on our students’ learning! So what goes into the art of giving meaningful feedback?  First, coaches need to take the time to develop trust and credibility with teachers (Bright Morning, 2016). This step should not be rushed since it is the foundation for future success. After this has been developed and nurtured, coaches can come alongside teachers and offer their support. Montini (2014) and Brown (2020) give great tips on how to support teachers emotionally and set the meeting up for success. When working with teachers make sure to sit on the same side of the table. Be mindful of your body language and start by saying we’re in this together. These steps can help a teacher feel comfortable and disarm a potentially disgruntled or nervous teacher.  After researching I compiled the following suggestions for coaches when giving feedback:  1. Ask permission Before giving feedback ask if it is okay and explain that your intention in giving feedback is coming from a place of care and concern, and a desire to help the teacher reach their goals (Aguilar, 2013). This could sound like, “Can I share a couple of things with you that I observed that might help you address those issues you’re raising?” (Aguilar, 2013).  2. Focus on data Instead of discussing what the teacher did well or where they struggled, focus the conversation on student data or non-judgmental observation notes. For example, noting how many students were participating during a lesson when a teacher’s goal was focused on student engagement. Wiggins (2012) argues that “Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve that goal, and then receives goal-related information about his or her actions”. So ask yourself, what is the teacher’s goal? Stay specific and focused on feedback that gives the teacher information on how they are doing reaching that goal. If you’d like to learn more about structuring coaching conversations around data, my friend Megan Heineman has a great blog post on using a third point during coaching sessions.  3. Less is more  Elena Aguilar (2013) encourages coaches to keep critical feedback to one or two key points. We don’t want to overwhelm teachers with every bulleted point on our notes. Begin by affirming something the teacher did well and then give feedback related to their personal goal. Effective feedback is concrete and specific (Wiggins, 2012). 4. Plan next steps  After you’ve shared feedback with the teacher, invite them to share their thoughts and/or feelings. Does the teacher become defensive, embarrassed, curious, or relieved? Aguilar stresses how important it is to help teachers process these emotions so that they are ready to take the next step (2013). It’s important to ask “what’s next?” and “how can I support you?”. By asking these questions, the coach is putting the teacher into the driver’s seat. You’re not ending on a negative note, but a positive one of how you can proactively move forward.  5. Follow up! Too often we give feedback and then never return to see if it is being implemented (Bright Morning, 2016). Teachers need ongoing support, encouragement, and more feedback. By checking in with teachers we encourage this iterative cycle of professional learning where we try something out, reflect on the outcome, tweak it and then try again. Coaches can help by giving formative feedback that provides teachers with the opportunity to reshape their performance to achieve their personal goals (Wiggins, 2012).  What practices do you think are essential when giving feedback? I’d love to hear your thoughts from either a place of receiving or giving feedback to others. Works Cited  Aguilar, Elena. (2013, March 6). Giving Feedback. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-giving-feedback/2013/03  Aguilar, Elena. (2018). Receiving and Giving Feedback. Bright Morning. https://brightmorningteam.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Giving-and-Receiving-Feedback.pdf  Bright Morning. (2016, February 15). Common Mistakes When Giving Feedback. Bright Morning. https://brightmorningteam.com/2016/02/common-mistakes-when-giving-feedback/  Brown, Brené. (2020). Daring Greatly: Engaged Feedback Checklist. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/downloads/  Montini, Laura. (2014, October 16). 2 Things Great Leaders Do When They Give Feedback. Inc. https://www.inc.com/laura-montini/brene-brown-why-great-feedback-can-t-be-scripted.html  Wiggins, Grant. (2012, September). Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx 

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Exploring the how and why adult brains learn

(…and what that means for professional development) While the neuroscience and study of brain development, aging, and learning continues to expand, here are a few insights I found particularly insightful to explain how adult brains …

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My First Attempt at Coaching

This semester for our big project we worked with a teacher from our schools to create a coaching relationship. The goal was for us to […]

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Encouraging Risk-Taking Through Trusting Relationships

This fall kicked off with a new course in my grad program that is focused on the ISTE coaching standards along with a project that is centered on utilizing some of the coaching standards we have been learning about in a practical way in my school building. Moving into the role of a coach has had me thinking about how a coach starts off the process of mentoring and what strategies can help start a peer mentoring relationship be successful.   The 1st ISTE coaching standard is titled “Change Agent”. You can read it below:  I started off by reading a book in coursework titled “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration” written by Les Foltos. Foltos speaks to the lack of collaboration in the modern-day educational system due to an outdated model that relates schools to a production-line in which students are the products. However, we know that this thinking needs to change. For this to happen, we need to emphasize students working to possess the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. We must first start to change the process of planning with educators at the forefront.  Foltos also talks about the power of peer coaching and how through a mentorship, educators can start to reflect on their practices and can move together towards increasing students’ ability to poses the Four Cs. But how do we do this? How can we ask other educators to be raw in their self-reflections and then require them to take the uncomfortable step to make a change? This led me to my research question for this module:   How can a coach create a relationship that encourages risk-taking with their learning partners?  When I began researching this topic, I thought to myself how would I feel if someone came into my classroom and wanted me to change the way that I did something… especially if I didn’t know them very well. And I immediately was irritated at the idea. I would feel that they were criticizing me and would not appreciate it. However, if this was a trusted person, with whom I have a relationship with, I wouldn’t mind at all! This helped me to realize that if I am going to be in a position that is asking educators to make a change in their teaching, that I need to first have a relationship with them.   I found a great article titled Peer Coaching Drives Change, you can read it here. In it, Sterman speaks to the importance of peer coaching to help influence change in a school. She mentions that peer coaching is one of the greatest ways to improve climate and culture in a school, while also giving educators the opportunity to reflect on their teaching and improve student learning. The part that resonated with me the most in this article was how Sterman acknowledges that change is challenging. She writes “change is incredibly difficult, no matter how necessary the transformation or how noble the aspiration”. I could not agree with this more! Sterman then goes on to speak to the idea that “change moves at the speed of trust”. If an educator does not trust the peer coach they are working with, they are not going to be as likely to go through the trouble to make a change in their teaching strategies.   Below you will see “The Building Blocks of Trust”  This image helps to illustrate the ways in which a coach can create a trusting relationship with their mentee. Without having compassion, communication and commitment… you will not be able to build a relationship in which you can focus on collaboration or ability. To me, the most important aspect of a trusting relationship is for your peer to feel cared about, that they can speak honestly, and that you are making a commitment to continue working with them.   Compassion:  In “How Great Coaches Ask, Listen, and Empathize” (read it here) author Ed Batista focuses on how a relationship can begin to form the compassion piece of the puzzle by the coach asking questions that help them to understand the entire story, actively listening to their mentee, and then empathizing and relating to their mentee. These three steps help a coach to show their peer that they are fully engaged and care.   Communication:  Foltos speaks about the importance of norms and creating a space at the beginning of the peer coaching relationship that allows both members to discuss how they will communicate. Norms help both sides to vocalize the expectations that they have for the relationship. Setting communication norms (how you will communicate, how often, about what, etc) establishes a purpose for conversations and ensures that both members are respecting one another’s understanding of the relationship.  Commitment:  Committing to the peer coaching model is also incredibly vital for success. It is quite challenging to achieve a trusting relationship if both members are not committed to the process and the purpose behind the coaching.   A little goes a long way:  Here are a few ways that you can start the process off strong with a new mentee in a peer coaching relationship  Setting up reoccurring meetings (2 times a month, 2 times a week, etc.)  Creating norms for communication (how frequent is appropriate to send messages, will you answer your emails only between a certain set of hours, etc.)  Following through with previously agreed upon items (creating next steps for both members to have ready for the next meeting)  Being present during meetings (no phones, no distractions, active listening)  What ways do you focus on building trusting relationships?  References:  Batista, E. (2015, February 18). How Great Coaches, Ask, Listen, and Empathize. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/02/how-great-coaches-ask-listen-and-empathize   Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.  Sterman, C. (2018). Peer Coaching Drives Change. NAESP. https://www.naesp.org/principal-supplement-septemberoctober-2018-champion-creatively-alive-children/peer-coaching-drives-c 

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21st Century Coaching

For this module of our course, we have been focusing on 21st century learning and how we can use that in our coaching relationships. This […]

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Working With Teachers

In this module of my graduate course we have been focusing on the roles communication and collaboration skills play in successful coaching. Looking at this […]

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Cultivating a Culture of Collaboration

This fall as my practicum semester I will get to take on the role of a coach. To get prepared, I have been reflecting on […]

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The Roles and Responsibilities of Successful Coaching-Teacher Relationships

Coaching is a powerful practice schools can adopt in order to provide support for their staff and encourage continuous professional growth. Like the quote states above, school leaders should aim to create a learning community for teachers that are focused on trust, collaboration, and growth. Too often teachers chat in the halls but carry out their work in the silos of their classrooms. Coaches can help remedy this situation. They play an integral part because they can come alongside teachers and meet them where they are at. Just like we wouldn’t impose a one-size-fits-all curriculum for our students, we should recognize that our teachers have varying needs, skill levels, and interests. And while PD time may provide new ideas for teachers, coaching can help transfer that knowledge back into the classroom and put it to action (Wang, 2017, p. 23). Many people struggle to define coaching in an educational setting. That is largely due to the fact that coaching roles and responsibilities vary from school to school. There are peer coaches, instructional coaches, or coaches who work in a certain subject such as math or literacy. “…coaches’ functions are as varied as the students and teachers they serve.” Wolpert-Gawron, 2016 So what are the key roles and responsibilities coaches and teachers assume when working together? Let’s first start with coaches. Coaches can wear many hats….. instructor, facilitator, cheerleader, curriculum designer, analyst…..  And while the list can be quite extensive, I found some reoccurring ideas when researching. Coaching Roles: Facilitator One part of facilitating is planning and leading professional development for both large and small groups. However, the role of the facilitator can also be used in one-on-one sessions with teachers. One of the coach’s most important skills is the ability to guide the teacher through the coaching cycle and to ask meaningful questions that help a teacher reason, reflect, and refine their instructional practices.  Expert Coaches cannot be experts at every grade level’s standards and curriculum, but they should be skilled communicators who are experienced at lesson design, best practices, and tech integration and be able to interweave all of these components when helping teachers design curriculum and assessment (Mraz et al., 2016). Sometimes being an expert involves model teaching or observing a teacher to provide helpful feedback. In order to stay an expert, coaches must also be researchers and curators. They need dedicated time to learn new and innovative instructional practices so that they can then share with other interested staff members (Wolpert-Gawron, 2016). Collaborator Coaches come alongside teachers to help them “plan, implement, and evaluate activities” (Foltos). To take it a step farther, they could team teach the lesson. This can be a powerful practice so that the educator can see what strong teaching looks like. This usually involves pre-teaching meetings to discuss what the goal of the lesson is, and then again afterward to reflect on what occurred, how the collaborating teacher might adopt these ideas, and what kind of support the teacher might need moving forward (Foltos, 2013, p. 5). However, the coach needs to be wary of taking on the brunt of the work and encouraging learned helplessness. The goal of the coach should always be to help the teacher build capacity. Les Foltos (2013), said it best: “Ensuring that the learner is taking responsibility for learning is a key strategy coaches use to help their peers develop the capacity to improve their teaching practices. In other words, the coach’s role is to facilitate learning” (p. 15). Catalyst This could also be called change agent or empowerer. Coaches help “teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using question strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision-makers.” (Foltos).  Heather Wolpert-Gawron (2017) comments that coaches have a powerful position of influence since they can establish partnerships based on trust and respect. Teachers usually feel more comfortable opening up to a coach or TOSA (teachers on special assignment) compared to their principal, and can see best practices modeled in ways teachers can relate to. Coaches can empower teachers to try new things and help the school embrace new pedagogies and practices, such as culturally responsive teaching. However, coaches are just one piece of the puzzle. Progress could not be accomplished without their partners, the teachers. Teachers also have specific roles and responsibilities in a successful coaching-teacher relationship. Roles for the teacher: Expert Teachers should be experienced with their grade-level standards and curriculum. Reflective Learner Teachers should be open-minded and willing to learn new things and grow. Having a growth mindset will enable them to tackle innovative practices and problem solve issues in their own classrooms. They understand that being a life-long learner is essential to meeting the diverse needs of their students and that collaboration with a coach can help them achieve their goals. Risk-taker Be okay with “failing forward” and trying new things. No one learned how to ride a bike overnight or was able to sit down at the piano and play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on their first try. Teachers too need time to perfect their craft of teaching. Like it is for all of us – learning something new takes time. This can be uncomfortable for teachers to be so vulnerable with a coach and have their “failures” visible. That is why trust is essential in the coaching-teacher relationship and teachers need to be confident in the fact that the work they do with the coach is private. Coaches can come alongside the teacher, empathize, and be their cheerleader reminding them that we really only grow when we take risks, make mistakes, and are able to learn from them. Going back to the quote at the beginning, school leaders should try their best to create a learning community that encourages risk-taking and innovative practices. Teachers need to know their administrators have their backs before they try and branch out.  “Improving instruction is a long-term, iterative process” (Foltos, 2013, p. 12). And one that we should not try to undertake alone. Our diversity and range of experience can only make us stronger if we are willing to meet at the table, have open and honest conversations, and try new things.  Works Cited Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek  Mraz,  M., Salas, S., Mercado, L., & Dikotla, M. (2016). Teaching Better, Together: Literacy Coaching as Collaborative Professional Development. English Teaching Forum, Vol. 54 n4, p24-31. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1123196 Wang, S. (2017). “Teacher Centered Coaching”: An Instructional Coaching Model. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, Vol. 29, (1). https://www.mwera.org/MWER/volumes/v29/issue1/V29n1-Wang-VOICES-FROM-THE-CLASSROOM.pdf Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2016, June). The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach. ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun16/vol73/num09/The-Many-Roles-of-an-Instructional-Coach.aspx

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