Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Posts tagged ‘Professional Learning’

Crowd-Sourcing For Learning

Survey results are in!

As the newly appointed facilitator of  YU2.0 , an on-line community of practice dedicated to educational technology integration in Jewish schools, I anticipated the results of a survey we sent to all members with excitement. I sat with the data when it arrived, a plethora of questions swirling in my mind. So much feedback; so much insight. And yet, something felt not quite right. But, what? Pondering further, it struck me. Sitting alone analyzing data for a community negated the wisdom of community. Why not collaboratively reflect, wonder about implications and dream about possibilities collaboratively?

And so, in search of creative collaboration and multiple perspectives, I share with you our data. Your insights, perspectives, wisdom, and reflection will support a Community of Practice better to meet the needs of members.

Who are the members of YU2.0?

We are teachers, technology coordinators, administrators, and more. 37% of us are Judaic studies teachers, 25.9% of us are general studies teachers, and 5.6% of us are department chairs. 31.5% of us are technology coordinators and there are a number of technology directors as well. 11.1% of us are principals and 7.4% of us are heads of school. Also included among our members are a school board president, the Director of Educational Leadership at a Board of Jewish Education, a curriculum writer, student programming directors and coordinators, a parent, a religious school director, and a learning strategist.

We work with pre-k through twelfth grade students, with the following distribution:

Pre-School 19.1%

K-2 35.3%

3-5 39.7%

6-8 55.9%

9-12 42.6%

Why do we participate in YU2.0?

We are motivated to participate in YU2.0 for a range of reasons, shared below in order of expressed importance:

1. Using educational technology and social media to more effectively support student learning High: 49.1 % Very High 41.8%

2. Keeping updated on trends and advances in educational technology High 41.5%  Very High 45.3%

3. Using educational technology and social media more effectively in our own professional learning High 38.2% Very High 38.2%

4. Extending and strengthening the network of educators with whom to learn High 49.1% Very High 21.8%

5.Interacting with others specifically interested in educational technology integration and social media in Jewish schools High 30.8% Very High 34.6%

6. Making a contribution helping and mentoring others High 47.2% Very High 13.2%

7. The opportunity to work collaboratively on projects with others High 21.8% Very High 20.4%

One member wrote in an interest in increasing and strengthening connections between Israel and those outside of Israel. Another wrote, “educational technology is one tool. I am a big techie but find that people who are very into the tech side of education forget that it is about the kids because they are so into the technology.”

What do we hope to learn with YU2.0?

We are seeking to develop a range of skills, shared below in order of expressed importance:

1. Educational technology resources for student learning High 44.4% Very High 48.1%

2. Keeping up to date on emerging trends in educational technology High 45.5% Very High 41.8%

3. Educational technology resources for our own professional development and growth High 41.8% Very High 38.2%

4 Web 2.0 resources for our own professional development and growth High 40.7%  Very High 37.0%

5.Web 2.0 resources for student learning High 40.0% Very high 32.7%

6.Developing school wide learning plans for technology integration high 35.2% Very high 38.9%

7.Using the Smartboard interactively High 34% Very High 39.6%

8.Google apps in the classroom High 38.9% Very high 24.1%

9.The Judaic Studies classroom, integrating technology and social media High 29.6% Very high 31.5%

10. Technology coaching and technology peer coaching to support other educators implementing technology High 22.2% Very High 37.0%

11.Creating videos with students High 34.5% Very High 21.8%

12. Ipad use in the classroom High 31.5%  Very High 24.1%

13. Planning for school wide iPad implementation High 18.9% Very High%

14.Connecting students with other students using social media and educational technology High 25.9% Very High 11.1&

15.Blogging and portfolios with students High 20.8% Very High 15.1%

16.Podcasting with students High 16.7%  Very High 9.3%

One member wrote of interest in flipped learning both for classrooms and faculty meetings. Another wrote in interest in fundraising for moving to a technology based education and communication system. Several wrote in about interest in blended and on-line learning, including school-industry partnerships.

What are obstacles we face in terms of more effectively utilizing educational technology and social media?

1. Too many other demands on my time 57.4%

2. Competing school priorities requiring my focus in other areas 50%

3. Insufficient technology tools available 42.6%

4. Insufficient professional learning 38.9%

5. Competing professional priorities of mine requiring my focus in other areas 38.9%

6. Insufficient knowledge of available resources 29.6%

7. Being overwhelmed with the multitude of options available 27.8%

8. School policies blocking access to sites and resources I might use 20.4%

A number of members wrote in that financial constraints are a significant obstacle. One wrote in that lack of interest among teachers who have little time is an obstacle. One wrote in that educational technology duplicates preexisting materials without proven benefits.

What are the benefits of YU2.O to our members?

Benefits, in order of importance, include:

1. I am learning new things from my colleagues on YU2.0 that are helpful to me Agree 63%  Strongly Agree 6.5%

2. There is a feeling of community and shared identity as Jewish educators Agree 46.7% Strongly Agree 20%

3. The conversations on Yu2.0 are interesting and important to me Agree 59.6% Strongly Agree 4.3%

4. We are creating new knowledge together Agree 51.1%  Strongly Agree 8.9%

5. I am not comfortable sharing my questions on YU2.0 Disagree 48.9% Strongly Disagree 13.3% (on this question disagreement indicates comfort in the community)

6. I do not feel that members on YU2.0 have a common purpose Disagree 37.8% Strongly Disagree 24.4% (on this question disagreement indicates members do have a common purpose)

7. I am sharing what I learn from YU2.0 with colleagues at work  Agree 48.9% Strongly Agree 8.5%

8. There is a growing sense of trust, ease, and valuing of relationships with peers on YU2.0 Agree 44.4% Strongly Agree 13.3%

9. I am confident if I ask a question I will receive helpful, respectful feedback Agree 48.9% Strongly Agree 8.9%

10. I am able to contribute something of value to the group Agree 44.4% 4.4%

11. Participating in YU2.0 has not changed the way I use technology at work Disagree 38.3% Strongly Disagree 6.4%(on this question disagreement indicates that participation has changed the way members use technology at work)

How might we expand our Community of Practice?

We expressed interest, in order of priority, in:

1. Face to face conferences or Edcamps High 40.7% Very High 27.8%

2. Presentations from guest experts High 56%  Very High16%

3. Streamed conferences or decamps High 48.1% 16.7%

4. Webinars High 44.2% Very High 19.2%

5. Opportunities to coordinate visiting each other’s schools High 39.2%  Very High 27.5%

6. Peer presentations and collaborative problem solving High 41.5%  Very High 18.9%

7. Connections for collaborative projects among YU2.0 members High 38.5%Very High 19.2%

8. Connections for peer mentoring among YU2.0 members High 34%  Very High 15.1%

9. Google + Hangouts High 23.1% Very High 19.2%

10. Real time conversations using social media High 30% Very High 14%

11. Twitter hashtag High 23.1% Very High 9.6%

How might we use our periodic e-mail updates?

40.8% of members find the periodic e-mail updates valuable and  4.1% find them very valuable. 38.8% find them somewhat valuable and 16.3% find them not so valuable. Items members would like included in periodic e-mail updates in the future include: top post, best links to new information, technology that improves a specific aspect of education rather than how to integrate technology into education (focus on education with technology as a tool, rather than technology as the goal with education being the platform), information on teaching Judaic Studies with technology, event updates, innovations, ideas, resources, how other professionals and teachers are using various tools in the classroom, connections to current events, what schools are doing, and new groups that have formed within YU2.0.

What are leadership roles of interest to members?

Members wrote in that the would be interested in:

  • Being a regular guest blogger
  • Sharing knowledge about teaching Hebrew with technology
  • Connecting on twitter and Facebook
  • Teaching a webinar
  • Facilitating a subgroup
  • Organizing an online conference
  • Organizing face to face or online meetings to strengthen relationships
  • Teaching about iPad integration in schools
  • Speaking about creating student movies
  • Supporting schools to implement hybrid learning approaches in which technology is a tool to improve the quality of learning
  • Just about anything if it will further my knowledge and abilities in educational technology

What questions does this data raise for you? What recommendations, based on the data, do you have for our Community of Practice? How might we reflect, analyze, dream, and plan?

 

 

Gooooooal!

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Sean MacEntee

cc licensed image shared by flickr user &DC

Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.

Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.

I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.

It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!

I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.

Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:

  • To develop a broader, more nuanced approach to assessing student learning and to utilize gleanings from those assessments to plan ongoing instruction
  • To create a learning environment in which all students participate actively in both full class and small collaborative group activities
  • To gain greater skill in designing differentiated learning experiences for collaborative and independent student learning 
  • To strengthen relationships with parents utilizing technology and face to face connection 
  • To develop greater comfort and skill in teaching math, including differentiation for strong students
  • To in a serious way collaborate with members of the grade level team in order to support student learning

My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.

We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.

cc licensed image shared by flickr user carnavalboquense

While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Niklas Hellerstedt

 Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul?  Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?

What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.

Who’s Afraid of Principals?

Principal's Office

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user ecastro

“Do you know, there are kids who are afraid of principals?” I asked with a smile, turning to the first grade teacher who sat with me and a nervous six year old. We had just finished reassuring this child that we had spoken to him about his behavior on the bus the day before, not because we were angry, but because we were  concerned about his safety. We knew from his mother that he was indeed afraid of principals, so afraid that he convinced his younger sister that she should be terrified of her gentle and caring nursery school director.

The child began to giggle and I turned to him, smiling. “You’re laughing. You must have heard of kids who are afraid of principals.” 

“I’m one of those kids. I’m afraid of principals.” he said emphatically, his eyes widening and his giggles  transforming into a deep belly laugh. The teacher and I burst into genuine laughter right along with him. The teacher then stated what had already become obvious to him; he need not be afraid. He left my office chatting happily with his teacher, having gained newfound trust in me and, I’d venture to say, principals generally.

I imagine he is not alone. I imagine there are not only students, but also teachers in many if not most schools who, if answering honestly might declare, “I’m one of those teachers. I’m afraid of principals.”

As I prepare for upcoming individual conferences with each teacher to discuss professional learning goals, supports, action plans to meet goals, and ways of monitoring, assessing, and celebrating progress, I wonder. As I visit classrooms, offering feedback, compliments, and engaging with learning and teaching, I wonder. As I seek ways of meaningfully showing appreciation, admiration, and respect for teachers, I wonder. How might we hold high expectations, without blame and criticism, but rather with support and mutual accountability for student learning and well-being? How might we transform judgmental evaluation processes, with the potential to be fear-provoking, irrelevant, or both, into a commitment to meaningful professional learning, sharing, and growth?

It’s not only students and teachers who are afraid. Sometimes, principals are afraid as well. Our fear struck me upon reading a recent tweet, with a link to a blog post: I’m Afraid!

Ron McAllister is a colleague to whom I frequently turn for insight and his words resonate powerfully with me as he poetically states:

I am afraid that I will not inspire my staff.
I am afraid that I will not appreciate them enough.
I am afraid that I will not provide enough support to them.
I am afraid that I will not give specific enough feedback directly linked to improved teaching and learning.
I am afraid that I will not be learning quickly enough to stay current with best practice.

I read Ron’s words with respect for his honesty and with admiration for his aspiration. And, I wonder. What if we reframed our  fears as aspirations?

I aspire to support teachers to find inspiration within themselves. 

I aspire to show appreciation and gratitude to teachers by recognizing contribution and complimenting effort and accomplishment.

I aspire to put a wide variety of supports into place and to trust teachers to choose the supports of greatest value to them. 

I aspire to provide feedback in the form of nonjudgmental observations and questions, specifically linked to teachers’ professional learning goals and evidence of student learning.

I aspire to take in feedback with humility, to remain open to ideas and possibilities, and to continue learning and aspiring. 

How might we transform our fear into creative, energetic aspiration? I welcome your insights.

7 Steps To Effective Feedback

CC licensed image shared by flikr user HikingArtist.com

Last week, our educoach chat (a twitter chat dedicated to instructional coaching and professional learning) focused on the topic of giving feedback. We shared our own experiences giving and receiving feedback and reacted to articles from the most recent issue of Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning (September, 2012, Vol. 70, No.1). Feedback is a topic we delved into in depth this summer as part of our book discussion chat on John Hattie’s Visible Learning For Teachers. Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found that effective feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn. (John Hattie, Know They Impact, Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning September 2012, Vol. 70, No. 1)

Feedback matters.

I’ve recently come to embrace the idea that great principals and great teachers have at least three important habits in common.

  • They offer feedback effectively.
  • They have strong feedback loops for themselves, learning and growing professionally by incorporating feedback they receive.
  • They show appreciation.

In 7 keys to effective feedback, an article in the most recent issue of Educational Leadership (Feedback for Learning: September, 2012; Vol. 70, No.1), Grant Wiggins writes: “the term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking. Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.” Wiggins then shares that helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.

Giving feedback is not easy for principals for a variety of reasons. There is the challenge of time. With 56 teachers in my school, and only one of me, offering feedback that is timely, ongoing, and consistent has been difficult. There is the challenge of experience. Most of us have given and been given advice, praise, or evaluative critique rather than  feedback. And, perhaps most significantly, there is the challenge of role expectation. Principals, at least as I was trained years ago, have been viewed primarily as evaluators, giving “expert” advice and assessment, rather than sharing nonjudgmental observations with teachers for the purpose of professional learning and growth.

Despite the inherent challenges, I have come to recognize that giving feedback effectively to teachers can be among the most significant contributions a principal can make to improving the quality of learning in our schools. So, how can principals overcome the challenges and offer effective feedback? For your feedback, I share the seven steps to effective feedback I am using.

Step One: Schedule significant time be in classrooms.

What is in our calendar gets done. It is difficult to offer effective feedback without having experience of learning and teaching, day in and day out, in our own schools. My own practice is to schedule two hours daily to be present in classrooms for learning and teaching; either observing or preferably engaging with learning in whatever ways teachers request.

In addition to daily time in classrooms, I schedule six No Office days during the year, one with each grade K-5, on which I spend the entire day, from arrival to dismissal, with a grade. Teachers can assign me to do whatever they would like on these No Office Days. These days are valuable to me in assisting me to get a feel for the rhythm of the day in each grade.

This year, as a birthday gift to each of our teachers, I will be teaching one period of their class on their birthdays. I also hope to cover for an hour on the birthdays of our other building administrators, office staff, and perhaps even our maintenance crew. Teachers and staff members can schedule the birthday class so that they can come late, leave early, extend lunch, or remain and watch me. (There is already a line of teachers hoping to observe me teach physical education, which should be a class filled with good spirit, humility, and laughter.) Teachers and staff members can also take a rain-check for another day at their convenience if their birthday is not on a school day or even if another day will simply work better for them. In addition to offering teachers and staff members the gift of time, which I wish I could do even more often, teaching each class will offer me perspective on the joys and challenges of learning and teaching in our school.

Step Two: Schedule time for formal conversations with teachers to discuss professional learning goals, supports to reach goals, and to assess progress being made.

This year I will be scheduling three formal meetings during the year with each of our faculty members. At the first meeting, taking place between September and November, we will set together a professional goal, an action plan to meet the goal, supports to reach the goal, and criteria for measuring progress and success.  At the second meeting, scheduled between December and February, we will discuss progress toward the goal, confer on how supports are working, speak about whether feedback offered has been helpful, and make modifications as necessary. At the third meeting, taking place between March and the end of the academic year, we will reflect on professional growth during the year.

Success will not be determined based on whether teachers meet their goal. There could be a goal easily met without much growth or a stretch goal, not met yet with enormous professional growth. Each teacher will fill out rubrics we created together as a faculty for our school’s Standards for Professional Practice. I will fill out the rubrics for each teacher to the best of my ability based on observations and conversations we have throughout the year. These rubrics are not only an assessment for teachers, but are also an assessment for me and my knowledge of learning and teaching in each classroom. I will leave blank what I cannot complete based on direct knowledge of learning and teaching in each class, thereby recognizing those areas about which I need to learn more. Each teacher and I will compare the rubrics and discuss.

Step Three: Make feedback nonjudgmental and goal-focused

My notes on classroom visits will offer nonjudgmental feedback; phrased with the prompts we as a faculty have learned to use together on our learning walks in each other’s classrooms: I notice. I wonder. What if? How might? I will strive to connect feedback to each teacher’s professional learning goal. And, I will seek teachers’ input on what type of feedback and information will be most valuable to them as well as on whether the feedback I am offering is helpful.

Step Four Make use of technology as a support, but focus on the relationships and face to face interactions

I have created a notebook in my very favorite app, Evernote, titled “teachers” and I have created a note for each of our teachers. I will add to the note after each of our formal meetings and after each classroom visit. Each time I add to a teacher’s note, I will send the the teacher a copy with the most recent additions at the top of the note. These notes will become a record of our ongoing reflective conversation and will take the place of a formal evaluative end of year write-up.

Although utilizing Evernote to organize myself, I will focus on face to face interactions. I won’t bring my computer or Ipad into classrooms as teachers rightfully complained last year that I wrote on my Ipad in class rather than engaging in learning. I will carry my cell phone, primarily for emergencies during which my administrative assistant texts me. Having the phone with me does enable me to jot down a note if really worried I will forget. Generally, however, I remember what I want to write and record notes after students have left for the day. Some teachers write back to me, reflecting on feedback. Just as I have had meaningful conversations with colleagues in my professional learning network utilizing social media, I have had meaningful conversations with teachers in my school using e-mail. Other times teachers stop me in the halls or request time to speak to follow up on feedback offered and I love those ongoing face to face interactions. All teachers will have a minimum of three face to face conversations in which I focus my attention exclusively on their professional learning.

Step Five: Compliment

While in classrooms, if I am not interrupting, I will share  a compliment with each teacher on the spot. I recognize having a visitor in one’s class and hearing nothing can be disconcerting. Regardless of whether I can speak directly without interrupting, either in class or face to face afterward, I will share a compliment on something wonderful happening in the classroom along with the  brief, written feedback I send. While I accept Grant Wiggins’ explanation that feedback and compliments are not the same thing, and I do strive to make a clear distinction, it is important to me to ensure that I compliment and show appreciation for our teachers regularly.

Step Six: Be transparent about evaluation

I plan to function far more with a “coach’s hat” than an “evaluator’s hat”; yet if at any time I need to relay a concern as an evaluator, I will be direct in letting teachers know I have on my evaluator’s hat and am giving advice or clarifying expectations rather than sharing nonjudgemental feedback.

Step Seven: Seek feedback

It is vital for me not only to offer feedback, but also to receive feedback, opening myself to perspectives of teachers, staff members, parents, and students. I have thus sought to create a multitude of venues in which I request and strive to embrace feedback. As I share feedback with teachers, I simultaneously ask teachers for feedback. I was gratified when one of our new teachers shared that the two phrases she hears over and over are: How can we help you? And, give us feedback so we can do better. Our PTO provides valuable feedback from parents and I schedule parent-principal conferences on parent-teacher conference days and throughout the year, encouraging parents to speak with me directly. I continue to consider ways in which to receive feedback from teachers, other administrators, staff members, parents, and students. And, I will openly acknowledge, I appreciate the compliments I sometimes receive as well.

In line with seeking feedback, I ask for your thoughts. What do you notice and wonder about these seven steps and about effective feedback more generally? What other considerations might be helpful? How might you adapt or improve upon these steps?

I look forward to your feedback!

What Would School Look Like If? Reflections on Edcamp Leadership

cc licensed image shared by flikr user kjarrett

“What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked?” teacher leader Mike Ritzius (@mritzius) passionately inquired at Edcamp Leadership during a session he titled, organizing for organic leadership. Mike’s answer for the public vocational tech high school in New Jersey where he teaches involved a radical rethinking of the use of time and space in school, along with a dramatic redesign of curriculum and student support. While the scope and specifics of Mike Ritzius’ innovation address vastly different concerns than those we face at my school, his emphasis on the importance of empowering teachers with the authority to make decisions based on student need prompted me to wonder. What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked? What would school look like if teachers were really empowered to make decisions, even bold decisions requiring rethinking and redesign, based on student need?

Edcamp Leadership, which took place this past July in New Jersey, was my very first edcamp experience. For those who have not yet attended an edcamp, they are “unconferences”; free participant driven professional learning experiences. At Edcamp Leadership, a poster board listing times and room numbers, but no session names, was propped up on a window sill. Volunteers passed out brightly colored post-it notes, encouraging participants to sign up to facilitate a session. While many of us tentatively stood by, wondering whether we should facilitate a session or not, other brave learners stepped forward and stuck a post-it note up with their session topic, their name and their twitter handle onto the board. The day’s schedule was born! The schedule was immediately posted on Edcamp Leadership’s web page for all to access and off we all went for a day of engaging conversation and learning.

In addition to Mike Ritzius’ session, I attended Evernote for Teams, Professional Learning Communities and students with Sharon McCarthy @ienvision; He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with Dr. David Timony @DrTimony; and Managing Change with @DLE59 (who I still know only by twitter handle). The “what would school look like if” theme permeated all of the sessions I attended. What would school look like if we used web 2.0 tools such as Evernote more effectively to promote true collaboration within schools? What would school look like if faculty evaluation and development was truly designed around the needs of teachers as professional learners? What would school look like if we provided effective supports as we manage change?

Throughout Edcamp Leadership, I learned with some of the smartest educators I have ever met. Principals and school administrators struggled openly, sensitively and wisely concerning the challenges we face. Yet even more compelling to me were the voices of the teachers present. Dr. Timony’s session was particularly relevant to me. As dedicated, knowledgable administrators talked passionately about the time we spend in classrooms, equally dedicated, knowledgable teachers shared their frustrations with administrators’ visits, explaining that students don’t act as they naturally would during administrators’ walkthroughs and observations, teachers feel as though they are “on stage”, and most significantly, administrators do not offer the feedback teachers‘ crave to improve practice. The teachers’ words resonated with me. I wondered and I probed, seeking to learn what might make principals’ engagement in learning and teaching more valuable to teachers. It is a conversation I am pursuing, both with teachers in my professional learning network and even more poignantly, with teachers in my own school.

At the sessions on Evernote and managing change, teachers and principals had more similar perspectives to one another. We shared ways of using Evernote, an app for note-taking and archiving, to collaborate more effectively. We reflected on the difficulties of change: insufficient time, insufficient support, negativity about new directions, a sense of entitlement among individuals who feel they do not need to change, and finally, the threat of extinction if we do not change. While we spent most of the session sharing insights into ways of patiently addressing difficulties with change, we ended with a potent conversation about how schools’ declines are generally gradual. A participant shared the often used anecdote of a frog in cold water that is slowly heated, with the frog not realizing the danger until it is too late. I left wondering how we can we balance patience with the urgency of our students’ needs; how we can be mindful of recognizing when the water is boiling and help each other to jump out, or rather jump into more effective ways of supporting student learning, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable that jump may appear.

I left Edcamp Leadership wondering; wondering about using Evernote more effectively, wondering about supervision, evaluation, collaboration, and coaching to meet teachers’ professional learning needs, and wondering about managing change. Most of all I wondered about Mike Ritzius’ essential questions. What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked? What would school look like if teachers were really empowered to make decisions, even bold decisions requiring rethinking and redesign, based on student need?

What do you think?

The Learning Walk Shuffle

“What are all these teachers doing here?” more than one child asked as a group of nine adults filed into the classroom. “Just learning about the great learning you do,” we answered with a smile.  “Shuffling up our professional learning,” I happily thought.

Learning walks have shuffled our professional learning, moving us from our expected “spaces”, or rather classrooms, into our colleagues’ classrooms. This year to date our faculty has celebrated five learning walks (with more to come); in which a group of teachers visit classrooms in each of our grades K-5 along with one specialty class. Our purpose – to break down the isolation of educators, moving us into each other’s classrooms to notice and wonder about learning in our school as it is and as it might someday become.  We plan to make it possible for every teacher in our school to participate in at least one learning walk per year.

What on our learning walk looks different than it would have looked five years ago?  What might look different on our learning walks two years from now?

I posed these two questions during our learning walk debrief. It was the first time I had asked in quite that direct manner. The answers were insightful.

What on our learning walk looks different than it would have looked five years ago?

Whether in kindergarten or fifth grade, and indeed any grade in between, regardless of subject, we saw a similar sight – students spread throughout the classroom working in combinations of small groups, partners, and independently. Teachers were either guiding a group or conferencing with individual students. In only one class, other  than in physical education, were students participating in a full class experience and in that case it was a debrief on work they had  been engaged in independently prior to our visit.  Classroom furniture was arranged to promote collaborative learning and there were comfortable corners for students to read independently or with a partner. There was a relatively noisy buzz of students speaking with one another. There was a mix of required learning activities and opportunity for student choice among various options. There was ample evidence of differentiation and student engagement, the two foci of our learning walks to date this year.

Five years ago, had we participated in learning walks, we would have observed far  more full class experiences led by the teacher and far fewer opportunities for students to choose from among different learning experiences.

What is the same?

While interactive white boards are in each class in the school, in many classrooms we visited they were not being used. Students did not have technology, whatever the specific device, flexibly available for their use. Bulletin boards, for the most part, displayed class expectations and learning resources important all year, as well as substantive, completed student projects which might or might not be connected to current learning experiences. Bulletin boards did not, for the most part, display the most recent student work along with rubrics explaining specific learning goals, with expectations and resources that change as student progress unfolds.

Two years from now we anticipate seeing on our learning walks many more technology tools (whether iPads, laptops, or other devices) available to students in our classrooms, not merely in our computer labs and media center, actively utilized in fluid, flexible organic ways to support student learning. We anticipate seeing evidence of student work in progress, along with rubrics and shifting resources based on student progress prominently displayed and recognizable as the basis for instructional choices, with the spot light visibly on student work to drive instruction. We anticipate even more differentiation and opportunities for choice in learning experiences.

While learning walks are non-judgmental, human emotion and our passion for our craft are not ignored. We huddle in the hall after each classroom visit and reflect using the prompts, “I noticed”, “I wonder”, “What if” and “How might”. The reflections create an opportunity for celebration – joy in our progress along with excitement about possibilities for continued growth.

We notice what we value.  Our recognition of evidence of differentiation and student engagement, the two foci for our learning walks to date is potent. Similarly, our ability to imagine a not so distant future with greater educational technology integration and more substantial focus on student work in progress to drive instruction speaks to our self-awareness as professional learners and reflective educators able to envision learning goals not yet accomplished.

Just as a strategy of good readers is to visualize what they read, a strategy of good educators committed to growth is to visualize school as it might become. By filling in the prompts “I notice”, “I wonder”, “what if?” and “how might?”, our learning walk shuffle not only brought us into “spaces” in our present reality, classrooms of our colleagues, but also shuffled us through the boundaries of time, bringing us to “spaces” of our future, enabling us to envision what we anticipate we will notice on learning walks of our future.  Those images fill us with excitement and energy.

A Team of Coaches

 

cc licensed image shared by flickr user ell brown

The past six months co-moderating educoach on twitter with Kathy Perret and Jessica Johnson, interacting with a growing number of wise and creative instructional coaches, principals and teachers, has helped me move a quantum leap forward in my thinking about professional learning in my school. During this time I’ve also been blessed as an educational leader to work with my own instructional coach who has helped me to stretch my thinking and reflect on challenges and successes, nurturing my own professional learning.  Complementing my journey into the potential of instructional coaching I’ve learned along with mentors in our school, trained to coach new teachers by the New Jewish Teachers Project. I’ve begun to immerse myself in literature about instructional coaching, seeking ways to support faculty in my school. The impact for me has been powerful. 

My learning has led to action. I’ve been planning with educational leaders, both administrators and teachers, brainstorming ways of creating a team of instructional coaches for our school. Tomorrow in a blog post on my school blog I’ll be sharing our plans with the school community.

While much is in place, a tremendous amount of planning remains and I feel grateful for the thoughtful collaboration of my educoach colleagues. I share with you in the hopes that you can continue to help me think through ways of designing and supporting a team of instructional coaches.

By transforming existing positions, we are creating a team of seven individuals who will work as instructional coaches. Most have additional responsibilities in the school and over time, by developing the capacity of our teachers, we hope to support our instructional coaches to focus more of their time on enhancing professional learning in our school.

Our Coaching Positions:

Singapore Math Coach: As we implement aSingapore math curriculum in the school, we will benefit from an outside coach providing five days of intensive training for teachers as well as a workshop for parents, alongside a full-time in-house coach to provide ongoing professional learning and training for our teachers and support for our parents. We have had a math enrichment specialist and over time have begun to transform this position into an instructional coach. Our math coach is the “purest” of the instructional coaching roles we have been able to create, focusing almost exclusively on math instructional coaching for our faculty. An additional responsibility will be communicating and partnering with parents to help them become knowledgeable about our math curriculum.

Hebrew Instructional Coach: We are a K-12 dual curriculum Jewish day school and we teach Hebrew language from Kindergarten. For several years, we have had a K-12 Hebrew coordinator who functions as the Hebrew Department Chair in our Middle and High Schools.  This year, in ourLowerSchool where I serve as principal, we have shifted her role from department chair to instructional coach. She spends 1 ½ days per week in theLowerSchool and we hope to extend that to 2 full days weekly next year. During her time in theLowerSchool she functions exclusively as an instructional coach; supporting teachers to develop units and lessons, modeling lessons, observing and providing feedback, developing student assessments and supporting teachers to analyze assessment data, and reflecting with teachers on teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Science Instructional Coach: Our science instructional coach began her position this year, replacing a science enrichment specialist. In the past, students benefitted from supplemental science instruction in our lab most times supporting curriculum but at times stand alone science experiments. Our science instructional coach teaches students as a means of modeling science instruction for our teachers. Lessons occur in our lab, our classrooms and our outdoor labs – walking trails and our vegetable and butterfly gardens. The science instructional coach assists teachers develop science units and lessons and models many lessons. Over time, she will take on additional coaching responsibilities as our teachers gain confidence providing more of the direct science teaching to students.

Educational Technology Instructional Coach: Technology can no longer be relegated to a lab, but must be infused within classroom experiences. An educational technology coach will provide students with a comprehensive technology curriculum, but even more significantly, will support teachers to infuse daily learning experiences with technology in order to enhance and improve the quality of learning at our school. We have had a computer lab teacher and our educational technology coach will continue, for the foreseeable future, to provide direct instruction to students. However, substantial time will be devoted to coaching faculty. Even when providing direct service to students, the educational technology coach will simultaneously be modeling technology learning for our teachers.

Enrichment Instructional Coach: An enrichment coach whose role will be to support teachers to design enrichment experiences for students will join our department of student services. This educator will work directly with students who, based on assessment, demonstrate the need for enrichment or acceleration exceeding grade-level learning. The enrichment specialist will be able to teach students in their classrooms and, as needed, pull students out of class to provide an enriched curriculum. Our enrichment specialist will also serve as a coach to teachers, assisting us to design enrichment experiences that will challenge and nurture the talents and passions of all our students. We have created this position by a redesign of our student services department so that we can manage with one less learning strategist.

Library/Media Specialist-Research, Media and Literacy Instructional Coach: Leading the process of shifting our library into a twenty-first century library/media center is vital to our efforts to prepare our students for success in our rapidly changing media-rich world. We will be welcoming a library/media specialist to our faculty who will support our students to develop research and media literacy skills. Our library and media specialist will also coach our classroom teachers in more skillful integration of research, media, and literacy skills into educational experiences in the classroom.

Literacy and Learning Strategies Instructional Coach: The role of the chairperson of our student services department will shift to focus far more on instructional coaching in literacy and learning strategies. She will work in concert with a number of other faculty leaders highly skilled in literacy instruction to provide our teachers support. While we would very much like to hire a literacy instructional coach, we do not currently have funding for this position and will therefore create a team of faculty leaders, led by the chairperson of our student services department, who will spend much of her time on instructional coaching. 

Instructional Coaching Team:

Our instructional coaches will work together as a coaching team, supporting meaningful professional learning designed to meet the specific needs of our teachers.  We hope that the sum of that instructional coaching team will be greater than the parts and a creative energy and collaborative learning spirit among our coaches will both support their effectiveness and spread throughout our faculty. While in most cases our instructional coaches also have teaching responsibilities with students, we hope to transform that challenge into a benefit, as coaches will speak to colleagues from the trenches, experiencing daily the difficulties and rewards of teaching children during times of rapid change.

In these initial stages of our thinking on creating an instructional coaching team, I turn to colleagues for insight and ideas. How can we prepare our instructional coaches? What challenges can we anticipate and how might we proactively address them? What professional learning will be valuable for our coaches? How might the roles of principal and assistant principal shift in order to enhance the momentum produced by instructional coaching? What other questions should we be asking?

Thanks for your input!

Cross posted at connectededucoach.wordpress.com

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