A while back, I wrote a piece on Edutopia asking why we don't differentiate professional development like we ask teachers to differentiate their classrooms. Since then, I've moved from the classroom to a coach position, and have been put in charge of ongoing professional development for the middle school math department. This has given me a chance to put my money where my mouth is, as they say. Specifically, this current school year provided me with the opportunity to try a more differentiated approach to our monthly department professional development sessions. As the year is ending, I am reflecting on how this plan worked for us, and providing some ideas if others are interested in trying something similar in their own school or district.
I’m just going to say it - planning professional development (PD) that is engaging and useful to a diverse group of teachers is hard. (If someone says otherwise, their PD probably isn’t that good). In our district, we have early release days once a week that are used for staff meetings and PD. Twice a month, our middle school math teachers come together during this time. Consistently planning short but meaningful PD for this time has been a challenge. All of our teachers are good at what they do, there are no new initiatives to present, and grade level teams already meet weekly in PLCs.
Additionally, I am an advocate for getting rid of the “sit and get” style of PD. Neither adults nor students want to be talked at for an hour straight. Questioning is a perfect example of this. Questioning is an area that we all could improve upon (myself included). However, we have all attended generic questioning PDs where we get a list of Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs and review Depth of Knowledge, and leave really no better than we came in.
When discussing the idea of questioning as a topic for a Tuesday PD, the math coordinator and I saw this as an opportunity to step up our game when it came to PD.
Through my Twitter feed, I came across a great blog post by Adam Dovico challenging teachers to 17 things to put on their bucket list for 2017. The ideas were wonderful, and inspired me to reflect on my own goals for the year. If I had to think of 17 challenges I wanted to accomplish this year, what would they be?
At first I was overwhelmed by the idea. 17 goals, that’s a lot. But when I got to thinking about it, I realized that not all of these bucket list items had to be major goals. The beauty of the “bucket list” is that is contains many smaller items that are easier to accomplish. In psychological terms, this allows for the “snowball effect”. Accomplish a few smaller items, which gives you the psychological motivation and sense of accomplishment to achieve larger ones.
So with that said, here is my 17 for 2017 bucket list, organized by theme (instructional coaches version):
Recently, I wrote an article published on Edutopia about differentiating professional development for teachers. Professional development has become one of my big interests, because I think in many places it is being done poorly, and I think we (as education professionals) are losing out on valuable opportunities.
Since I moved out of the classroom, I am often involved in conversations at the district level about school improvement and improving classroom instruction. When the topic comes up about teachers not implementing quality instructional techniques, the knee-jerk response is often “Well they’ve had professional development on that.” The blame is laid squarely on the shoulders of the teachers, with no reflection to the quality of the professional development given, or the support provided afterwards.
I always like to bring it back to the classroom. If all of the students in the class fail a test, is it acceptable to blame the students, because obviously they didn’t try hard enough to learn the material? Or, would it seem like the logical conclusion to assess the teaching of the material, and figure out where the breakdown came on the instructional end, instead of blame the learners?
I’ve watched too many hours of the DIY Network than I’d like to admit, but there is no way you want me anywhere near construction tools. My husband likes watching cooking shows, but he’s not capable of cooking a Cornish game hen without lots of support. Why do administrators think that just by giving teachers a one-time training on a strategy or tool, that somehow they are then equipped to implement it perfectly?
I heard a someone speak once who put it perfectly. Teachers are often long on professional development, but short on practice.
I was afforded the amazing opportunity to attend the 2015 Teaching - Learning - Coaching Conference in Denver these past few days. To say I enjoyed the conference is an understatement. As I sit here in the Denver airport (flight delayed, of course), I am reflecting upon all the amazing speakers I saw and information I took in. I wanted to write this blog for two reasons: 1) to encourage others who might be thinking of attending this conference in the future to do so, and 2) to synthesize the mass amount of information I put in my brain. There was A LOT more information than what I have written about. I'm just choosing to put down some of the major ideas that resonated with me.
Moving from the classroom to a coach role can be an exciting but intimidating transition. Usually teachers move to coach roles after they have become well-established teachers. This means that they’ve got their routines in place, they know their material, and their classroom runs well. Each year becomes about refining and improving their process. They know what to expect, they have a system for handling tasks, and they feel confident and proud of their classroom.
Beginning as a coach can be just the opposite. Instructional coaching is a relative new position in many districts, so a coach may need to completely establish their position and role with the teachers, the administration, and even themselves. They may be figuring out their role along with everyone else. Schedules and responsibilities are less defined. This can lead to second guessing and self-doubt in an area where you have normally felt very confident.
I am in the process of experiencing this exact transition. I’ve recently gone from being a 7th grade math teacher to the math coach at our middle school. I am completely new to coaching, so I’m learning about the role as I go. The position, in its current form, is rather new to my district, so they are figuring out how coaching works as we go, as well. In my short time, I’ve had many ups and downs. Through this, I’ve found a few strategies have served me well. I hope my reflections here can help, or just give reassurance, to other teachers/coaches going through the same transition.
The excitement and anticipation finally came to a head as I started my first days as an instructional math coach. As a teacher, I knew exactly what I would do those first few days of school. Set up my classroom with all my perfectly designed bulletin boards and neatly organized supplies, plan my first few days of “get-to-know-you” activities, put together a seating chart, and catch up with my teammates that I hadn’t seen all summer.
But with coaching, I had no idea what to expect. I had read the books and the blogs, and had put together my idea of what those first few days / weeks would look like. Within that, I had been warned that the move from the classroom to a coaching role can be isolating and lonely. This turns out to be very true.
In my case, I watched my old team of colleagues meeting and planning without me. Knowing how much they had to get done, I tried not to bother them. All the coaching books say to meet with your principal in the first few weeks to discuss your coaching vision and how you will work together. My principal was lucky to find 5 minutes to briefly chat logistics with me. And while the teachers and students were getting to know each other in those first days of classes, I walked the halls by myself, trying not to get in anyone’s way.
This book is the second in my reading about coaching, and I recommend Student-Centered Coaching as a great read for anyone moving into coaching. Where The Art of Coaching is a great foundation, providing the theory behind coaching and general information on how to begin coaching, Student-Centered Coaching provides more concrete examples from what your schedule should look like to the forms you can use and more.
From my perspective, the differentiation of student-centered coaching vs. teacher-centered coaching is important, especially as I anticipate trying to work with teachers who are going to be very resistant to coaching. Teacher-centered coaching focuses on what the teacher is doing, and some teachers can find this insulting or get defensive over the idea of having someone come in to tell them what to do. (Although in Aguilar's book she does a nice job of differentiating between the types of questions to ask teachers that are "facilitative" instead of "directive", meaning you're facilitating the teacher's own ideas and growth instead of directing them in what to do). Student-centered coaching centers around data and student work to help make decisions to drive instruction. In this way, teachers who are resistant may be convinced because it is about setting goals for the students and not for them.
For anyone who has taught special education, like myself, the idea of data and progress monitoring set out in this book will be very familiar. The cycle for student-centered coaching includes determining a goal, preassessing students to see where they are at for this goal (sometimes this can be done first when trying to figure out the goal), implementing instruction tied to improving that goal area, and then reassessing students to determine how they've moved towards that goal. (It sounds a little like a class IEP.)
As I wrote about previously, I recently accepted a position to be the math coach in my district, working with middle school math teachers. I'm very excited about this opportunity, but it is a jump for me from the classroom to a coaching position which I've never done. So as soon as my new title became official, I began doing research for resources to learn more about instructional coaching. One resource I started with was looking for the best books about instructional coaching. The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar seemed to be one of the must-reads on many people's lists.
I enjoyed The Art of Coaching, and agree that it is a must-read for anyone looking to begin instructional coaching. Aguilar discusses instructional coaching in broad terms, so it is applicable whether you are coaching teachers, administrators, or everyone in between. She lays out nicely everything you need to do to build successful coaching relationships, how to build a coaching plan, how to tackle difficult situations, and more. Her ideas are more broad and high level, so if you're looking for worksheets or forms to copy and use, you won't find a lot of him here (although her sentences stems is a good reference I am keeping).
Since I checked the book out from the library (my husband complains I spend too much money on books), I outlined many of the important points that I wanted to remember. I thought I would share them here in case in benefits anyone else thinking of reading the book or who is reading the book.
Recently a great career opportunity happened to fall in my lap. This spring my district opened a new math coach position working with both middle schools’ math teachers and fifth grade elementary teachers. Originally I wanted to put my name in for the position, but I had been told that they were not considering teachers. I went on maternity leave not thinking about the position at all. However, with a few weeks left in the school year (and my first day back from maternity leave), my principal recommended I apply for the position. He openly supported my candidacy to the district office administrators. Once our math coordinator found out I was applying, he put in a good word for me as well (since we’ve always worked very well together). With their support, I interviewed and quickly was offered the position!
Many of my best ideas I have borrowed from other fabulous educators. This blog is a place for me to share what I have done, in the hopes that someone else can find it useful in their own practice. In addition, I use it as a space to reflect on the issues important to those of us in the education field.