Friday, April 29, 2016

What Can Coaching Do For You?

Even though educational coaching has been around for over a decade, many school districts across the country have been slow to adopt this very powerful tool for teacher development. Momentum is starting to build as research has shown that coaching is an effective educational reform strategy.  Student achievement is directly correlated with the efficacy of their instructor; the instructor’s ability is correlated with their level of confidence with the content and learning tools (READ: 1:1 Learning Environments!), willingness to take risks, and amount of the teacher reflection.  All of these things can be improved through coaching.
But you don’t need dig into elaborate research to know what a coach can do . . .Just ask a teacher who has worked with one!  Below is feedback from teachers who have worked with a coach in the past two years.
How has transitioning to a 1:1 learning environment been facilitated by working with a coach?
  • “Knowing that there is someone there at all times to help you when you run into a technical problem helps build my confidence as a 1:1 teacher. Additionally, I have come around to the idea that 1:1 is good because the instructional coaches at my school have shown me various useful and productive ways to use technology in class without just using it for the sake of using it.“ - Kelly, Science, teaching 1-4 years
Describe how working with a coach helped your classroom to improve your use of questions or discussion in the classroom or using assessments to monitor student learning.
  • “The coach helped me create a lesson that assisted students in discussing topics talked about in class and helped create student led assessments.” - Anonymous, teaching 1-4 years
  • “Working with my coach allowed me to think of things from a different point of view. My coach has taught in so many various classroom environments and is exposed to so many new up and coming methods of instruction that it was nice to have someone with such a strong knowledge base.” - Natalie, World Languages, teaching 5-10 years
Did working with a coach allow you to break out of your comfort zone? If so, describe what happened.
  • “Yes. I completely ditched my old exam, creating a much more authentic and student driven exam.” - JoAnna, Fine Arts,,  teaching 15+ years
  • “This opportunity has allowed me to try and/or change the way I present information. I have [students] take more of an active role for their learning.”  Anonymous, World Languages, teaching 15+ years
  • “Yes. I was able to implement some reading strategies that I otherwise would not have tried as a Math teacher.” Lorena, Math, teaching 11-15 years
  • “data and assessment make me nervous, having support was really helpful” Anonymous, Fine Arts, teaching 11-15 years
A coach's role is designed to be non-evaluative. Does this increase your interest in collaborating with a coach? Why or why not?
  • “It increases my interest in collaborating. The coach is neutral, non-judgmental, but yet able to provide constructive feedback that is helpful.” Anonymous, teaching 5-10 years
  • “Yes because I don't feel as if I am being judged on what I am discussing or doing since they are here to help and not criticize.”  Anonymous, teaching 1-4 years
  • “Yes, because when I collaborate with the coach, I feel I am not being judged or evaluated on what I am or am not doing in the classroom. I am more open to feedback, as my weaknesses are not being held against me.” Anonymous, Special Education, teaching 5-10 years

What are your teachers/coaches doing for your students/staff?  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Getting to the Core with Ted Talks

It is not a secret that I love Ted Talks.  I think my first one was Angela Duckworth's talk about grit and I was immediately hooked.    What I didn't realize is that my students were binging on them as much as I was.  With this new tool, students who were interested in a specific topic could hear from experts in the field.  Some of my AP Psychology students described how they Googled a psychology term in the book and found Talks on them.  It was a huge relief to me to no longer have to be the sole "expert in the room" (and I was no expert!).  However, this was before we were a 1:1 GAFE school so kids who didn't have the Internet at home were limited in their ability to watch the Talks.

I was working with an English Teacher this year and she described how she is going to use a few talks during her rhetoric unit.  I created this Google Document that allows students to choose their own videos, find augmentative language, and to support their ideas.  The Learning Targets listed in the beginning of the document are linked to CCSS Reading Standards 2 and 8.  I also found another Google Document created by Kenny Silva on SmartBlogs on Education.

I started to think of other applications for this Video Reflection outside of English Class.


TED has compiled some great playlists on their website and on YouTube. Some of the lists are curated by the TED team and others are done by guests, like David Blaine and Bono.  Teachers could link the playlists to their class content easily and allow students to explore on their own or direct them to a collection with a defined theme, like Alexis Ohanian's Intenet collection.

The playlists on YouTube are more general but could be used in a similar way.  I am not as a fan of this because it's not organized as neatly but YouTube is so easy to use on mobile devices it is hard to discount it all together.

For those who are looking for the curated collections that were once on Netflix, Quora did the work for you since Netflix took off all the TED content in March 2016.


Quora also had an interesting thread about why people dislike TED.  One of the primary reasons outlined in the discussion is TED can make a person feel like an expert on the topic.  The writers argue that TED talks should be a place to start not a place to end when starting to learn about information.  This reminded me of the well-planned unit on Research created by Odell Education.  Students use the playlists to Explore a Topic and find one specific detail to research more deeply.


TED presenters often present a radical idea within a branch of a larger topic.  This allows students to also compare two different viewpoints on the same topic.  Angela Duckworth's talk on Grit was featured on the Ted Radio Hour's show about Success.  The same episode also featured talks from Tony Robbins, Ron Gutman,  Mike Rowe, Alain de Botton. Each speaker presents a different claim about the definition of success and how to achieve it.  This would be a great way to explore how different authors explore a similar topic (Potential Learning Target - I can analyze how authors interpret and emphasize different evidence when presenting sources on the same topic - CCRA.R.9). Students could make a copy of the Google Form for each video source then combine a final synthesis argument.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Metacognition in the Algebra Classroom

One of my colleagues, Mrs. C, uses Khan Academy's Math Mission has her curricular framework for her Algebra students.  This particular class is a cohort of students who typically struggle with math.

A typical day in her classroom starts with a "Mastery Challenge" that students can work on for about 10 minutes.   Then, she does about 15 minutes of direct instruction surrounding the "Practice Tasks" that they need to work on.  The remainder of class time is spent working on those skills needed to master the Practice Task Blocks.

Mrs. C felt like her class, scheduled at the end of the day, was lacking motivation and wanted to use student self-assessments to recharge her class.  Students were already expected to track their progress through the blocks using a handwritten document.  The document identified the Skill, Level and the students would calculate their points based on what Level they had completed.  After some discussion with Mrs. C, we decided to add "Attempt Tally" to the chart.  Students are now asked to record how many questions they had to answer to get to their current level.

In addition, students are now asked the following reflection questions at the end of the unit:  

1.      Looking at the data above, which blocks were easy to complete? Explain why the block(s) were easy to complete e.g. block was similar to another block, really understood concept of _________.  

2.  Look at the data above, which blocks were difficult to complete? Explain why e.g. block was similar to another but same rule doesn’t apply, I didn’t understand the concept, took me while to apply skill consistently.

These questions are written to get students to think about in which concepts they should feel confident and which concepts still remain a challenge.  Students can approach the summative exam with a strong understanding of their individual Learning Needs.  After taking the summative assessment, the Reflection provides students an opportunity to connect their "Attempt Tally", "Level" to their performance on the test.  Low-achieving Students sometimes need help to see how persistence with a difficult concept can result in success.  

After implementing this intervention, Mrs. C and I had a follow-up conversation to see how to adapt the work.  She liked the reflection questions but thought some of her students could include more detail about the reasoning behind the ease or difficulty of the block.  She is going to continue to work on modeling how to identify Learning Needs with her class.  Also, students in this class need to a little more direction to connect the "Tally Attempts" with their scores because they are not used to associating the two ideas.  Finally, I think it would also be helpful to have a final reflection question after the summative assessment to ask, "What does information mean for my future learning?"  This makes the summative assessment for a math concept turn into a formative assessment for metacognitive skills.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Importance of Regular Reflection

In an article recently posted on the Harvard Business Review website, Laura J. Adler articulates why it is important for leaders in a organization to journal regularly.  My father clearly had the same information because my sister and I were required to keep a journal starting in fifth grade.  My journals have always been a place of comfort and growth even though I resisted my father in the beginning.  Over the years, they have definitely changed in size, shape and content (high school drama!) but they have remained a consistent tool for my personal and professional growth.  Adler discusses several key components to journaling that will make it a more worthwhile process.

  1. Buy a journal - There is something about a composition book that I just love.   I have received many gifts of pretty journals but I always feel like there is too much pressure to write something profound.  But over the years, I have used binders with plain notebook paper too.
  2. Commit to reflecting - When I am most productive, I am also journaling all the time.  It helps me focus my thoughts and prepare for the next day.  I usually write my journal at the end of the day right before I go to bed.  I have fallen asleep writing my journal many times and I think that I probably should avoid writing my journal in bed.  My goal has been to fill up at least two pages of writing every night, an idea I got from reading The Artists Way many years ago.  Sometimes I succeed - other times I don't.  But the goal is set.
  3. Find a quiet place - I often struggle with this because of my two young children who pop up out of bed from time to time.  Still - my room is quiet and comfortable and meets this criteria.
  4. Choose the right time - As an instructional coach, there is no such thing as not being interrupted when I'm at school.  I want to be available to my teachers for anything that might come up.  This means I have to journal at home and with my sons at home - this can also be a challenge to find.  
  5. Write whatever comes to mind - Going back to the idea of always writing something profound - sometimes empty pages are incredibly daunting to me.  Part of writing for most people, even accomplished writers I have heard, is just doing it.  I will (and do) make excuses to not write but just getting the messy ideas down allows for the better ideas to come to the surface.
  6. Don't share your journal with anyone - I have to say I disagree with this one.  I am not saying that we should always share ideas all the time - certainly there are ideas that I want to keep to myself.  But I do think that selectively sharing our ideas, even the messy ones, with people in our thought community or personal learning network can help us grow.  But then again I am a huge Vygotsky fan and agree with him that knowledge construction happens through dialogic communication.  
I also like to track patterns in my journal.  I like to end each entry with:
  • Things that I'm proud of:
  • Things I need to work on:
  • Book(s) I am reading:
This regular pattern helps me close out my final thoughts for the night. 

I would love to hear if you keep an off-line journal.  If you do - how many of Adler's ideas are you able to apply?  Is there any ideas that you struggle with?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

16 posts?

It's been 10 months since my last post.  This year has gotten away from me and I have failed to keep up with my goal of posting once a week.

This morning I was able to attend the DuPage County Instructional Coaching Network Meeting in District 58 and the closing activity was a "Start Continue Stop" reflection which we then had to share with others.  So here is mine to share with the world:

Start:  Blogging again - once a week!
Continue:  To reach out and network with amazing teacher leaders
Stop:  Trying to work with people who don't want to work with me

Let's make this happen!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What I Learned This Week: Digital Citizenship

Ok. I knew about Digital Citizenship before but what I really learned this week was how important it was to model good digital citizenship so students know what to expect from each other.

The ISTE Standards for Students describes one aspect of digital citizenship as the ability to “exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.”   In addition to ISTE, the Common Core would like our students to also engage with technology to collaborate with their students.

It would be great to assume that students would use an online forum to only engage in content and not write silly messages to each other but we teach in the “real” online world.  In this world, we know that a 15 year old will behave like a 15 year old, as an avatar or in person.

I made the mistake of asking a teacher to try an activity without talking to the students about digital citizenship first and the result is probably what you can imagine:  the freshmen students behaved like freshmen.  The teacher came to my office frustrated with the assignment, his students, and me.  

Lesson learned:  Develop a short introduction to digital citizenship before expecting students to work in a shared online document.

I used the FREE online curriculum provided by Common Sense Media to adapt two of their lessons (Chart It! and Forms and Norms) to do a short 10 minute introduction for students.  This reduced the amount of silliness that would normally occur in this situation.  The model lesson gave students the permission to determine what collaboration would look like in their classroom.  When they were given the actual task - they were able to attend to it immediately.  Taking these 10 minutes out improved the student work product with no frustration on the part of the teacher.  

Would you like me to model this for your classroom?    Let me know!

Check out our curated collection Digital Citizenship materials  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rolling with my Chromies

What does your Internet browser say about you?  More than you think, according Cornerstone OnDemand, an organization that helps many corporations recruit and train employees:
Here’s what they found:
Source: The Atlantic

The company is quick to point out the correlation does not mean that just because a person uses Internet Explorer they will be a bad employee.  

The question I still have is:  if our students are 1:1 CB users (and thereby forced to use Chrome), then does this data apply (ISTE Technology Standard 6)? To take it further - does pushing documents through Google Classroom or Hapara teach them the digital skills they need to be more productive?