Stop Pretending in Education

In education, we have to stop pretending that

  • learning happens in straight lines, neat boxes and perfect circles
  • the adults have the answers, independent of conversations with children and communities and can effectively impart the answers to children
  • technology programs are naturally innovative and transformative
  • we are preparing students for their life and its okay to ignore who they are right now
  • learning can happen even when there is no engagement and fun

Scott McLeod challenged others to participate in a conversation on how to #makeschooldifferent with the prompt “… we have to stop pretending”. In this challenge, I’d like to invite @jmikton, @sbradshaw, @BobsPragueBlog, @elizabethperry and @njtechteacher to participate.

Why I Dislike(d) Conferences

I spent much of last weekend at Bavarian International School in Munich, attending the ECIS Tech conference. The theme of the conference was on building engagement. I went to several sessions on making and the maker movement, collaboration, and technology support/coaching. I have a list of ideas to explore further through thinking, conversations, blogging and exploration.

I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of conferences. I’ve been thinking about what the traditional/typical conference offers to reframe my thinking from “don’t like conferences” to “conferences offer …”. The reason that I don’t like conferences is because they are an inadequate approach to professional development. I did my graduate work on professional development for effective technology integration. Conferences are the tip of the iceberg, but they can provide some unique opportunities.

Conferences are a great opportunity for informal learning. Take the chance to speak to people between and during sessions to expand your knowledge of what’s happening in education beyond your experience.

Conferences, especially large ones, provide exposure to new technology. Before going to a conference, make a list of the tools/resources that you are dissatisfied with or problems that you have not found a solution for. Visit vendors and demos to find out resources that may meet your needs. Also take the opportunity for hands-on experience with tools that you are curious about or have never encountered before to build your knowledgebase.

Attend sessions that are connected to your professional development plan. Look at the agenda to decide what value the conference offers you, and whether to attend. It’s okay to sit out a session; this could be a valuable opportunity to process a previous session and make a plan for integrating your new learning into your context. Spend some time looking at the schedule and select sessions that tie into your goals and plans, and that will help you achieve them. Have a focus.

Meet people from your virtual learning network. I’m a big fan of virtual connections but have to remember the importance of connections in the physical work. It adds a new dimension to the connections that you’ve built online when you can meet people in the physical world.

Present something that you’re excited or passionate about. Sometimes I feel that my role should be obsolete given the ease of finding things online. However, presenting lets you add the social element to learning which provides motivation and engagement. It also lets you cater to different personality types and learning preferences.

Take time to debrief. This is the process that I am embarking on. I plan to share resources to those who may be interested, to write some blog posts to expand and share my thinking, follow up with admin to clarify some goals, and implement some processes related to my own professional growth.

If you have a growth mindset, you can create your own learning experiences in a conference, or reframe the experiences provided to meet your goals and the needs of your role.

What strategies do you apply to grow from participation in conferences? Are you someone who loves conferences? I’d love to know what excites you about them.

Research on Coaching

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

The final chapter of Coaching Approaches & Perspectives is written by Jake Cornett and Jim Knight on the topic of Research on Coaching. Quantitative research is (ethically) difficult in education. The analysis that Cornett and Knight have done of the existing research reveals a problem of validity and reliability due to problematic methods. There is also a dearth of of quantitative/experimental research on the effectiveness of coaching for increasing student achievement. The existing research suggests that coaching is effective in professional development by increasing implementation and understanding of programs and models by teachers. For research to guide practice, educators need more reliable and valid research on the structures that allow coaching to work and the instances when coaching is effective. Educators could also benefit from research that shows the types of coaching that are effective, for who they are effective, and when they are effective. For example, when is one-on-one, small group, autonomous online, and other types of coaching effective for working with teachers? What’s the appropriate use of modeling in professional development? Questions abound, and there are currently more questions than answers.

It’s been six years since the book was published. I wonder how the scope of research has changed in that time. I would like to determine the intersection of technology coaching with the ten types of coaching identified in this book. Although I am done reading this book, my inquiry is far from complete. My next steps are to identify my learning from this book, to extract the components relevant to my work, and to identify interventions that I will apply to my work based on what I learned in this book. I’ve also joined a MOOC on Technology Coaching. A key question for me is how can I leverage social networking and online communication to create the supportive network important to my own professional growth?

If you’ve read any recent research/books/articles on Technology Coaching that you found inspiring or empowering, please share them with me in the comments.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.

Literacy Coaching

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This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.
Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 10.46.00

I’d initially skipped Chapter 2: Literacy Coaching by Cathy A. Toll but I went back to read the chapter to see what I could glean. Although the chapter focuses on literacy coaching, which is a subset of instructional coaching, it presents ideas and concepts relevant to all types of coaching.

The chapter begins with a discussion of the landscape of literacy coaching in the USA. It shows that coaching has been a growing field, which first gained widespread popularity due to the Reading First program in the USA in 2002. It also looks at the work of literacy coaching, the opportunities that it presents in education, and its challenges.

Literacy coaching evolved as a new role which encompassed existing tasks such as monitoring a literacy program, providing PD for teachers, and demonstrating how to use purchased material. As the role has grown, literacy coaches have joined various associations, which have developed standards for literacy coaching. Toll argues that there was no need to define a new role for existing jobs, and that the real opportunity of literacy coaching is to have teachers partner with coaches to share data, needs, interests and questions for goal setting, planning and reflection to improve teaching practice. As in other forms of coaching presented, coaching starts with the identification of the needs of teachers. Toll shares that this is done using discourse so that the coach learns the current status for the teachers as well as his challenges, ideas, questions, goals, ideas and experiences.

In this chapter, the metaphor of coach as vehicle for change/transformation is revisited (as in chapter 6). The goal of coaching is to build efficacy and capacity through supporting teachers’ thinking and learning. Unfortunately, little research has been done on literacy coaching specifically, but research exists on the positive impacts of broader types of professional development which include literacy coaching. One of the challenges of research on the effects of literacy coaching is the difficulty of establishing a cause and effect relationship between coaching and student achievement. This problem may be of little issue since coaching focuses more directly on teacher growth rather than student achievement.

In the realm of teacher growth, literacy coaching can explicitly change behaviour, thinking, collaboration and feelings. An implicit effect occurs on teacher identify. Toll identifies four identities for teachers: “The Obedient Teacher”, “The Good Teacher”, “The Problem-Solving Teacher”, and “The Teacher with Agency” (Knight, 2008, p. 63). There is a reciprocal relationship between coaching teachers and the identity of teachers.

The challenge to literacy coaching is the lack of clarity around the term and the role. The term literacy coach is sometimes used to refer to someone who works with students; Toll defines the role as someone who works with teachers so there is a confusion of duties. She defines three duties for literacy coaches: one-on-one conferences with teachers, small group discussions of teachers with the coach, and demonstration lessons (Knight, 2008, p. 65). Unlike the other authors in this book, she stresses that teacher observation can be stressful for teachers and should only be done upon teacher request. Another problem of clarity is that a literacy coach may be given one of many titles which results in confusion about who performs the role. The third confusion is that some people confuse programs and models. A model is derived from theories and concepts and while some programs may do the same and can be used to derive a model, other programs are developed whimsically and do not correlate with a model. In conclusion, Toll provides  some guidelines for examining coaching programs.

I’m not so concerned about the terms and roles of coaching but I think that it’s important that each organization ascribe to a particular definition or create a well defined role. Are you in a coaching position? What is your title? Is your job well defined? How could it be clarified?

The issue of teacher observation has been the most challenging component of coaching to me; it feels like evaluation. However, some colleagues have been discussing co-teaching and this could provide a useful model for teacher feedback and reflection for professional growth. Co-teaching can be tricky when it comes to coaching teachers; depending on how it is structured, it can either be part of teacher coaching or student coaching. I think that the differentiating elements relates to teacher reflection, and discourse.

The issue of evaluating coaches is an important one, I think. As we define the role of a coach, we should make sure that evaluation and assessment matches that definition.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.

Leadership Coaching: Facilitating and Supporting Change

By, License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
By, License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

By, License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Coaches can help their clients in self-discovery to make sure that energy drains are overcome for a healthy and successful life. Coaches help each client consider their whole life, both personal and professional as one affects the other. Coaches are open-minded and embark on a journey full of possibility with clients. They help clients clarify goals and identify actions to achieve the goals, and to reflect on progress to refine enactment. They encourage leaders to have a positive attitude about their life and responsibilities and help develop the leader as a whole person. Every leader has multiple roles in a workplace including that of individual as well as member of the organization. A leadership coach considers all the roles of a person in coaching him.

Reiss identifies 8 factors necessary for successful change, many of which parallel factors in coaching. They include passionate commitment, attention and focus, vision, action, support, letting go of deterrence, being aware of beliefs that hold you back, and challenging assumptions (Knight, 2008, p. 186). Brain research shows that people can train their brain to create change, and that new thoughts coupled with action leads to new behavior. Brain research shows four areas of brain function that explain the effectiveness of coaching: attention, reflection, insight and action.

Brain connection develops through use and practice. By giving attention to actions related to a solution rather than a problem, a person builds new helpful connections in the brain.

Reflection provides access to the right side of the brain which is more emotional/sensing.

Conversations between the coach and client provide insight that provide energy for action.

A person will have the most success if she uses the energy produced by insight to push her goal forward through action. Insight reveals thoughts and allows a person to choose new thoughts which can channel action.

Hiring a new leader can be an expensive endeavor for schools. It may be prudent for schools to look into coaching existing leaders, which also increases job satisfaction and retention. In the event where a school/district needs to hire a new leader, leadership coaching smooths the transition and established a course of success for the new leader in the job.

In education, we talk about educating the whole child. We understand that children are not robots who can turn off and on for learning, and that the experiences and circumstances of a child outside of school affect their school life. It stands to reason that the same is true of adults. The roots of a professional problem may be linked to a personal problem; the best results will be achieved by addressing the problems and their interactions together. It seems to me that the factors in leadership coaching also apply to other types of coaching as well.

Some years ago, at a previous job, one of my professional development goals was to work with a mentor. What is a mentor but coach as expert? I see the value of coaching as a means of professional development. In my role of technology coordinator, which comprises different roles at different times, knowing about and being able to apply the components of coaching would be beneficial to me, to those that I work with, and to my organization.

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 8: Leadership Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.