A Reflection on Peer Coaching

The overarching definition of ISTE’s Visionary Leadership Coaches Standard is that
“Technology coaches inspire and participate in the development and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformational change throughout the instructional environment.” We’ve been working this quarter on the use of Peer Coaching as a methodology for that type of leadership and the coaching project I’ve been working on has brought a number of interesting issues up for me.

Shared Vision

I’ve been working with a group of three teachers who have taken over leadership of our Future Ready Teacher User Group. Approximately 20 teachers (who were part of the past two year’s Tech Cohorts) get together each month to share and learn together about current district tools and new ideas as well as being introduced to new tools. The past two years they’ve worked with me as the instructor and the focus has been on learning about the SAMR model (Puentedura 2006), skill building around available tools and developing a culture of trust and innovative thinking. My goal was to develop Human Capacity in our buildings around technology integration. I need more leaders at the building level who can serve in an unofficial coaching capacity and who can model tech enriched lessons and progressive thinking.

I came across an article called “How Coaches Can Maximize Student Learning” (Saphier, West 2010) that suggested that coaches should work with the strongest teachers first to build a “tacit farm team” for future coaches. In future years they could be matched with new teachers to become mentors or collaborative partners and would in turn help strengthen the skills and capacity of a a new group of teachers. The three teachers I’m working with are the heart of my farm team and it puts me in the role of having to step back and allow them to develop their own vision for the group.

The experience reinforced the idea for me that it is important that we share a vision, either as a district or a group and also have a plan for reaching that vision. As suggested in Foltos’ (2013) book Peer Coaching, we developed a written Peer Coaching plan to define our roles and set our goals for our group. The difficult part has been that we don’t yet have a clear vision for technology use as a district so some of the things we would have liked to do as part of our professional development for this group wouldn’t have been supported. The vision we were able to work toward was that we wanted more sharing, more collaboration and continued relevance to the daily use of technology in classrooms. I think we are beginning to do that.

Integration of Technology to Promote Transformational Change

This has been a more challenging aspect of working with this group. My instructors are models for their fellow teachers but they are not in an acknowledged coaching role with them. A lot of what they are doing is facilitating and coaching by example. The instructors and I have talked a lot about using the SAMR model to help move teachers move from using technology as simply a substitution for traditional pen and paper activities toward redefining teaching and learning with technology as a tool to make that possible. Even after three years with the first group we are still talking about it and very few teachers have tried anything terribly transformational with technology. It does take time but it feels like there are pieces missing that will move us forward with technology integration. In the same article referenced above (Saphier, West 2010) the authors define coaching in schools as a “strategic, systematic approach to improving student learning”. They go further to list these purposes and practices, which are meant for content areas, but I think have some interesting tie ins to our Users Group.

  • Coaches and teachers engage in public teaching in front of one another, with the expectation and practice of giving and receiving rigorous feedback aimed at student learning.
    • My instructors have been demonstrating new skills and leading discussions but what if they also taught a model lesson and/or we used some of release time funds they have access to get subs for people in the group to come in and watch them teach? Could I leverage them as model teachers as well as for the ability to facilitate the users group?
  • Staff members regularly consult and ask each other for help.
    • The instructors wanted to shift more of our meeting time to sharing and collaborating so each meeting has time dedicated to both. We are seeing more open sharing of ideas but I’d really like to see if we can leverage social media to allow people to share even outside the meetings and develop more of a collaborative online community.
  • Staff meet in regular groups to discuss how to improve instruction of specific concepts and skills related to student learning.
    • It’s not always easy to do this with technology because in many cases, it’s meant as a tool to support learning in other content areas, not as a stand alone topic. However, we could spend more time focusing on technology practices that we could measure things like engagement. Liz Kolb’s Triple E Framework might be a good tool to introduce to my instructors to see if we can use it to reframe some of our discussions with the larger group on how technology can be integrated and support their content areas.
  • Questions related to practice permeate adult discourse, and they are authentic questions centering on the most tenacious and ubiquitous issues of teaching and learning.
    • When I read this it dawned on me that we don’t ask enough questions in our User Group meetings. I ask questions of my coaches to help guide them to thinking about good practices for running the meetings and choosing topics but we aren’t translating that to discourse we could be having with the larger group about how technology is impacting their students, how they can measure the effectiveness of their tech integrated lessons or on how they can improve them. It might be time to bring that up with my instructors.

Coaching teachers is challenging but coaching coaches has made me have to stop and think about the approaches I take, the questions I ask and the other things I do to coach others and try to articulate those for my coaches. I have a ways to go but becoming more conscious of the skills I’m using successfully and the ones I need to work on will help me be able to help them as well.

 

References

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

ISTE Standards For Coaches. (2011). Iste.org. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Kolb, L. (2017). Triple E FrameworkTriple E Framework. Retrieved 15 December 2017, from http://www.tripleeframework.com/

SAMR. (2017). Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything. Retrieved 15 December 2017, from http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html

Saphier, J., & West, L. (2010). How Coaches Can Maximize Student Learning. Phi Delta Kappan91(4), 46-50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/003172171009100410

Adding Technology Capacity to Buildings Through Coaching

coaching terms wordle

Our district is considering adopting an Instructional Coaching Model in our elementary buildings next year to support our ELA adoption. I love the idea of having more support for teachers in the buildings in any capacity. These new coaches won’t specifically be in buildings to support technology but if we can mesh some training around ways technology can support reading, writing and language we can develop capacity in teachers and coaches to use those tools in other ways or for other purposes.

We can already leverage the technology capacity we’ve nurtured the last few years with our Future Ready Teacher cohort. There have been three groups of teachers who have spent a year of ongoing, hands on technology integration training and who have stepped up to become tech leaders in their buildings. Some of the new coaches may come from this pool of teachers and bring with them the expertise and skills they’ve acquired. In other buildings, we’ve developed the capacity for technology leadership that can help support new coaches if we consciously provide opportunities for them to work together.

The ISTE Standards for Coaches help lay out some of the essential areas of focus for Tech coaches. Coaches can be both just in time support and training resources for teachers but can also serve as a communication channel between teachers and administration and can help promote a bigger picture view of technology usage in the classroom. Many districts have successfully provided access and devices to staff and students but still struggle with getting the usage to move beyond substitution level. Coaches can bring perspective, experience and skills that busy teachers haven’t had time to acquire. They can be leaders in their buildings and help communicate a vision of a new way of thinking about instruction that is supported by technology.

It’s not easy to find amazing teachers who are strong in both their content areas and technology. I suspect we’ll find the strong content providers in our district and we’ll have to train them up to be strong tech leaders as well. The article,  How Districts Can Adopt a Tech Coaching Model (Kipp 2017) suggests that having a clear job description that spells out the expectations around technology and a systematic, ongoing training cycle can best support new coaches.

Most coaching models center around training and support for coaches as well as clear expectations for the coaching role. In Peer Coaching, Foltos (2013) suggests a written coaching plan that can help both teacher and coach stay focused on the learning targets and have clear norms and purposes for the coaching relationship. The Edutopia article, Instructional Coaching: Driving Meaningful Tech Integration (2015) highlights a high school that created a successful model using a BDA (Before, During, After) cycle. It’s easy to remember and clearly defines the working relationship around a lesson. The article does point out that successful coaching models depend on a flexible schedule for coaches so that they can move were they are needed and also have time for the informal conversations that help build solid relationships with teachers.

I like the idea of combining mentors and coaches in this model Mary Beth Hertz shares in Mentoring and Coaching for Effective Tech Integration (Hertz 2011) to leverage expertise in the building and add to the tech coaches ability to meet people’s needs. If every teacher who received a cart of mobile devices also received a mentor who had used a cart in their classroom for a few years, I wonder how much faster we could be moving toward more creative uses of technology in our classrooms?

For myself, I want to see more technology coaches in action. Local conferences and users groups provide some opportunity for learning and sharing with other coaches. However, it would be interesting to set up chances to visit other districts or do a coach exchange for a day and swap places with someone to learn more about their system and they can learn about ours. More opportunities to work on coordinated projects, like EdCamps, with other districts would also benefit our teachers and new coaches by providing access to new ideas and new resources.

References

Bentley, K. (2017). How School Districts Can Adopt the Technology Coach ModelCenterdigitaled.com. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from http://www.centerdigitaled.com/blog/technology-coaches.html

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Hertz, M. (2011). Mentoring and Coaching for Effective Tech IntegrationEdutopia. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/mentoring-coaching-tech-integration-mary-beth-hertz

Instructional Coaching: Driving Meaningful Tech Integration. (2015). Edutopia. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/practice/instructional-coaching-driving-meaningful-tech-integration

ISTE Standards For Coaches. (2011). Iste.org. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches