Friday, February 12, 2016

Tech coaching for professional learning

This is my fourth blog post where I'm reflecting on our tech integration programme along with the ISTE Standards for Coaches.  This post is going to focus on Standard 4:  Professional Development and Program Evaluation.  At ASB our tech coaches are involved in goal setting, planning conversations, reflecting conversations and helping with the collection of evidence of student learning.  They also run professional learning sessions such as PlayDates and facilitate during some of the weekly staff meetings.  In the book Effective Digital Learning Environments, Jo Williamson writes:
Technology coaches are specialized professional development experts.  Their core mission is to help other educators maximize the use of technology in schools.  To pursue this mission, technology coaches need an advanced understanding of how teachers acquire new knowledge and skills.  They also need to know which types of professional learning activities are most likely to help teachers improve their classroom practices. Technology coaches use their expertise to design, develop and deliver high-quality professional development programs that help their colleagues learn about and learn with technology.
We all know that the best professional learning is on-going and job-embedded.  It is not a one-time workshop or dropping in to trouble-shoot a problem.  Tech coaches are used to teaching children - and they need to understand that adults are already expert learners and want their experiences to be valued.  The best way to work with adults is to ensure they are self-directed and constructing their own knowledge - and actually that's the best way to teach children too!

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tech coaching to promote digital age learning environments

Every week I have a meeting with one of the secondary school tech integration coaches, where we practice the various cognitive coaching conversations with each other.  Yesterday I wanted to talk about how best I could support the elementary tech coaches when they coach teachers in a grade that they do not teach.  Basically, as far as cognitive coaching goes, the coach doesn't suggest what to do, but instead empowers the teachers to be self-directed.  Suggesting what to do, or working with a team to create something are other support functions (consulting and collaborating).  We talked about the fact that it shouldn't really be necessary to have a deep knowledge of the curriculum if you are coaching, as the support function is different.

Today I looked again at the ISTE Standards for Coaches, and feel that Standard 3 on digital age learning environments relates much more to instructional coaching than to cognitive coaching.  Some of the support functions mentioned in Standard 3 appear to be very different from our model of coaching.  However some of these instructional coach functions we definitely do get involved in.

For example, as teaching, learning and assessments change, planning and reflecting conversations with teachers can help them.  ISTE-C 3a and b talk about encouraging teachers to move towards more collaborative instructional and learning practices and helping teachers manage the changing classroom environment, possibly by finding, developing, sharing and implementing ideas in a technology-rich learning environment.  3c goes further and looks at online and blended learning - both for students and teachers. Again, our tech coaches can support teachers who want to blend some online learning with what they are doing in class.  At the same time our tech coaches often recommend participating in online PD to our teachers through ASB's Online Academy.

At the start of last school year we informed our teachers that tech coaches were not the same as technical support technicians.  Our tech coaches are focused on instructional approaches, not fixing broken equipment or hooking up devices.  However it's clear that our coaches are often the first point of call for teachers in their grade who are experiencing technical difficulties.  They have stepped up and helped their colleagues to resolve these problems and given them to confidence to know how to tackle them if they occur again.

Our tech coaches are often involved in prototyping new tools and devices in their classrooms.  Some of them have explored apps such as Morfo and Aurasma, some have looked at whole programmes such as using blogging as an ePortfolio, and others have concentrated on things like using mobile devices for formative assessments.  Chatting with a couple of the tech coaches today, they told me that they are constantly scanning for new technologies and evaluating new resources which they can suggest to the teachers they are coaching.

I'm still thinking about how we move between the support functions of coach, collaborator and consultant, and I'll be chatting more with our tech coaches about this over the next couple of weeks.

Do you use a model of tech coaching at your school?  If so I'd love to hear about your experiences.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Visionary Leadership

One of our aims in introducing a tech integration coaching programme (TIC) at ASB was to distribute tech leadership, to empower teachers to develop their leadership capacity to bring about change.  Because of this I have started looking at the ISTE-Cs as a way of evaluating how successful we have been in developing the leadership skills of our coaches.

As stated in the ISTE-C Standard 1a, it's important that we have a shared vision for technology integration.  At ASB this vision is for the purposeful, integrated use of technology tools to inspire creativity and innovation, support continuous inquiry, foster collaboration, enhance learning and achievement in all academic areas, and enable students to develop critical thinking skills, apply information literacy and manage complexity. This vision was constructed before we had TICs, but we feel it's important that they can communicate the vision and to help their colleagues to implement it.

Looking further in this standard, it's clear that our TICs are advocates for using technology to improve teaching and learning.  Often they need to initiate and manage change as we move towards a more student-led inquiry approach.  The standard describes how "excellent tech coaches are skillful change agents who help other educators see the need to adopt new tools and techniques."  Our TICs often need to provide instructional, technical and emotional support during these times of change.

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Evaluating the impact of tech coaching on teaching, learning and assessment

This is our second year of tech integration coaching at ASB, and currently we have 10 teachers who have taken on the additional responsibilities of coaching their colleagues.  To be clear about this:  all our tech integration coaches (TICs) are full time teachers, who have applied for this additional role. They are not given time off to do this, as most of them are coaching the teams they are actually a part of, but they do get an extra PD stipend to enable them to grow into the role.  Many of our TICs have used this stipend for the Foundation Training in Cognitive Coaching and for attending the annual ISTE Conference.

The ISTE-Cs contains a number of coaching rubrics that we used at the start of the year as part of a calibrating coaching conversation.  Do our coaches see themselves as approaching, meeting or exceeding the standards?  Since some of our coaches were new this year (and did not yet have any PD in coaching at that point) we expected that some would be approaching the standards and others would be meeting them.  Approaching the standards, in essence, is being able to identify and explain strategies and tools for tech integration. The new coaches are already applying what they know when using technology in their own classrooms, which is what we would expect as a prerequisite to becoming a tech coach, but probably at this point have not yet actively started modelling this for other teachers.

A coach who is meeting the ISTE-C standards is likely to be applying their knowledge and classroom experiences and modelling and coaching others.  To exceed the standards, a tech coach would need to analyze and evaluate the support they have given in order to provide evidence of helping colleagues achieve new skills and be able to show the impact that this has had on student learning.

The standard that I would encourage most of our coaches to focus on in their first year as a coach is Standard 2:  Teaching, Learning and Assessment.  To do this our TICs need to help their colleagues to use technology effectively - which is why we have found it vital to have coaches that are already part of teams and who are knowledgable and skillful in both their curriculum and in technology.  In Standard 2 the emphasis is on coaching and modelling to address both the content standards and technology literacy, while at the same time transforming the classroom into a  student-centred environment that meets the diverse needs and interests of all students.  During the 18 months since we have had tech coaches, I've observed the TICs trying out new ideas and tools in their own classrooms and then introducing them to their colleagues (for example using blogs as ePortfolios in Kindergarten, and using different formative assessment tools such as Kahoot, Padlet, Socrative and TodaysMeet in Grade 5), and I've seen several of them reaching out with their classes to other schools and experts around the world to collaborate in new ways, for example publishing their students' work to a wider audience (using Book Creator in Grade 5).

Much of what our TICs have been involved in is moving learning engagements and assessments away from a repackaging of facts, to tap into more higher-order thinking that support creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.  A good example of this was the recent unit our 5th Graders did where students first used online simulations to build an understanding of running a small business, then moved on to another simulation about world trade, and finally set up and ran their own small business for a morning.

At ASB we are really good at grouping and regrouping to differentiate and pesonalize the learning. We use many strategies that meet students' readiness and learning styles.  We also use a number of electronic resources for this such as Khan Academy, IXL and Mathletics in math, and Tumble Books, RazKids and Quizlet in literacy.  In Kindergarten and Grade 1 the students have "Dailies" where they move to different stations such as Listen to Reading, Read to Self and so on, where they are working independently and at their own level using some of these online resources.

Our TICs also work with teachers to create resources that can be used with students.  This could be a resource website or something as simple as a Google Form to collect in feedback.  We expect our TICs to have a strong knowledge of instructional design so that they can give good help and advice when coaching their colleagues to create learning engagements and evaluate student work.

Assessment and data analysis is becoming increasingly important for our TICs.  I've seen an increase in tools being used for formative assessments that have given feedback to teachers and allowed them to adjust their instruction.  As well as this I've seen technology being used to construct online forms and surveys, make rubrics for self and peer evaluation, and to give feedback directly onto the students' products.  Over the past 4 years, we have had an annual tech audit where we have collected and analyzed student artefacts, both by ISTE-S Standard and according to Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.  The TICs have assisted teachers in adding their artefacts onto the Google Site where the evidence has been visualized, analyzed and interpreted, and then used by the TICs as part of their initial coaching conversations with teachers to help them set their goals for the year. The data collected has been used to determine teachers' strengths and areas for growth, and we have been able to target the growth with personalized PD.  Evidence from the tech audits in the elementary school shows a change in the way technology has been used over the past 3 years. In 2013 the majority of artefacts collected indicated that technology was being used for tasks that involved lower-order thinking (62% of artefacts collected in 2013 were characterized as remembering and understanding). By 2015 the number of artefacts showing lower-order thinking had dropped to 27%. Conversely, artefacts characterized as applying, analyzing and evaluating, which accounted for 20% of the total number collected in 2013, are now in the majority: in 2015, 51% of artefacts submitted were tagged by teachers as applying analyzing and evaluating. There has also been a small increase in the number of artefacts categorized as creating - from 18% in 2013 to 22% in 2015.

To meet the requirements of the ISTE-C our TICs have had to becoming knowledgeable about more than just technology - as you can see they need to develop their expertise in teaching, learning and assessment.  They need to be able to help their colleagues to use technology for effective teaching, and they need to be able to provide evidence that they have brought about positive changes that have led to improved student achievement.   Looking at the evidence from our Tech Audits, it would seem that our "full-time teachers, part-time coaches" have exceeded expectations.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016


A friend of mine who moved from London to the north of England put her daughter into the local village school.  There were 2 classes, what we would call in England the "infants" class from ages 5 - 7 and the "junior" class from ages 8 - 11.  Both classes involved mixed age teaching.  My friend's daughter is now about to embark upon her Ph.D.  An early education in a "micro-school" clearly worked for her.

In last month's R&D meeting we discussed micro-schools - not really schools set up by themselves but more the concept of a "school within a school".  We discussed how a micro-school could be one way of testing new ideas about personalizing learning.  A micro-school is one that would serve less than 153 students (the magical Dunbar's number, mentioned in a previous post) as research has shown that when a school gets beyond 150 students it becomes difficult for adults to keep track of individual students.  In a micro-school learning is mainly student-led, with students given more power to determine how they spend their time.  Teachers in such schools are most definitely the "guides on the side", managing a wide variety of learning styles in a community of learners where students are free to follow their interests and curiosities and where they have autonomy and ownership over their work.

Although all micro-schools vary, there are a number of commonalities, including the push to make learning more authentic.  The focus is on interdisciplinary learning, customized for each child, where students construct their knowledge and skills through inquiry. Today's micro-schools use technology to capture data on student progress, and so can easily evaluate what each student is learning, and at the same time many of these schools empower the students to collaboratively create and define the standards of the class.  These schools generally focus on one project at a time, and allow students to go through several iterations of the projects when creating and redefining their work.

Research into micro-schools brought us to The Future of School website, where there are posts about creating tiny schools.  The following quotation is taken from the article about micro-schools:
Obsolescence - not brokenness - is the problem.  We need to explore entirely new methods of organizing our schools, distilling what the most important role for schools might be instead of heaping ever more requirements on an old model.
At our R&D meeting we started discussing what a micro-school would look like, based on the school within a school model.  We looked at The Innovation Academy at the American School of Lima in Peru, and we made a very early start on ideating what a micro-school could be like in our community. Watch out for future updates as we continue this work.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Doing childhood for our children

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about whether today's parents prepare children for life or protect them from it.  Today I've been reading Chapter 6 of How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haim, where she writes about the basic life skill we need to be teaching our children.  Julie writes that it is not our job to raise children - if we do that all we end up with is children - it is our job to raise adults.  Before I go further let me tell you that I have 2 adult children:  one who has finished university and is working and one who is at university but almost through with her Master's degree.  This chapter made me reflect on whether or not as a parent I'd given my children the skills they needed in order to do well once they left home.  My son's teenage years were spent in Thailand, a country where we were able to employ a housekeeper, which meant he did very little around the home.  My daughter's teenage years were spent in Switzerland, which is one of the safest countries in the world, and where children as young as Kindergarten walk to school or take public transport there by themselves.

Julie first of all questions what criteria we are using to decide on whether someone is an adult.  Traditionally this might have meant leaving home, becoming financially independent, getting married and having children.  In 1960 77% of women and 65% of men had done this by the age of 30.  However 40 years later only 50% of women and 33% of men had accomplished these things.  Clearly such a definition of what it means to be an adult is outdated, so in 2007 a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology reported on what 18-25 year olds felt were the most important indicators of adulthood.  These were
  • accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions
  • establishing a relationship with parents as equal adults
  • being financially independent
  • deciding on beliefs/values independent of parental influences
Interestingly enough only 16% of the 18-25 year olds surveyed thought that they had reached adulthood.  

How do we prepare our teenagers for being adults.  According to Julie the following should be possible for all 18 year olds:
  • The ability to talk to strangers - and yet we teach our children not to.  What we need to do is to teach them discernment.
  • The ability to find their way around - and yet we often drive our children everywhere.
  • The ability to manage their assignments, workloads and deadlines - and yet we constantly remind teenagers about their homework deadlines and even help them to do it.   What we need to do is to teach them to prioritise tasks.
  • The ability to contribute towards the running of a household - yet we don't expect today's teenagers to help much around the house and so many don't know how to look after their own needs, respect others or do their fair share.
  • The ability to handle interpersonal problems and cope with the ups and downs of life - and yet we often step in to solve things so our children don't know how to cope with and resolve their own conflicts.
  • The ability to earn and manage money - but often teenagers don't hold part-time jobs and instead we give them money for the things they want, which limits their appreciation of the cost of things and how to manage their own money.
  • The ability to take risks - often we don't want them to do this, and so they don't develop the grit that comes from trying, failing and then trying again, or the resilience to cope with things that have gone wrong.
Julie describes the role of many parents today as "doing childhood" for their children, and she points out that one of the key life skills our teenagers need to develop is the ability to live without us.

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Examining the C in TPACK and teaching it through transdisciplinary thinking tools

This Tuesday our faculty meeting will focus on transdisciplinary learning - in particular how we build our understanding of how to teach, assess and report on transdisciplinary skills.  I'm also continuing to read through articles about transdisciplinary learning for my upcoming online workshop, and am blogging about my thoughts.

First of all it's important to understand the difference between transdisciplinary and inter-disciplinary. Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson of Michigan State University argue that being able to identify the deeper themes and habits of mind that cut across disciplinary boundaries is vital for creativity.  They link this with the TPACK model, stating that a transdisciplinary approach is greatly supported by the possibilities of digital technologies.  However integrating technology is still a challenge to many educators who feel that many technologies become obsolete as quickly as they arrive (for example today I was reading an article about the extinction of the iPad - once hailed as something that was going to transform education).  Even when teachers are enthusiastic about integrating technology, many studies have identified teacher knowledge as one of the key barriers for effective integration.

Enter TPACK.  In this framework content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK) and technology knowledge (TK) come together as critical for using technology in a transformative way. TPACK is now taught in many teacher education courses and is part of teacher PD.  However Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson argue that within the TPACK framework there is little guidance about what content to teach, which pedagogies are useful and what kinds of technologies are worth using in teaching.  They argue that the C in TPACK has to be identified so that the other parts can work together in achieving the content goals.

In today's world, many educators have argued for a new form of learning with an emphasis on what has come to be called "21st century skills".  However, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and developing traits such as curiosity and adaptability are often discussed in ways that ignore content.  Howard Gardner argues that disciplinary thinking is important - and that creativity cannot occur without some domain in which it can be evaluated.  That being said, most of the way that disciplines are structured in schools is not very useful today as it limits the learning that is most important to the future of our students: most of the jobs of the future will be "hyphenated jobs", (bio-mechanics, environmental-engineering and so on, at the intersection of two or more disciplines.  The future of learning needs to emphasise being able to move creatively across disciplines, to cross-pollinate ideas from one field to another.  A transdisciplinary approach values the disciplines and also moves across them looking for common patterns and strategies.  It helps students move beyond one "correct" solution as it integrates many solutions, viewpoints and perspectives.

Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson propose 7 key transdisciplinary thinking tools (cognitive skills):
  1. Perceiving - critical in both arts and sciences which require observing through the senses and imaging, being able to evoke the impressions and sensations we observe without the presence of external stimuli.  They argue that artists, scientists, mathematicians and engineers all have well developed imaging skills that are vital for their work.  Both observation and imaging can be developed with practise, and teachers can design opportunities for students to develop these skills.
  2. Patterning - creative people are always recognising patterns and forming new patterns.  Teachers can also help student develop patterning skills in both arts and science subjects.
  3. Abstracting - creative people also use abstracting to concentrate on one feature of a thing or process.  Abstracting also allows analogies to be found between seemingly disparate things, for example during a compare and contrast activity.
  4. Embodied thinking - this includes kinesthetic thinking with the body and feelings and empathising to imagine yourself in another person's position.  Sports, dance and the arts are great for developing these skills.
  5. Modeling - requires abstracting and dimensional thinking, for example to change the scale of something.
  6. Deep Play - encouraging the imagination through play may open doors to new ways of thinking, as play is open-ended and leads to transformational thinking.  Creative people in all different disciplines all speak of the value of play.
  7. Synthesizing - another "mind for the future" as described by Howard Gardner, synthesizing involves putting multiple ways of knowing together into a multi-faceted and cohesive kind of knowing.
In recent years ASB has put together our ATLs (Approaches to Learning).  I'm interested to see how these relate to the transdisciplinary thinking tools described above.  Ours are divided in the following way:

Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Habits
  • Managing Complexity
  • Collaboration and Social Skills
Cognitive Habits
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity and Innovation
Hopefully at our faculty meeting on Tuesday these will be unpacked into student friendly learning targets and we will develop a shared language and understanding that teachers can use to create rubrics, to plan engagements, to assess students and to report on learning. 

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