Sunday, April 13, 2014

Can a manager also be a coach?

Reading on in John Whitmore's book Coaching for Performance, I've come across an interesting section on the manager as coach.  On the face of it, it would seem that the 2 roles may well be contradictory:  a manager usually has the job of evaluating your performance, which may be tied in with pay increases, promotion and job security, and traditionally managers have taken a carrot and stick approach to make people accountable.  A coach, however, tries to build a relationship that is less about evaluation and more about partnership.

Traditional management style likes to tell people what to do.  In fact the phrase "this school is not a democracy" was heard several times by myself and other teachers at a previous school.  A dictatorial style of management is a quick and easy one, and gives the person at the top the feeling of being in control, yet in my experience the real effect of this is that teachers become upset and demotivated in a situation where it is unsafe for them to speak out and offer constructive feedback.  A toxic climate results where everyone appears to be subservient, but behind the scenes there is a lot of back-biting and resentment which saps performance.  I've sat through staff meetings where "good ideas" for taking the school or curriculum forward were "shared" and where the majority of those present were sitting passively knowing that if they didn't like the direction the bus was heading in, their only option was to get off it.  Questioning, critical thinking and so on were not seen as appropriate behaviours for teachers.

What happens at the other end of the scale?  Well I've worked in places like that too, where teachers were basically the masters of their own classrooms and just got on with teaching whatever they thought best.  I have to say these were very creative schools (I developed a huge number of different curriculums there, for example), but this can also be risky.  Some teachers in a situation like that may perform poorly because they are simply unaware of expectations for excellence, or even what excellence looks like.  Those who are extremely self-motivated will do well, those who are not, well they will probably continue to be mediocre.

The argument is that coaching is in the middle of these 2 extremes.  A manager with experience of coaching can ask the right questions and empower the teacher to become more aware and take action by him/herself.  This can lead to teachers being self-motivated enough to want to take on extra responsibility, knowing that they will be guided and supported.  In such a situation the manager ends up more in control, because teachers are prompted to think about their practice and are likely to be motivated to move forward in the direction the school is moving,  than in the situation where a manager is simply imparting instructions and expecting that they will be followed.  Whitmore writes, "coaching provides the manager with real, not illusory, control, and provides the subordinate with real, not illusory, responsibility."

At a previous school I took on a position of extra responsibility attracted by the promise of being mentored to develop leadership skills.  This didn't happen.  Now as I reflect on it I am thinking this is because the person who was supposed to be mentoring me, still saw the job as more of a manager.   Coaching takes more time and more thought, it's quicker simply to dictate.  But according to Whitmore, here is the paradox:  "if a manager does coach his staff, the developing staff shoulder much greater responsibility, freeing the manager from fire-fighting, not only to coach more but to attend to those overarching issues that only he can address."

Is there a quick and easy way of determining when is the right time to coach and when is the right time to instruct?  Whitmore argues that:
  • If time is important, a manager might choose to do the job him/herself or give exact directions
  • If quality is most important then coaching for high awareness and responsibility will be most successful
  • If learning is the most important factor, then coaching will optimize learning and retention.
He points out, however, that in most businesses time takes precedence over quality.  I find this statement interesting and am wondering if this is also the case in schools?  Do leaders most often take decisions and share them with teachers because of a lack of time to talk, question and listen to everyone?  And in an institution that is aimed at learning, shouldn't coaching actually be more important?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Instructor, mentor or coach?

Tomorrow I'm going to be involved in the first interviews for hiring our tech coaches for next year - I'm very excited about it.  To prepare myself for any possible questions the candidates might ask, I've been reading a lot about coaching.  I've also been thinking about the main difference between coaching, mentoring and simply instructing.  Let's start with instructing.  An instructor is someone who teaches something, for example a driving instructor teaches you how to drive a car, a ski instructor teaches you how to ski and so on.  A mentor is very different, though it can also involve training or advising someone (often a new employee, younger colleague or a student) through an apprenticeship model, passing down knowledge of how things are done.  I've heard that the difference between an instructor and a mentor is that a mentor is more focused on the person, rather than the person's performance, so that a mentor supports growth and gives advice, yet the person being mentored is free to decide what to do.

On the face of it a coach is fairly similar, with the words instructor and trainer being included in the definition.  The difference, however, seems to be in the way that this is done as part of a supportive relationship between the coach and the coachee.  John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance writes that the coachee acquires facts not from the coach, but from within himself, and that the role of the coach is to "unlock people's potential to maximize their own performance."  Whitmore likens this to acorns, having everything they need inside to potentially be an oak tree, but needing nourishment and encouragement in order to grow.

People become teachers because they see this potential inside students.  Probably the greatest joy a teacher can have is seeing a student go beyond what he himself is capable of, beyond the limitations of the teacher's own knowledge or skills.  A teacher, however, does require expertise in a subject, which apparently is not the case with a coach - a coach needs to be an expert in the art of coaching.  A coach also needs to believe that people are capable of more and that they have the potential to perform better than they currently are.

Why don't people perform to their fullest potential?  Studies have shown that there are several important reasons for this:

  • restrictive structures and practices
  • the lack of encouragement and opportunity
  • management style
  • the fear of failure
The first 3 of these are what is termed "external" (within the company/job), the last one is internal and is the one where a coach can really have an impact.  Whitmore writes "building awareness, responsibility and self-belief is the goal of a coach ... building other's self-belief demands that we release the desire to control them or to maintain their beliefs in our superior abilities.  One of the best things we can do is to assist them in surpassing us."  This, however, is not often the prevailing viewpoint in the workplace - where training someone to surpass you can end up being a threat to your own job or authority!  Whitmore concludes his first chapter with this sentence:  "coaching is a way of managing, a way of treating people, a way of thinking, a way of being."

The next chapter of the book is about the manager as a coach.  All too often a manager is seen as  a threat, so I'm keen to read this and learn more about how to improve a culture so that it promotes better performance.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More thoughts about PD and coaching

With interviews for our new tech coaches being held at the end of this week and the start of the next, I have been thinking a lot and reading a lot about the type of professional development that is most needed in schools today.  I've been looking at a book that was left for me by my predecessor entitled The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education by Ken Kay and Valerie Greenhill, in particular looking at Chapter 4 that deals with building professional capacity.  There are 2 suggestions here that I think pertain to what we are about to embark on.

One of the suggestions for improving PD is that it needs to be focused around the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.  The idea behind this is that these are not really skills that are focused on by colleges of education/teacher training and so the chances are that many teachers have not had any training in these 21st century skills.  The chapter goes on to outline different ways to doing this, including reviewing and refiguring the roles of current personnel to make them more focused on PD.  This list can include merging the responsibilities of tech coaches, 21st century skills coaches, librarians, curriculum specialists and PD specialists.

Peer coaching is also something that is recommended.  Rather than hiring new PD personnel, the suggestion is to identify teachers who have the most potential for serving as peer coaches and then training them as teachers are likely to turn to trusted colleagues for professional guidance (this is basically the idea behind what we are hoping to do next year).  Generally these coaches have strong communication and collaboration skills and know about best practices in tech integration.  We are not expecting them to be experts, they are collaborators and facilitators and most important of all they are co-learners.

When we invited teachers to apply for the position of tech integration coach we asked them what appealed to them about this role.  A number of responses were that they have experienced being coached themselves and know what a difference it has made to them, and now want to help, encourage and support their colleagues.  Many wrote about the satisfaction they get from working with other teachers and helping them to develop skills and confidence.  Of course they do - this is why they became teachers in the first place - because they wanted to help students to become they best they could be.

I am really looking forward to the interviews this week and next week.  I'm really looking forward to hearing more about what our teachers can offer as we develop our coaching and PD programme.

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I'm starting a new MOOC on coaching

At ASB we are in the process of identifying tech integration coaches for next year.  We are fortunate that so many great teachers have stepped forward to apply for these new positions.  I'm also excited that it will be part of my new role next year to coach the coaches.  This summer I'm doing a cognitive coaching course with Bill and Ochan Powell, but I decided to get a little ahead of myself by enrolling in a 5 week coaching MOOC through Coursera at the end of this school year too.

We do already have a literacy and maths coach at ASB this year and I have heard many positive things about the impact of these coaching rounds.  The MOOC is specifically looking at how a coach can encourage lasting changes in teaching practice.
Effective teacher-coaches are not just knowledgeable about instruction; they’re also highly strategic in their approach to changing teachers’ behaviors. That starts with preparing teachers to receive critical feedback, and then continues with a careful selection of goals and scaffolds to ensure that feedback is implemented with fidelity.
This year every teacher, teaching assistant and classroom assistant at ASB has set a tech goal based on the NETS-Ts, and we have attempted to provide and support a personalized professional development plan for everyone.  During the year I have met individually with each teacher to discuss progress towards goals with the aim of helping them achieve the goals they have set.  Suggestions for such PD have involved webinars, online courses, prototyping and in some cases simply trying new things out.  My role has not been to evaluate whether or not they have achieved their goals, but simply to walk alongside them and help them to move forward.  The TAs and CAs have had the support of one of our educational technology specialists to achieve their goals and they have made spectacular progress this year following targeted sessions after school each week.  In fact our TAs and CAs have been so empowered with technology that they have felt confident enough to lead training sessions at school for both teachers and for assistants and to present at international conferences.

While I feel our approach to date has been extremely successful, I'm also aware that I have never had any formal training in coaching teachers.  I think that I have done a good job, but I think that I could probably do better.  I was interested to read this statement about the upcoming MOOC:

Even teacher coaching that’s described as “good” can sometimes fall short of resulting in meaningful change. The coach might see and say the right things, and the teacher might be very appreciative of the feedback. But unless the coaching drives true changes in behavior, the “good” in this case could actually end up being the enemy of effective.

The MOOC identifies 5 principles of effective coaching:

  • Permission-based coaching - teachers must want to be coached and want to change their practice.  They must be open to receive critical feedback following observations in order to grow.
  • Shared vocabulary and vision - there needs to be a shared vocabulary and vision about what excellent teaching looks like.
  • Setting measurable goals - teachers need to be able to prioritize the next steps they need to take to improve their instruction so that they can set a meaningful goal.
  • Directive feedback - teachers need to be clear about the steps they need to take to achieve their goals - coaches need to be clear about the direction that teachers need to move in order to successfully implement the feedback.
  • Opportunities to practice - coaches need to give teachers the opportunity to rehearse or apply the action steps in the presence and with the support of the coach before the teacher tries to do this in the classroom.
I'm looking forward to learning more about all these during the 5 week course starting in May.  Are you also interested in learning more about effective coaching?  If so this MOOC might be for you too.
Coaching Teachers:  Promoting Changes that Stick

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ha ha ha

I always liked the fact that the Thai word for the number 5 is "ha". Sometimes in Thailand when people wanted to show that something was funny they would write 555 instead of ha ha ha.

Today my blog passed 555,555 readers.  Writing this blog has brought me enormous professional benefits as well as a great deal of pleasure.  It also brought me into contact with amazing educators who have supported me through leaving a soul-destroying situation and finding a truly excellent school where people are appreciative of what I do.   Today I am laughing out loud at how far I have come in a short time - and how far I will still go as next year I will be taking on the role of Director of Educational Technology.  Today all I can think of is this:  ha ha ha, HA HA HA!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Approaches to teaching and learning part 2: integrated -v- interdisciplinaray

I'm reading a recent IBO publication about approaches to learning and thinking in a little more depth about student-centred learning.  Over the past year and a half I've been part of many conversations about learning, and about inquiry, project based learning and collaboration.  The publication by Na Li discusses these different approaches.

Inquiry - students solve real problems by asking questions, analysing problems, conducting investigations, gathering and analyzing data, making interpretations, creating explanations and drawing conclusions.  The skills that are addressed through inquiry are critical and creative thinking, self-regulatory skills, metacognition and communication.  Studies show that there are challenges to designing good inquiry based learning units:
  • motivating students
  • the mastery of inquiry strategies
  • covering enough content knowledge
  • the management of complex activities and resources
  • practical constraints (class size, technology etc)
I think that many teachers who do not use inquiry are confused about what it involves and worry that students don't learn enough facts.  Actually content knowledge is very important for inquiry and teachers often front-load the content that students will need for their inquiries.  In addition more scaffolding and more teacher questions are needed for younger students who engage in inquiry.  Another very important aspect is formative assessment - which should be used by teachers to guide the planning of the inquiry units.  Both content knowledge and skills should be formatively assessed, and teachers need to be able to observe and identify students' abilities to use inquiry strategies.  These shifts in pedagogy generally require teachers to have additional training in order for the effective implementation of inquiry-based learning.

Problem-based learning (PBL) - similar to inquiry, PBL is often done in small groups with the teacher as facilitator.  Knowledge and skills are developed by solving authentic problems.  There is similarity between inquiry and PBL because PBL involves inquiry strategies.  Studies that have looked at the impact of PBL on knowledge and skills have shown that:
  • PBL has a positive effect on skills, however PBL has a different impact on content knowledge depending on students' expertise levels and knowledge base - in particular students with a low level of prior knowledge may be overwhelmed when applying new knowledge.
  • Students may learn fewer facts and less content in PBL, however they acquire a more elaborate knowledge and may perform better in retention and transfer of this knowledge.
  • Diversified assessment is needed to get a clear picture of students' knowledge and skills achievement in PBL.
Collaborative learning - both inquiry and PBL rely on collaboration as students come together to solve problems and construct knowledge through interacting with others.  The effectiveness of collaborative learning depends on factors such as the composition of the group and the prior knowledge of its members.  Without enough prior knowledge students do not come up with high quality explanations, nor do they construct deep understanding through considering the multiple perspectives of the group members.

How do these various approaches to learning match with either an integrated or an interdisciplinary curriculum?  An integrated curriculum starts from authentic real-life problems and then brings in content knowledge from different disciplines.  This sounds to me more like the PYP transdisciplinary approach.  An interdisciplinary curriculum, however, is designed around the content knowledge of one discipline with relevant content knowledge from other disciplines being aligned and mapped.  This to me seems more similar to the MYP.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Technology and the transparency of knowledge flows

During this past month I've been meeting with every teacher to review progress towards the tech integration goals they set at the start of the year.  Last week I was talking with a teacher about her goal to using technology to improve communication with parents - and how important it is to communicate with them in the spaces where they already are.  Then this weekend I read the chapter in George Siemen's Knowing Knowledge about how technology helps us with today's knowledge flows.

Let's step back a little.  Today our technology tools are simply an extension of ourselves.  I rarely go anywhere without a mobile device of some sort.  Siemens asks:  What happens when we become integrated (implanted) with technology?  One of his arguments is that the capacity to do runs ahead of our understanding of the implications.  He writes, "morality and ethical discussions are trailing behind progress of science and technology".  The interesting thing is that technology permits both individual control and power at the same time that it allows others to control us.  He writes:
The desire for centralization is strong.  Organizations want people to access their sites for content/interaction/knowledge.  People on the other hand, already have their personal online spaces  As a customer they want to experience your company through their medium ... Most individuals have a scattered identity and presence [and] want the connection values of communities to be available to [them] in [their] own online space and presence.  Today, communities are about end-user control.
This bring me back to my discussion with a colleague in the week.  How best can teachers use technology to communicate with the parents of their students?  Should we be pushing out our communication to them in the spaces they already are (eg Facebook, Instagram) to show them how their children are making progress?  Or should we still expect them to come to us via a class or school website?  Siemens argues that often we are simply duplicating the functioning of physical activities in our virtual spaces - the example he gives is of online encyclopaedias  mirroring the structures of physical ones, when in fact we need something different that allows us to "step into the knowledge stream and capture points of interest for immediate use and future reference, and a connection to inform us if the knowledge source itself has changed.  We need the ability to capture and express our knowledge in a manner tha permits others to see what we are all about.  The capacity for shared understanding today does not arise from being exposed to the same resources.  It arises from being transparent with each other.  A tool is required that allows us to manage our identity and share what we wish with those we wish."

How can we as teachers be more transparent with our parent community?  How can we share what we do better with them in the personal spaces where they are and which they have control of?  How can we use technology to give them a better insight into what their children are doing and the progress they are making?

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