Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coaching: independence -v- dependence

My personal goal this year was to focus on coaching in order to empower our teachers to take on the ownership of technology.  Earlier this year I wrote about how urgent I felt this was, as this is my last year here, and how my aim was to give teachers the confidence and skills to go forward by themselves in empowering students to use technology.  In previous years I already tried different models of handing over the technology to teachers - I was sure that these would work because I'd used them before in previous schools and they'd been very successful.  For example in my first year I started a Techie Breakie initiative with a group of teachers, one from each grade.  My hope with this was that these teachers would end up being the first point of contact for other teachers in their grade level.  However very few of these teachers remained in the same grade the following year, which meant I had to start the process all over again.  Another issue I faced was a chronic lack of time for teachers to practice and implement the skills they were learning in these sessions - again this was a different experience than in previous schools.  So having failed quite dismally during my first 2 years to really bring about the changes that I felt were so obviously needed, this year I tried a different approach which was to try to coach towards independence.

At the start of the year I did a lot of researching into what it meant to be a coach.  Very early on it was clear to me that if the role of a coach was to evaluate teachers' skills (which apparently will the the role next year, it's already been written into the job descriptions of the new teachers replacing me) then I would find myself losing hearts and minds.  Nobody wants me to come into their classes to evaluate them!  Today I was looking at the tweets from #uwctech and I saw that this very issue was being addressed by Bill Powell who is facilitating a 3 day workshop for the school's tech mentors.  He said coaching builds leadership capacity - it shines a light on the internal resources of a person.  This can only happen in a trusting relationship based on respect, competence, integrity and a personal regard for others.

As I read further through the #uwctech tweets I saw so much that spoke to me about the power of coaching.  For example Bill talked about the fact that learning takes place when there is appropriate support and challenge (which sounds to me like he is talking about Vygotsky's zone of proximal development).  The role of a coach is therefore to offer that support and create the challenge.  We all need to move out of our comfort zone in order to grow so if the coach is simply providing support but not challenge, then the result is comfort and not growth.   However simply providing that challenge without giving the appropriate support will just lead to increased anxiety and a fear of failure.

This is the tweet that summed up for me the reason not to have coaches in an evaluative role:

Coaching focuses on responsibility, not accountability. It's internal, not external. It's reflective, not evaluative.

Later as I was continuing to catch up with the tweets another one jumped out at me as showing the power of coaching as a way of truly transforming, rather than just enhancing, the learning:

Coaching = transforming, collaborating = forming, consulting = informing, evaluating = conforming. 

As I approach the last few weeks of school I'm reflecting on how far I've managed to achieve my personal goal this year.  Have I empowered teachers to take more ownership of technology - to some extent, yes.  Some teachers are certainly more independent in their own use of technology (for example their class blogs) and their students' use of technology (for example they are happy to lead lessons in the IT lab or using the laptops).  However I'm still disappointed that we haven't managed to create a group of  peer-support teachers who are seen as tech leaders in their subjects or grade levels - those who are at the cutting edge of new technologies and pedagogies and who are using technology for transforming learning and who are willing to share this expertise with others in the same way the Tech Mentors at UWCSEA and the Tech Pilots at YIS appear to be doing.  Of course at these schools technology is seen as more of a priority than ours and the tech coaches appear to be given wonderful support by their school administrators, which makes a huge difference.  When I reflect on what I've been able to achieve then I have to admit that I'm dissatisfied with the baby steps we have made in comparison with these schools.

When I write about my progress (or lack of progress) in this blog I know some people reading it feel rather put out - they think that by reflecting honestly on my performance that I am being disloyal to the school, that I am simply a "glass half empty" person.  In some ways this is true because I'm never satisfied with mediocre achievements when I know I can do really great things, given the right circumstances.    I beat myself up constantly because I know I've done a poorer job here than in previous schools where I had more support.  As Bill Powell so rightly pointed out, I've had the challenge of trying to bring about monumental changes without the support I needed, so I have ended up both anxious and feeling a failure.  I wish I could pat myself on the back and say I was happy with doing very little as some people who think the glass is half full appear to be able to do - unfortunately I can't.  For me I cannot go along with the fake hype - this is not just a job that I do from Monday to Friday in order to enjoy the great quality of life here in the hours not at work.  For me being an excellent teacher is part of who I am.  I don't just want to be "good enough".

But there's another side to the glass half empty person that I am too.  I know the glass is half empty because I've already drunk the other half.  What I'm saying is that I know what it's like to work in a good place and to be a good teacher.  When I say the glass is half empty it's because I'm reflecting from a position of knowledge and experience.  The glass is half empty because the other half is inside me.  It's there because of all the wonderful opportunities that I've had in the past.  It's there because people valued and appreciated and mentored me.  It's there because these great educators created a sense of empowerment in me - so that when I no longer worked with them I was no longer dependent on them.  My goal this year was to create people who felt the same way.  Who, when I left, were empowered to use technology as effective tools for their own professional learning, who were making choices to use technology to improve student learning, who were making connections with other teachers in professional learning networks to share their ideas and to get new ideas to take their students' learning forward.  Have I succeeded in that goal - it's too soon to tell.

My new school has a thriving Tech Integration Group - today I was sent a link to an eBook they have just produced showing innovative ways they have used technology in their classrooms.  They have already made their action plans for next year and I'm excited to be in a position where I'll be helping them to implement these plans.  I can see the Early Childhood team have been looking into differentiated instruction using iPads to help students make autonomous choices about their learning.  Next year they want to use them to explore more higher-level thinking such as creativity.  I can see Grade 1 are looking into digital storytelling and Grade 2 are sharing their learning journeys using ePortfolios with the teachers handing over the responsibility for these to the students as they grow in confidence using the tools. These students already feel ownership of their blogs and are able to choose what to add to them.  I'm excited that next year they are moving to use these more reflectively and to have the students write quality comments on each others' blogs.  Grade 3s are using ePortfolios to assess their own learning too.   They are thinking of using WeVideo which I feel will be an amazing tool.  Language teachers are coming up with ideas for tools that will help them achieve their goals - hopefully I can share some that have worked well with students here.  Grade 4 teachers are working on learning blogs for sharing their thinking about their learning.  Grade 5 have also drawn up goals.  I can see they are working on digital citizenship and publishing for authentic audiences.  I feel in a wonderful, privileged position to be able to share in these achievements this year and to have the time to think about how best I can help them move forward next year.  Already though I can feel they are empowered and independent.  I can feel the focus on professional learning.  I can feel the support.  I feel that we can do amazing things.  And I can hardly wait for this new challenge to start!

Photo Credit:  Cielo e catene by Blunight 72, 2006 AttributionNoncommercial 


  1. Your new job sounds very exciting. Where are you going to be? After reading your post, I do understand your feelings as I do feel the same way from time to time about the technology situation at my school! However it is worth continuing to spread our beliefs to change minds and not giving up! Best of luck next year!

  2. Hi Alice, I'll be working at the American School of Bombay in India. I think this is the most exciting and adventurous move I've ever made as it's starting at a brand new campus that has been so well thought out to promote the best possible learning. Thanks for your good wishes.

  3. Hi Maggie,

    I'm glad you found the tweets from the #uwctech hashtag so valuable. We had a great 3 days with Bill & Ochan, and it makes it even better to think that our work may have helped those outside our school too.

    All the best for your new adventure. ASB is doing a lot of great things, and you will no doubt add a lot of value there.

    Keri-Lee Beasley