Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Coaching: a year of learning

There are a few times in my career in education that something has happened that has completely transformed the way I have been doing things. The first of these was attending the Harvard Project Zero summer school, and later getting involved in the Visible Thinking routines while I was working at the International School of Amsterdam. This year I have seen a similar transformation, as we’ve taken on coaching at ASB. 

We are now mid-way through our first year of introducing tech integration coach positions - we have 10 of these coaches from EC3 to Grade 12. For me it has been a completely new approach to tech integration and I’ve spent the year thinking about coaching as a form of professional learning, and about different models of coaching. I’ve blogged a huge amount about my thoughts on coaching, and decided that this would be a good opportunity to pull these thoughts together and reflect on the changes that have happened and the impact that coaching has made on both teacher and student learning at ASB.

Once we made the decision last year to move to a tech integration coaching model, I was keen to find out as much as I could about coaching and how it can drive changes in behaviour. I started doing a MOOC from Coursera in April, around the same time that we started our application process and interviews for those wanting to take on the new coaching roles. I already knew that research pointed to peer coaching by trusted colleagues as being an effective form of PD, and in fact many of those who applied to take on a tech integration coach role were those who and been coached themselves and who were keen to develop skills and confidence in using technology in others.

At the start of the process I needed to be very clear in my own mind about the difference between an instructor (a teacher who teaches you how to do something), a mentor (who passes on knowledge and advice) and a coach (who, through questioning, empowers others to maximize their own potential by looking for answers within). A coach basically believes that a teacher has the potential to improve and that it is the teacher’s own responsibility to do so. This can come about by encouraging the teacher to become more self-aware of what s/he is doing. The coach needs to be listening very carefully in order to formulate the best question for moving a teacher’s thinking forward - for a coach listening is much more important than talking!

Five years ago I started this blog and called it Tech Transformation because I've always liked the idea of transformation - the idea of something changing so much that you couldn't recognize it at all (for example a caterpillar turning into a butterfly) and I wanted the blog to reflect that way that technology can give us the power to do things that were previously unimaginable. Now I'm applying this same ideas to coaching. Can coaching bring about a transformation in the teaching of technology, in the ways students are using technology, and in what they are able to do as a result of this? This is the question that was uppermost in my mind all year.
Last year in our PD 3.0 R&D task force we studied coaching as one way of improving professional learning. We knew that teachers need to be improving their knowledge and skills all the time, and we also knew that it takes around 50 hours of PD to improve a teacher's skill so that it has an impact on student learning. We were sure that the traditional model of a few days of PD/orientation at the start of a school year, and a fews days of PD spread across the year in a sort of "spray and pray" model, would be unlikely to have much impactoin teaching practice. Coaching, however, offered an alternative that we thought could be effective in making that transformation. Lynn Barnes, an instructional coach, sums up this in the following quote:
Quick fixes never last and teachers resent them; they resent going to inservices where someone is going to tell them what to do but not help them follow up.  Teachers want someone that's going to be there, that's going to help them for the duration, not a fly-by-night program that's here today gone tomorrow.
Although I did a lot of reading about coaching last school year, the real transformation for me was attending Bill and Ochan Powell’s Cognitive Coaching training at the American School of London in June. It was clear that taking on the role of Director of Educational Technology and having a team of tech integration coaches this year would lead to a change of role for me. As I reflected back on the past 2 years as Tech Coordinator I felt my role had been a combination between collaboration and consulting. I used to attend the grade level PYP meetings so that I could understand the curriculum and the content that each grade was teaching, and I would also have tech meetings where I would be called upon to find new tools, share how to use these tools, discuss pedagogy, provide technical assistance and discuss both the NETS-S and NETS-T standards. I was also very much of a collaborator, co-planning and often co-teaching with the homeroom teachers. We discussed different ideas and approaches as we considered how technology could support student inquiry.

One concept that underlay much of what we did during the Cognitive Coaching course was the five states of mind. We found ourselves coming back to these over and over again and realized that we needed to be very conscious of all of these in our coachees, when we are taking on a coaching role. In the case of the 5 states of mind, this is what the coach hopes to enable:
  • Consciousness: a movement from a lack of awareness towards an awareness of self and others 
  • Craftsmanship: a movement from vagueness and imprecision towards specificity ad elegance 
  • Efficacy: a movement away from an external locus of control and towards an internal locus of control 
  • Flexibility: a movement away from narrow egocentric views towards broader and alternative perspectives 
  • Interdependence: a movement away from isolation and separateness towards connection to and concern for the community
I was excited to put my new learning into place on my return to ASB from the summer holidays. Cognitive Coaching added a new dimension to my changing role. It still allowed me to transform the effectiveness of what teachers were doing, but the learning they engaged in was now more self-directed. I have helped them to consider a range of options and think about which might be best as they move forward with integrating technology into their teaching. Cognitive coaching has been a way of empowering teachers to be self-directed as it gives teachers the skills to think of ways to solve problems and improve their craftsmanship.
At the start of the new school year we had several whole school meetings with our tech coaches where they were introduced to the planning conversation map. This was to help them with discussing goals for the year with their teachers. This map is made up of the following steps:
  • Clarify goals "Where do you want to go?" This is a backward design process so it's important that teachers know what they want to see at the end of the coaching. 
  • Specify success indicators "How will you know?" This also involves a plan for collecting evidence about what this will look like, for example what the students will be saying, doing or thinking. 
  • Anticipate approaches "How will it flow?" What strategies will the teacher use, what decisions will be taken, how will this be monitored? 
  • Establish personal learning "How will you grow?" It's important for teachers to also decide what they want to learn or take away as a result of coaching and what process will be in place for this self-assessment. 
  • Reflect on the coaching process "How has this conversation supported your thinking?" This involves metacognition - reflection allows the lessons learned to be carried forward to new situations.
In November I decided to update an earlier blog post. My post from 2013 entitled What is the role of a tech integration specialist? has been my 3rd most read blog post (coming only just behind the 2 posts about the SAMR model). However as we have moved away from a tech integration specialist and towards tech integration coaches I decided to write a new blog post about the role of a tech integration coach. November also saw Bill and Ochan Powell coming to ASB to train all our coaches, which allow allowed me to take Day 4 of the Cognitive Coaching course. This visit was very timely because our tech coaches had set goals at the start of the school year with their teachers, and now it was time to move onto reflecting conversations and to conducting class observations and giving feedback to support teachers as they work towards their goals. Day 4 of Cognitive Coaching discusses the role of data. The idea is that a teacher can use the data collected by the coach to draw his or her own conclusions about student learning. Data therefore plays an important role in the coaching cycle of planning, observing and reflecting, as long as the teacher being observed is the person who decides what data should be collected. Without this, it would be too easy for an observation to turn into an evaluation! It’s the coach’s job to ask the teacher what s/he wants to have observed, and then to communicate the data in a way that promotes the self-directedness of the teacher. Effective teachers are lifelong longers, so a coach can ask mediative questions to help a teacher analyze, interpret and draw conclusions based on the data, and to then explore ways teachers can use this new learning to work towards achieving their goals.
I am totally enthusiastic about the changes that Cognitive Coaching can bring about, in particular with our teachers who have been skeptical about using technology. Last week I was talking with a teacher who admitted she was a reluctant user of technology for many years. She talked about how empowered she feels now, how she is in turn empowering her students to choose when and how to use technology to support their own learning.
Here are some of the changes I have seen as a result of introducing a coaching model of tech integration:
  • Teachers are more reflective about their practice 
  • Coaching is an effective form of professional learning - implementation of new learning is high 
  • Coaching leads to greater efficacy among teachers 
  • Teachers are more satisfied with their work and feel they are benefiting both professionally and personally from the coaching
In my 25+ years of international teaching, a move to a tech integration coaching model has been one of the most important ways I’ve ever experienced of transforming the way technology is used. In fact it has transformed the learning of both the teachers and the students. My goal for 2015 is to complete days 5-8 of the Cognitive Coaching training (in March) and I hope to be able to do the Advanced trainer course in July. Next year I expect that I'll be blogging just as much about coaching as I have done this year, and sharing my learning, as I know many schools are considering this as a model for professional learning. I'm very excited that even just a few months into this new model, and even though neither myself or the tech integration coaches have yet completed our training, we are already reaping the benefits of introducing coaching into our professional learning at ASB.
Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Compfight cc

1 comment:

  1. cheers to more years of coaching! :-) A great open minding blog post, as we are still navigating the 1:1 and Tech integration specialist waters.... thanks!