Collaborating, learning, and supporting the coaching process in underserved districts.

Recent Posts

Coaching a Dysfunctional Team

Coaching a Dysfunctional Team

Remember your college days, where you were assigned to a group of peers who did not always have your work ethic or attention to detail?  Did you carry that group to an “A” or mourn when they brought your grade down?  The outcomes were important […]

[September] Teacher Self-Care Calendar For Teachers

[September] Teacher Self-Care Calendar For Teachers

It’s September and whether you’re starting school after Labor Day or you’ve been in school for a month, there’s no wrong time for helping your teachers take care of themselves. Use this printable to build relationships with your teachers. To download this in a PDF, […]

12 Reasons to use a Web-Based Assessment Platform

12 Reasons to use a Web-Based Assessment Platform

Moving to a web-based assessment platform can be daunting. The hype is real. Here are twelve reasons it is totally worth it (and a couple of reasons to be cautious).

  1. Collaboration- It is possible to collaborate with teachers from all over the world with a web-based assessment platform. A common platform among teammates makes collaborating to create assessments easy, fast, and painless. These systems are typically designed with collaboration features and allow teachers to determine the privacy level of the assessments they create. Often, a teacher can copy and use existing assessments at the click of a button.
  2. Creating questions- Writing questions is an enormous undertaking. Finding questions can be equally difficult. A web-based assessment platform provides a bank of ready-to-use items from which to choose. Many platforms also provide tools for miscue analysis so the teacher can determine why students are struggling by examining the distractor answer choices. Technology-enhanced and performance-based question options are often available. If a teacher finds that existing questions do not meet their exact needs, platforms typically include options for adding questions.
  3. Formatting- Test formatting can be a huge hassle. It is frustrating when an assessment looks sloppy. It is important to get the order and placement of questions correct. Web-based platforms guarantee a consistent format free of errors. In addition, a couple of quick clicks allows the teacher to customize the order and type of questions.
  4. Aligning to standards- Whether we like it or not, state standards exist and have to be met. Ensuring assessments are aligned can be difficult and time-consuming. Web-based assessment platforms are often searchable by the standard. Existing questions are often already tagged with the corresponding standard and additional tags can sometimes be added. Finally, these platforms provide an easy mechanism to track how each standard is assessed and how students perform.
  5. Ensuring adequate rigor- Reaching higher levels of rigor with a higher DOK in selected response questions can be especially difficult. Some web-based assessment platforms provide a DOK for each question. In addition, the length and type of questions within each assessment can be tracked over time.
  6. Managing paper- A web-based assessment platform can remove the need to constantly make and keep track of mountains of paper. Though not every school or classroom has constant access to computers, most have at least some planned access that can be used intermittently. In addition, the master of the test is electronic and easy to store.
  7. Differentiating- Students come to us at different levels. It is our job to ensure we provide them with appropriate support for them to be successful. Web-based assessment platforms make differentiation simple. Often, there are features available to the teacher can select readability features such as print size, language translation, dictionary definitions, oral reading of questions and passages etc. Some systems allow a teacher to create unique settings for individuals or small groups. We have so many options that require significant work to develop independently.
  8. Grading- Most web-based assessment platforms auto-grade assessments. The tests are graded immediately upon completion. The teacher has options to set for what to accept as correct answers. Some systems provide opportunities to provide hints or explanations for students. In addition, web-based assessment platforms have easy-to-use technology-enhanced and performance-based question options. These questions often have to be graded by the teacher, but this can be done easily and scores are automatically added to the student’s total score.
  9. Data Analysis- Typically, web-based assessment platforms provide both real-time and post-assessment analytics. Analytics include an overview of how groups of students performed on an assessment as well as how individual students performed. Many platforms can also track performance by standard and performance over time. Some programs offer additional features such as how long students spend on a question or miscue analysis for distractors.
  10. Student Feedback- Web-based assessment platforms generally have a student view where students can look at their performance. But students aren’t known for their proactive desire to investigate their grades. Teachers can connect web-based assessment platforms to LMS systems and sites such as Google Classroom. In addition, teachers can write specific feedback to individual students that is immediately emailed to the student. Some platforms allow a rubric to be added to the assessment that students can see as they work. Some allow teachers to create a bank of comments they can reuse regularly. Almost all allow for comments and point adjustments on specific questions for individual students.
  11. Communication- Communication with other stakeholders is also important for classroom teachers. Web-based assessment platforms often include a mechanism for sharing results with parents/guardians. In addition, other teachers, administrators, instructional coaches etc. can be given immediate access to results and thus feel fully informed about how students are progressing.
  12. Assessment Validity- There are several ways that web-based assessment platforms improve the ability to validate assessments as reliable indicators of student mastery. First, teachers across a broad range of classrooms and schools can use the same assessment and compare results. Second, the analytics of such platforms provide information about performance in a number of ways that make it easy to identify problematic questions. Third, the same assessment can be used over multiple terms, using features to randomly sort test questions or answers to prevent cheating, and therefore provide longitudinal evidence that assessments are valid measures of achievement. Finally, many web-based platforms certify high-quality questions and question sets as valid and reliable measures.

Despite these many advantages, there are some caveats to moving to a web-based assessment platform worth considering and planning for if a platform is adopted.

  • Technology is complicated. Web-based assessment platforms, even those designed to be user-friendly, require training and comfort with computers. It is also important to note that internet and computer access is unreliable in some school districts. A district without a strong technology support system and infrastructure.
  • Cheating is a real potential problem that will need to be addressed. Some platforms have measures built into them to handle potential cheating, but many do not.
  • Teachers are often intensely resistant to making their work and their students’ performance public as they fear the consequences of both success and failure. Too often, teachers are made to feel inadequate because of differences in relative student performance. Creating a culture that addresses teacher concerns and establishes a positive culture of continuous improvement.
  • Cost can also be a worthwhile consideration. Many web-based assessment platforms are expensive. Others are low cost, freemium, or quite costly. It is important to conduct in-depth research to ensure a platform meets the needs of the school or district and will play well with other district products.

Moving a school or district to a web-based assessment platform is a big decision. I believe the pros outweigh the cons.

Using Core Competencies in Your Curriculum Planning Process

Using Core Competencies in Your Curriculum Planning Process

Core competencies in business are typically “soft skills.” Core competencies in academics have potential too. This year, I have the opportunity to facilitate curriculum writing through the lens of core competencies. I define core competencies as the 10-15 essential skills a student can expect to […]

Learning your Teachers

Learning your Teachers

Learning your teachers you coach is hard work. What do you need to know? What do you want to know? How can you establish a positive, productive working relationship? Where is the balance between coach and friendship? Coaching is inherently relational. Taking the time to […]

Harvard’s Project Implicit as a Coaching Tool

Harvard’s Project Implicit as a Coaching Tool

Harvard’s Project Implicit is an on-going research project collecting data on implicit bias through a series of online quizzes.

Anyone can anonymously attempt as many quizzes, on as many topics, as many times as desired. Demographic data is optional and results are provided with explanations and an overview of the project’s current finding.

This year, one of the activities I conducted with my teachers was based on Project Implicit.

I selected this activity for several reasons.

  • Community building: successfully engaging in an activity like this builds a sense of collective responsibility and trust among staff.
  • Assumptions surfacing: as a staff working with a unique and still largely undefined population of adult students, it is especially important that we are highly aware of our biases and work to proactively address them.
  • Culture: activities requiring a high level of honesty and trust build a culture based on trust and rooted in continuous improvement.
  • Awareness: reflecting on our assumptions and biases helps bring self-awareness.

Below is a description of how I conducted this activity.

  1. I began by informing the group that what we would be doing was designed to be uncomfortable.
  2. We read a quotation about assumptions and biases and discussed the impact of biases in the classroom.
  3. I explained that this was a no blame, no shame environment because implicit bias is inherently unknown.
  4. I modeled navigating the Project Implicit website, including taking part in a quiz publicly.
  5. Teachers were asked to select TWO quizzes on topics where they felt confident they had no bias and TWO on topics where they were concerned or curious about their potential bias.
  6. We spent about an hour taking as many quizzes as possible.
  7. Teachers recorded the results.
  8. At the end of the allotted time, I asked teachers to share.

The response to this exercise was remarkable. As a group, we had strong discussions about the potential impact of teacher biases on students. No one denied the existence or importance of such implicit biases. We talked about the negative impact assumptions, even positive assumptions can have on students when left unexamined.

Teachers were thoughtful in their selection of which quizzes to take. Despite some obvious discomfort, we all made a significant attempt to be as honest as possible when answering the questions.

Many shared specific results they found surprising in a positive way. Some talked about how the results they got mirrored things they had been told by family and friends, but never really believed. Several were shocked that the results in the areas about which they had the most concern revealed little or no bias. On the other hand, some were shocked by the results in areas they felt confident they had no bias.

I conducted this exercise with three groups. Only one person was genuinely upset and resistant to the results of any particular results.

As a group, we talked about what we can do with these results. Does this mean I am a bad person? How do I change my implicit biases? Who else found out something similar about themselves?

We discussed the idea that the results are not infallible proof and don’t disparage our character or positive intentions. This exercise is meant to provide food for thought. I told them I wanted them to be more conscious of potential bias and more intentional in reflecting on why they react to student behaviors or some types of students in specific ways. The goal is awareness. Awareness is what allows action and leads to growth.

At the end of the day, participants completed a brief anonymous survey. In it, they identified a small number of specific action steps they could take. I encouraged them to identify a colleague to work with as an accountability partner.

I don’t know how many will follow through. I don’t know how many really invested in this exercise. I can say that the conversations were real and raw. I can say the level of trust was high. At the end of the session with the last group, one teacher and I were talking on our way out. She said, “I know I can be a little close-minded and I want you to know I really appreciated how you challenged my thinking today. I need that.” She thanked me, but her comment was all the thanks I could possibly need.

I know I can be a little close-minded and I want you to know I really appreciated how you challenged my thinking today. I need that. Click To Tweet

Best of all, I have heard about this session from someone every day since. Several people have reported taking additional quizzes. Some have mentioned asking family and friends to take them too. It has been an on-going topic of discussion. When it comes to identifying and addressing implicit biases, making it an on-going topic of discussion is the best possible outcome.

As the year progresses, I am planning to revisit this exercise. My teachers and I will develop personal coaching plans. This exercise will be part of that discussion. In a few months, I will ask teachers to retake some Project Implicit quizzes and we will discuss any changes in the results.

Project Implicit is a window into a difficult subject. I am excited about the research aspect and I am excited about the potential it has to enrich my instructional coaching this year.

Manage Coaching Tasks with Google Tools

Manage Coaching Tasks with Google Tools

It is vitally important to have systems to manage coaching tasks effectively. Every coach needs systems to give teachers feedback. Without systems in place, coaches can easily become overwhelmed by other tasks and lose track of observations, feedback, and coaching conversations. Coaches also need tools […]

Tracking Professional Development Hours with Certify’em

Tracking Professional Development Hours with Certify’em

Tracking professional development can be a huge headache. It doesn’t have to be. A simple add-in for Google Forms can save hours of work. It is called Certify’em. Other bloggers such as Alice Keeler and Free Technology for Teachers have written about this awesome little […]

Collective Commitments: A Meaningful Team Building Activity

Collective Commitments: A Meaningful Team Building Activity

Finding meaningful team building activities can be a challenge. Recently, I crafted an introductory team activity I want to share. When I planned this activity, I was hopeful it would work well. It surpassed my expectations.

I call this activity “Creating Collective Commitments.” I did not coin the term “collective commitments.”  A colleague used it and it stuck in my head because its implications are so powerful. A quick Google search clarified the ideas, provided examples, and uncovered existing protocols. I define collective commitments as statements of value and behavior aligned to the mission and vision of the organization.

The purpose of a collective commitments activity is to build common mental models and generate pledges about how group members plan to achieve their goals. Click To Tweet

The purpose of a collective commitments activity is to build common mental models and generate pledges about how group members plan to achieve their goals. When every member of a group believes in the mission and vision and sees how the group’s work contributes to that end, members become invested in the work. That personal investment in the work and one another is what drives the motivation to work hard and behave in ways that support success.

To conduct this exercise, the facilitator will need to organization’s mission, vision, and values. With technology, a projector and a Padlet can be used. The analog version could be conducted with poster paper and sticky notes instead.

Here are the steps:

  1. Introduce the activity and explain that collective commitments are an alternative to “norms.” They represent each member’s pledge to the group and the group’s work. Provide examples of common commitments such as:
  • “We commit to making each group member feel valued.”
  • “We commit to using a variety of types of data to drive decision-making.”
  • “We commit to effective communication.”

*If necessary, take the time to further clarify the difference between collective commitments and norms (the former is rooted in the belief that dictates behavior, while the later is limited to expected behaviors). Display the mission of the organization.

  1. Ask group members to write, pair, share about how each interprets the mission.
  2. Discuss to develop a consensus or common mental model.
  3. Display the vision of the organization and ask the group: What do we have to do to make this vision our reality?
  4. Use a silent appointment or other partnering protocol for group members to pair up and discuss their thoughts.
  5. Share and discuss as a large group to develop a consensus or common mental model.
  6. Display or distribute the organization’s values one at a time.
  7. For each value, discuss the value and ask small groups to craft related collective commitment statements.
  8. Instruct groups to post their statements on a digital or analog bulletin board visible to the entire group.
  9. Allow time for group members to review all the suggested statements using a selection protocol such as colored sticker dots (analog) or “likes” (digital).
  10. Select, combine, or refine statements until the group has agreed to 5-10 collective commitments all members believe they can uphold with fidelity to support the purpose of the work.

Though this seems rather involved, I believe it is worth the investment. I conducted this activity in an hour, but needed more time and will revisit it in another session later. The participation in and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In subsequent interactions, the team has been functioning with a level of ease and purpose I have not seen before.

As organizations embrace the importance of culture and relationships, reframing how we establish teams is vitally important. Exercises like this have the potential to establish deeper team cohesion and decrease petty irritations that can interfere with productivity.

The Dirty Secret of Implementing Independent Reading for Literacy Coaches

The Dirty Secret of Implementing Independent Reading for Literacy Coaches

“Students need to read like writers and they need to write like readers.” ― Kelly Gallagher The current craze in education is around giving students choice in what they read in an attempt to get them excited about reading again. This idea as basic as it has […]