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

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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 […]

The Unspoken Truths of Being an Instructional Coach

The Unspoken Truths of Being an Instructional Coach

Imagine you’re running a marathon and you’ve made it to mile 24. You’re cramping up and your mouth is dry, but you know the end is near- so you keep going. At mile 25, you’ve resorted to walking because you’re legs are on fire. You […]

[Instructional Coach Chronicles] Working With a Teacher You Don’t Like

[Instructional Coach Chronicles] Working With a Teacher You Don’t Like

Have you ever worked with a teacher who didn’t want to work with you -at all? I did and I promise it almost broke me mentally and professionally. All of our disagreements came to a head as we set in the office ready to have a meeting with the principal.

Before I get to that, let me start at the beginning of the story.

I was hired to work as an Instructional Coach halfway through the first month of school. So when I arrived, I was nervous, scared and hopeful that I could bring my previous work as a teacher into working with other teachers. Two days into the job, I had to run my first Professional Learning Community and go over the principal’s expectations for the team. Everything was going well and teachers were asking good questions until we came up to the line-When are lesson plans due?

I started, “So Mr. Cunningham* wants all lesson plans turned in by Thursday evening so that we- the coaches- could have feedback ready to you by the time you leave on Fri-“

Before I could get the last of the word out Mr. Fox* interrupted me.

“Why Thursday? I like to sit down on Friday after the students leave, go to an early dinner and write my lesson plans well into the evening.”

Taken aback, I explained again what the principal wanted, but with that came 20 more questions about why Mr. Fox thought this was unfair. Obviously exasperated, he left the meeting vowing to meet with Mr. Cunningham to plead his case. I could tell by the look on all of the teacher’s faces that they were not amused by Mr. Fox and I immediately knew that he would be quite different to work with.

Now, based on that interaction, you’d think that Mr. Fox was a veteran teacher, but no, he actually a second-year teacher who had decided that he knew everything there was about teaching history to high school age children. Upon observing his class, it was clear that there were issues- specifically around classroom management and instructional strategies, specifically, he lectured the entire class period and if a student didn’t do what he said at that moment, he put them “out” of the classroom. However, Fox decided he didn’t need anyone’s help.

That belief posed a major problem with the vision of our principal Mr. Cunningham who had a clear instructional vision about the school that directly in contrast to how Mr. Fox operated his class. So for the next couple of months, I attempted to build a relationship with him, but to no avail. Despite his reluctance to work with me, I still had to visit his class several times per week and offer feedback and try to get him to embrace a more student-centered classroom. Nothing worked. He relied strongly on his summer training of teaching and recoiled if anyone suggested that he use anything other than the textbook.

All of this came to head, after a visit from the state where they witnessed Mr. Fox demean a student because they didn’t have the right type of paper and lectured the entire class period. Immediately after the observation, I was called into the office and there was Mr. Fox waiting.

Not knowing what was going on, I knocked on my principal’s door and he quietly opened the door and pointed for me to sit since he was on the phone. After about five minutes, he hung up and before I could ask him what was going on, he called for Mr. Fox to sit down.

The next fifteen minutes were interesting- to say the least. There was a lot of tense moments with the principal laying out his concerns one-by-one and Mr. Fox sticking to his guns that everything he was doing was right. The entire time, I just sat in my chair and listened- this was not my meeting and despite what I personally felt about him, this entire exchange was awkward and unwarranted. In the end, the principal gave Fox and ultimatum- make your teaching more student focused or his evaluation would show that. Begrudgingly, Mr. Fox agreed he’d work with me and we’d meet again in two weeks to reassess his progress.

We all left that meeting feeling pretty ‘beat up’ but I couldn’t just go back to my office- I needed to have a follow-up conversation with Mr. Fox- not to beat him up, but to let him know I was really there to help him. During our quick meeting, I reiterated that as a second-year teacher it was normal for him to struggle and that if he needed help with what he had to do let me know.

I left feeling better and  apparently he did also because later that night I received an email asking if he could meet with me during his planning to see how he could organize his planning better. Our work relationship got better once he realized I could help him and I did.  He ended the year feeling much less like he had a target on his back and he even sent me a nice note thanking me for working with him despite his ‘bad’ attitude.

Adventures in Coaching..Giving Effective Teacher Feedback

Adventures in Coaching..Giving Effective Teacher Feedback

This year I did what many teachers fear the most,  I went over to the dark side of school administration in the form of being an Instructional Coach. As  I transitioned into this role, I thought surely that this would give me more time to […]

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