Guest Post: Does Your Coaching Resemble a Fast Food Menu?: Moving reflection and documentation beyond conversations and journaling

In our teenage years, many of us were fast food connoisseurs, traveling from establishment to establishment partaking of burgers, chicken sandwiches, hotdogs, nuggets, pizza (for a brief glorious period at the ‘Golden Arches’), fish sandwiches, chilidogs etc. and while variety existed in the main entrée, the side dish usually always boiled down to two very similar deep fried choices… fries or onion rings.  As an adult, many times in my career as an instructional coach, I have felt like my coaching resembled this anticlimactic fast food menu.  There was extensive choice when it came to what teachers might explore in their teaching.  Formative assessment, questioning strategies, assistive technology, classroom environment, web 2.0 tools, etc. are all on the menu, but when it came to documenting and reflecting I could only offer them a ‘fries and onion ring equivalent’.  We could have a reflective conversation OR they could keep a journal about their growth.  While these are not poor options, after a while lack of variety leads to loss of “appetite” for reflection and documentation and teachers have a decreased desire to engage in the process.  So if you are feeling like you need some more options on the reflection menu, here are three new additions that I have had success with over the past couple of years:

Post, share and interact using a social media tool

Social media is a way to share who we are, what we like and things we do.  Why not use it to share who we are as teachers, what we liked about a lesson and things that we are doing in our classroom?  Using a social media platform allows teachers to share questions, ideas and pictures/videos succinctly articulating their own growth and how it has impacted student learning.  Composing a social media post requires teachers to reflect on their learning and express key elements of their growth to an interested and engaged audience (their ‘friends’, ‘followers’ etc.).  The reflective process then goes a step further and deeper because colleagues can then like, reply, share, direct message, retweet etc. giving feedback, encouragement or ideas for next steps.

While there are numerous social media platforms available, I would highly recommend Twitter as the tool of choice for documenting and reflecting teacher growth.  It holds the following advantages:

  1. The field of education has a large Twitter presence. It is often used at educational conferences as a ‘back channel’ and there are numerous Twitter chats on educational topic each week
  2. It is limited to 144 characters. This ensures that it is a short quick, but well thought out reflection
  3. You can include pictures and videos (up to 16 seconds) that provide visual evidence of teacher growth and the corresponding shifts in student learning.
  4. You don’t need to set up or manage any additional school or teachers accounts.  You and the teachers you work with (who have set up their own Twitter accounts) can decided on a common hashtag to include when tweeting about teacher growth that have significantly impacted the classroom.
  5. As the coach, you can ‘get the ball rolling’ by posting all of the great things you see happening at your school and then progress to asking teachers to send you pictures and short quotes/’sound bites’ that you can post from your Twitter handle.  After having a solid bank of tweets in the hastag that teachers can use as exemplars, you can finally progress to inviting teachers to tweet, retweet and reply from their own twitter accounts

For an example of reflection and documentation using a twitter hashtag please visit #stpiusecsd

Create a documentation wall

We have all heard the old adage “a picture is worth 1000 words”.  My work as an instructional coach has taught me that “a picture (or video) is worth 1000 words in a journal”. Constructing a visual representation that shows evidence of teacher growth and corresponding student learning requires thought and reflection, celebrates the great work done by teachers and creates an excitement to continue exploring and innovating to improve student learning.   A documentation wall is often made up of any combination of pictures, QR codes linking to videos, teacher/student quotes, samples of student work and a title or question that summarizes the work.  Here is a sample (it’s a work in progress with pieces going up every few days):

The process of selecting these artifacts for the documentation wall requires deep reflection and a close examination of the student data to choose the pieces of evidence that best articulate the change to the learning environment. You need to sort through the data, talk and think about the different ways change manifested itself and carefully choose the few pieces that best communicate growth (because there is only limited space on the wall). Once the pieces are selected and the coach puts them up on the wall it is a great opportunity to step back and see the growth that occurred, which leads to a feeling of accomplishment for teachers.  They are able to see tangible evidence of change and succinctly articulate growth using supporting evidence, this translates to a sense of pride that in turn encourages teachers to further engage in the process.

Invite local media to your school

As coaches, we have the privilege of being present for some exciting moments of innovation in teaching!  When teachers are given the opportunity to freely think and explore and experiment in their classrooms the results can be amazing, so amazing in fact that they can be of interest to more than just educators.  Looking for those stories of cory3innovative changes to student learning and then putting out an invitation to local media to come and ‘do a story’ is a great way to celebrate what is happening at your school, but it also leads to deep reflection. As interview questions are posed to teachers, they need to clearly articulate the process they went through to shift their classroom. They need to
decide which events, student work and data to share with the reporters so as to best highlight the innovative change to student learning.  The authentic (and potentially vast) audience combined with the sense of pride teachers feel from being featured in the media translates to educators who are highly motivated and engaged in the process of reflection.

For a link to the full article click here.

Documentation and reflection are key parts of the coaching cycle and doing it well is of the utmost importance. While we may visit a fast food restaurant only concerned with sinking our teeth into a juicy burger and considering the fries or onion rings as an inconsequential consolation prize, that cannot be the case with documenting and reflecting upon teacher growth and the impact it has on student learning. As educators we need to know what is working and why and as coaches it is our job to support teachers in doing this in an authentic and motivating way.

-Cory Roffey is a school based Instructional Coach in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  He has coached in a variety of educational settings from Kindergarten to Grade Nine. He holds a MEd in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and has a particular interest in supporting teachers as they explore educational technology and constructivist practices.  You can follow Cory on twitter @coryroffey

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