Guest Post: Take Me out to the Ballgame: Reflections From the Stands

This is the first summer my son has played on an All-Star baseball team.conversation We have been in
the bleachers watching him play baseball since he
was five, but he hasn’t ever really been passionate enough about the sport for our family to commit to him practicing every night and playing in tournaments all weekend throughout the entire month of June. This year something clicked, and he decided he enjoyed baseball more than he ever had before, so we decided to give it a shot. He made the All-Star team and began the nightly practices, even landing a spot as one of the team’s pitchers.

I am a terrible baseball mom. I’m not sure if my teaching background has anything to do with it, but I get really anxious when those precious boys are in high pressure situations and I can barely handle all the chatter. There is CONSTANT talking, from parents, from coaches, from the players, from other fields, and as I watched his game the other night, I was struck by how difficult it must be for these kids to filter through all the talk and focus on the voice they most need to listen to in game situations.

Some of the things that are yelled out during the games are downright comical. Well-meaning parents offer advice and affirmations, critiques and cautions that could leave even the most level-headed 12-year-old athlete slightly discombobulated.

“Be a wall!”

“Get there, get there!”

“Big hit, Buddy!”

“Baseball ready!”

What do those things even mean? Kids that have been playing baseball for eight years surely know that they need to get to the base. They know to try and hit the ball. How is being, “baseball ready” any different than just actually being ready? It seems to me that if we asked the kids, they could likely tell us they understand WHAT needs to be adjusted, what they probably need to work on is HOW. The 2nd baseman surely knows he should have grounded the ball properly and made an accurate throw to first base to get the runner out. He does not need us yelling it at him in front of his teammates and their families. What he may need is repeated practice, a technical adjustment, or perhaps even watching a video of himself to see if he can identify the issue independently. The true transformation seems to come when the coach is talking to the player on the sidelines, modeling correct form, making authentic eye-contact, and respectfully implying a belief in the player’s ability.

Isn’t that how it is for teachers? Teachers are bombarded with ever-constant chatter: from parents, from students, from the state, from their administrators, from anyone who has ever attended a school. The talk they overhear is often as ambiguous as it is in the grandstands. Well-meaning educational leaders, authors, curriculum writers, self-proclaimed experts, and even perfect Pinterest boards all add to the noisy narrative that teachers have to navigate as they make their place in the education world.

“Innovate, differentiate, document!”

“Utilize technology in an authentic way!”

“Get back to the basics!”

“Rethink rigor!”

Might we all just shut up for a minute? What these teachers need is some silence. Some calm and quiet in an educational arena that cannot stop talking. A little hands-on modeling, maybe some authentic eye-contact, and even the respectful implication that we believe in their abilities. In reality that is not going to happen. As surely as those parents will continue hollering from the stands, teachers will continue to be assailed with questions, criticisms, initiatives, and, “novel” ideas. And really, it is fine. They can handle it. Teachers want to constantly look forward. They want to look ahead, look up, continually search for better ways to reach more kids. Teaching in the Information Age is exciting. It holds the promise of authentic audience and increased collaboration.

The very most effective baseball players on my son’s team are the kiddos who have such a sense of the game that it’s almost hard to describe. These are the kids who can filter out all the noise and nonsense and rely on their own knowledge of the sport as they are making game-time decisions. They clap at the pitcher on their way to steal second base, they run from third and slide into home plate even if their coach tries to hold them back. Maybe they will score and maybe they will get called out because not every player is right 100% of the time, but how fun it is to watch a kid exude confidence in their abilities for the good of their team.

The very most effective teachers that I have encountered are the ones who have such a sense of the profession that it is almost hard to describe. These are the teachers who can filter out all the noise and rely on their own inner voice to guide their daily classroom decisions. They read, discuss, reflect, and constantly adjust their practice to ensure the most optimal learning environments for their students. They smile knowingly as the next presenter presents the next presentation. They will take the parts that will help their kids and confidently ignore the parts that will not. They will try an new approach even if their administrator tries to hold them back. Maybe it will work and maybe it will fail because not every teacher is right 100% of the time, but how fun it is to watch a teacher exude confidence in their abilities for the good of their students.
I love this quote by Leo Ernest Durocher, American infielder and MLB manager, Baseball is like church. Many attend; few understand.” Huge crowds show up to participate in educational conversations. My hope as an instructional coach is to empower more teachers to truly understand, to exhibit faith and confidence in their training. I want teachers to trust their own intentional decision-making and the power of reflection to improve practice. I hope to enable teachers to dial down the noise and focus on what is good for kids, to value relationships over worksheets, choice over power, and to stand up for the students in their care. Teaching is not for the weak. It is not for the casual attendee. Be brave, teacher friends, and get out there on the field! We are all rooting for you!

About our guest author:

Mandy Taylor has spent seventeen years in the elementary classroom, teaching grades Kindergarten through 3rd grade. She recently transitioned into an Instructional Coaching position and has a passion for literacy, a love for learning, and a fascination with public speaking. She also has become a Teacher Consultant with the Central Texas Writing Project where she serves on the Leadership Board. Her beliefs center around the importance of relationships, humor, authenticity, and love. She is a connected educator who reflects on her practice by connecting with others on Twitter, Voxer, Google, and with actual real-life humans.

Connect with Mandy:

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Guest Post: Thriving In Your Work and How An Instructional Coach Can Help

 

I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine entitled, “Research Shows People Need These 5 Things To Be Happy At Work.” I don’t often agree with happiness gurus because growthmost of it to me comes off as very self centered and non collaborative, which as a coach, is inherently not me at all.  But this article caught my attention and while the primary audience is the business community, I saw reflections of an educator in the list. Here I offer 5 tips for using your instructional coach to help you thrive happily in your work.

Discover work that challenges you

“Reach outside your comfort zone” has become a buzz phrase in education. What does it mean – really? It means you are always working on something new. Think about what happens when we reach. We stand taller, become mindful about our balance, we focus on what it is we want to obtain, and when we cannot reach what we want by ourselves, we ask for a boost. Your instructional coach can offer the leg up. It’s hard to keep ourselves working on something new when sometimes, we feel it may be all we can do to keep our heads above water. Coaches can have a unique 30,000 foot view that connects your classroom practice to building and district vision. He can provide you with suggestions that can bring you into alignment with the expectations that push in. She can partner with you as you try a new and exciting strategy. Ask your coach to help with some of the legwork and barrier removal that halts us when we wish to take a risk.

Grow a sense of progress

A coach can be the perfect partner for formative assessment of your instructional progress. Much the same way you monitor your students’ progress and adjust accordingly, an instructional coach can help you capture data that provides a perfect jumping off point for reflection on your craft. Look at student work together and explore celebrations or imagine powerful tweaks. Set up a regular class visit for your coach where he or she can capture what you cannot in the midst of teaching. Ask for a script of your questions or one of student to student conversations. Your coach can use video or live notes over the course of weeks to capture your progress toward an instructional goal in a non evaluative way. What a great way to combat the “hamster on a wheel” feeling that can rear its ugly head in education. Finally, because we do not want to remain in a constant state of experimentation with student learning (that can stop progress too) coaches can help guide you through reflecting conversations in order to identify the right times to try new and hard things.

Ignore fear

What if I fail? So what if you do? What did you learn about your students and yourself through the process? How will that impact your instruction going forward? As a coach, it is one of my greatest pleasures to provide a bubble of security around a teacher willing to take a risk. I see it as my job to make sure administrators and fellow teachers keep a judgment free zone while a teacher is growing him or herself. A coach can keep evaluation at bay so teachers can ignore the fear of having the plan not reach expectation. Your instructional coach can help you focus on the learning that can come in spite of outcomes that fall short. In the end, you become more resilient and daring. You may inspire a colleague, reach a student in need, shift the thinking of your administration, or reignite the passion that called you to teaching in the first place, all the while able to celebrate and vent with a thought partner (your coach).

Claim your autonomy

Do you really trust yourself as a capable, expert educator? Teachers too often relinquish the responsibility of their own thriving to others. We tend to think we are unsuccessful if we do not reach every student, do not score “distinguished” on every criteria of our teacher evaluation, do not get a check on every box on the walk through document, do not get recognition from our peers, parents, administrators, or community. We don’t control these things, yet our career self-worth can be wrapped up in them. Your coach can help you claim your autonomy by reminding you to focus on the things you can control. She can help track the impact of those things down to the student level. Once you see the data that tells the story of your decision making and effectiveness, you can trust that your decisions and expertise have impact. This is the road to claiming your autonomy.

Belonging

Feeling that we belong in the classroom where we spend so much time, energy, and concern can be incredibly empowering. My coaching conversations with teachers often revolve around remaining centered in beliefs about education, helping to connect with like minded educators, and helping identify areas of greatness worth sharing with others in the profession. As a coach, I try to assist teachers who feel isolated with developing connections to a tribe. Developing a professional learning network in person and/or virtually can be a key ingredient to a sense of belonging. Developing this sense takes effort and practice. This can be the role of your coach. Coaching partners can identify, question, validate experiences and feelings as you grow understanding around your practice. They can work with you to identify your own judgment and biases which can pave the way for acceptance of others – the only true path to belonging.

All of the suggestions I offer in this piece rest on the assumption that you first, have a connection to an instructional coach and secondly, that the coach is trained in instructional coaching and can facilitate thinking rather than simply consult with you on improvements. If your school or district has not yet grown a culture of coaching, be certain to connect with instructional coaches by reaching out to me on Twitter @JenniferHCox or through the Connect and Contact page here at yourinstructionalcoach.com

About the author:

Jennifer Cox serves in the role of Goal Clarity Coach at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, KY, working with staff and administration to facilitate the purposeful intersection of data, instruction, professional development, and student success. Prior to this, Jennifer served as Instructional Coach for Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, KY  where she assisted in leading building and district professional development and as facilitator for PEBC’s Thinking Strategies Institute in Shelby County.  Her work with teachers centers on increasing meaningful  literacy instruction across content areas, differentiation, and on increasing the efficacy of discourse between teacher/student as well as among students.

Jennifer’s research focus is growth mindset for teachers and students, workshop model of instruction, and leadership roles precipitating school turnaround.  She has taught in the middle and high school settings since 1997. During that time, she served as a PEBC Regional Lab Host Classroom and was Shelby County Public Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ashland Teacher Award Winner and Kentucky Teacher of the Year Finalist.  

Her academic background includes undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky in Middle School Education, Master’s work at Bellarmine University in Middle School Education where she was a Nancy Howard Merit Award recipient for Excellence in Graduate Education.  Her latest endeavor was at the University of Louisville where she earned her Ed. S. in Educational Leadership and was awarded U of L Ed. S. Outstanding Graduate.

 

Guest Post: Differentiation just makes sense!

It’s no secret that there are two things I love: education and analogies. lisa1 Oh, and people and shopping.  Ok… that’s four.  Luckily, for the purpose of this blog these items fit together quite nicely.

This week marks the completion of my first year as a differentiation instructional coach.  As I look back, I am amazed by how much I have learned in one year alone.  I often need to take a deep breathe when I start thinking about the fact that I don’t even know how much I don’t know.  However, I do know that I am excited to keep learning and growing as a coach.  I have found blogs of fellow educators to be a source of inspiration and knowledge.  I would like to give back to my virtual PLN by sharing some of what I have learned about instructional coaching and differentiation this year.

Prior to being a coach I taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS.   As a classroom teacher, I always viewed teaching as a form of sales.  My students were my clients and their learning was the product I was selling.  As a teacher, I continually asked myself the question: what do I need to do to make sure that all of my students value the product (learning) and become repeat customers (continue to learn)?

This analogous relationship presented an answer to my question.  Just as a savvy salesperson adapts their approach for different clients, I needed to do the same for my students.  I needed to differentiate. Truth be told, when I started teaching I had never heard the term “differentiate”.  I just knew that in order to satisfy all of my students I would have to determine the best approach for each of them.  

During my thirteen years in the classroom, I spent many hours reflecting on my practice.  I looked for patterns in learning and patterns in personalities.  I wound up developing a strong understanding of how to create and implement an effective differentiated practice.  I was able to see the powerful impact differentiation had on students’ learning, engagement, and disposition.  

As a coach my customer base has shifted from students to educators.  The product I have to offer is providing and supporting meaningful professional learning.  Now I ask myself the question, how do I ensure that my coachees value the product (professional learning) and become repeat customers (reflect, refine, and reach their goals)?

After a very short period of time in my role as a coach I realized that my approach to collaborating with teachers would not be the same for everyone.  I have colleagues that are veteran teachers, new teachers, part-time teachers, teachers on multiple teams, teachers who teach multiple content areas.  I have colleagues that prefer to communicate in different ways, have different life experiences, and different dreams.  My colleagues have varying proclivities for the topic and delivery model of professional development in which they want to engage.   My goal is that teachers find value in coaching cycles and are satisfied customers.  To accomplish my goal I must, once again, differentiate.

I try to differentiate my approach in a variety of ways.  I look at the impetus for the cycle, input from teachers, and the teacher’s goal.  Furthermore, I try to select the tools (video recording, modeling, co-teaching, checklists, etc.) that will be a good fit with what the teacher is trying to achieve.  I try to be cognizant of teachers’ time, mindset, and approach to teaching and learning.  I try to ensure that the tools are helpful and  informative not intimidating or complicated.  I look at the customer, what they want, when they need it, and what I have in my “store” that matches items on their shopping list.  

The type of coaching (individual, team, small group) informs the way I differentiate.  When planning and facilitating small group PD, I like to use Katie Martin’s The 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning.  I use the characteristics Katie outlines to question my planning. Will the teacher feel safe? How can I model this? Is the learning action-oriented? How am I encouraging inquiry? Will participants find this content purposeful?  Then, I mindfully try to plan sessions that affirmatively answer these questions.  This usually means that the sessions will include a variety of formats and plenty of structured choice.

lisa2

When I am planning for a coaching cycle with an individual teacher, I again consider many pieces of information.  I have found that the single most significant factor that allows me to differentiate for my coaching partners is the same factor I found most important when I differentiated for my students:  relationships.  By building strong relationships I am better able to use questioning to help enrollees goal set and reflect.  I am better able to determine the appropriate tools, methods and support to help my partners achieve their goals.  
Throughout this post I chose to use the words “I try”  rather than “I do” because I know that while I always attempt to meet the needs of my colleagues there is always room for improvement. When success eludes me I will reflect and try again.  Feedback from administrators, teachers, my family, and my PLN have been instrumental contributors to my growth as a coach.   I welcome your feedback about this post and would also like to hear about your coaching experiences.  

Lisa Westman is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation at a middle school in a suburb outside of Chicago.  She enjoys delivering applicable, engaging professional development and writing her blog “Put me in, Coach”.  Prior to being an instructional coach, Lisa spent thirteen teaching gifted humanities, English Language Arts, and Social Studies.  You can follow Lisa on twitter @lisa_westman and read her blog, Put Me in, Coach.  

Guest Post: What Instructional Coaching Does for a School Culture.

Recently my wife proposed the idea of putting a bee hive in our backyard.  I liked the idea of fresh honey, so I was on board.  However, once I lived with these bees in my yard and learned a little more I realized that bees not only produced honey, but they directly contribute to strengthening the ecosystem within our backyard and wider neighborhood. Not only do we get fresh honey, but through pollination the bees cause our fruit trees, plants, flowers and whole garden to flourish.  When I became an Instructional Coach six years ago, it was a little like getting bees.  Just like I understood that bees equal honey, I instantly grasped the idea that coaching leads to teacher growth which impacts student learning.  What it took me longer to realize was that instructional coaching also impacts the wider school culture.  As I worked with teachers over a number of years I saw that coaching done well contributes to a strong school culture of deep intentional collaboration.

As teachers and coaches engage in a coaching cycle they work through similar steps each cory.beetime.  They begin with identifying an area to explore, setting a goal to achieve or dreaming about a shift in learning they want for students.  They then lay out a plan to work toward the goal and finally they reflect upon the evidence/data and celebrate the growth and change they have made.  Regardless of the number of steps and the qualifying terms used to define the process, coaches simultaneously model and guide the coaching conversations through a cycle ensuring that the dialogue is rich, respectful and collaborative.  After a number of years of working with this model and having these conversations with teachers, I have noticed this cycle and language embed itself in the culture of the school. I see an increase in teachers who are meeting collaboratively to have intentional conversations about student learning. Together, they are setting goals, gathering data and reflecting on the work they are doing.  This is not to say that teachers never collaborated before the advent of instructional coaching.  Teachers have always shared ideas, swapped resources and supported each other in their teaching.  Where instructional coaching makes an impact on school culture is in that it is intentional, goal-oriented, data driven collaboration that includes elements of reflection, documenting the learning and sharing it with the wider educational community.  My work over multiple years in one school has opened my eyes to this correlation between continually engaging in a strong coaching model and a school culture of teacher collaboration.  So as coaches, we need to know that while we support teacher growth that impacts student learning, we are also sowing the seeds of deep collaboration that is changing the culture of schools. Just like bees who make honey AND strengthen the ecosystem so to do we foster teacher growth AND strengthen the collaborative cultures of our schools.

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

Guest post: From teacher to coach (The more things change…)

Most instructional coaches start their journey in the classroom. Many of us are classroom teachers that find themselves either seeking out coaching roles or being asked to move into the role. Having successful experiences in the classroom does translate well into the coaching role, but there are some differences. It’s important to think about what knowledge you already have that you can bring to your role as a coach, but it is also important to think about what new skills you will need to nurture so that you can be just as successful as a coach.

For me, I am currently in a split role. I have four classes of 6th grade math and two release periods to serve as a math coach for teachers in my 6-8th grades middle school building.
Being new to coaching, as well as still having one foot in teaching, gives me an opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences often. Here’s my take:

annie1

One of the biggest overlaps between teaching and coaching is the fact that both depend heavily on relationships. To be successful as a classroom teacher, it is important to build relationships with your students. As Rita Pierson says so well, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” This goes for coaching as well. Teachers won’t want to learn from and with you if they don’t like you! Building relationships with teachers is key and you might find many of your “coaching conversations” are actually an informal conversation in the hall. It might start with talking about their weekend, their kids, or just how the day is going and can turn into a thoughtful chat about pedagogy or a new idea to try in the classroom. To help me build my conversations skills, I’m diving into a book by Jim Knight called Better Conversations.

On the flip side of this will be the moments when your relationship with a teacher is strained or difficult in some way. Just like we need to be patient with students, we need to be patient with adults as well. Perhaps the tension is coming from the fact that the teacher is nervous about change or sees working with a coach as signifying a weakness in their teaching. Whatever the source of the tension, be patient but available. Watch for little moments to connect over something outside of school and take advantage of informal conversations to show that you are open and willing to work together professionally.

annie2

Perhaps you have heard of moving teaching practice from being a “sage on the stage” to being a “guide on the side.” For me, I think there is a place for a little of both in the classroom. However, I definitely have shifted my teaching practice to being more of a facilitator of learning. I think about how to design a lesson to give students an experience that helps them learn rather a lecture and note-taking lesson.

Many times, as a coach, you are asked to lead professional development (PD). Thinking of how to lead participants through a professional learning experience, as opposed to listening to you “lecture” is important. Think about the most beneficial PD that you have attended. What made it good? Resources shared? Conversations? Something that pushed your thinking forward? Try to design that type of experience for teachers.

annie3

We work in a time where you almost can’t go one day without hearing the word “data” mentioned in a school. Data is important but what it is used for is really what matters most. In our classrooms we set goals for ourselves as teachers and for our students. We should have a desired outcome for learning and our work should move us towards that goal.

Goal setting is equally important in coaching. Sitting down with teachers and hearing what they want to accomplish helps frame the work that you do together. While you might have some goals in mind, make sure that you don’t lose sight of the goals that teachers have as well. This also goes back to that relationship that is so important and also building trust.

annie4

One thing that is very different for me between my role as a teacher and coach is my experience level. Many of us had quite a few years in the classroom to refine our practice. For me, it’s been twelve. Now, as a new coach, I’m a little outside my comfort zone because I’m trying something new. Sure, there are the overlaps between the roles, and I certainly don’t feel like a first year teacher. However, the inexperience with coaching does lead to the worry: am I doing this right? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle of yes and no. I’m sure there are things that I am doing right and I have gotten some good feedback from teachers and administrators. However, whenever you are trying something new, you are going to make mistakes. I’m learning to be patient with myself as I learn this new role, but also to seek out ways to learn more. I’m reading books, finding other coaches to talk to and observe, watching videos or webinars, and reflecting daily. There is always room to learn and grow, especially when something is so new.

annie5

Another difference between the roles of teacher and coach is learning to accommodate the needs of adult learners. An instructional coach’s role should be non-evaluative, which is very different from the role of a teacher where you will be giving a grade. I borrowed the idea of giving teachers feedback in the format of “compliments and considerations” from another coach in my district. I like the structure and even refined it a bit so that I mostly try to give “considerations” in the form of questions. For example, instead of saying “you should have a bellringer,” I say something like “what is something students could do so that learning begins when they first walk into class?” Asking more questions, instead of giving suggestions, has helped me shift from acting like an expert with all the answers (not my goal at all!) to being more collaborative. When I’m working alongside a teacher, the feeling is now more of a peer-to-peer and our ideas are better than what either person would have come up with on their own.

annie6

I wrote about the issue of the difference in schedules on my blog a little while ago. It’s important to be aware of the possible tension this can cause so that you can address it as it comes up. Teachers’ schedules are not flexible. You have kiddos in your room at certain times, so good luck if you need to use the restroom! It’s no joke that teachers have bladders of steel. In addition, every part of the day is scheduled with contact time, meetings, and maybe a half hour for lunch. It’s hectic and busy! Coaches are still busy, but tend to have a little more flexibility. This is important so they can meet the needs of the teachers with whom they work, however, it can make some teachers feel like saying, “must be nice to be so flexible.” I can assure you that there is not one coach I know that abuses this flexibility. In fact, many are running themselves ragged going from teacher to teacher (or building to building)!

I think being a successful teacher gives you some great skills that you can translate into your role as coach. Build on those strengths, but be ready to learn some new, different strategies as well. If you have made the transition to coach from teacher, what overlaps have you experienced? Can you think of any differences to add to the list?

About our guest author: Annie Forest has been teaching middle school math for 12 years and is a National Board Certified Teacher. This is her first year working in a split role as a 6th grade math teacher and math instructional coach. Her work as a coach includes working with teachers in a 6-8 middle school building. Annie is passionate about giving all students an equitable mathematics education.

She received the 2014 Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Award for Middle School Teaching and is an Illinois state finalist for the 2015 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She blogs at www.showyourthinkingmath.blogspot.com or you can follow Annie on Twitter @mrsforest.

 

Guest post: I walk the walk: How I use technology to be a better instructional coach

What kind of hypocrite would I be if, as an instructional coach, I pushed teachers to cropped-slice.pngeffectively use a variety of instructional technologies in their classrooms but I did not use some in my own work?

Certainly, I would not be leading by example. And, personally speaking, I feel like I would be letting everyone down. I would compare that kind of hypocrisy to a sports coach who wants to keep his or her team competitive but does not know the fundamentals of the sport or the current trends and topics that rule it.

One of the philosophies of coaching that I constantly keep in the back of my mind is that I do not need to know everything in order to train someone else, I simply need to have the necessary skills to make them better. That is why I (who holds teaching certifications in English and music) do not shy away from coaching teachers who teach subjects that I am not qualified to teach or consider myself to be an expert in.

So, as it pertains to the effective use of technology, here is how I use a wide variety to be a better instructional coach and to make my job and my life as easy as possible… and, as one of my supervisors defines leadership, help make everyone else’s jobs easier as well.

Google Apps (Note: I work at a “Google Apps For Education” school)

I have been using Google Drive for the better part of a half decade now and it does not disappoint. This cloud-based storage app allows me to keep track of all of my files, documents, data, etc. The most useful feature of Drive is how I can share work and collaborate with my colleagues. If I have a file that I think will benefit them, or if I create a file so that we can share editing rights, I simply share it with another teacher and the file now appears in their Drive as well.

In order to share editing rights on files with teachers as I mentioned in the paragraph above, I find Google Docs to be the easiest way to do it. Sometimes I will assist a teacher with planning a lesson or unit, or I may be asked to look over a lesson plan before I or administrators visit a classroom. When teachers and I can share editing access to a document, we can add, remove or change anything in it, or simply leave comments for each other right in the document itself.

The Google app that has become surprisingly essential to my work as a coach has been Google Forms. I have used this survey-creating app for multiple purposes. For one, I created this form to distribute at the beginning of the school year to help generate some data and establish an early focus for my work with the teachers. I also use Forms to track my interactions with teachers – I use this form when I visit classrooms and this form when I meet with teachers outside of the classroom. The coolest feature of Forms is that you can set each form to have its responses automatically inputted into a spreadsheet to keep track of the data they provide, which gives me a nice segue into my next Google app.

Whether generated automatically from Forms or created independently, the spreadsheets from Google Sheets allow me to keep track of survey responses and data that provides a foundation and vital feedback for my coaching relationships/cycles with teachers. I keep these sheets in my Google Drive of course, and use their data before, during and after I meet with teachers to follow up on a classroom visit or help them tackle a particular area of instruction they are concerned about.

Finally, another amazingly important Google app for me is Google Calendar. I am in no way saying that classroom teachers are not very busy people. However, upon leaving the classroom and trying to be available to all of the teachers in my building, I realized I needed to be on top of my task prioritization and time management games. It was so hard to keep up with where I needed to be and when until I started using Calendar religiously. At the end of each week I set a schedule for the following week. I make sure to start with the highest-priority events, which for me at my school means duties. From there I will schedule time for important meetings and then time spent with individual teachers, either in their classrooms on their duty or prep time. Great features that I use in Calendar are creating and accessing multiple calendars all in one place, adding people to the events I create, and syncing my calendars with Outlook – still being used by the school as the main email client.

Social Media and other forms of community collaboration

My use of these tools is largely for the purpose of bettering myself as an educational leader and coach so that I am more capable of supporting the teachers I work with.

Twitter – Since the fall I have been using Twitter so much that I am now following approximately 1,100 people and have at least tripled my number of followers to nearly 600. Not all of them are fellow educators, but the ones who are probably do not even know how much they have meant to my development and the development of the staff I work with. I have used this platform to expand my personal learning network (PLN), participate in various chats, and even create unique hashtags to connect teachers I work with and other educational and instructional coaches in my area.

Voxer – I began using this push-to-talk, walkie talkie app on both my Android phone and on my work computer to be able to join groups and connect with other educators across the country and across the globe. Educators have taken to Voxer to use it as a way of connecting groups of people with similar interests to continue and enhance Twitter chats, ask and answer education-related questions, share ideas and collaborate on projects, and in general, simply shoot the breeze with others in the same profession. I have yet to introduce it to my colleagues, but I can even see this as a useful tool that we can use as a staff to be able to help each other since everyone always points out that a lack of time is their number one concern.

Slack – This thread-style productivity tool is the one I have used the least but would like to use more. I recently invited all the teachers in my school to join me on slack. On there you can communicate and share with everyone in the group or create multiple channels or individual messages. For example, you can share with only the math teachers or just the teacher whose class you will visit the next day. What I like best about Slack is that it seems very laid back and informal versus annoying company-wide group emails.

I am probably even forgetting some other useful tech tools that I use as an instructional coach, but these are my go-tos, the ones I use the most and the ones that I consider to be most useful for my needs and the needs of the teachers I support. I have always and will always push myself to be skilled in technology and this is no different, except that now I am also using it as a way to lead by example and set a tone for continuing to bring the teaching and learning process into the 21st century…

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey

About our Guest Author: Dan Kreiness serves the Derby (CT) Public Schools as a secondary level Instructional Coach based in the middle school. Before taking over this position in the fall of 2015, Dan helped create the intervention program at Derby Middle School as the Reading Interventionist. Dan began his teaching career spending nearly eight years in the New York City Department of Education at two intermediate schools as an eighth grade English language arts teacher, interventionist and middle level literacy coach. Dan holds Masters in Adolescent Education and Educational Leadership and has specific interests in school administration and leadership, educational technology and student engagement. Connect with Dan on Twitter at @dkreiness or his blog at https://leaderoflearning.wordpress.com/.

Guest Post: Growth Mindset- 3 Hard Truths and Some Beautiful Realizations

I remember well the year I felt the reality of growth mindset shift. Operating on the outer growthedge of my comfort zone, I had begun a graduate program to obtain my principalship at the prompting of my own principal and mentor. She had also asked me to lead a “new” model of intervention/enrichment using formative data to personalize learning. At the district level, I was part of a team of incredible educators planning the district rollout of a Thinking Strategies initiative partnership with PEBC/Denver Public Schools. Each of these opportunities was exciting and I was humbled anyone had confidence in my ability to carry out meaningful change for students and teachers. My own self confidence evolved and I grew firm in what I believed about education, became aware of my strengths, and emerged brave in my defense of education best practice. So, why, when I reflect on that time in my life, do I also remember discomfort and friction?

Because, friends, while shifting into the fullness of a growth mindset is- without question – invigorating and empowering (like all the cute social media memes tell us), it’s also hard work. Damn hard.

3 Hard Truths About Growth Mindset

  1. You will become uncomfortable and so might those around you

“Mindset isn’t just about believing. It’s about enacting those beliefs – living them out hour by hour, day by day, plan by plan.” -Carol Tomlinson, VAST Conference, 2014

Here’s the situation- people like predictability. Humans love to know what’s coming next so they can continue to do what they’ve always done and have it work. But when you shift your beliefs about yourself, your students, and your work, actions change. As I learned more, I questioned the status quo. The environment around me became less predictable and that was hard for my colleagues and on a personal level for my family. As I tried new strategies and found better results for students, I challenged my colleagues to do the same; sometimes overtly, but more often by modeling. Many friends celebrated with me and even asked for coaching around new techniques themselves. Others met me with apathy, avoidance, and in some cases indignance (“I’d like to see you try that with my group… It’ll never work…Forget it”).  As I flourished in my learning life, earning an advanced degree, I found myself on the defensive with members of my family who deemed my time and energy toward this end a selfish pursuit.

Know this: As you take a risk to do differently, begin to see different and positive results, and remain steadfast against setbacks, you will grow. As you grow, you are becoming fuller, better, richer for those in your life; students, colleagues, family, and yourself. Keep the faith.

  1. Action required

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, Mrs. Roosevelt.

Growth mindset requires your actions to match your beliefs. The problem for those of us in education is we know what we are “supposed” to say we believe…

  • all children can learn at high levels
  • as a professional, I must develop and learn how to hone my craft
  • data driven instruction is best for students and for school improvement

We also know much of what we must do to make these beliefs part of our everday reality, but we are resistant or unwilling to take action.

Know this: Whether you are a teacher leader, administrator, or instructional coach, you must dance on the line of pressure to action. That pressure begins with modeling, then continues with invitations to join, and becomes a growth mindset culture when these trends emerge:

  • a shift from “these kids/those kids” mentality to a “my practice/our practice” one. By this I mean fewer mentions of what groups of kids can and cannot accomplish to an increased focus on strategies and practices that affect learning on all points of the continuum.
  • thirst for professional knowledge that reaches beyond the dreaded PD hour contractual requirement (ie: book studies, coaching cycles, edcamps, meetups, classroom visits, etc).
  • professional conversations with student data in the center leading to questions, considerations, and agreements to adjust instructional practice…and the fortitude to elevate the consciousness of our colleagues choosing not to contribute to these conversations meaningfully.
  1. Without it, success in our current educational climate is unlikely

“Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning.” -Carol Dweck

A fixed mindset assumes there is a point at which we reach expertise – a feeling of arrival; of having somehow checked all the boxes on the inventory and now we can relax. But if we are to not just survive, but abound in a test focused, impatient initiative-driven educational climate where everyone is looking for the next Balm of Gilead we must, as teacher leader Dave Stuart, Jr. reminds us often, be after “long-term flourishing.”  (Please click on the link and read his article – I simply cannot explain it any better than Stuart does).

Know this: There are “allies in learning” out there if you want this “Growth Mindset” thing for your students and yourself.  Here are a few that inspire me and whose work help me hone my craft:

Dave Stuart, Jr. – teacher leader, author: www.davestuartjr.com/ @davestuartjr

Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset leading researcher,  Professor of Psychology at Stanford University: http://mindsetonline.com/

Carol Ann Tomlinson – educator, author, speaker

Elena Aguilar – instructional coach, author “The Art of Coaching”, speaker

Jim Knight – research associate in the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project

Jackie Gerstein – educator, author, speaker

About our guest author:

Jennifer Cox serves in the role of Goal Clarity Coach at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, KY, working with staff and administration to facilitate the purposeful intersection of data, instruction, professional development, and student success. Prior to this, Jennifer served as Instructional Coach for Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, KY  where she assisted in leading building and district professional development and as facilitator for PEBC’s Thinking Strategies Institute in Shelby County.  Her work with teachers centers on increasing meaningful  literacy instruction across content areas, differentiation, and on increasing the efficacy of discourse between teacher/student as well as among students.

Jennifer’s research focus is growth mindset for teachers and students, workshop model of instruction, and leadership roles precipitating school turnaround.  She has taught in the middle and high school settings since 1997. During that time, she served as a PEBC Regional Lab Host Classroom and was Shelby County Public Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ashland Teacher Award Winner and Kentucky Teacher of the Year Finalist.

Her academic background includes undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky in Middle School Education, Master’s work at Bellarmine University in Middle School Education where she was a Nancy Howard Merit Award recipient for Excellence in Graduate Education.  Her latest endeavor was at the University of Louisville where she earned her Ed. S. in Educational Leadership and was awarded U of L Ed. S. Outstanding Graduate.