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: 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: Getting Teachers on Board

Whether you have been coaching for a number of years, haverelationships a few years of coaching under your belt, or are just starting to embark on the Instructional Coaching journey, one thing you all have in common is the need to enroll teachers and spread the word about your availability to support them.

If teachers in your building or district are anything like mine, the beginning of the year involves rushing around arranging their classroom, attending district mandated meetings, establishing their classroom community, examining the curriculum, planning lessons, reviewing the state standards they are responsible for, and so much more! With all these responsibilities, contemplating initiating a coaching cycle is not high on a teacher’s to do list. Rather than sitting idly, waiting for the right time to come around, I like to get creative. Below are a few of my favorite ways to enroll teachers in Instructional Coaching at the beginning and throughout the school year:

  • Digital posters: Using websites like Thinglink, Glogster, or Piktochart, allows you to create digital posters that contain snippets of information related to coaching cycles, areas coaches can provide support, or simply introducing yourself and why you are interested in impacting teaching and learning.
  • Videos: Short videos can be a great way to share the “why” and “how” of Instructional Coaching. Videos, like Mission Instructional Coach, can also be used to generate interest in working with a coach.  
  • Newsletters: During the last school year I began sending a monthly “Coach’s Corner” newsletter through Smore. Each one included brief explanations of instructional strategies, a video from the Teaching Channel, and technology integration ideas. By sharing instructional strategies each months, my teachers are reminded of the wealth of information, ideas, and support that I can provide.
  • Candy: Using unique candy themed messages can be a creative way to capture a teacher’s attention. I like to include a QR code linked to either a newsletter or video related to the message.
    • Sample messages include:
      • Looking for some extra support as you impact student learning? Call an Instructional Coach! (Extra gum)
      • High Impact Instruction influences a student’s life now and later. (Now & Later)
      • In a crunch? Reach out to your coach. (Crunch bar)
      • Searching for instructional strategies? Your Instructional Coach has mounds! (Mounds bars)
      • Pop on over to your Instructional Coach’s office anytime! (Pop Rocks)

No matter how you choose to spread your message, it is important to clearly communicate what you have to offer teachers, and ultimately their students. Even if you don’t have teacher knocking on your office door right away, continue to find opportunities to let them know that you are there for them.

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About our Guest Blogger:

Stephanie Laird is an Instructional Coach in Iowa, where she works alongside teachers to affect student learning through the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and community building. She holds an MEd in Curriculum and Instructional Technology from Iowa State University. To connect with Stephanie, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

Come together, Right Now!

relationships

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” John Lennon spoke these words of truth and all change begins as just that, a dream.  As educators, we need to collaborate with each other to bring dreams of  change into the real world of our schools.  Collaborative relationships, regardless of number of participants or roles, must occur among professionals who first see each other as equal partners who decide together to work through a shared learning process based on trust. Once all participants agree to enter into a partnership, the group can begin to form the collaborative relationship.

How can we form and maintain collaborative relationships? This essential question is not easily answered. Whether collaborating as a pair, small group, or large group, begin with the creation of working agreements.  Working agreements can be created concerning any number of areas, but four critical questions must be answered:

1) What is the focus and/or goal of our work together?

2) What can be shared with others (teachers and school administration) and what is confidential about our work together?

3) What are the boundaries of our work?

4) How will we provide honest feedback to each other?

Once working agreements have been created, the work can begin, but it is not enough to create working agreements at the beginning of a collaborative relationship. These agreements must be maintained through honest feedback and conversation.  This maintenance should happen periodically and these “check-ups” may need to be scheduled at first.

The creation and maintenance of working agreements form the foundation of strong relationships. With this strong foundation, we can begin to meet the challenge of Henry Ford who said,”Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

-ecs