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: 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

Video killed the radio star…

…but it may bring your work back to life!instruction

In the past, using video for reflection and feedback was difficult or even impossible. Equipment was expensive and less than portable. Video clips could only be shared between people using similar medium.  Much like videos on MTV, these concerns are a thing of the past.

The time is now to harness the power of video in teaching.

The power of video

Athletes from little league to the major leagues view video to analyze performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and generate next steps for their practice. The purpose is not to criticize and belittle, but to be better in time for the next game. Teachers, coaches, and administrators can also utilize video, both for private reflection and collaborative feedback.

There is no need for special equipment, any smartphone or tablet will do. But before you view, remember these points:

When using video for self-reflection

  • You are your own harshest critic. Be kind. The temptation will be there to pick out every error. Perfect instruction does not exist. Look for what’s next, not what’s wrong.
  • One handy rule is to look for two stars and a wish. Force yourself to write down two positives (stars) for every area of concern (a wish).
  • Regardless of your first result, repeat the process. By engaging in honest feedback, you will see learning and growth over time.

When using video for giving feedback to others

  • Collaborate based on a framework, rather than living in the realm of generic comments. Using a framework focuses your work and allows you to identify next steps.
  • Focus on one or two small chunks of time: The beginning and end of class, a short exchange of discourse, or a student explanation.
  • Feedback must be built upon a strong relationship and working agreements.
  • Like any coaching or supervision agreements, the boundaries of confidentiality must be set before the work can begin: Who can told about your work? What level of detail can be shared?

Above all, whether using video for reflection or for feedback, think of the coach watching game film with the team. Whether you are serving as your own coach, working in a coaching partnership, or you’re an administrator supervising a teacher, remember the words of football coach Ara Parasheghian: “A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.”

The True Spirit of Conversation

conversation

“It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.”  — Yogi Berra

We have all been there, in the midst of a meeting that can be described as having too much talking and no conversation.  We have all been in meetings, both large and small, where people are not truly listening, only waiting for their next chance to talk.

Part of an instructional coach’s role is often to facilitate meetings, whether one-on-one with a single teacher or in a grade-level meeting or PLC.  These meetings will certainly vary in the quality of conversation. The coach must develop strategies to move the meeting from simultaneous monologues to true conversations.  Some possible strategies include:

  • Beginning the meeting with a statement of purpose and reminder of working agreements.
  • Asking probing questions (Can you tell me more? Can we hear from ____?).
  • Using a protocol (National School Reform Faculty offer many options @   nsrfharmony.com).
  • Taking a time-out for reflection on a guiding question.
  • Summarizing and paraphrasing

These conversation strategies (and many others) can be developed with patience and practice.  Coaches must be prepared to utilize these strategies to improve the conversations in which they participate.  If coaches improve their ability to facilitate meetings, we can bring to life the true spirit of conversation.  In the words of Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, “The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.”

-ecs