Guest Post: How to Cultivate a Learner Culture in 3 Easy Steps

A school’s growth is a reflection of the culture. You can see, hear, and feel a school’s Captureculture at staff meetings, professional development, daily interactions, the office, the hallways, and so on. As instructional coaches, our goal should be to cultivate a culture in which learning occurs not only for students, but also for teachers.

How can you make a difference in your school’s culture?

 

  • Name and notice the great work already taking place

 

Any great school leader knows that the key to success is a staff that feels valued and appreciated. Amplifying the energy and productivity of a staff requires that teachers are made aware of their worth. Focusing attention on daily behavior that is valued can increase that behavior. Introducing new learning will be less intimidating if teachers know their work is highly valued. Don’t be afraid to make note of the great instruction taking place and then follow up with a question to push a teacher’s thinking even further.

 

  • Make connections between teachers

 

After naming and noticing the great work, figure out a way to get teachers in one another’s classroom. When a teacher asks about a certain strategy, mention another teacher who is also working on that strategy or suggest a classroom that they may want to observe. The best way to grow our practice is by learning from one another. As the instructional coach, we have the unique ability to serve as a bridge in the school. Seize opportunities to increase communication and collaborative experiences.

 

  • Embed professional development in the classroom

 

One of our primary responsibilities as instructional coaches is to provide great professional development. The most powerful professional development for teachers takes place in the classroom. Structures such as learning labs, learning walks, #observeme, and build-a-labs give teachers the opportunity to try new instructional practices in the classroom. This blog by Cult of Pedagogy is a great resource for effective professional development and lays out these structures. By providing teachers with on the spot teaching, learning becomes more transferable to their own classrooms.

As instructional coaches, our role is to be a leader for successful change and improvement efforts. This must begin by creating a culture in which teachers are willing to learn and take risks. Otherwise, we may fall short due to resistance and an unwillingness to grow. Taking these three easy steps to cultivate a learner culture is one way to increase your chances of success!

About our Guest Author: Tonya Moody is an Instructional Coach in Westfield Washington School District in central Indiana and has over ten years of teaching experience. Prior to coaching, she taught Kindergarten, Second Grade, and was a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. She has a passion for encouraging her colleagues and collaborating with fellow educators.  Tonya loves growing her PLN on Twitter (@MrsMoodyIC) and would love to connect with you!

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What makes a Sunflower successful?

Let’s talk about a sunflower. No, not any sunflower, but this particular sunflower. It isIMG_4570 2 beautiful, but that’s not what makes it successful. It’s only successful because it has a story. The story is quite unique.

This sunflower is currently in our yard. It’s November in Erie, Pennsylvania. Our yards are more often full of snowmen this time of year, rather than sunflowers or any flowers for that matter. This success only happened because the wrong time for every other sunflower was the right time for this one.

This sunflower’s success is even more unlikely. No one in my family planted this particular flower, at least not directly. The seed that became this IMG_4572sunflower fell from the another sunflower that we did plant in a garden, watered regularly, enjoyed all summer, then watched as it withered. Eventually we cut it down and placed the dried flower in one of our window bird feeders. You can what’s left of the flower in the picture to the right. So, one seed escaped being eaten by birds and survived a fall six feet to the ground.  This success only happened by taking a leap.

 

This may be hard to believe, but our friend the sunflower’s path to success was even trickier. Not only did the seed need the right time and take a leap, but the seed needed a landing spot that was just right.  IMG_4571Our seed didn’t fall in soil that was properly prepared and fertilized. No, our seed fell into a rock garden and somehow found the right spot between the rocks to find soil, stay hidden from hungry squirrels, and receive the appropriate sunshine and water to sprout and grow.

So, if you are taking notes, you noticed that our sunflower needed three things to be a success: the right time, taking a leap, and landing in the right spot. What’s this all mean?

It means that you can be a success, too. It might not feel like it right now, but success will come. It might not be the right time quite yet. You might need to take the leap. If you do, you might land in the right place. Your story is a unique as that of our sunflower.

So, thank you to the sunflower for making it feel that everything is going to be alright.IMG_4570

“You’re, making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower
You’re, making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower” -Lenny Kravitz

-ecs

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: 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.

Where am I?

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  ― L. Frank Baumgrowth

We all remember Dorothy’s words as she sees the land of Oz for the first time.  Dorothy was likely feeling a mixture of emotions, from curiosity and wonder, to nervousnes and even fear.  Just like Dorothy, I recently found myself transported to a new world (luckily without the help of a tornado). I change jobs and moved to a new school. I am in a similar role as an instructional coach, but feel a little like Dorothy.  Not only am I new to the school, but many of my new colleagues are as well.  

So, with so much going on, so much to do, and so many needs, what’s an instructional coach to do?

Keep it short, sweet, and supportive:

  • Make connections and begin to build relationships with students and adults.
  • Focus on establishing working agreements and expectations.
  • Stay organized, prepared, and planned.
  • Help and support your colleagues.
  • Be visible, but not an interruption.
  • Smile, say hello, and laugh!

Enjoy the adventure. Get to know the other characters along the way. Learn and grow with each step.  Before too long, your fears and nerves will subside. You will look around and realize that you have found your place and that Dorothy was right.

“There’s no place like home!” -L. Frank Baum

-ecs

When will you get your diploma?

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”growth-Ellen Glasgow 

 

As a coach, you certainly have a long list of changes you are charged with implementing in your school. You are also concerned with the daily growth of students and teachers in your school.  While the development of others is always on your mind, don’t forget to move your own learning and growth forward.

You can focus on your learning and growth in both formal and informal ways. You might pursue additional degrees and certifications. You might take a class in art, music, or another interest. Continue to challenge yourself both outside and inside of school.

In your daily coaching role, commit yourself to improving an aspect or two of your work each month.  As you work to improve, seek feedback from a few trusted colleagues on your progress.  You might find it helpful to collaborate with this partner on each other’s goal.

The key to learning and growth is to never stop. As Eartha Kitt said,  “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.” When will you get your diploma?

-ecs