Well, it has been 349 days since my last blog post! Where have I been you ask? Great question. My last post found me completing a graduate degree in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University while closing out another school year as a middle school language arts teacher. It also found me nine months pregnant and counting, awaiting the arrival of my son. Born on June 10th, Parker arrived only four days shy of the last day of school, and the same day as my graduation from Seattle Pacific. Of course, this made it a tad tricky to attend. Check out the make-up graduation my esteemed program director, David Wicks and my devoted cohort, hosted a few months later. Who says you can’t do it all?
During this hiatus spent caring for my son, I have continued to engage in education technology by exploring some great opportunities presented to me. Follow me as I share about the following experiences in the coming weeks!
1. Running professional development sessions for teachers on the topics of Infographics, Student Blogging, and Genius Hour
As part of my final course with the Digital Educational Leadership master’s program at Seattle Pacific University, I engaged in a 12 week practicum, job-shadowing two instructors who teach a technology elective course for middle school students. The course, a high school graduation requirement, focuses on preparing students to use technology for various academic and job-related objectives. It also seeks to explore the use of different digital tools and is taught using the Learning Management System (LMS), Moodle.
Although in many ways I was an independent observer, I did actively engage in the classroom. I worked with individual students on demand, had regular conversations with the instructors about their approach to the curriculum, and taught a few classes in their absence. These combined experiences provided me with an authentic and immersive understanding of the curriculum’s implementation.
After completing this practicum, I chose to engage further in my understanding of this course by conducting a program evaluation of its curriculum.
Focal Points for Evaluation
Utilizing the work of Sanders and Sullins (2006), the following focus was identified for this evaluation (p. 7):
Process of strategies for providing services to learners: to provide insights about how best to organize a school to facilitate learning
1. Curriculum design: to provide insights about the quality of program planning and organization
2. Classroom processes: to provide insights about the extent to which educational programs are being implemented
3. Materials of instruction: to provide insights about whether specific materials are indeed aiding student learning
At the heart of my current studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University is ISTE Coaching Standard 4, which focuses on how professional learning can be best support teacher practice and, ultimately, student learning. Professional development is often associated with the administrators who orchestrate it. As a result, recognizing how paramount administrators are to the implementation of good professional learning is the key to its success.
My exploration on this topic began by examining an additional set of ISTE standards, the standards for administrators. An excellent resource, these standards explore everything from modes of establishing a learning culture at one’s school to the development of school improvement plans. Most relevant to this post is ISTE Administrator Standard 3, which specifically calls for, “Educational administrators [t0] promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.” How is this achieved?
How can administrators best support professional development in education technology?
For the past few weeks I have explored ISTE Coaching Standard 4b to try to understand how professional learning specifically impacts the use of education technology. School districts continue to take major steps, both in effort and resources, to provide professional development opportunities in the hopes of improving student learning. Unfortunately, the results continue to indicate that most professional development is unsuccessful (Jacob & McGovern, 2015). What are some potential options?
This week in my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am continuing to explore ISTE Coaching Standards 1 and 2 by investigating what effective student learning looks like. Just as norms are an important part of a peer coaching relationship, so too is a shared vision for what effective 21st century learning looks like. This shared vision creates a starting place for any collaborative work.
The future of education is changing to respond to the internet’s information age. With an overwhelming amount of information accessible online, the role of teachers is less about possessing knowledge and more about facilitating learning driven by the students themselves. It is about preparing students for the emerging skills of tomorrow’s jobs. Resources like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) set out to define what effective students learning looks like to get there. Commonly referred to as the four C’s, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity are referenced as the basic elements of 21st century learning. However, these skills can appear vague or nebulous compared to the daily needs of instruction. As a result, it is important for coaching teams to define which skills are most important to student success (Foltos, 2013). The work to define these characteristics becomes “a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). Foltos (2013) provided a solid reminder that while it is easy to say that students need to learn 21st century skills, it is more challenging to transfer skills such as critical thinking to daily classroom practice.
How do we turn these frameworks, standards, visions and characteristics into realities? What does it looks like, specifically in an English language arts classroom?
This week in the Digital Educational Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring the roles of communication and collaboration in peer coaching as they align with ISTE Coaching Standards 1 & 2. Foltos (2013) asserted that effective communication and collaboration in a coaching relationship, “emphasize[s] inquiry over advocacy” (p. 87). He stated that reliance on advocacy can result in too much reliance on a coach’s expertise (Foltos, 2013). Instead, inquiry and feedback cycles between collaborating partners build capacity for autonomous problem solving, which serves to best meet student needs (Foltos, 2013).
For better or for worse, new teachers have the same amount of responsibilities that veteran teachers do. Additionally, they have to learn these responsibilities in real time. While coaches desire to build a new teacher’s capacity, it is still all too easy to advocate when daily problems need solutions. Unfortunately, reliance on advocacy puts the coach in the role of perpetual expert (Foltos, 2013). While I am not an expert in all realms, I do have an expertise that could be useful to a new teacher. On the other hand, I don’t want to influence a teacher too heavily from my one set of experiences and perspectives. Where is the balance between inquiry and advocacy in a coaching relationship with a new teacher?
How do you promote inquiry over advocacy, given the vast amount of new information new teachers need to acquire daily?
This quarter in my studies in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am studying the practice of peer coaching. I have arrived to the table unsure of this role and ready to explore the model alongside my cohort of peers who come from rich and diverse educational environments. So, I am starting with the basics.
What is peer coaching?
While I have not worked in a school with peer coaches before, I have heard the term used in the past. Unfortunately, I have been disinterested because of my perception that it was a form evaluation. In an age when teachers are often blamed for educational malpractice, it is easy to be defensive. Additionally, while the practice of observation is often highlighted as a helpful component of coaching, it is closely tied with evaluation. Since I might not be alone in this perception, perhaps perception is an important consideration when implementing a peer coaching model. In order to address perception, it is best to start with the what before the how. According to Foltos (2013), “A Peer Coach is a teacher leader who assists a peer to improve standards-based instruction by supporting the peer’s efforts to actively engage students in 21st century learning activities” (p. 3). Integral to this process is a coach’s ability to guide a peer towards autonomy (Foltos, 2013). It is also a collaborative process between two peers, not a hierarchy of superiority. Transparency in these goals can also perhaps go a long way in establishing an effective practice.
What is essential for successful coaching?
Based upon the work of Foltos (2013) and my own experiences, the following themes have become apparent.
A coaching relationship needs to consist of willing participants, who are open to building trust with one another (Foltos, 2013). This trust is the foundation of a working relationship that encourages risk-taking and growth.
It is important to set goals and norms collaboratively. While it can begin with a school or district goal, it can also stem from goals set by the coaching partnership (Foltos, 2013).
Establishing modes of respect is a separate consideration from participation. It is important to address time as a factor in a coaching relationship, and recognizing certification hours and/or compensation for work being done outside of the school day can properly value the process.
How do you create a peer coaching model that doesn’t suggest or feel like an evaluation system?
“continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.”
Embedded in this standard is the indicator for teachers to…
“exhibit leadership by demonstrating a vision of technology infusion, participating in shared decision making and community building, and developing the leadership and technology skills of others.”
This standard immediately make me think about my previous post on ISTE Teaching Standard 3 in which I explored collegiality and collaboration among educators. Collaboration of any kind is an important global skill that takes advantage of unique perspectives and expertise, while also being an effective method of adult learning (Morel, 2014). It is one that we need to be fostering in our own students, so it is important that we develop and model this ability ourselves. EdSurge reported that “Teachers consistently say they learn best from their peers” (2014, p. 8). In my previous post on collaboration, I used the word informal at times to define a collaborative experience that is less about attending a training guided by a top-down approach and more about working with colleagues to experiment and offer reciprocal feedback. My professor, @RobinHenrickson, guided me to consider my use of the word informal, as it can connote practices without norms or protocols. I realized that my past year of effective collaboration that I shared in this post utilized norms, whether I knew it or not. My colleague and I followed an inquiry model for implementing new practices or technologies, we offered each other feedback and support, and we respected each other’s expertise. So, as I approach ISTE Teaching Standard 5, I am now wondering how leadership can play an important role in the effectiveness and sustainability of collaborative professional development. How can I expand upon the success I’ve had collaborating during this past school year and work to lead a model that engages and benefits more of my school community?
What role do teacher leaders play in establishing effective collaborative practices focused on Ed tech?
This week in my graduate studies, I looked at ISTE Teaching Standard 3 or “Model digital age work and learning.” The broad implications of this standard initially left me wondering where to start. The more I thought about it the more I realized that, in many ways, I have lived this standard over the past year. I investigated the following two indicators, with a focus on the audience of my peers.
Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations
Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation
This school year has seen a major shift in my instruction. Due to the influence of my graduate studies, I have both experimented with and implemented more new ideas with technology, than ever before in my past seven years of teaching. While I have never felt behind in my use of technology, I have certainly never been ahead. Previously, digital tools have felt additive, as opposed to integrative. With new tools emerging all the time, I found myself overwhelmed. I viewed digital tools as finite tasks to master, instead of part of a larger pedagogical approach. As my own discovery of education technology has emerged and left my excited to share, I now wonder how I can become a leader in this field. What are the best methods for sharing my own shift in mindset and becoming a resource to fellow educators?
How can educators share and model successful and unsuccessful technology tools and ideas to colleagues in a manner that is useful, applicable, and trustworthy?
If I reflect on my lack of experimentation in past years, I am reminded that new ideas have been often shared with me in presentations at professional development settings. These have been static in nature, and rarely, ever collaborative. However, this year, that has changed. Learning and improving any practice doesn’t happen in isolation. While informal in nature, my collaboration with one particular colleague this year has resulted in impactful change for my students.