I absolutely love coaching educators in small groups. During these sessions, I get to see firsthand how they are implementing ideas and strategies into practice to grow. While giving keynotes and facilitation workshops is something I love, both lack an on-going component, which is one of the most critical aspects of professional learning that leads to scalable results. While one-and-done and drive-by events are great at establishing the why once the excitement dies down, people are often clamoring to figure out how to make what they just heard a reality in their specific context. Having multiple touchpoints and small groups allows for more engagement, personalization, mentoring, feedback, and the time to dive more deeply into concepts.
There are so many ways to implement coaching effectively, but some specific strategies are listed below:
- Ask questions
- Listen intently
- Be non-judgmental
- Align ideas to research and evidence
- Model strategies
- Provide honest feedback
- Create a safe environment that encourages conversation
- Utilize positive reinforcement
The other day, I facilitated a coaching session with leaders as part of a year-long partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) on digital leadership. The stage was set in separate large group sessions described below:
In order to fully understand the impact remote learning has on teaching and learning, we must be purposeful in the role we play in supporting and leading teachers in a digital environment. We must inspect what we expect. The only way to do this is to roll up our sleeves and jump into the digital learning environment with our teachers and students. To best assess our current levels of teaching and learning performance in a digital environment, we must understand how to collect the evidence that helps shape our overall understanding of learning now and in the future.
Once we have gathered the appropriate evidence of teaching and learning in a digital environment, participants will be led through the process of analyzing and interpreting evidence collected in an effort to understand the current conditions teachers are creating, and students are learning in each day. Once there is an understanding of the current landscape, practical ways will be shared in how to coach teachers to keep sound instructional design at the forefront of teaching and learning.
During these touchpoints, I offered specific ways for leaders to successfully gather and interpret evidence of teaching and learning to be in a better position to lead pedagogical change. In between two major workshops have been many small sessions where participants have been tasked with bringing evidence to illustrate how they are successfully leading change in their districts and get valuable feedback. Each coaching cycle has been designed to personalize the experience for all participants. My facilitation partner from KDE, Ben Maynard, has been incredible at using Google Jamboard for participants to upload artifacts, ask questions, and brainstorm strategies that the leaders hope to implement in the near future.
During one session, Jill Angelucci, an assistant principal from George Rogers Clark High School, shared an extraordinary artifact that resulted from professional learning that had been implemented throughout the year. Since things have been challenging during the pandemic, her school wanted to move beyond the challenges and instead focus on the positives. What they came up with was having teachers routinely present on what’s worked well. In my opinion, this was genius and not only shared effective practices but also built people up in the process.
Teachers presented for approximately 30 minutes once a month on Thursday. Below you can see on example of what was created using Canva as a result of the sessions at Jill’s school. You can see all of them HERE.
She was able to model digital strategies and ways for teachers to incorporate voice, choice, and path into their learning. It created a second piece to the overall strategy of ‘Think Tank Thursday’ where they continually share and identify other strategies made available to all staff. This was all accomplished while students were remote and almost entirely through Google Meet sessions. An innovative use of space and time was made available, and they plan to continue this while kids return to the building.
The artifact above was one of many that have been shared during the longitudinal work with KDE. The effective elements of coaching listed earlier in this post weren’t just used by me, but instead the entire group. It was a collaborative process where tangible outcomes were shared and analyzed. Coaching takes the “why” and moves educators along a continuum of effectively leading change and what can be used to show success.