As May approaches and we enter our 12th week of online learning, I wanted to take some time to celebrate how educators all over the world and in my own small circle have learned to adapt, pivot, and grow through these difficult times. The quickness with which all of our teachers moved their instruction online was no small feat and honestly, it wasn’t pretty in those early days. It took most people very far outside of their comfort zones, especially with the way they deliver content, engage students, and create meaningful learning experiences. And even months in, many are still struggling with this new normal. Something that struck me early on was how this might be the first time in many teachers’ careers that they had to take on the role of digital content creator, even though we’ve been asking our students to do just that for years! And as nervous and uncomfortable as this has made some of our teachers, for me, it’s such an exciting opportunity and one I’m grateful to partake. In my role as an elementary Innovation Coach, I get backstage passes to everyone’s lessons in Seesaw and have been able to see these teachers take risks and grow as content creators.
In this post, I will work through a few questions I’ve been asking myself as a coach with the hopes of showcasing some of the great work I’m seeing, seeking feedback about my own practices, and mentally preparing my next steps as I close out the school year and this COETAIL journey in a few short weeks.
How do you recognize and celebrate staff during online learning?
The coaching structure in place at AISG is one that does not put me in an evaluative role, and for that, I’m grateful. This has helped put teachers at ease when they see me enter their classroom, sit in on a team meeting or seek me out in the hallway to chat about an idea they have. Throughout the school year, I’ve looked for ways to showcase some of the fantastic ways AISG teachers integrate technology, design thinking and inquiry into their daily practices. This does a couple of things; it recognizes/celebrates/validates them but it also helps document the teaching and learning experiences across the school. When we were physically together, I would do this by compiling photos and videos, completing a short write up and connect these to ISTE standards on the school’s Innovation blog which I would then share out at staff meetings and in weekly newsletters. Example:
Now that all of the teaching and learning is happening virtually, my collaboration and coaching support with teachers has shifted and left me feeling somewhat disconnected with the learning taking place in the online classes. Thankfully, Seesaw’s administrator dashboard allows me the opportunity to see the work students and teachers are doing and to celebrate and document their efforts. So, while it’s taken on a different look and feel, I have continued my work from the first semester with a new section of the online learning page which is updated and sent out in the weekly newsletter and then to admin for sharing at virtual staff meetings. While I’ve only received feedback about this feature from a couple of teachers, I feel like this small step helps people feel connected and celebrated. Example:
How do you provide teachers with ongoing support and professional development?
When this temporary venture into online learning began, much of my time was spent helping develop resources and policies, meeting with the admin and IT teams, and troubleshooting immediate issues for parents, students and teachers. As the weeks passed, people settled into their daily routines with online lessons and we started to realize that this would be a much longer road than we’d initially expected. It was at that point the conversations began to shift and we started to look for a more long-term model where we could delve deeper into what effective online teaching ‘looks like’ and how the Innovation Coaches could be providing ongoing support and PD to those who wanted and needed it. This led us to conduct some research and start working on a plan. The problem was that there’s not a lot of research out there relating to online instruction for elementary and preschool students. So, we evaluated some of the existing resources on blended and flipped learning, as well as kept an eye on what was coming out from companies like Global Online Academy and International School Services who are leading the way in compiling research in these areas during the pandemic.
Then, to gauge interest in the topics and ways teachers wanted to be supported, I sent out a survey and used that information to start developing a plan for moving this goal forward in the elementary school. The initial feedback from teachers gave me a good starting point and since then, I’ve been adding short videos to the Innovation blog and weekly newsletters to help meet teachers’ needs and provide ongoing support.
Circling back around to the idea of teachers taking on the role of digital content creators, one resource that has surfaced in the last week and connects well with the Micro-PD videos I’ve been working on comes from Jennifer Gonzales (Cult of Pedagogy) where she invites Kareem Farah (The Modern Classrooms Project) to share some effective strategies for building great screencasts. This episode reaffirmed the importance of this initiative at AISG and provided some additional insights I can incorporate in upcoming Micro-PD videos.
How do you coach all-stars?
Perhaps the most difficult question I’ve grappled with over the last few months (maybe even all year) is what to do for those teachers or teams who seem not to need me. First off, I think it’s important to note that this is my own perception and is probably laced with insecurity and imposter syndrome, but there are definitely some rockstars that I work with who I struggle to find ways to support in meaningful ways. So this part of the post is twofold; 1) I want to share some things that have been successful, and 2) I want to seek feedback from other coaches out there who perhaps have more experience and insights to offer.
* As I sat down to compose this post, I remembered that I belong to a strong PLN on Twitter, but also through Eduro, and I’m connected with lots of coaches. That led me to this post that helped me recognize and name some of what I’m doing to add value to the all-stars on my team.*
Being Present– We’ve just had the last round of kick-off meetings with each team as they prepare for their final units for the year. One of the grades I often feel I don’t have much to offer is Grade 1 because their team leader, Jessica Phillips, is as innovative as they come and holds the same qualifications as me (COETAIL and ISTE). She’s been a tremendous support for her team through all of this and I’m fortunate that she provides a lot of peer coaching to her colleagues. Last week, I was happy to have provided value to her and her team by connecting them with an astronomer through Skype a Scientist to do a live Q&A session with students when their space unit gets up and running next week. I would not have been able to do this if I weren’t in that meeting listening intently to their ideas.
Pinch-Hitting– With the amount of time, effort, and work being done by teachers right now, I’ve been looking for ways to remove things from their plates in order to give them a small moment of reprieve from the chaos. For teams who are struggling, it’s a great way for me to show them what’s possible in their lessons while giving them a little break. But for teams like our Grades 3 and 4 who are doing an amazing job with being digital content creators, it’s a way of freeing up some space in their schedules so they can keep hitting it out of the park with other lessons. That could mean I make a guest appearance and take over a lesson, create an exemplar they can use to show students, or develop activities and templates based on their planning documents. I periodically create and share videos I’ve made with teams in an effort to step in and relieve them. Here’s an example of a video I did for the Grade 4 team to help scaffold their summative assessment task:
Okay, so there it is, this week’s post on coaching, teachers as creators and things I’m working on during online learning. I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts and experiences in response to the questions above. If you have something you’ve been doing that you think is working well, please share it with a comment, or tweet it out and tag me @MsReyna2. Have a great week!