Sunday, September 17, 2017

Staying Organized

Shifting from classroom teacher to instructional coach was a little uncomfortable at first. For the first time in my career I was in total control of my days. They were no longer dictated by a bell schedule or lesson plans. Instead, my days revolved around meetings, teacher requests, and projects.

I was using Google Calendar for scheduling, various digital and paper to-do lists, and taking little notepads with me to teacher meetings (since it had been recommended not to use a laptop). That system wasn't working for me. So after trying a couple of options, I landed on and have stuck with using an Erin Condren Life Planner. The video above demonstrates how I set up each month to manage my schedule, track my time, and compile my to-do lists.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

4 Tips for a New Instructional Coach

I met someone at a conference who recently reached out to me because she got hired as a Math Coach for her district. She asked for some advice on how to get started in her first year. I thought others might be interested as well ...

1. Develop a Shared Vision with your Administrator
Get administrators on board with the understanding that research does not support deficit-model coaching and that working with you should be mostly voluntary for teachers. Principals should not expect that you will go in and "fix" teachers. That is not an effective plan and will keep teachers from wanting to work with you. Along this same vein, I would recommend that the coach and the principal develop a Contract of Understanding to address Communication (set meeting dates/times), Expectations, Time & Resources, Confidentiality, and Feedback (between principal, coach, and teachers).

2. Build Relationships with Teachers
Every teacher has a story, and it's your job to learn it. It takes time to know them on a personal level and a professional level, but I'm learning that both are essential in moving teachers. When I began my work, I thought it would be "all business," but one thing I've learned is that coaching is deeply relational. I was new to my building, so I started by asking groups of teachers if I could crash their lunch and eat with them since I didn't have a group of my own. I found teachers were incredibly gracious and it allowed me to get to know them personally. I also started both semesters with drop-in visits (5 minutes each) and leaving positive notes to give teachers a positive first experience with my role. 

3. Be Visible to Teachers
Since I support 150 teachers, many of them will never seek me out so I try and initiate contact with them regularly. I do things like create 2-Minute EdTech Tip videos every few weeks, and my counterpart and I send a monthly newsletter just to try and get resources into their hands. At this point in the tech-age, I believe that people do not expect to have to go looking for resources as much as they prefer to have them arrive at their doorsteps (or inboxes).

Another tip worth noting is that it's definitely easier and more efficient to work on projects or answer emails in my office, but (after reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros) I've been swayed to the belief that it's more important for me to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency so I can be in classrooms. I asked for teacher volunteers who wouldn't mind me sitting in the back of their rooms working on administrative tasks so I could still be part of the school, and several volunteered. I do this as often as I can.

4. Follow-Up is Powerful
Last year I learned the value of following up with teachers. I didn't do it enough at the beginning of the year because I just felt like they asked for help with a problem, we solved the problem, and I would sit back and wait until they had another problem. I have since changed my strategy because I've learned that the majority of the work I do with teachers should fall in line with the Coaching Cycle, so rarely should I have a "one and done" encounter with a teacher. Now, after I work with a teacher, I make a note in my planner for a week or two later to casually check in and see how things are going. That often leads to more work with that teacher, and they appreciate the gesture of me reaching out to follow up.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Time Tracker Tool

Part of the problem with instructional coaching is just getting the opportunity to begin working with teachers.  Early on, at the suggestion of an administrator, I asked a team if I could visit each teacher's classroom for one full class period to observe and get a feel for the content, class structure, and instructional strategies being used.  

To let teachers know what to expect, I informed them in advance of when I would visit, that I would share a script of the lesson, and that I would be glad to have a follow-up feedback conversation with them afterward if they would like.  During these observations, I loosely scripted the lessons and recorded my thoughts and questions at the bottom of the script.  I told teachers at the conclusion of the lesson that I would send them the script only (not my feedback) and that I would be glad to follow up with them, per their request, to offer feedback.  Every teacher during that round of this work did engage in a feedback conversation with me.

I learned as I went along that if I were able to visit during their class just before planning or the end of the day, teachers were especially eager to have the feedback conversations.

This strategy worked well, but I knew I would be joining the team at their next PLC meeting, and I wanted some sort of compiled data to share with the team.  This is how the Time Tracker idea was born.  Because this particular team has placed high emphasis on collaboration, all classes consisted of the same openers, class notes, homework, etc.  

As I reviewed the scripts of all classroom visits, it was easy to determine appropriate categories for what I observed. Then I determined how many minutes each teacher spent on each category and represented it on a chart.  I also added pie chart to show the amounts of time spent on each category.

During the meeting, I displayed the group data (keeping teacher names/data anonymous by labeling Teacher #1).  I led discussion among the group to discuss their noticings and wonderings about the data as well as shared trends that were not displayed on the graph that I noticed among the classrooms.

The team's conversation revolved around interest in things like, "I notice that I spent twice as much time as other people on the homework. How are you keeping that time down in your classes?"

Overall, this was a good tool that I have used with other teams as well as vertically across different teams.  A difference that I've noticed with other teams, however, is that if they are less collaborative, it can take more thought to create categories.

Another thing I learned with the first team was that right away everyone really wanted to know what number they were on the graph.  So after that, I changed my protocol a bit so that now I email individual teachers the Time Tracker chart the day before the data conversation meeting, and I tell them what number they are on the graph.  This way, teachers can come in ready to discuss what they feel is the most pertinent information.

This process could also be valuable to administrators or teacher leaders.

If you are interested, you can purchase my Time Tracker from our TeachersPayTeachers store, available in Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.