In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by Jenny Killion, instructional coach at the American School of Barcelona to discuss instructional coaching during school closures.
Get in touch with Jenny on twitter: @profesorajennyk
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:27 An interview with Jenny Killion, an instructional coach at the American school of Barcelona. I had the opportunity over the past few years to work face to face with Jenny a few times at her school in Barcelona and I’m a follower of hers on a Twitter, so I get a chance to keep track of of her work. Jenny’s been out of school there in Barcelona for the past two weeks. And when I saw on Twitter that she was putting together a PDP, she was going to be doing for her staff, I thought, you know what, I really ought to touch base and see if I can get her to share some of her experiences with the listeners. So Jenny, welcome.
Jenny: 01:18 Thank you. Thanks for having me, Steve.
Steve: 01:21 Would you first just give people a little bit of an introduction to the American School of Barcelona and then a little bit about your history and connections with instructional coaching?
Jenny: 01:32 Sure. So the American school of Barcelona has been around, gosh, more than 50 years and we’ve got about 960 students, P-K to grade 12 and we have the IB diploma program and we’ve got a really nice mix of, about 30% of our students are Spanish or Catalan, so local families, 30% North American and 30% international. So I’ve been at the American school of Barcelona for 10 years. And in my time here I’ve had the opportunity to work in a lot of different capacities. So I started as a fifth grade homeroom teacher, worked in sixth grade humanities, IT integrator, and then moved into a K-5 literacy coaching position, which then evolved into K-8 and now has moved into completely secondary 6-10. And so this is my seventh year as a coach in some capacity at ASB. And before that, I was a literacy coach in Aurora, Colorado for three years.
Steve: 02:29 What’s the instructional program that’s used in the grade 6 through 10 at your school?
Jenny: 02:35 So at ASB 6-10, we follow the common core state standards in language arts and math and our language arts classes in middle school for us that looks like a humanities program. And in 9th and 10th it’s a world literature course and we follow the reading, writing workshop model. We use many units of study from teacher’s college and have a strong relationship with them. In math we use the CPM program. And then in science K-10 we follow the next generation science standards.
Steve: 03:04 How much were your teachers engaged in technology and some online work with students outside the classroom prior to this virus outbreak?
Jenny: 03:17 Yeah, great question. So our teachers are using technology every single day, you know, in primary, teachers were pushing things out on Seesaw. So that was an app that we were using a lot in starting in fourth grade we started in Google classroom. So that’s something we’ve been using for a couple of years. And so I would say technology, both the platforms and the devices have been a big part of teaching and learning at ASB for a while. But without a doubt in the past two weeks teachers are at a whole new level because they had to be. So things that they may have been a bit more hesitant to have tried out before they’re jumping into now.
Steve: 03:54 So what’s been the response? What’s been the statements that teachers are making as you interact with them?
Jenny: 04:02 So it’s been really interesting. There is a huge sense of overwhelmedness, you know, teachers, from everybody actually I would say. So I think that’s really important to know as people potentially move to virtual teaching is it’s extremely overwhelming, especially at first. And that preparing lessons takes longer than it has ever taken before. With that being said, teachers have also said they’ve learned more in the past two weeks about teaching tools than they have in three years. You know, for some of them, obviously varying degrees. And I would actually say our teachers are really jumping into the learning and the experimenting. I think as soon as you move past the point of realizing nothing is going to be perfect or I can’t make everything perfect that it’s just all right, we’re just going to try it and once that pressure’s gone, it makes a big difference.
Steve: 04:54 You know, in my work for quite a few years, I’ve been describing the struggle of people being over focused on teaching and insufficiently focused on learning. And I’m wondering as I listen to you say that teachers have so much more time that the planning takes, it really strikes me that what has to go into the planning is really thinking about how kids are going to learn this, which is a different question from thinking about how I’m going to teach it.
Jenny: 05:27 Absolutely. And so I think, you know, we see, I mean even for ourselves as adults, like how quickly we can be distracted and how we need to grab attention, especially when you’re on technology. And so, you know, for teachers who may have spent more of their class periods lecturing, for example, you don’t want to put together a 30 minute lecture. One, just to put that together is exhausting. But we also know kids aren’t going to have the attention span for something like that. So it really has made teachers be even more purposeful what they’re choosing to say.
Steve: 05:58 I just read on LinkedIn this morning, a gal that I’ve been following, secondary English teacher and she – it’s great. She’s doing a video journal day by day of her experience. And yesterday was her first shot at holding a class that was whole class 30 minutes long like she would have back at her classroom. And she pretty much decided it’s back to the drawing board after yesterday as the students weren’t very anxious to respond and interact with her in that format.
Jenny: 06:38 Yes.
Steve: 06:39 I’ve been working on a set of podcasts for parents on this time. And I’m trying to carry that message out to the parents, that parents want to avoid stepping into the role of teacher or think that it’s now their job to teach because their son or daughter’s at home and instead focus on on how their son or daughter are learning. And it’s a great chance to learn about learning. I think overall that’s going to be true for everybody come out of this. From administrators to teachers, to coaches, to parents to kids is a whole new way of looking at what it means to be a learner.
Jenny: 07:16 I think that’s a really nice distinction. Absolutely.
Steve: 07:19 So what have you had a chance to start tackling in the coaching role and how do you see that moving forward?
Jenny: 07:27 Yeah. So I’m really lucky at ASB because we have a four person teaching and learning department. And so we’ve been able – and that’s instructional coaches, technology coaches, and then our director of teaching and learning and through our team, you know, we knew this was coming, so actually as a school we were able to start preparing in advance, which we feel really lucky for. I wouldn’t say you’re ever prepared, but we at least had a lot in place already. And so when it was time, as a team we met and right away thought about, okay, what do we anticipate teachers are going to need the most support with? And we anticipated and it’s correct, it’s what everybody will feel is the support with technology tools. So just making sure from the beginning that people know what platforms and tools are available, how to use them and can think about that really purposefully with their age group of kids and the content they’re teaching.
Jenny: 08:21 And so we really made a choice week one, to focus our professional development around technology support as opposed to instructional practices. And so the way we decided to tackle this is by creating a virtual PD board. And so it was basically a grid where through chunks of the day, chunks of the week, we set up different PD sessions and that was a variety of things. So it was everything from like, drop in office hours, so where teachers could just drop in and ask questions as they were coming up with different teaching learning members. And then specific sessions like how to get Seesaw up and running in the early childhood program. How to use Screencastify to create lessons to share it with kids. How to set up, you know, we use a lot of Google apps, so how to set up Google meet to start having some conference calls in small groups with kids.
Jenny: 09:16 And so that way, teachers could then look at that board, decide which one of these do I need, when am I free? And join those conversations. And also what was really nice within that is it was facilitated sessions were facilitated by a mix of teaching and learning team members, other people who are really strong in technology. So some of our more technical staff, and teachers who were already leading when it came to technology in the classroom. And so it’s really also a way to start building the capacity up of staff as opposed to it just being the select group that’s able to offer everything.
Steve: 09:54 Has your school made a statement of expectation to teachers as to what the expectations are for learner outcomes during this time?
Jenny: 10:07 It’s an interesting question. So something actually here, the Catalan government has actually said that no schools in Catalonia, which is the region that Barcelona is in, in Spain, is allowed to give any summative assessments in this two week period. So our first quarantine or confinement time is – was supposed to be until, well tomorrow, actually just this Friday. It’s since been extended, but they said that no summatives were allowed to be given in any of the schools as a matter of equity. And so that then really shifted, well, what, okay, what are we going to be asking students to do? What are we going to grade and provide feedback on if we know it’s not going to count in quite the same way that it would have if we were live in class. And so I would say this is really what we’re figuring out as an instructional leadership team right now. So teachers are grading things formatively, but what we’re finding is teachers feel like they have to look at everything that students are turning in because we also had set an expectation that there’s, like, an exit ticket for each class just to know if students are getting into Google classroom, doing the work, things like that. But then teachers are feeling like they have to grade all of those things, which is just completely overwhelming. So I would say that that’s where we are right now as our disequilibrium of what are we providing feedback on.
Steve: 11:26 Here’s a thought for you to share. I was just passing this on. Today – today, Columbia University announced all classes are pass/fail. So the fact that Columbia University can make that decision and we got elementary schools that are struggling with how to grade something during this time, I think there’s a big wake up call for a of us there on that issue.
Jenny: 11:55 Yeah. It brings perspective. And so I think, you know, in my conversations with teams and teachers, it’s just thinking about, okay, we want exit tickets because we want to check in with kids and let them know that we recognize they were in class “in class,” and trying to do that work. But what we’re scoring, you know, let’s just be really thoughtful about that. What’s actually gonna matter right now.
Steve: 12:18 So one of the interviews that I conducted was with a instructional coach from Beijing, China. He’s been out eight weeks now. And he said the learning that they had to move to, or the realization that they had to move to was that learning had to trump curriculum. That the people who were looking at, you know, what was my curriculum? And now I’m going to keep that curriculum, I know in some of the schools in the States at the secondary level, they actually are keeping the schedule that a kid had in school. So as an example, my my granddaughter’s a middle schooler. And so her schedule online is the same as her schedule is, you know, during the day. But rather quickly, teachers are saying, you know, what was a one day, 55 minute class is now three days in this online component. And so have having to think through what is it that I want to engage kids in where learning can happen. That’s going to be the critical, crucial question here.
Jenny: 13:23 Definitely. We’ve really been exploring like, this mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and we are doing a mix of it where teachers are expected to be online and available during their class period, but we’re not having live classes just because the reality of that. We have kids who’ve left Spain or in different time zones. We also know kids just might work at different paces and so we don’t want them on their computer for six hours a day. Like, that’s for sure. So yes, providing a mini lesson or content for kids that matches the curriculum. Okay, we want some pieces of that. But what’s so crucial just for the interaction as well, is being able to talk about it with their teacher or with one another.
Steve: 14:10 That’s a social, emotional component of this, isn’t it?
Jenny: 14:14 Yeah. It’s huge.
Steve: 14:15 Yeah. I was on a podcast interview Monday and I got to asked this question, how do I see the skills of coaching being different with having to coach online? And I said, I’m going to beg your pardon and I’m going to change the question to how do you see him being the same? Because I think the similarities outweigh the differences. And I’m wondering if you’d have some response to that thought.
Jenny: 14:49 I completely agree. I think coaching online is, is more similar to coaching in person than it is different. I’m also feeling that same way about teaching, to be honest about best practices are best practices. It’s just that how we’re delivering them, that’s changing a bit. And so when I think about coaching, and again, we know what I believe, one of the key components is the relationship building. So, luckily I’ve built relationships with these teachers, but right now my first priority is just connecting and making sure people are okay.
Steve: 15:22 So just, just one second before you go on with that I reminded people the phone works.
Jenny: 15:29 Mhm. [laughter]
Steve: 15:32 You want to check in on how the staff are doing, you can pick up the phone because the teacher’s got the computer tied up trying to figure out the design of her lesson.
Jenny: 15:43 [laughter] Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And so I feel like that’s really been the focus and it’s still the focus at the start of every conversation I’m having with everyone that I speak to is just how are you doing today? How are things feeling? That’s number one. That’s not any different than it would be in person. I think also this idea of like, is it one on one coaching, is it team coaching? Those structures are absolutely the same.
Steve: 16:08 That was the other thing that the coach in China found out. Was that the PLCs became increasingly important and he was spending quite a bit of his time attending online PLC meetings because he could work with that group and interconnect that group. And that the stronger the PLCs were prior to this happening, the quicker those folks could run. But also this was causing people who hadn’t been forming good PLCs to start to tap into each other and work more in that direction.
Jenny: 16:46 Absolutely. Yeah. So I mean, we’ve found, we’ve kept all of our PLCs going as of last week, I would say, you know, right now our focus is, hey, what, what are you trying that’s working? What’s a challenge? So it’s been more of those conversations, but I was actually with our middle school science team today and we were looking at student survey data. So we sent out a survey to students after the first week of virtual school with questions like, is the amount of work that my teachers providing just right, too little, too much? Is it challenging, too challenging just right, not difficult enough? And things like that. And we were able to look as a team at that data and figure out, okay, what, what can we celebrate? What are we going to try to adjust? And so, I mean actually say it was like an amazingly rich conversation considering we’ve just been trying this for a little while. And but again, that idea of like, let’s look at data. What are kids telling us? How are we gonna adjust our instruction? And then next time we talk, let’s see how it went.
Steve: 17:44 And to tie that back to relationship, powerful when the kids see the teachers making adjustments based on the feedback that the students had provided. I mean, what a perfect thing for people to be taken back to a regular face to face classroom coming out of this.
Jenny: 18:05 Right. And I think what I’m anticipating is we’re going to see a shift in instruction faster than we’ve may have seen in person just because we’re all learning and like, so quickly and we know certain things are working and some aren’t. And I think we’re going to see changes really quickly.
Steve: 18:22 I have heard that as a positive component coming out of this, we’ve got the chance to run experiments that by and large the parents never would have let us run.
Jenny: 18:34 [laughter]
Steve: 18:34 You know, it would have taken you years of convincing the community that you could do this change and now, you know, whenever you want to try, go ahead. So it does really create a tremendous learning opportunity. And I just have the picture in my head that school can’t be the same going back.
Jenny: 18:53 No.
Steve: 18:53 There just be too many things that we’ll have learned.
Jenny: 18:56 Yep.
Steve: 18:56 Well listen, any final thoughts, any anything that that you could share here with folks? Because everybody’s in a learning stage and I think the faster we can learn from each other the better.
Jenny: 19:09 So something I would mention connecting back to this idea of what about coaching is the same. And so I think something that’s really important for people in coaching roles to think about if their schools are moving to a virtual learning environment is how can they visit classrooms and what can that look like just like it would if you were in person. And so for example, I had all the teams I work with add me as a co-teacher to their Google classroom so then I can go in and see what work looks like for kids.
Steve: 19:40 Perfect.
Jenny: 19:40 And I did that today. I looked at all ninth and 10th grade classes for a particular subject area. And it was fascinating to see the different things happening and then taking like, my observation notes just in a slightly different way. But I was like, it’s exactly the same as being in a classroom
Steve: 19:57 Actually you probably have a chance to do more observation than you would during the school day because you’re going to get pulled off to do something else.
Jenny: 20:05 Absolutely. And so getting to watch the videos of teaching, getting to see how lessons are designed, the types of tasks students are being asked to do. And so then tomorrow I’m meeting with this team of teachers and can go through, here is all the things we can celebrate that you’re trying, here’s some suggestions so things are more consistent for kids. And so it was really exciting to do that work today and realize, okay, yeah, this is another thing a little bit different, but very similar to what I would hope to be doing at school as well.
Steve: 20:34 I gotta thank you. What you just said was was enough reason for us to do the podcast. People need to hear that from people who are living it so that they have the courage to move ahead with it.
Jenny: 20:49 Yeah. So I mean I would just, I would say a big piece of advice I have is that coaches, principals, that you’re in people’s classrooms, however those may be set up week one, so that you can do basically a virtual walkthrough and making it really clear it’s to support teachers and kids, not an accountability measure. It’s really to help support. And then for coaches that gives you a really good sense of how you can support teams of teachers most effectively. I would also say, you know, just remembering that it’s a steep learning curve for everyone involved. Kids are learning a new way of tackling schoolwork. Parents and families are adjusting, teachers, administrators, everyone. This idea of going slow to go fast, particularly at the beginning. And I think that also impacts like the guidelines and expectations so that you want those to be clear for teachers but also be really thoughtful about how much you’re sharing when, because as soon as if it’s too many guidelines and expectations, that’s what overwhelms people right away.
Steve: 21:54 I had a 25 year veteran say that she feels like a first year teacher. And I thought that’s a good way for coaches to look at it. In effect, you’ve got a staff of first year teachers and in many ways at least that’s what they’re feeling.
Jenny: 22:07 Absolutely. Oh it’s so there’s so many similarities for sure. I also think it’s really important that idea of how can we build capacity of people so that you don’t have one person that everyone’s going to for answers. And so making sure you’re tapping individuals who are already really strong in different tech tools and platforms just so that you’re, you’re building and growing the whole community from the beginning I think is really important. You know, I think also, you know, for better or worse schools have been in this for like you said, up to eight weeks, a couple of weeks just like ASB. And so really connecting with teachers who have been doing this for a while. So whether that be joining the groups on Facebook, following people on Twitter and talking to teachers right away to get ideas of how you might do things and just know that there’s such a community out there.
Jenny: 23:00 So I’m always checking those social media sites to get ideas to bring back to the teachers I work with. You know, and again, this idea of start with the practical support when it comes to how to use the technology and what that can look like. And then layer in. So like for us, 100% of our PD week one was around technology. Week two, we’ve been about 80% tech support, 20% instructional practices. Next week I think we’ll go closer to a 50/50. So it comes back to that idea of going slow to go fast and teachers just need to feel like they can – they know what to do and what they can use before you want to start to go deeper into small group instruction and some of those more complicated pieces.
Steve: 23:45 Thank you so much, Jenny. I knew when I saw your responses on Twitter that you’d be great to share with other coaches. I really thank you for joining us.
Jenny: 23:54 Thanks so much, Steve.
Steve: 23:55 You bet. Stay safe.
Jenny: 23:57 You do the same.
Steve: 23:58 Bye. Bye.
Jenny: 23:59 Bye.
Steve [Outro]: 24:01 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.