In the current environment, coaching should assist educators in identifying “what is most important” and “what can be let go”. The value of letting some things go is to invest in making the most important things happen. Celebrating that success is motivating and builds hope.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:25 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: 00:53 Coaching based on teachers’ thinking and goals – building hope. I have frequently spoken and written about the need for coaching to be based on an understanding of what I label as the teacher’s agenda. What is the teacher thinking? What is the teacher feeling? What is the teacher desiring to have happen? As that’s uncovered, I then seek to find the teacher’s perceptions that are hinting at or supporting that agenda. What is the teacher seeing and hearing? What are they not seeing and hearing? What’s her picture of the desired future? I am guided by the thought that I’m going to refrain from sharing my thinking until I’m clear on the teacher’s thinking. I want to build my coaching around being a partner, a partner who’s collaborating with the teacher to get increasingly closer to his desired picture of student success.
Steve: 02:15 In the current environment, I believe that coaching should assist educators in identifying what is most important and what can they let go of. But the value of letting go of some things is to be able to make an investment in making the most important things happen. Then celebrating that success becomes motivating. The uniqueness and the uncertainty of teaching today, virtually and in hybrid and in classrooms where students are distanced and wearing masks, all increased the need to support teachers in moving continually closer to their desired pictures of the future. Working towards those pictures, working towards those futures, builds hope. CR Snyder described why we need teachers to have hope: “When high hope people encounter obstacles in pursuit of a goal, they do not despair. Having identified multiple routes to reach objectives, they simply choose another route and go around the barrier. Low hope people in contrast, may give up when encountering barriers to goals because they cannot think of other pathways to surmount the obstacles.
Steve: 03:56 This often results in frustration, a loss of confidence and lowered self esteem. In order to sustain movement towards one’s goals, both a sense of agency and a sense of pathways must be operative.” Yes, our coaching needs to be building teachers’ sense of agency and sense of pathways. To do that, we need to first speed listening and confirming our understanding of the teacher’s desired future. Uncovering a picture of the first signs of progress can be very helpful in instilling hope. Hope that motivates continued exploration. Education Week recently published the results of a national survey of teachers, principals, and district staff that shed some light on what educators may be thinking and feeling. I’ve placed the link to that survey in the lead-in to this podcast. I think that the findings suggest areas that we will likely be uncovering during coaching conversations and during collaborations where we hope to be building hope. One finding that was shared: educators feel less effective. They feel less it’s effective at gauging students’ individual strengths and weaknesses and personal interests than they were prior to the COVID-19 disruption.
Steve: 05:49 As one teacher shared, “Body language is about 85% of communication. Especially with my high school kids. You can’t get that talking to a screen.” “Even students in school is different,” as one teacher added. I just gained 60 new students this year and when you’re just looking at the mask, it’s hard not to get their names wrong. And a principal added, “teachers used to go around the room and work directly with students, but now many are stuck to their technology like an umbilical cord in front of the classroom. All of this in order to comply with social distancing.” As a coach, a teacher sharing those feelings and concerns with me would likely lead me to paraphrase and empathize around the teacher wanting to know more about her students. I’d be confirming the importance of knowing in order to build relationships that support learning. Now that may mean that I’d need to create some comfort for the teacher to be able to take more time and spend that time connecting and finding out about students. It may mean exploring ways for a teacher to do that, like some individual conference in possibilities or small group conversations. Critical as a teacher took those efforts and directions, as a coach, I would want to be checking back with the teacher to debrief, to find out what it is she’s learning about students and how she is applying what she’s learning to increase her ability to reach out to students and to deepen their engagement in learning.
Steve: 08:11 A second result from the survey was that educators reported less one-on-one and less group instruction. The majority of survey respondents, 60%, said there had been somewhat less or a lot less individual and group instruction during the pandemic. Interestingly, 22% said that there had been more, somewhat more, or a lot more. One teacher in the survey shared this: “No small group instruction is happening because I don’t who is where. And I’m worried students might cheat on an assessment or get too much help from their parents. I’m not going to trust a test that they take at home because they didn’t take it with me.” If a teacher said that to me in a coaching session, I would question to explore if the teacher saw herself teaching synchronous small group groups, if she could more accurately assess the students. If she did, then I’d explore ways that she might do that assessment.
Steve: 09:34 Such as having a student explain the solution to one math problem in a recording. On the other hand, if I uncovered that the real discomfort was in working with synchronous groups, I then explore maybe after or identifying what it is she would want students to experience in those groups, the various ways that she might go about holding them. In some classrooms, even with the students back at school, with desks spaced out as far as possible, and the student’s required to wear a masks and maintain as much separation as they can from their peers, making groups work effectively certainly is a challenge. One administrator reported: “Teachers used to see themselves as facilitators, allowing students to learn as much as possible from one another. Those teachers are now often relying more on direct instruction because of the social distancing requirements.” Coaching a teacher who feels stuck with such current practices might be built around identifying a learning activity that is one step away from the teacher’s current direct instruction process.
Steve: 10:50 Getting closer to students, making decisions that can be explored. The EdWeek article Go had a great example from teacher, Karen Doyle, a school librarian who also teaches a science, technology, engineering and math class in which she asks students to work in groups to manufacture the strongest possible glue. This year with classes operating remotely, she put her students into three virtual groups. Each group had to vote on the recipe that they thought would work the best. Then she filmed herself making the glue using each of the groups’ instructions and testing to see which one was the strongest. Her finding? It worked!, she said. It wasn’t ideal and they didn’t get their hands dirty, but as a teacher, she gained confidence that group work can happen. I’d call that hope. T
Steve: 12:07 The third finding from the survey is no surprise. Tech use is bigger than ever.
Steve: 12:14 Teachers and students have learned a lot about teaching and learning online. Often, coaches are assisting teachers in finding new ways for students to engage in learning online. Interestingly, some teachers may now be wanting to find ways to impact students who are still quarantined at home to learn in ways other than online.
Steve: 12:42 In an earlier podcast, I shared a great example from Erin Casavant, a middle school teacher in Bismark, North Dakota. She sent the following email home to parents: “Dear parents and guardians, I am sending this to you, not to your child so that you can decide what best fits your situation. I believe that science is one of the most important constructs ever devised by mankind. I believe curiosity drives science and learning. With all that being said, I know this is a crazy time and I do not want school classwork to interfere with some incredible learning opportunities afforded to you and your child to explore and answer questions. This is my proposal. If you would be willing to cook, build engineer, knit, sew, etc. with your child this week and submit a picture for evidence, your child will be excused from science homework. So if you try a new recipe, build a pinewood derby car or plant some seeds, start a garden, take some pictures and submit them in lieu of science work this
week. This may be done for any week for the rest of the year in science. Science is anywhere, everywhere that you can question and find the answers. I hope this provides a more enjoyable and curiosity filled end to the school year with your child. Thank you.”
Steve: 14:17 Erin reported that she got some great responses from parents and students regarding the activities they engaged in. Responses that she could turn into opportunities for continuous learning. Some teachers may need a coach to support taking such a unique move as Erin did in order to get closer to the kind of student engagement they’re seeking. Again, debriefing such activities with the teacher, allows the teacher to gain insights and encouragement to continually move closer to their desired picture of student success. Hope.
Steve: 14:52 And the last finding from that EdWeek survey is promising. More than two thirds of educators said that professional development to help personalize learning for kids in a remote and hybrid setting had been very effective or at least somewhat effective in their schools and districts. One superintendent reported, “we’re being extremely thoughtful, both in terms of acting on feedback and trying to give teachers what they need when they need it. The PD has been pointed and very flexible and very targeted to our current needs.” Boy, great terms for all of us as coaches to pull from that statement. Acting on feedback, pointed, flexible, and targeted. Those are great descriptors of what we as coaches want to be approaching in our work with educators. And that models exactly what we’re looking for teachers to be doing with their students. C.R. Snyder offered an important caution for us: “It is important to emphasize that in order to give hope to others, you must first have hope yourself. Teachers may be particularly vulnerable for burnout and for losing hope. I’d suggest the same can be true of us as teacher leaders and coaches. We need to make sure that we keep building our hope so that we can continuously build hope. Yes, we need coaching for coaches.”
Steve: 17:03 Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 17:06 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.