In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by 8th grade social studies teacher, John Burns, to participate in a pre-conference.
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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: 00:52 Coaching pre-conference for a virtual learning activity. In my coaching work across the years, I’ve always stressed the importance of the critical role that pre-conferencing plays in effective coaching. Matter of fact, I have frequently said it’s the most important part within the coaching activity, because it lays the groundwork for both any observation the coach is going to do as well as how you share feedback with a teacher in a post-conference, it guides you on creating teacher reflection that’s going to lead to teacher growth. My thinking going into a pre-conference is that I want to focus on what I call the teacher’s agenda. That’s a little bit of the bigger picture behind the teacher’s work. Kind of what’s going on in the mind of the teacher as he or she is planning or executing a learning activity with students.
Steve: 02:03 And then the second item I identify is the focus. And the focus is the particular element that the teacher wants me to be paying attention to. I kind of describe it as my job. So if I’m actually observing the lesson, it’s the information that the teacher wants me to collect, which could be teacher actions, student actions or both. Going into the post-conference then, it’s important that I do exactly what it is that the teacher requested in the pre-conference. And keeping that post-conference on the focus that was identified in the pre-conference is how coach builds trust with people. Now, one difference that may occur in the virtual teaching is whether or not the coach is actually present. So is the coach signed in during the teacher’s lesson and able to observe and collect some specific data for the teacher? If not, then the coach may simply be joining the teacher for a post-conference after the teacher’s lesson, where the coach is going to guide the teacher’s reflection, but it’s still going to be around the specific focus that the teacher laid out in the pre-conference. So today, I’m lucky enough to have a friend, John Burns join me. John is a eighth grade social studies teacher in Napa, California, currently teaching virtually and John has kindly offered to join me in a preconference. So John, welcome.
John : 03:58 Hello.
Steve: 03:59 Would you start by giving people just a little bit about your personal teaching background, and then maybe tell us a little bit about, about your middle school?
John : 04:08 Yeah, my teaching background – I’ve done many things and I’ve taught every grade from sixth grade to 12th grade, except never 10th grade. I’ve mostly taught English. I’m teaching social studies now where I probably taught English 95% of the years in all those different grade levels. I’ve also been a school administrator and I’m very happily teaching history in eighth grade now.
Steve: 04:35 So what’s the best thing about being an eighth grade social studies teacher?
John : 04:41 Well, first of all, I love the subject. And then the fact that it’s social studies is for middle school, I think is a really fun and energizing time because in so many ways, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard about some of the things that, you know, are – the history that they, the country they live in. So I think it’s important, but I think, I think it also can be kind of fun and there’s a lot of wonder in it in a way and it’s it’s important because especially in California, we don’t have the history around us like you would, if you lived on the East coast, you know.
Steve: 05:15 What’s it been like to make the the switch kind of over overnight to to, to teaching virtually? What parts have you found easiest to connect your past experiences to and then wherever you find found the challenge?
John : 05:36 First of all, I think for everybody, it was a strange sort of shock because if you’re aware of what was going around, you could see the wave coming towards closure, but then when it really actually happened and happening around this time of year in the spring, and we had the spring break coming up, but it’s the time of year where you really started, you know, getting ready for a big push before standardized testing. And just when you really feel like you’re in a groove with the students. And and I’ll bring that up in what I’m thinking about lesson planning right now, how different it is because in my class at that point, I had pretty high expectations in writing that I’ve had with them to have now. So the technology, that was the next big thing, because we have, we have pretty good technology at home, meaning our wifi is pretty strong and you know, we have a variety of computers and different things, but we found like everybody found out that when the daughter and the son is home all the time and the daughter’s home all the time, and we’re both running classes, so there was a whole technology thing with just blowing our wifi up.
John : 06:44 I won’t bore you with that, but I’m sure that hit everybody. And then after that, it was digging into some of the things we’d already been using on some level in class, but now it was do or die. And then the next step after that was, you know, really immediately having to go out and find experts like bluntly, my sister is, that had different things out in the in the world of the web that they can really help.
Steve: 07:17 So I’ve had some teachers tell me that after 25 years of teaching, they kind of feel like they’re a first year teacher again which
is scary, but at some shots can be refreshing also. So tell me about the learning piece that you’d like to focus our coaching around.
John : 07:38 Well, Steve if you mind just jumping on what you just said right there about the first year teacher thing, I can attest to that and then I’ll jump to your next question real quick. Just today when I finished my second zoom meeting, I felt the kind of exhilaration I don’t normally feel anymore in the classroom. And that’s something that I’m going to have to actually kind of do some thinking around on why, I mean, after class, they just, because there was – it’s just the way interaction is in this new world. It kind of hearkened back to when I was a younger teacher and particularly a high school teacher and had a little time talking to kids after class and then the other one is just being terrified that everything’s not gonna work and it’s all going to blow up again. And then, you know, saying to yourself that, wait a minute, I’m a 30 year vet, why am I freaking out about the fact that zoom meetings is going to die?
Steve: 08:28 And when you live when you live through it, it could be exciting.
John : 08:31 Yes. So, okay. Now the next question, what am I focused on for this coming week? Well, I slowed down the pace , of work because I was getting feedback from my students that what was happening, and I think this is an interesting thing for teachers to think about – what was happening is that teachers, and it’s our nature, we’re just assigning work and then they would have a screencast. I have a screencast from the zoom and then the screencast and the zoom are really designed around explaining the work that needs to be done and then, well, we’ll see you in two days for another zoom and give you more work. And that was really grinding some kids down high to low, and you can imagine kids getting hit by that as being their new learning model. So that definitely gave me the feedback to say, you know what I need to really go back.
John : 09:28 And it’s really interesting when you threw that in. I went back to my roots, I went back to caught in the middle. I don’t know if anybody who’s listening to this remembers that, but that’s middle school teachers, at least in California from back in the nineties or something, and about how kids are caught in the middle. And so continuing on, I went back and I started thinking, you know, voice, choice, is you know, a really key thing in middle school for getting kids in. And then, you know, the other thing that was really missing and what was going on, obviously the work was there, was some way of having this word be made public, whether it be made public in the classroom. And that’s one of the parts of my lesson for next week that would normally be, how do we take work that we’ve done now, make it public, do some processing around it, and then go back and for me usually writing.
Steve: 10:22 What’s your thinking or purpose behind getting the kids to make it public?
John : 10:27 I think that’s always been a central crux, I think it’s even come back in project based learning that, when really – and I would say any of us, if we’re going to do something, then the grand question is why, and then, you know, you’re going to get into grades and things like that, which would be another fun blog in this world and what grades have become. But you know, that making public thing, I think it creates, you know, a variety of things. I think it makes the student more prone. I think, to realize that, you know, I want to do my best, this is going to be something that’s seen. We can talk again about the stress that you need to deal with on that a little bit for kids and showing that the iterations and process, but for me, the making public and this particular lesson is that then the class is going to process on that before they write.
John : 11:17 So that’s why they’re going to be a lot of different levels. And in fact, celebrate would be my next one. That would be more like for the people outside of our classroom to see. So maybe I’m clarifying in my mind right now, as I’m talking to you the make it public is often for me making it public in class. So what I’m thinking, what I would be doing normally in the classroom right now is I’d be taking what we’ve done now and do some sort of gallery walk, or maybe in the modern age, some sort of slide show that people are showing to each other. And then they go station to station and do some processing around each person’s work. Then that process would have another document where we, you know, we start to build, well, how would we approach some sort of essay, short writing, some writing. And that really is what I’m working on next week.
Steve: 12:11 So is it that writing that they’re going to do, John, that you’re taking public?
John : 12:16 Yeah, that would be one of the things that ultimately would, I would be taking public. What I’m going to be making public in the classroom back to this work that they’ve done around, they’ve had a choice of four different types of projects that I found on TeachRock that have, with the other thing I needed to find with some manageable amount of work. These kids were, it’s another – we could do a thousand blogs off of what’s happening with this distance learning on how it brings you back to really think about the basics. So you know, I could really find manageable chunks of work and they could choose which one they wanted and it has a creative side as answers and video response stuff. But the big part is that they are going to create, and throughout this week, I’ve looked in each lesson plan and we’ve been doing a lot of drawing around note taking and drawing and using that as part of their learning. And it was something we were doing before the novel unit. So now what they’re going to make public next week is their creativity around that project. I’m going to put them into groups based on what project they chose. I gave them a form today. So now I know what project each student chose. So, and we’ll talk about this later in process. Now I have to figure out how to get them in each different group of a zoom and so that they can work down a group.
Steve: 13:37 What’s the most important thing you want happening when the kids are in those groups?
John : 13:44 The being able to process their thinking together so that they can now take that thinking to their writing.
Steve: 13:56 And they’re going to take that thinking to the writing individually, or as a group?
John : 14:01 They will do that – just because of the nature of where we are with distance learning, it’ll have to be writing on their own with
varieties of scaffolds.
Steve: 14:11 So you want the conversation when they’re in the group to impact their writing that they’re going off on their own to do then?
John : 14:26 Yes.
Steve: 14:26 Okay. So what do you think would happen? What would you think what happened in that conversations that they’re having that would lead to it impacting their writing?
John : 14:37 I have a number of, well, not a number of – just a few questions in which I might bring down to one which will be the question that
they’ll write around. And where we started out from this unit was this question – how does art music paintings, writings, film, create community without all the members being in the same place at the same time? So I was thinking around the idea of, you know, if you’re every anybody’s right back, very Potter book, kind of a Harry Potter person and star Wars fans, or star Wars people, you to see these movies in different places where you share this love of something. And for a lot of people, and the reason I chose music for these units is, and particularly middle school kids, they really connect with songs and music that they share together.
John : 15:24 And so, that was the question I wanted to bring them into these units with, and then the question I’m working on writing is, the logical next step to building we’ve been working on is perspective. They’re the best ever first person perspective for what happens when students are put in distance learning at this age. So I don’t know for how many examples we’re going to get like these kids. So it’s kind, I’ve been working with them. So the next question I think they need to think of with us is, why is it important to reopen our stadiums and concert halls and schools? What is it about that we have to build a better sense of belonging to a community of people who enjoy the same things and, you know, because you know, clearly this isn’t school, what we’re doing virtually, but it’s very important – that, you know, that that sense of being together.
John : 16:17 I mean, if I digress for a second, it’s become very important for me during the week to do these zooms with my students more so, like I said today, and then last week I was starting to feel like they’re more meaningful. I sense that the zooms are more meaningful and and it’s, it’s just – I don’t know how many other teachers are feeling this, but it’s just absolutely heartbreaking and brutal to think that – I’m actually going to cry. Because, you know, our school year just ended. I’m sorry Steve, I didn’t think I was going to cry.
Steve: 16:56 There’s two pieces I’m hearing, John, for reflection and learning for you. And one is, what it is that happens when the kids are in the groups so that you identify if you’re getting in the group, what you want or you’re not getting what you want. They have to look at a modification there. And then the second piece I’m hearing is, when you look at the student’s writing, can you find a connection between what went on in their group and what those students produced in their writing?
John : 17:43 Yeah, the first one is because we’re in a Zoom meeting and we can do the breakout rooms as I talked about before. And we’ve been working on this – this is our this is our sixth week of doing this and this is our fourth official week. But for some of the students and myself, we’ve been doing these Zooms for six weeks now, a couple of weeks before spring break, and then a four week, this is the fourth week after. And, you know, great complaint from the teachers and probably the students, they’re kind of voiceless. They’re getting more voice now, but early on very voiceless. And they weren’t using breakout rooms at all for what we intended them to do. And, you know, I’m an all time teacher and I’ve been an administrator.
John : 18:33 So I said, well, you know, when they go to these classrooms, I mean, is there any sense that they have to get anything done and bring it back to the classroom? Because if you put 30 teachers in their breakout room and told them just to hang out and talk about a question, I’m not sure what they do. So that immediately made me think I gotta have a forum next week. Forums have been working for me in the Google world, that they could work off of in their group. Not only does it, I think give them that they have to produce something in their group, that answers that part of it, but that’s also where I’m going to have to build exactly what you were saying in the more difficult, the second part of the question I really want to think more about because the more difficult one is, how do I make sure what they’re doing now in a very, very tight amount time in a meeting or in a Zoom meeting.
John : 19:21 And how am I going to bring that to A, often I’m using – it’s a scaffold for the kids at different levels who need more stuff to put in their writing, if that makes any sense to you. I mean that they might have a basic idea of how they would approach this writing piece. I may have given them a scaffold onto the paragraph needs, but they need a little help on that processing the thing out. Well, you know, how would I explain this? Or how do I, you know, how do I make sure I have enough evidence here? So that would be the first meeting on Monday, Tuesday. In the first chunk of Mondays and Tuesdays. So for that first 30 minute one would be a forum that gets that together. The second one, one would hope that they would have a draft that they’ve taken from that forum and that session now to our second session.
John : 20:15 And where my mind goes is – and I’m going to have to do some thinking around – I would do some thinking around how can they get together now and as you said in that question, which is so critical, how can they get together in the second session process together and get something finished that that’s meaningful that really does connect to the work that they’ve done. And I think that question, you know, that’s why I’m not sure that question that may not be the best question. Maybe some questions that’s more in tune with – maybe don’t jump too far ahead, maybe keep with that learning. So that’s kind of where I’m at.
Steve: 20:59 So the thought that’s going through my mind is are the kids ready to take your big question and have the discussion, or are they at the point where they need your big question with a couple of smaller questions that guide them in the discussion?
John : 21:21 Well, I have to just say, just hearing myself talk it through out loud, I’m thinking that I’m thinking that question about this, you know, when are we going back to arenas and stadiums, that might be a great the week after. I might go back to, you know, how does art, music, painting, writing – because you know, when I was doing that, something hit my head, you know, because you brought up that first year teacher thing or early teachers. And I do remember when I was an early teacher, I think there was this person who told me about pistons if this makes any sense to you, that, you know, there’s two pistons. And if you raise the level of – the way they taught it to me was if you raised the level of texts and make it more you know, more difficult, than you want to lower the other piston of access to that text and expectations in that text.
John : 22:10 And then, as you bring the student up, then they rise up to that. And similarly, if you have a very low level of text or, you know, you really know that the kids can get the text, then you can increase the other side of what you expect from them. So thinking about it, that all of a sudden popped in my brain. I want to go back and say, I’m going to go back to that first question and make sure we get a good – we get a quality writing piece around that learning because that would – rather than hit them, you know, with everything that’s going on, first of all, it’s the first time we’ve ever done any processing, at least I have, in a Zoom breakout room for 30, I mean only, probably 15 minutes out of the 30 to do it. So yeah. I think that’s what I’m going to do.
Steve: 23:05 It sounds like you’ve done some great processing that, all I did was ask a couple questions to get you working on it in your head. But I’m wondering if when you get some of the finished pieces back, if you and I could jump back on with some of those pieces in front of us and see what you identify as the as the outcomes. So use that to assess the process and then what you might want to change or modify in the process based on what you’ve got. Sound like a plan?
John : 23:50 Sounds like a great plan. Really, I want to tell you, I’m not a professional actor, so I don’t just cry whenever I feel like it. Steve, maybe – not maybe, I think that this coaching and reaching out to teachers might be more than important than ever just going through the process with you, wow, I cracked emotionally. I didn’t really see that coming.
Steve: 24:16 Well, John, thank you for helping me here.
John : 24:19 Hey, thanks Steve.
Steve: 24:21 Alright. Thank you. Have a good day there. Take care.
John : 24:24 Take care.
Steve [Outro]: 24:26 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.