In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve answers questions around learning and teaming during a quarantine summit hosted by Nicole Turner from Simply Coaching & Teaching.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:14 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: 00:42 Coaches – keeping the focus on learning and teaming during school building closures. Nicole Turner from Simply Coaching and Teaching invited me to be part of a quarantine summit for coaches. My suggestions to the coaches revolved around keeping their focus on learning and teaming. Here are my responses to the questions that were raised.
Nicole: 01:11 My first question I have as we talk about virtual coaching conversations is, how do in-person coaching conversations differ from virtual coaching conversations?
Steve: 01:25 So I hope you don’t mind. I’m going to switch the question on you.
Nicole: 01:31 [laughter]
Steve: 01:31 I think the more important piece is to ask how they’re the same. And in working on my own learning this week, I began contacting coaches and international schools who were ahead of us in the timeframe here. So I’ve talked to people who have been coaching in closed schools for seven or eight weeks to tap into their learning. Besides following folks on Twitter, I have several people that I stay in touch with through LinkedIn. And the two words have come out of my conversations with those folks that I think we as coaches want to focus on. And the first one was, learning. It’s all about learning. So if you begin with looking at the student part of this, teachers who are planning for working with students online, I think really have to get their focus on learning versus their focus on teaching.
Steve: 02:38 So thinking about what is it that students need to do for the learning to occur. And I think as coaches working with teachers now, we need to be in the same position as to how do we assist teachers in this time of learning. And in many ways, coaches should be looking at this crisis as having created an opportunity to engage people in a tremendous learning role. So that’s number one and I think the more that coaches think about that as being the same, the greater success they’ll have. The second piece that came out of all my conversations is that critical to this time, are teams. So I think coaches will have a critical role to play in coaching teams during this process. So whether those are grade-level teams, middle school teams, departments within high school, critical will be for the coach to be causing those teachers to be engaged in coaching each other. So how do you create PLC meetings online where teachers are sharing what they’re doing, what they’re finding? I think that becomes a critical spot.
Nicole: 04:03 Yeah, that is something that I really wanted to talk about because I am now creating PLCs and those team types of schedules for when I would go back to work. So we’re actually on spring break this week and next week. And then we go back on April 6th and our governor has shut our schools down until May 3rd or fourth, I believe. The first is the, you know, the last day and we go back that Monday. So can you talk about maybe, what are those conversations looking like? So, you know, you have those teachers and we’re talking about what, I mean, what’s happens do you think that we will talk about when I’m scheduling those subjects? I mean, before it would be data or you know, what’s happening in the classroom or what my observations were to kind of talk about that, and now I don’t, I don’t have that.
Steve: 05:02 Yeah, Nicole, I really don’t think it’s different. The conversation is, what do the kids need to do to be learning, number one. And number two, what is it that I’m providing to the students that are creating that learning. Then I can move to what evidence do I have that what I’m providing to the students is generating student learning. And I think there will be, for people who are new to working online, which is going to be a lot of our teachers, my concern is that there will be a rush to teach. So how much can I present, how much can I put out there to the students, how many resources can I provide. But I really need to be thinking about what it that am causing the students to do. So for example, I think teachers’ questions as they teach online are increasingly critical and important, maybe more so than when they’re teaching live in the classroom.
Nicole: 06:17 Yes.
Steve: 06:18 When you’re living in the classroom, you can see a look on the kid’s face that tells you your question didn’t make any sense.
Nicole: 06:23 Right.
Steve: 06:24 Online, it’s not until I look at what the student’s producing that I realize, you know, my question that make it. So I think the opportunity for teachers to be working together as a PLC to first identify what is it we want to get kids to do. I can share with you that one of the coaches I worked with who’s been in this deep, said they keep coming back to the fact that learning trumps curriculum.
Nicole: 06:54 Yes.
Steve: 06:55 That doesn’t mean the curriculum isn’t important, but if teachers get focused on the curriculum, they’re going to get focused on the output of this. And can I tell you, I’ve started doing podcasts for parents and I’m getting some of my first response back and the parents are realizing that the teachers pushing stuff out doesn’t engage the kids. And so the parents are asking, what do we do to engage the kids? I mean, I’m glad I got some parents asking me that, but that’s the question I as a teacher have to be, have to be thinking.
Nicole: 07:29 Yeah. So it is really a mind shift. It’s a real big mind shift and change because, well let me say this, it’s a mind shift and change that should have been taking place when we were actually in the building as well. So we should have been asking questions about what the students are learning when we were in the building.
Steve: 07:49 That’s why I think in the midst of the ugliness of the crisis, can create a new learning opportunity.
Nicole: 07:56 Yes, yes. And so that’s the good part about what we’re learning through this whole process. I shouldn’t say this, this is super great. It’s really opening my eyes to a lot of different things that I didn’t get and I love the quote, learning trumps curriculum. And I think that it’s something that I am going to like a hashtag for you because I really do love it. I think something us coaches and teachers, we need to really think about that. It’s not that we need to get these standards done, but we need to make sure that the students are learning as well.
Steve: 08:32 Yep, yep. And so I want to take that learning word to another spot then for coaches. I was just talking with a coach on the phone. In her situation, school doesn’t start back up for two weeks and they’ve got a week in a state where they can still be working with the teachers, okay? And so they’re looking at what PD to give the teachers to get them ready. And I told her, go ahead, great. Whatever PD you can do, terrific. But I think you’ve got to send the message out with the teachers that we aren’t expecting them to go forth and know how to do this. We’re expecting them to go forth and learn how to be successful with this. And to me, that’s a message coaches always wanted to be carrying out to teachers, that the teacher is engaged in this consistent learning process and the coach is there to support that learning process. But I think it’s even more important and more critical now. If I can push with administrators, it’s administrators, critical to get that message out, that if as a teacher you’re running into difficulty, advertising those difficulties is what’s important for you to be doing, not hiding them.
Nicole: 10:00 Yes, absolutely. What are a few suggestions for providing feedback virtually?
Steve: 10:08 It’s, you’ve got to engage the teachers in finding out the feedback that they want. So if you’re looking at the materials that they’re delivering to students, if you’re looking at the process and you’re giving them feedback, you’re going to be falling into supervision. So whether you’re using emails or you’re using a chat system or, I actually sent a message to a coach the other day where I said, remember phones still work. It’s a conversation with the teacher about what’s the question the teacher wants to now focus on and then how do I as a coach assist the teacher in focusing on that question. Just as if I were going back to the teacher’s classroom with it. And then I would say with teams and PLCs, it’s the same thing. Is there a specific question a grade-level team is, is having about what it is that they’re delivering now and how can I as a coach a system in that. Can I jump on and actually observe during some of their time that they’re online with students? Can they forward me some pieces to give them feedback to? But critical would be, it’s just like having that pre-conference if you were doing a coaching cycle. You’ve got to have the teachers driving this.
Nicole: 11:39 All right, great answer to that. How can I best support my teachers, especially those who have been resistant to coaching conversations in the past?
Steve: 11:51 Well here might be another one of good news. I read from someone the just recently that posted, she’s a 25-year teacher and she now feels like she’s a first-year teacher. So coaches have frequently talked about how great it was working with those beginning teachers because they were open, in effect. You’ve now got a lot more beginning teachers on the staff to be working with. And so if you can approach people with that same thought that I put out, that this is a time to learn and your role as a coach is assisting in the learning.
Nicole: 12:33 Alright. What are the most effective ways to collect evidence of learning and of learning behaviors in an online setting, especially for elementary students?
Steve: 12:43 You know, I talked to a head of a school and that again, that’s been an international school that’s been closed for quite a while. And I thought they were doing something really intriguing and especially the part here about elementary students. I think collecting some parent feedback would be important and critical. And that might be a way for a coach to talk with a group of teachers. You know, maybe a grade level, maybe a whole primary wing of a school and develop a short three or four survey questions that went out to parents about what it is that they’re observing. This particular head that I talked to was doing it every Friday. They’re collecting that information from some parents every Friday and feeding it back to the teachers. And again, feeding it back to the teachers in the framework of, this is the feedback you want to use to learn. Not supervision or evaluation.
Nicole: 13:54 That’s interesting. So if they collected every week, would you think it would be too much information or too much feedback or data where they wouldn’t have time to implement?
Steve: 14:06 Number one for me, I’d go with a small number. I’d go with a small number of questions, you know, four or five and you know, one thought is you could be, if you sense it is too much, you could be doing different parents each week. You could just be just kind of be serving a small group. I think, in some schools, this might be a powerful time to jump on the phone and place a phone call to some parents and the number one, you know, a chance to just listen to what they’re dealing with so that we can be responsive to that. You know, I just got one from a parent. She sent home to work and she can’t get her work done and she’s asking me for suggestions.
Nicole: 14:54 Yeah. That work parents, work home, that balance is real. But you know what, in the summit, Steve, I don’t know if you know, we have some prerecorded videos as well and Chrissy Bell talks about the work from home. She’s been working from home with a child, and she coaches teachers and coaches virtually. So it’s a good session for everyone that kind of jumped on as well.
Steve: 15:22 Yeah, thanks for sticking that in there.
Nicole: 15:24 Not a problem. Alright, how do you keep learning processes, process-oriented and not task-driven in the online setting?
Steve: 15:33 Yeah. You know, I just – one of the podcasts I put together for parents, what was to take the word, work, out of all the discussions
they were having with their kids. So talk to your child about the learning task that they’re engaged in and not the work that they need to get done. And I just got a note back from someone. She said, “well, I realized that I got the struggle because my daughter hurried through and finished up a math assignment. So I sat down with her and I wanted to find out her thinking about it.” And her daughter’s response was, “that’s not what my teacher does.”
Nicole: 16:13 [laughter]. I get that all the time though during regular school.
Steve: 16:20 [laughter] I think we really need to be asking teachers to work to put that message out. How do I get the message out to kids that this isn’t an assignment to be finished? It’s a task to engage you in learning. You know, its purposeful design is to practice something. And you know, most students know if they sit down with their instrument to practice something, they can tell how they did at the end by whether or not it got easier or whether or not they improved. And we want them to recognize it was the practice that got them there. So this isn’t about completing this assignment to get it into my teacher. I need the teacher to move the students towards having that discussion of this being a learning behavior and that you will gain from investing in that learning behavior.
Steve: 17:21 That’s one. The other one is to be looking at tasks were and because some tasks have to be like that. Some tasks are like practicing your instrument. Then we also need to be looking at tasks as this is the time to be figuring out how do I engage kids in project-based learning. How do I engage kids into tapping their curiosity? How do I design tasks where kids have much greater choice than they usually could have when I had the classroom-bound and time-bound? You know, actually, the questions that people are raising here for me are the exact questions coaches want to be taking back to teachers and getting teachers to ponder those possibilities rather than sensing the coach has to have the answers to those.
Nicole: 18:13 Yeah. I think you brought up some really good points of how to change our instruction. Like, how to change, you know, bringing in that project-based learning. I really didn’t think about project-based learning now because, in my mind, I always think of it as being more collaborative hands-on in the classroom. But we really can do that and the students can still be collaborative if they’re doing online learning, it’s just going to look a little differently. Alright. Do you believe teachers should have a choice in whether or not they are coached or should all teachers be involved in coaching support in some way?
Steve: 18:55 So here’s my twist. Teachers should not have an option to not be growing and learning. And so if a teacher lays out their learning growth plan, it’s hard to lay out a plan without coaching. It may not be the coach. So the number one for me is, the teacher should have a requirement to have a growth plan, and getting feedback should be built into their growth plan. And if they’ve designed a way to do that without working with the instructional coach I can live with that. The second element is collaboration. With other teachers shouldn’t be an option. I mean should not be an option you can opt-out of it. So being a non-collaborative staff member doesn’t fit for me. So if I were in an administrative position, if I were hiring, those would be two elements that would be built into my plan, that the expectation is that you will be growing and learning constantly and that that growth and learning is in a collaborative format and that should create a full load for any coach.
Steve: 20:23 A big thank you to Nicole for the opportunity to interact with her and the 200 plus coaches who joined in. I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights on what you’re learning during this current teaching and learning process. I’m encouraging school leaders to promote reflections around learning and teaming collaboration. What is it that we want to carry into our practices as the school doors reopen? Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 21:07 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 blogsatbarkleypd.com.