Teachers, Colin Donelle and Jon Binschus, share the development of a teaching partnership that implements elements of peer coaching into their planning, teaching, & debriefing process. Reflection is continually increased throughout the process. The role of vulnerability and trust are explored.
E-mail Colin: firstname.lastname@example.org
E-mail Jon: email@example.com
Find Colin on Twitter: @ColinDonelle
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out loud podcast. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding. And my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate coach and support their learners.
Steve: 00:32 Reflection as an element of co-teaching. Those of you who have listened to several of my podcast or read many of my blogs know that I have a personal, special respect and value for teachers sharing responsibility for student learning outcomes, whatever phrase you put on it, of teaming or or co-teaching or collaborating. I’ve always felt that students are are best served by teachers working together. And that’s a, that’s a core component of the conversation that we’re going to have on today’s podcast. I’ve had the privilege this past year of working with teachers at administrators at the American or national school of gun Jo in China and working there. I had the opportunity to meet Colin Nell, who is a professional learning lead and working with Colin we’ve explored professional learning communities and a peer coaching in various workshops that I facilitated during one of our coaching calls, Colin shared with me how he was implementing some of the elements from our coaching practices as he worked with a colleague with whom he co-taught. I was excited when Colin and his teammate, John bin EZ agreed to to join me here today. So welcome guys.
Jon: 02:08 Thank you.
Colin: 02:08 Thank you very much.
Jon: 02:09 Very excited to be here.
Steve: 02:10 Thanks for having a a late night to early afternoon here in, in Switzerland. Would you take just a moment or two each of you and kind of give folks a little bit of introduction as to your, your background and your and your current teaching roles there at the school.
Colin: 02:29 My name is Colin Donelle. This is my 14th year teaching internationally. I’m from Canada, born and raised and educated. This is my fifth year here at the American international school of Guangzhou. I have recently moved into a position in the grade five homeroom classroom, and then as team lead after teaching in grade one for the previous four years. One of the things that’s very important in my practice is that fostering the whole child, a constructivist inquiry based approach to learning. And I’ve been really fortunate to have a colleague here in Jon who shares a lot of those same beliefs, and we’ve been able to work together incredibly well this school year.
Jon: 03:12 And I’m Jonathan Binschus and this is my eighth year teaching, five years international, and I’ve been here at the American international school of Guangzhou for three years teaching fifth grade in a PYP school and it’s been a really fun experience getting the freedom to really dive into this inquiry based learning and to have the opportunity to do I have a lot of freedom within the classroom of choice between teaching styles and curriculum which has kind of helped foster this co-teaching model that we’ve been running with the last few months. It’s been pretty fun.
Steve: 03:47 So give us a little description of the, the role of collaboration, co-Teaching – what’s the partnership that you guys have created?
Jon: 03:58 Yeah, so I got to experience some professional development from you as well, Steve, outside of the PLC lead, and we kind of wanted to take those collaborative elements from the PLCs and go a little bit further by integrating this co-teaching model. So we’ve been bringing our classes together and we bring them into the same room at 8:30 in the morning, and we set up this split screen. And on one side of the screen is kind of the learning objective of what we’re looking for. And then we get the students to brainstorm some different ideas of different connections they make to the learning objective or different possible answers or outcomes for the learning objective. And then on the right hand side, we kind of have the student be behaviors to succeed and meet that learning outcome. And we’ve been kind of playing around with a few different teaching models.
Jon: 04:49 We’ve been doing the one teach, one assist, where one is teaching, and one is kind of writing on the board or kind of fielding questions. And we’ve been doing one teaching, one observe, where one of us will be upfront and the other one might be observing student behavior or kind of watching engagement or whether or not students are kind of really understanding the content. And then we’ve also just been doing this team teaching of kind of throwing the ball back and forth both at the front of the room and kind of throwing it back to Colin and saying, “what do you think of that?” And then kind of playing off of each other. And we found a ton of success with this.
Jon: 05:28 And their engagement and excitement with this kind of new model. And so, Colin, would you like to kind of add onto anything with that?
Colin: 05:35 Yeah, definitely. It’s been something that, moving into grade five, I was very fortunate to come into a team that has a lot of experience. They had worked for the two previous years together. They had a really solid understanding of the curriculum and their instructional practices. So coming in, I wanted to try some new things out, some things that I’d been learning about in my own professional community, in my own professional growth as a learner and I wanted to take some of that and build onto it. So previously, in grade one, had worked with my ELA support teacher and we’d done a lot of co-teaching of that same throwing the ball back and forth, and we’d found a lot of success with it. And I wanted to try to also integrate that into homerooms, bringing homeroom classrooms together and creating a synergy with our classrooms, where we can lead the students and guide the students in a variety of ways where it’s not just coming from one voice, you’ve got two different voices, two different perspectives, looking at things and really showing the students what they’re capable of and guiding them in that learning journey.
Steve: 06:39 Have you been increasing the model of using Jon’s word, throwing the ball back and forth?
Colin: 06:47 Absolutely.
Colin: 06:49 That very first unit we started with looking at gamification and trying to tie in some of those elements of gamification into our educational practice. And in the beginning, it was just like maybe a couple classes a week or one class here or there, it wasn’t as consistent, but now that we’ve moved into exhibition and the students are really driving the learning in this inquiry project that they’re doing, it’s been much easier for us to bring the classes together, to collaborate, to talk about what we’re looking for in terms of learning outcomes and student behaviors and then present that to the students.
Steve: 07:24 I had a similar opportunity that I, I co-taught first grade with the same person for for five years. And by the fifth year, we convinced our administrator to do an evaluation where both of our names were on the top of the page, but throughout the evaluation, he only used the word teacher. So it didn’t matter which person did what that he had written down because we were at the point where we actually would’ve had to make up a different act activity for him to do our observation so that he could write one person’s name on there and in effect do the lesson because the lesson just got tossed back between the two. And if he tried to separate it and write two different evaluations up, it wouldn’t make any sense because it really was. So I was smiling big the whole time you guys were explaining it because I realize the power of that. Colin, when you and I had talked in our coaching conference call you, you described how you were taking some of the elements from the coaching training and working it into the way that you and Jon were working together. Could you describe that a little bit more for us?
Colin: 08:44 Yeah. That’s absolutely been one of the best parts about this, is folding in the work that you have been guiding my team and our school in, in terms of coaching, in furthering developing that collaborative nature we’re working on here at ISG. And so one of the things that we’ve been doing is we come together and our pre-observation, we take that opportunity to plan, like, what is our teaching point gonna be into that day’s lesson? What kind of active engagement are the students gonna be doing? What is the teaching model that we’re going to be using? And we start having discussions about like, what are the production and student behaviors that we’re looking for? How can we support those students that need language or redirecting or greater processing time? And what I really enjoy about that is by taking both of our perspectives in both of our thinking around on that, we end up creating more thorough engaging lessons.
Colin: 09:40 It really forces us out of our comfort zone. When I first came into international teaching, I had a mentor who told me that your life begins when you leave your comfort zone. And I’ve really taken that model to heart and I’ve used it in the application of a lot of my teaching practices of being that kind of a risk taker to try things out. Now, once we’ve had these pre-observation conversations, we actually do the lessons ourselves. And during this observation, we’re co-teaching together, we’re using that analogy of tossing the ball back and forth. One might be scribing while the other calls on students or one is leading in direct instruction, while the other pulls together a small group to maybe chunk the activity or review some prior learning. And when one is leading, the other one’s really looking at the students and paying attention to those student behaviors.
Colin: 10:27 What are we noticing? What are the parts that the students are like really grasping onto and it’s obviously engaging them and it’s having that impact that we’re looking for? And what are those other parts that maybe they’re struggling with and what might be the causes of those struggles? And then that leads us into our post observation, where we sit down and we talk after the lesson about like, well, what did we notice about student behaviors? What was successful? What was challenging about how we presented it or about how the students took it? And then we think about, okay, well, based on how that lesson went, well, what’s next for the students? We know the learning outcome of exhibition. We know what that end product looks like. Well, what are the students ready for now? What is the next part that we need to lean into in our curriculum or lean into in our instructional practices? And that’s gonna help them to reach those learning outcomes. So really taking that model that you’ve been working with us here at ISG with, that pre-observation, observation, post observation, and then folding that into how we create these lessons, how do we deliver those lessons and then of course, how do we reflect on that delivery of lessons and plan for what’s next.
Steve: 11:35 So Jon, Colin just tossed out the word that I was gonna ask you to pull into the conversation here and that was the word word reflection. How do you see the impact of the process you’re using on your reflection?
Jon: 11:53 I think with the consistency of it is, I think that’s where the biggest part of the reflection has come. As we talked about a little bit before, we were doing this kind of at the beginning of the year, pulling our students together and it was a little bit more sporadic. And so with the consistency, it’s been really, really cool to be able to have a daily reflexion to where each day, and we’ve been doing this for three weeks now, four weeks now. And so each day, it just continues building on itself. It’s being able to really focus on different things, whether it’s our language that’s not getting across, because we have a high multilingual learner population in our school. And so if it’s not the language, like what do we need to adjust on the next lesson? Do we need to bring in more visual elements or do we need to simplify it?
Jon: 12:37 Do we need to break it into small groups to where half of my class goes into Mr. Donelle’s class and half might come into my class and then we come back together kind of for a finalized lesson altogether. And it’s really made me think a lot more about my own teaching practice and kind of brought me out of my own comfort zone in my classroom where I can get pretty, pretty stuck in my own routines and rhythms to where things are working pretty well and I know my kids well, and of course there’s gonna be some stragglers, but that’s fine, that’s part of it. We gotta try to bring them up. And I really felt like it’s brought this community of learners and it’s really lifting them up as we reflect on these lessons and really refining them as each day goes on.
Steve: 13:19 It’s powerful because I often share that part of the joy of of being a coach is that if I have a good pre-conference with a teacher, it almost always strengthens the teacher’s lesson, not from anything that I said or did, just from the teacher talking it out loud to me, they go through a thinking process. And then similarly, very often in a post-conference, an ideal will merge that the teacher’s thinking about as a next step of follow up or going back to pick something up and I’ll laugh because the teacher’s tendency will be to give me the coach credit for it. And it was the teacher’s idea that the teacher fell upon as we were having the conversation. So what I’m hearing is that – I guess another word I would put with the reflection is there’s a consciousness. When you’re doing that reflection with another person, it brings us to a conscious level. We’re all reflecting on our own throughout a given lesson, but it’s at a different consciousness level when you’re joining into that conversation with someone else.
Colin: 14:38 I also think that like the duality of the two different sets of eyes, the two different perspectives, interpretations of what happened is so important in that reflective aspect as well. There might be times where I see things in Jon’s students that John might not see, or he’s seen things in my students that I don’t necessarily recognize or appreciate. And so having that duality of that, I think just creates a better environment and fosters more successful learning for the students.
Steve: 15:06 I gotta tell you, after my experience – so I spent 10 years in a classroom, never alone. So all 10 years of my teaching was involved in different kinds of teams, always in a classroom that had more than one adult and sometimes a lot more than one adult. And I always made the statement to folks, give me 25 kids by myself or 50 with a colleague, I’ll take 50 with a colleague every day of the week.
Steve: 15:40 For exactly the things you’ve described. You can’t see it hear it and catch it while you’re teaching. And so even when you’re in that back and forth moment, what makes the back forth so powerful is that one of you is responding to something that the other one frequently didn’t catch. You heard something in a kid’s answer, in a kid’s question that I didn’t hear. And so, as I’m finishing my response to the student, you jump in and actually take it that next step. It’s so, so powerful. I’m wondering if you’ve got any any recommendations to folks who are listening in who who might wanna look at at moving a little further into this of co-teaching, collaborative model as to some thinking they might wanna do upfront.
Jon: 16:31 Yeah. So we kind of started this at the beginning of the year. So at the start of the year, we set up this thing called community class. And so every Friday, the last 30 minutes of school, our classes will get together and they’ll do cooperative games. And so we’ll go out on the playground and we’ll run three to four different games for that last 30 minutes with our classes. So we did that every single friday from the beginning of the year. And it really, it slowly started to build this connection, even though a lot of the students in your class aren’t technically best friends or really good friends with the kids in my class, it built this trust and it built this vulnerability within the students that I think if we didn’t have that, it might be a little bit more difficult to take off with this coaching model now or this co-teaching model. So I think that was kind of the foundation that we built on, was that community class and building that, that, that strong trust and foundation with the students. And then from there, we started to bring kind of those few times in the units where they would come together and had some role playing with the gamification and that was the same thing. It was kind of our two classes still connecting. And it really continued to build.
Colin: 17:43 I think what Jon’s talking about is really fostering that community of learners and that it’s an inside and outside the classroom that that fostering takes place. And I think in the way that we started by setting up those regular community classes where we’re bringing the classes across the grade and encouraging them to work together, to develop that social-emotional learning that we know is so critical to their success in the classroom. And by doing that in pieces, I think it helped to overcome probably one of the biggest professional barriers to a co-teaching model is that sense of vulnerability of inviting someone into your classroom. And you worry about like, what might they think, what might they say about my instructional practices? Will the student behavior be attributed to my teaching or my management skills? That level of vulnerability is a really difficult thing for, I think most teachers, all teachers. And I think you overcome it by setting small goals, by starting with little things that encourage the building of the trust between professionals, between teachers, between students and then you slowly just take that foundation and add the next layer and add the next layer. And I think that’s what’s enabled us to find so much success by folding in this coaching into our co-teaching and using exhibition to really exemplify this work that we’re being able to achieve with our students.
Jon: 19:09 Absolutely.
Steve: 19:11 It’s interesting because I’ve had people tell me, we aren’t ready at our school to implement peer coaching because the trust doesn’t exist so we’re gonna wait for the trust to you know – when we get the trust, we’ll do this. And what I was really hearing is you guys kind of set out on a plan, not sure how conscious it was, but you set out on a plan to build the trust. So as you started small, both with the kids and with yourselves, it’s a purposeful step in the direction and each time the trust gets a little bit bigger, then the vulnerability and the risk gets a little bit bigger and those two things are interwoven. You can’t get trust without being vulnerable. And so it’s finding that degree. It’s a powerful story you guys got. I really appreciate you having shared it with us. You okay if I stick your email addresses into the lead-in to the podcast so if people have thoughts or questions they can follow up with you?
Jon: 20:15 Absolutely.
Colin: 20:16 I can also be contacted or reached through my Twitter. I tend to create my Twitter just focused on the work that my students are
doing. It’s just the educational aspect. I really use that as capturing what is going on and really taking that digital moment of the learning in my classroom.
Steve: 20:35 Go ahead. What’s your Twitter?
Colin: 20:37 So just @ColinDonelle.
Steve: 20:39 Okay. We will post that in the lead-in too. Thanks a lot guys. Appreciate it.
Colin: 20:44 Thank you very much, Steve.
Jon: 20:45 Appreciate the time.
Steve [Outro]: 20:47 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love 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.