Experienced coaches and professional learning practitioners, Nicole Turner and Brianna Gray, provide their experiences and insights regarding how to support teachers with professional learning during this time of unique teaching and learning settings. Both share things that they feel have influenced their practice for the future.
Contact Nicole at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Brianna at: email@example.com
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Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School Leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.
Steve: 00:19 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: 00:46 Providing professional learning virtually. I’ve invited two experienced coaches and staff developers to join me today to explore what they are uncovering as they work to support their staffs with virtual PD. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both guests for several years and I’ve been inside some of their virtual PD offerings. The first guest is Nicole Turner and Nicole is an instructional coach in Indiana and she’s the author of “Simply Instructional Coaching.” Nicole provides PD and coaching to instructional coaches through her website, simplycoachingandteaching.com. Welcome, Nicole.
Nicole: 01:34 Hey, how you doing Steve?
Steve: 01:36 I’m good. I’m good. Nicole, could you start us with an update on what’s the current status of how your school is providing instruction to students? Are you back on campus and are you back on a hybrid? Are you still working virtually? Where are they at in your district?
Nicole: 01:56 So at the beginning of the year, the district decided to go for virtual for the first quarter and they kind of monitored the positivity rate throughout the year. And so now we’re in the phase in stages. And so K-2 came in last week and next week – I mean, I’m sorry, K-6 came in last week and 7-12 comes in next week and this week is our virtual fall break. I guess you would say students are doing asynchronous work and teachers get a couple of days off to kind of get prepared for the second part of phase in. So next week, as of this recording Monday, I’ll be back in the building with students. We will be doing a hybrid model for the secondary. So at the elementary level, they are full in with the virtual option. So parents have the opportunity to choose which one they wanted their students to go to.
Nicole: 03:00 For secondary grades 7-12, they have an hybrid option where you would come to school either Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday, Friday, every Wednesday, and the weekends are cleaning days. And so that’s kind of what you have and you also have the virtual option for parents to say, no, I want my child to be here virtually, the full week. And so you can be virtual as well.
Steve: 03:23 And so will those Wednesdays be asynchronous, virtual learning taking place?
Nicole: 03:28 No. So there will be synchronous, but it’s virtual.
Steve: 03:33 Okay.
Nicole: 03:33 We’ve been all year – we’ve been completely synchronous virtual. So they follow the regular schedule as they will for the day you pop into the class for the 60, 70 minute courses.
Steve: 03:46 So the days that I’m at home, when half the classes in school, I’ll still be in the same lesson but I’ll be coming in virtually what, while the other kids are in class.
Nicole: 03:59 Yeah.
Steve: 04:00 Okay. Our second guest is Brianna Gray. Brianna leads the professional learning for the ACS international schools in London and in Doha. She works with four Pre-K-12 schools that are part of the ACS international school structure. Brianna is the author of “Talking In Class,” a book that focuses on generating student to student dialogue. Welcome Brianna.
Brianna: 04:30 Thanks. Always good to talk to you.
Steve: 04:32 So fill us in on how instruction is occurring at ACS.
Brianna: 04:36 We are mostly back in person. So the three schools that we have in the UK are 100% in person, other than the students who’ve needed to self isolate or quarantine. So in the UK, if you’ve traveled in from all but 14 countries right now, and that’s a changing list all the time, you must do a mandatory 14 day quarantine. So our international students who started the year in our dorms for example needed to stay in isolation for the first two weeks after they arrived. But other than that, all of our students and our teachers are working together on campus in distanced classrooms. And then in Doha, we have more of a hybrid model where students will spend part of their week learning from home and part of their week in the school building. And they have a similar situation where anyone traveling in has an enforced quarantine for either one week or two weeks. So all the time we’ve been flexing between teachers who might need to be at home whether they’ve been exposed or a member of their household is isolating or students who are in that situation. And we’re really working in person, but ensuring that we have things in place, if any group ever needs to make a shift to distance learning for a short period.
Steve: 06:02 So it’s kind of knowing that switch could come at any moment and kind of being prepared for it.
Brianna: 06:11 Yeah. For both the students and the teachers, making sure they know that the routines and how to access the information and how to ensure that learning can continue uninterrupted, no matter the location.
Steve: 06:24 I’m wondering if we could kick off our conversation by identifying some of the areas that you currently are focusing your PD content to. And then I was wondering what that, how you went about identifying those. So, Nicole, can you can you kind of kick us off here? What’s what’s been the focus area of the PD you’ve been doing
Nicole: 06:50 Steve, I do two different ones. So let’s talk about both.
Steve: 06:55 You bet.
Nicole: 06:55 So one for work, when I’m actually at school, our school is transitioning to become a visible learning in school. So my professional
learning has been all around utilizing the visible learning model and trying to get teachers, one, to understand it, which we did a lot of background last year of building a understanding for visible learning and what it is, is not and so on. And this year we’re actually putting it into action, but it’s been crazy because of course it’s been online. So really trying to look at those online components and how to stay true to our visible learning model and making sure that our goals and the things that we set forth of like, giving effective feedback and working with teachers to provide feedback to each other and all those different strategies that we talked about.
Nicole: 07:50 Making sure that we implement that in a virtual setting. So that’s been a challenge. And for me, the biggest key component has been professional development and engagement, and really trying to – because teachers are overwhelmed, right? Because they’ve never did a full online, they’re always been in person. So they feel overwhelmed by some of the new tools that they’ve had to use and the structures and, you know, managing home and school and everyone altogether. Even though we’ve been doing this now since March, and we’ve kind of had a summer break, teachers still feel some form of frustration and overwhelmed with that. And so as an instructional coach, you know, my job is to make sure that they feel supported as they implement those strategies in the classroom. But here I come saying, hey, we have this book, you need to learn something new, here’s something extra.
Steve: 08:47 [laughter]
Nicole: 08:48 And they’re like really? I’m already dealing with all of this. So I’ve had to kind of dig deep into elementary toolkit and try to
create professional development that’s now fun and exciting. And so just a couple of weeks ago, I did a professional development bingo, and I, you know, gave out prizes and did a whole wheel and, you know, all those types of things of engagement pieces that we try to get students in, I kinda modeled and did that in professional development. So I think that is what I have been focused on. Trying to provide that professional development for teachers and try to make it deal with that engagement. Now moving towards – okay, so that was a fun strategy, right? But looking at trying to figure out a way to how to cognitively engage the teachers into learning over the last week, I’ve been implementing choice boards.
Nicole: 09:51 And so this has allowed me to one, give them professional development that they get to choose and then two, allow them to have some required PD sessions that are like right in the middle. So I did a nine box choice board and they were required to do the middle row and then they got to choose the top two. So when it came out, they ended up doing five short video pieces or short parts of it. One was watching video, one was looking at an article, one was kinda go through your lesson plan and pick out, you know, certain components. I talked about some technology tools that they were struggling with. So they had to – they got an opportunity to kind of choose. Then a couple of was some foundationals around effective feedback and around couple of other visible learning tactics. So that’s kinda, you know, the way that I’ve been doing that part to get them cognitively engaged.
Steve: 10:52 So the visible learning piece is coming from the district as a focus from your school?
Nicole: 11:00 Yes.
Steve: 11:00 Okay. It’s your school’s PD focus. And then you’re, then you’re kind of tackling the issues that the teachers have to be tackling for student engagement with them.
Nicole: 11:12 Yep.
Steve: 11:12 Okay. Brianna, would you kind of share yours and then Nicole, we’ll come back beause I know you’re doing PD for instructional coaches and you can kind of talk to us about some of the similarities and differences with that PD. So Brianna, what’s the focus areas that you’re working with?
Brianna: 11:31 So we have a similar structure to the one that Nicole was just outlining in that we had through conversations with our community, our alumni, our parents, our teachers, and our current students. We had identified some overarching themes of focus for this year. Not just for professional development or professional learning, but overall things that we’re looking to embed more deeply in school.
Brianna: 11:54 So those are wellbeing and diversity inclusion and anti-racism. So to address those and start the year, in August, we had a virtual conference for our teaching community. So we had about 500 people attending and we offered 36 different sessions focusing one third on wellbeing, one third on anti-racism and one third on connecting job alike communities. And that really set the tone and we’ve identified some places throughout the year where we will check back in on those themes, but really that work is happening more deeply with the principals and on the ground level in the schools. But after about three weeks of learning this year, I sent out a survey to all of the staff asking about their more immediate learning needs. Not with setting up their classrooms, but now that we had been in it for about three weeks, where were they still struggling to find resources or to reach the students in a way that they wanted to.
Brianna: 13:01 And from that feedback, we’ve identified four or five real critical areas that are timely now. And those were collaborative
student activities in a socially distanced classroom, supporting distance learners, using manipulatives and student centered learning. So we know that the easiest thing to reach back to when you can’t get the students to engage with each other, in a way that you’re used to is sort of direct instruction. But we also know that our teachers were frustrated that they didn’t want to be doing all of the lecturing or direct instruction. They really wanted their students to be engaging with each other for that learning. But how to do that in a way that kept everyone safe. And when we, when we got to that point in the spring, everyone developed new ways of working virtually, putting students in breakout rooms or having them work together in a Google slide set.
Brianna: 14:04 And all of a sudden, now they’re in the same room. And how do you shift a third tire? I guess that would be a second shift into a third modality. So we started to run Twilight sessions. Part of that survey was asking the teachers how they wanted to gain that information. And it was really evenly split across the board. And a third of them wanted a synchronous learning sessions for themselves, a third wanted asynchronous learning sessions they could follow in their own time and a third just wanted to be connected to a curated set of resources, whether it was videos or articles that they could explore as they saw fit. So we put all those things out and offered evening Twilight sessions online. So we’ve been engaging with teachers about designing – if you want to have students who are working at home and in person at the same time, how do you then connect those with students who are operating collaboratively in a distance classroom?
Brianna: 15:09 What are the strategies there? How can you organize some of your online tools to help students know where to go and how to get the learning if they’re following their own student centered or personalized path? And then just checking in with the teachers when they need to be, how do you group students when you’ve got all of these different factors to take into consideration. So we’ve had some really nice success in engagement and it has been so essential. It’s exactly like Nicole was saying, that this isn’t the time to share theory or even the research that sits behind these strategies. People just want to know how they can make a change in their classroom tomorrow that is going to enable them to reach these students. They there to the point where we have enough of a relationship, they trust that the strategies are sound, and they’re going to try them. But they don’t need to dig deep back into the underpinning research. Just give me something that I can try. And that’s been a nice kind of extension of the toolset for our teachers.
Steve: 16:23 Thanks. Thanks. Nicole, the things you’d add as you’ve looked at at designing and delivering the PD for coaches?
Brianna: 16:32 So, it’s kind of the same. The coaches are very frustrated with the overwhelm of, they don’t know how to work with teachers. Like, I think they’re, so,e coaches are just scared of like, my teachers – they’re overwhelmed and I don’t want to be, I don’t want to overwhelm them more. I don’t know how to, you know, like, how do I get my foot in the door? How do I crack open? Like, what am I really supposed to do? How do I do coaching cycles? And so, a lot of my professional development that I’ve kind of been working through is just helping them to see that they can assist and help the teachers just by starting with just having a conversation. You know, just have a conversation with teachers, see where they are, see what they need and then a system in that way. And, you know, just give them some resources. We don’t have to go deep into, you know, research and theory and what is all this, but, you know, just go with that. So a lot of my supports with coaches have been, let’s just start with a conversation and let’s move from there. Let’s see what they need, and then develop from there. And then of course, a lot of coaches are still filling the mandate like I am from my building and my district.
Nicole: 17:50 This is what we paid for. Teachers still need to teach. This is how, you know, their expectation is feel as if nothing has changed, right? And so I still have that on my shoulders as I’m working with teachers and I feel bad because I don’t want to overwhelm them, but at the same time I have to do my job and I have to bring forth that content that is required of me. So again, I go back to helping the coaches to just see, start to have that conversation, see where they are, give them some strategies and then slowly move into what your district requirements are in a
fun and engaging way. And so that’s been my coaching with coaches.
Steve: 18:41 I’m wondering if I could ask you two to just kind of bounce back and forth and give me some, what might be called one liners. If I’m a an instructional coach or a staff developer and I have to be creating these professional learning opportunities for teachers, what are some of the first things that come to your mind that I should keep in mind as I look at putting my design together?
Brianna: 19:11 I think that it needs to be experiential. You really can’t run a professional learning session on student centered learning by having a lecture, the teacher. So designing things that people can experience and take back and implement right away.
Nicole: 19:32 Yeah, I totally agree. The first thing that comes to my mind nowadays, always has been, when I developed professional development was engagement. It was just engagement. How am I going to engage them in this content? So like Brianna said that I can make experiment, experience it and then, you know, take it back to my classroom. I think that’s the only way if I’m teaching on a particular strategy and engagement strategy, especially I try to incorporate that within my professional learning. So then teachers are like, oh, this is cool and then they get to take it back to the class. They get to implement it because they’ve experienced it. So that’s definitely one of the biggest, I totally agree.
Brianna: 20:17 I’ve also started, I would like to say it was deliberate, but I’m not sure it was at the start. I’ve started modeling being okay with hiccups along the way. So we are all experiencing new everything. New environments, new modalities, new tools.
Brianna: 20:48 And it’s more important that we’re able to roll with it when inevitably something go as planned. And so modeling sort of a positive perseverance and showing the teachers that we all are still learners, particularly on some of the new, great tools that are out there, but that means showing a bit of vulnerability and that we aren’t experts and we’re going to be learning some of this together. And I’m going to ask for patients and hope that by not having, you know, a stressed moment in the middle of a session, that everyone can sort of take a breath and say, okay, so we got through that. If that happens, when I’m with my students, one, now I have a new strategy to try, you know, if that same hiccup happens to me, but also all right, I can make a plan B I can make a plan C D E. I’m still a teacher with – the teachers have the most flexible group of professionals in the world, I think. And sometimes it’s a reminder that we can make up and turn to something new.
Steve: 21:55 The thought that’s going through my head is is the term this is less polished than what a PD session we may have been used to doing before.
Brianna: 22:09 Exactly.
Steve: 22:09 And that may be there’s some real benefit to that. I think there could be a part there in the past history where teachers attended a PD session where they experienced something that worked perfectly for the person facilitating the PD, and then it didn’t work like that when I took it back to my classroom, or I even decided sitting there, this isn’t gonna work like this when I go back to my classroom. So we may actually be gaining buy in and participation on the part of the teacher from that process.
Brianna: 22:48 It’s a balance, right? Because I feel like I need to be as on my game as I can because the teachers are only giving me, you know, a short, precious period of time and I want it to be as valuable – I want to pack all of the learning that I can for them. So I do feel that pressure as someone who’s facilitating that learning. But I think that we’re at a point in education where there is nearly as much value in modeling how things can go awry and how to respond when they do. That’s still a piece of learning and a good reminder for all of us.
Nicole: 23:33 Yeah. I think the biggest component is just becoming relatable. You know, how you have some people who do professional development and that likes things that is always perfect and you’re like that is not gonna work.
Nicole: 23:46 Like, I don’t feel like that’s going to happen, you know, happen in my class with my culture and my climate of my students, you know, but it makes it so relatable. It makes it so like, okay, Nicole is doing it this way and it didn’t work for her. You know, let’s think through how I can get this done, or I saw how she completely made a switch really quick. And so that’s something that I can do in my classroom. I can make a switch really quick if something I’m implementing or I’m teaching is not working, and then I can, you know, make that turn. I just think that part makes it so relatable. And sometimes as professional developers who, you know, we give professional development, we want it to be so perfect that we missed the boat and the opportunity to teach as we go. To model what could possibly go wrong to help teachers to see it from a different perspective.
Steve: 24:42 Thanks, thanks. To kind of close us out here, back in the spring, when when this first started with the schools being quarantined and people were pushed into these new settings, I kept raising the question as to what is it that we’re learning that when the when the pandemic is gone and the quarantines are gone and and the school doors are open, that there’s things I learned that I want to hang on to back in that “normal environment.” I’m wondering if anything comes to mind that you think as staff developers and coaches is coming out of this time is a new learning for you that you you see yourself hanging on to.
Nicole: 25:37 I think for me, one of the biggest things is how I can do professional development differently. How I can, so I’ve been tampering, I guess, experimenting a little bit with the flipped professional development model, taking a flip learning concepts and applying it to professional development where I’ve been kind of giving people videos and different things ahead of time. And during my session with the teachers, we’re deep diving into actual implementation versus me presenting the information for the small amount of time that I have with the teachers. So maximizing my time and the opportunity for learning is something that I will forever take with me that I did not implement before, but I will definitely continue to implement now and forever as long as I do this and have access to technology.
Brianna: 26:45 Yeah, definitely. It has changed my experience or planning with time. I think just like you were saying that, we now realize that life and work both get in the way of even the best intentions. So I think being able to provide maximum experience for the shortest amount of time has been something that has really hit home for me lately. The ability to connect remotely is – I’m a big advocate of learning together. And I really I’m a people person and I enjoy getting groups and having some of the nice things that go with events and the community maintenance that comes from that. But the virtual connection of our community has really grown. And I love that we can learn together without commuting times added on either side or we can connect with our colleagues in the UK, in Doha or the US without worrying that there’s some of us together in one shared space and a few people who are the heads on the screen in the corner and turning to them and making sure they’re included. It just, it feels more authentic.
Brianna: 28:09 It feels like we are more equal and that everyone has more opportunities to contribute when we can connect virtually. So I’m going to try to encourage that incorporation. I think that you can offer it in a variety of ways. And along with that, keeping the different modalities. If people really just want to connect with some resources and that’s all they have the time or energy for right now, I’m just going to send them my slide set. You know, I used to feel like I needed to take them along every step of the journey, and now I’m, however they can access the information that they need now, I’m more than happy for them to do that. So really, really personalizing has been a part of my learning this year.
Steve: 28:59 Just kind of hearing the empowering, the learner. You know, almost the way we’re looking to give the student that extra empowerment. I hear a little bit of passing that on to the…
Brianna: 29:11 Absolutley. We had talked a little bit about some road blocks and things that were getting in the way of our learning. and I’ve been thinking, I just wanted to throw out there that I’ve been thinking a lot about Shawn Achor, the positive psychology author. He wrote, “The Happiness Advantage.” He talks quite a bit about how, if you can connect with your community, you become more efficient and more creative in your actual professional work, but we almost don’t have the time to connect with it. So it’s like, how do you make time to make time? And how do you find the time to become more efficient, right? So I don’t know that we’ve hit on that point yet, but I do think that it’s important to continue to consider it. In the design, I think that’s part of my work moving forward now is ensuring that people do have an opportunity to connect even if it’s for a few minutes over an article that they’ve already gone and read or something that they’ve already learned about. Like Nicole was sharing, how can we just offer little opportunities to, to stay connected, even if we can’t have faculty meetings together, even if the coaching of popping in each other’s classrooms is not a safe way of operating right now. So I think that’s probably next steps for me.
Steve: 30:36 So it’s definitely – time has been redefined as part of the whole pandemic thing, probably in all places in our lives. And so professional development is another one of those places. Well, folks, thank both of you so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas here. We’ll make sure that your email addresses and connections to your books are placed in the lead-in to this podcast and that allow folks to connect with you directly. I look forward to my next time to to work with both of you.
Brianna: 31:17 It’s always a pleasure. Thank you, Steve.
Steve [Outro]: 31:21 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.