Sunday, November 8, 2015

Designing and Delivering Large Group Profesional Development

Post by BHS Instructional Coaches Kim Rojas, Pete Bruecken & Jennifer Wikan. This is their 6th post in a series of articles about their first year of TLC in Iowa. You can follow them on Twitter @krojas711 @PeterBruecken @j_wikan

Everything we have learned about instructional coaching includes a heavy emphasis on working one-on-one or with small groups of teachers.  This is natural since the main purpose of a coach is to provide ongoing, personalized classroom-based support.  However, we quickly found out that we could have a large impact by taking a primary role in the design and delivery of whole faculty professional development in our building.  All-staff Professional Development gave us the visibility to begin enrolling over 90 teachers into the coaching process.  The periodic access and exposure to our entire teaching staff provided us the opportunity to utilize the professional development workshop as a springboard to extend a personal invitation for teachers to collaborate with an instructional coach.
Of course, this could never have happened without full support and encouragement from our administrative team.  They provided us the time during the early-release days to be able to take 30, 60, or even 90 minutes working with the faculty. The following table outlines the months and topics of the professional development workshops we facilitated with our faculty during the 2014-2015 school year:

Topic of Early-Release Faculty Workshop
Time (min)
August 2014
Introduction to Instructional Coaching
October 2014
Cultivating a Positive Classroom Culture
December 2014
Reflecting on Positive Classroom Culture Strategies
February 2015
Effective and Purposeful Technology Integration
April 2015
Best Practices in Monitoring Student Learning
May 2015
Reflecting on 2014-2015 Year of Coaching & Identifying Next Steps

To keep our professional development workshops teacher-driven and teacher-focused, we utilized various needs assessments throughout the school year.  The very first needs assessment administered during the August workshop focused on general needs of teachers, asking them about their hopes and fears of collaborating with an instructional coach and in what areas of their teaching they might want or need to work with a coach at some point during the school year.  This general needs assessment gave us important information to set our own personal goals for the year, to work on establishing an environment that would fulfill our teachers’ hopes and calm their fears, and to focus our initial work with teachers on their highest identified area of need.  
After August, the needs assessments changed to give us more specific information about our future work with teachers.  At the end of each early-release workshop, the teachers responded to an online survey to let us know in which areas they would like more training.  With this information, we carefully designed the next training session, aligning the building goals of our administrative team with the data we collected from teacher needs assessments.  For example, as you can see in the sample needs assessment below, our administrators wanted the February professional development to be about effective technology integration, which directly ties to one of our district goals.  We took that topic and designed a needs assessment that we administered at the end of our December workshop.  The feedback from that survey allowed us to customize a training session that met our teachers’ needs and interests, increasing the effectiveness of the workshop and the actual implementation of the new knowledge and skills back in the classroom with their students.

Sample needs assessment:

During our professional development sessions, we shared various types of data to help drive our discussions and let teachers know that we, as their coaches, look at the data we collect and use it to make instructional decisions.  (This idea of data-driven instruction is something we are just starting to work on with our teachers, so we decided to model it in our professional development time with them.) The type of data that was included in the workshop depended on the topic for that particular day.  For example, during the October early-release workshop on Cultivating a Positive Classroom Culture, we shared data collected regarding classroom culture/management during our work with teachers (with their permission) and how that data helped teachers make instructional decisions. During the February workshop on Technology, we shared the data from the needs assessment and showed our the training had been designed to meet their specific requests.  During the May reflection in-service, we shared the initial teacher needs assessment data from August along with the monthly breakdown of instructional coach activity data so they could see what in areas they had originally requested collaboration time with a coach, and how those areas of focused changed throughout the course of the year. This served as a springboard for reflective conversations, celebrations of our growth and successes this year, and goal-setting for the next school year.
One of the most important aspects of our professional development design and delivery is how we got the teachers involved. These were not your typical  “sit and get” in-services, but rather a powerful opportunity to encourage teacher leadership, collaboration, and buy-in. Since we have 12 model teachers as part of our new teacher leadership framework, we often utilized them to help present information, lead small groups, facilitate discussions, and share out their experiences of working with an instructional coach. However, we didn’t limit the opportunity to just model teachers. Both new and veteran teachers were invited to take a leadership role in either presenting information, modeling, or facilitating discussions during the workshops. This approach cultivates an environment that encourages teachers to learn from their colleagues and to challenge each other to grow professionally. It has also allowed us to stir our teachers’ passion and excitement in a very organic way that is sustainable and relevant to our school community.  
Below is an excerpt from the slideshow for our October workshop on Cultivating a Positive Classroom Culture, featuring 5 of our model teachers who had worked with an instructional coach on specific areas of classroom management (noted in parentheses).  These teachers shared the data that had been collected by the coach during classroom observations, the strategies that the teachers decided to implement during the post-observation reflection conversation with the coach, and how those strategies impacted the classroom culture.

As we mentioned before, the main purpose for us delivering professional development was to gain exposure in front of the faculty and enroll teachers into working with a coach.  Because of this, we always offered a personal invitation to coaching after each faculty workshop through the use of an online survey.  Each time we did this, we had at least 30 teachers request to work with a coach, specifying their focus area either by checking the box next to one of the areas we offered on the survey or by writing in their own area of focus in the “other” option. This personal invitation to work with a coach was included on the same survey as the needs assessment.

Sample coaching invitation:

One thing we learned about these surveys is that it was frustrating when teachers requested to work with a coach, but they didn’t put their name on the survey.  We specifically made the survey anonymous so we could collect honest data on the needs assessment piece of the tool, but this did not work well with the personal invitation to work with a coach since it is quite difficult to contact anonymous responders!  This is something we will need to restructure for our coaching invitations next year.
We feel incredibly fortunate to have an administrative team that provides us with the opportunity to design and deliver large-scale professional development workshops with our teachers.  Although this is not the main objective of our position as instructional coaches, it has definitely opened the door for us and has allowed our teachers to become more comfortable in entering into a conventional coaching cycle.  As we quickly found out, “enrolling” teachers can be one of the most difficult aspects of coaching at the high school level, where many teachers are used to working in isolation or collaborating only with content-alike colleagues. While taking an active role in designing and delivering professional development is not the only way to reach teachers and enroll them into working with a coach, it can definitely help you get a foot (or even a whole leg!) in the door.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Success Isn't Easy

Post by Brad Bannerman: Brad is in his 2nd year as Academic Interventionist at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Brad @bradbannerman

The other day I was talking to one of my students about success. He has been working very hard to turn his school career and personal life around, and had been having a lot of frustration and depression about what he sees as a lack of progress. I told him that none of us start out as experts in anything we do, and to take heart in the progress he has made so far; his grades were better in the last quarter than they had been before, and he was consistently making better decisions in his personal life.

He responded by telling me that he had made a mistake in his personal choices and it was apparent that he was beating himself up over it. I told him that he needs to understand that he is human; mistakes happen. Instead of beating himself up over it, he should reflect upon what led up to the mistake and role-play, mentally, how he could have reacted differently so that he knows what to do the next time this happens.

I reiterated that success is difficult, and we often fail many times or make many mistakes before we can find consistent success. I suggested he write out his feelings and concerns when he is feeling down so that he can get past the self-criticism and move on to the self-reflection. He agreed to try it and seemed to move on.

But what I said seemed to stick with me; all too often I beat myself up over the mistakes I make, or the failures I perceive as my fault. Instead, I need to reflect upon the changes I can make to avoid these mistakes again. I need to be proactive and reflective rather than reactive and overly critical. This is a key point to finding success in the field of teaching as well as in more focused job of academic interventionist--I already view students who succeed with me as their success, I just help bring it out; likewise I can't view students who fail to find success as my fault, could I do things better or differently to help them find success? Likely so, but I can't take their lack of success personally. Instead I should reflect on the small successes they had and focus on different ways to help them.

I don't think I can ever be a true expert Academic Interventionist, because every student is different--there is no cure-all. Instead, I can become an expert at reflection and adaptation so that I can do everything in my power to give students the chance to find success in their own way.