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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Role of Instructional Coach in Professional Learning

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.
~John Dewey

Included in the SCPS Strategic Plan are actions to support 21st Century Professionals, including “Provide ongoing Thinking Strategies/Workshop Model support to teachers”, “Digital Integration”, and “Training teachers to use POP to monitor their impact”. As leaders (staff developers, coaches, principals), we recognize that we are all learning along a continuum across each of these innovative practices, and we are sometimes managing learning several new practices at one time.
A key component of our plan for professional learning is acknowledging that teachers are learning and growing in their practice, just as we recognize students are learning and growing in their understanding.  And it is also why in Shelby County, we believe so strongly in having Instructional Coaches to support ongoing, embedded work so that professional learning makes a difference and growth can be supported in an on-going way. We recognize the need for mentorship and collaboration in learning for teachers as well as students.
In addition to being classroom teachers who successfully moved students toward mastery with expertise, our Instructional Coaches have a wealth of knowledge and understanding about adult learning.  They understand the model for change described in the Concerns-Based Adoption Model.  This model identifies 7 Stages of Concern.  As coaches develop relationships with teachers, they recognize the Concerns and provide embedded learning as awareness grows.  In collaboration with district and school leadership, they are a part of the support team to monitor readiness as teachers move along the Stages of Concern (attitudes and beliefs) when learning a new skill, strategy or innovation.

Typical Expressions of Concern about an Innovation/ Table 3.
Stage of Concern
Expression of Concern
6. Refocusing
I have some ideas about something that would work even better.
5. Collaboration
How can I relate what I am doing to what others are doing?
4. Consequence
How is my use affecting learners? How can I refine it to have more impact?
3. Management
I seem to be spending all my time getting materials ready.
2. Personal
How will using it affect me?
1. Informational
I would like to know more about it.
0. Awareness
I am not concerned about it.

In Shelby County Schools, we have acknowledged the progression of adult learning, just as we do for student learning, by increasingly personalizing professional learning.  We recognize that not all teachers are at the same stage at the same time with any skill, strategy or innovation.  Therefore, teachers have the choice of designing learning that meets their current need and/or interest, taking into consideration where they are in the Stages of Concern.
As we learn new skills (such as classroom management), strategies (such as workshop model as a system of instruction), and innovations (such as digital integration), we progress through Levels of Use (behaviors) seen on the chart below.

Levels of Use of the Innovation: Typical Behaviors
(Note that the Levels of Use may progress over YEARS of practice.)
Levels of Use
Behavioral Indicators of Level
VI. Renewal
The user is seeking more effective alternatives to the established use of the innovation.
V. Integration
The user is making deliberate efforts to coordinate with others in using the innovation.
IVB. Refinement
The user is making changes to increase outcomes.
IVA. Routine
The user is making few or no changes and has an established pattern of use.
III. Mechanical
The user is making changes to better organize use of the innovation.
II. Preparation
The user has definite plans to begin using the innovation.
0I. Orientation
The user is taking the initiative to learn more about the innovation.
0 . Non-Use
The user has no interest, is taking no action.

As we have found with other best practices such as Thinking Strategies, NAMING something gives us power to use and manipulate the concept to facilitate growth.  So, NAMING the stages we go through as learners helps us talk about the Stage of Concern (attitudes and beliefs) we have, as well as the Level of Use (behavior) we currently have with the change or innovation in our practice. Knowing and NAMING the Stages and Levels helps us to have honest, hard conversations about our learning and our practice, while always looking forward to what is next and how we are working to get there.  It helps us to manage and honor the learning PROCESS and where we are along a continuum of growth.  This is why Instructional Coaches have expertise around identifying coaching moves to make to help teachers as they progress along the Stages of Concern and Levels of Use.
Meeting the transformational goals of our Strategic Plan puts teachers in charge of their learning at a time when they are also learning to do so for students.  As leaders, we aspire to honor the learning of our teachers in a parallel fashion to the way we honor our students' learning. That is why our professional learning is personalized and that is why there are Instructional Coaches in every building.

Seek out your coach, who will always help you think--BIGGER!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Personalization--The Pinnacle
A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. ~ Thomas Carruthers

Anyone who has been in education very long recognizes that there are always innovations and initiatives. The challenge for us as professionals is to connect innovations and initiatives to best practices we know are tried and true.
I recall learning something new when I was teaching at an elementary school in the early 2000’s; I was introduced to the language and thinking of the Workshop Model. Initially understanding workshop as a time structure, I worked to organize my personal classroom writing lessons around Mini Lessons (Crafting), Work Time (Composing) and Debrief (Reflection). Then I began to fully implement and manage all of the components of workshop, particularly utilizing conferring as a tool for formative assessment and engaging students in high levels of discourse to promote understanding. Only then did I begin to more fully understand how workshop is, as Sam Bennett shares in That Workshop Book, indeed a system of instruction, with many purposeful parts leading to increasing personalization of learning for students.
Through the years, as I implemented workshop across the disciplines, I understood the consequence of my intentional moves.  The impact I saw on student understanding was amazing, and I began to collaborate with colleagues to study further how our practice might have even deeper impact across contexts other than writing workshop.
Later, as I coached teachers in a variety of disciplines to use the system of workshop, I saw how that very purposeful system of workshop generalizes to any content and serves as an instructional delivery model that helps teachers know what is next for their students.
Now, years later, as I refocus, and see the “innovation” of personalization coming along,  I understand how personalization is the pinnacle of workshop, how student agency and ownership within the workshop can result in deeper learning through purposeful planning for understanding.  
There it is.  Best practices, tried and true. Workshop resulting in personalization for learners. Innovation?  Or simply fullest implementation of a best practice?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A note to Shelby County educators...

I am honored to have the opportunity to spend time in classrooms across Shelby County Public Schools every week.  As many know, I am a life-long Shelby County resident.  I grew up in Waddy, attended Henry Clay Elementary, East Middle School and Shelby County High School.  Like many educators, I grew up playing school with siblings, friends and stuffed animals.  But unlike many 40-somethings, I was given the opportunity to take charge of my learning early in my school career.

If you don’t know the location of Henry Clay Elementary, take a drive down US 60 east toward the Waddy-Peytona area.  It sits up on a hill on the right.  It now serves as a home to several businesses.  For me, it will always be the place where I created my first published writing pieces, collaborated with my first co-workers and served in a school leadership position.

Miss Robinson was my 3rd and 4th grade teacher.  I had the opportunity to be in a “split 3/4” for two years.  It was during these special years that Miss Robinson discovered my love for creating play scripts.  She encouraged me to write throughout the day and allowed live performances of the plays frequently.  At recess, my friends took on the characters of Mary Ann, Mr. and Mrs. Howell, Professor, Skipper…you get the picture.  They weren’t exactly original ideas.  I borrowed the characters and setting from Gilligan’s Island, and created the problems and solutions for each play.  For the most part, the same people remained in these roles unless more inviting recess opportunities came their way.  (Whenever Mr. Sparrow was hitting “Coke balls” on the softball field, we all grabbed our ball gloves and headed that way!)  Miss Robinson made my work meaningful and authentic. She allowed me to demonstrate my learning through exhibitions and gave me feedback to help me grow in my writing, speaking and listening skills. (Did I mention that I casted myself as Ginger?) No one else was writing plays; she knew each of our academic needs and personal interests and let us build on our strengths. 

My first school leadership position occurred in 5th grade.  I know what you might be thinking…I was restroom monitor, line leader or milk person.  In my eyes, I was the principal every day from 2:30 to 3:00!  Our principal, Mr. David Sparrow, was the principal of several community schools so most afternoons, he was scheduled to be in other buildings.  Mrs. Curtsinger, the school secretary, left each day at 2:30, so someone had to take charge of the office.  The main office of Henry Clay Elementary was on the top floor at the very end of a long hallway.  Everybody in school had recess at 2:30.  My job was to monitor the phone and raise the heavy office window to yell messages out to the supervising teachers on the front bus lot when needed.  As I became more comfortable in my position, I often took on the persona of Mr. Sparrow by plopping down in the big rolling chair and putting my feet up on the desk.  The best days were when my best friends joined me and took on the roles of Miss Jeanne Robinson, Mrs. Cathy Cook and Miss Mollie Craig.  I guess you could say it was my first internship!

These personalized learning experiences, along with countless others in Shelby County Public Schools, are foundational in who I am today as a learner, leader and teacher.  My goal for our students is to provide these kinds of experiences for every student every day.  I want to help you to design opportunities for your students to show mastery of standards through authentic and meaningful projects, public exhibitions and multiple leadership opportunities.  I want to have a true impact on the future of Shelby County students so they can have an impact on the world!