Rethinking my work with teachers

I spent a wonderful 2 hours with Diane Sweeney, author of Learning Along the Way: Professional Development by and for Teachers. Diane has been working with the literacy ‘lab teachers’ in my district for a few years helping to develop a model for ‘gradual release’ with our district teachers in their journey to learn more about comprehensive literacy and guided reading. This session was for those in our district who take a leadership and coaching role with our teachers.The two hours flew by; which is a feat to accomplish on a sunny Friday afternoon!

Three things really resonated with me:

1. Diane’s ability to connect with her audience.

I was thrilled at how quickly Diane was able to connect to the diverse roles of those of us sitting in the meeting. There were literacy coaches, gifted teachers, and technology facilitators (like me!).

2. The idea of ‘coach’ as a verb, NOT a title.

When I was hired, I asked that we change the name of my position from ‘tech coach’. I didn’t think it sounded collaborative enough. I envisioned a coach barking out orders and drills (as many of my athletic coaches did). While those being ‘coached’ may be better after these drills and orders, for some it means breaking them down and building them back up. I didn’t want to work that way or to give the impression of Me=expert You=novice, so listen up and do it MY way.

3. The Continuum of Student-Centeredness in School Based Coaching

The model for coaching she presented led me to begin thinking about changes I may want to make to improve my effectiveness as a ‘tech coach’. I like thinking about the idea of student-centered coaching with regard to technology. I have implemented the relationship-driven and teacher-centered coaching, but at times, I am not as effective with teachers when I ask about the students.

This is an oversimplification of a conversation, but represents a typical scenario. This type of encounter often takes place as I pass by a teacher walking her class through the hall.

Teacher: “I want my kids to do a PowerPoint for social studies”.

Me: “What are the students learning?”

Teacher: “They’re doing Native American research.”

Me: “What are you hoping the kids will gain from using PowerPoint for this project?”

Teacher: “They’ll know how to use PowerPoint and how to add the fancy elements.”

Me: “How will the learning be evaluated?”

Teacher: “They’ll be sharing with another student.”

Me: “There may be some other ideas that would accomplish the same thing. Would you be open to other suggestions?”

Teacher: “No, they need to learn to use PowerPoint.”

Sigh! This interaction does nothing to examine the value of this experience (or lack thereof) for the students. The focus is solely on the tool; not even the best tool! When I have an opportunity to talk with teachers about their goals for their students, not only does it help me to best tailor an appropriate learning experience for the children, but it allows the teacher to focus on her students’ needs. The biggest obstacle to this kind of planning is TIME; there is never enough time for teachers. These conversations needn’t be lengthy or numerous, but they need to happen, and not while passing in the hallway.

The second largest obstacle is teacher tech-phobia. Teachers often see my role as solely about them and what they are not able to do. I think that is why many teachers don’t contact me. There are those who say, ” I already use technology, so I don’t need your help.” or “I hate technology and I don’t see the value for students”. Again, a slightly dramatization of actual comments but the message was similar. By focusing on what the students’ needs are, the topic of conversation is about learning — not technology!

I have begun the first chapter of Learning Along the Way and am thrilled that Diane will be returning next year to work with my district. I have already requested time to sit and talk with Diane for some student-centered coaching of my own!

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2 Responses

  1. I have the same conversations all the time. What is the answer? I can’t wait until your next post here. You left me hanging…

    Was her relationship “immediately” easier to work with teachers because their wasn’t the embeded “Tech” phobia in between her and the audience? She might be amazing, but was she really saying anything that was beyond an awesome “common” sense approach? Does that make sense what I am asking?

    My success with teachers has been to break through with them by not talking about the “Tool” but to demonstrate something with what I think is good and focusing on the “Skill”, etc.

  2. Hey there. I definitely agree with you. That workshop was such an “aha” for me.

    If I can get a copy, are you interested in reading that book together – either in person or electronically?

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