The power of clear messaging

Cervantes sign

Cervantes sign

While professional learning is the internal process of knowing, learning and becoming, professional development tends to refer to activities, courses, sessions, talks or conferences that teachers attend, voluntarily or otherwise. While it’s more trendy now to say ‘CPD’ (continuing professional development) than ‘PD’, one-off rather than sustained learning continues to pepper the lives of teachers as they and their schools attempt to improve themselves, keep up to date with the profession and meet legal and professional requirements.

The Australian school year has begun, which means that teachers have been given the opportunity to enjoy or endure staff days. Staff days prior to the commencement of the academic year tend to include time for planning, collaboration and setting up classrooms, as well as guest speakers, seminars or the kind of scattergun PD that hopes to land somewhere in the audience and maybe make a difference.

How do schools make decisions as to what kinds of development, collaboration and individual growth they facilitate for their staff? Especially in light of provocative reports like that from the TNTP (2015), The mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development, which suggested that we do not yet know what helps teachers to improve the quality of their instruction? The TNTP report (of a two year study into teacher professional learning of over 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders in three USA public school districts) found that, despite schools and systems investing time and money into professional learning of teachers, no clear patterns emerged to suggest which deliberate efforts improved teacher performance, as measured by teacher evaluation scores (using the education district’s final evaluation score, calculated using the district’s official methodology).

The TNTP report did note one school system whose teachers and students consistently performed better and improved more than the three public school districts. The report states that this better-performing, teacher-developing system had a more disciplined and coherent system for teacher development, a clear vision of success, and a network-wide culture of high expectations and continuous growth. Coherent system. Clear vision. Cohesive culture.

This year, my school decided not to invite a dizzyingly inspirational guest speaker or enlist the services of an external expert to run PD with our staff on those days. Instead our focus was on honouring, respecting and utilising internal expertise, and on communicating clear messaging around the school’s strategic priorities for the year. Valuing tacit knowledge and lived professional experience was important, as the strategic priorities were not new, either for the school or in education. The message, from the school executive and senior leadership team, to teachers, psychologists, education assistants and non-teaching staff, was that there are three key priorities for the year, summarised as three simple words. And that none of these was new, but rather things that teachers and non-teachers engage in every day, in and out of their classrooms.

What we aimed to do on our staff days was what Hargreaves and Shirley describe in their book The fourth way: The inspirational future for educational change as “explore the nitty gritty challenges of their practice through thoughtful exchanges with colleagues and in relation to relevant research” (2009, p. 93). We provided presentations from internal experts and leaders, including a panel of community members, as well as accessible readings and time for colleagues to collaborate with one another, both in their teams and with others from across the school.

The sense I got from our staff days was that staff were:

  • Relieved at the lack of new initiatives and the deliberate slowness in rolling out current projects; we continue to move forward, but in a measured way.
  • Comfortable with the clarity, simplicity and consistency of the messaging.
  • Grateful to be informed of and included in the strategic direction of the school.
  • Energised by the opportunity to work in a structured way with colleagues, around how the school’s strategic priorities would come alive in their own contexts.

I am often inspired by Ellie Drago-Severson’s work on adult learning, and the notion of the ‘holding environment’ as one of high support and high challenge, where people feel both ‘held’ and encouraged to be their best. Additionally, plenty of literature around school change talks about the need for shared vision, as does the 2016 ACER Professional Learning Community Framework for Australian schools. It is worth considering at length how to share school vision with the community so that it is lived, breathed, understood and propelled by those across the organisation. Everyone from the principal to parents and students have a part to play in knitting a community together around a common purpose. This year, those three words communicated from the executive down are helping to bind our community more closely together with common vision and shared purpose.

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Blogging and learning are versions of reality inseparable from our emotional state

The world is your exercise book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, though you may express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write lies, or nonsense, or to tear the pages. ~ Richard Bach, Illusions

I'm grateful to be nominated in this category of the #Eddies15

I’m grateful to be nominated in this category of the #Eddies15

As I crawl over the finish line of the school year in Australia, I’ve had the lovely news that this blog has been nominated for the ‘Best Individual Blog’ edublog award in 2015. I am grateful for the nomination, and if you fancy voting for me or anyone else, you can vote here.

As I’ve reflected on this nomination, I’ve been wondering about my choices as a learner and blogger. This week, as part of our end-of-year staff planning and PD days, four hours was set aside for an activity, self-chosen from a list of options, in which we would experience being a novice learner. This was followed by reflections on that experience and its possibilities for learning and assessment in our classrooms. Options included Zumba, water skiing, life drawing, ukulele making, tennis, coding and stage combat.

It was interesting to see the criteria people used to make their choice. Some chose something they knew they were good at, based on personal criteria of having fun and achieving success, at a time of year when many are tired and emotionally vulnerable. Some chose something that would really challenge them and during which they would feel the discomfort of the novice learner, putting themselves in the position many of our students are in every day. I was somewhere in the middle. With a Fine Art degree, I’ve done my share of drawing, so I didn’t choose that, an activity in which I would feel quite at home. But I also didn’t choose something like stage combat, which I thought might be a really great challenge, but in which I had the equal possibility of being exhilarated by conquering the task, or feeling frustration, discomfort and disappointment (or both!). In making my decision, I considered the school’s intentions and instructions, as well as my own emotional wellbeing and what it was I wanted to achieve from the day. It reminded me that each of my students enters my class in a particular internal place, of which I might not be aware. 

my ukulele from kit to finished product

my ukulele from kit to finished product

I self-selected the ukulele making challenge. I figured this was both fun and something I hadn’t done before. Despite my comfort with discomfort as a place of learning and transformation, it was a safe choice. And I kind of wanted a ukulele, so I was seduced by the possibility of having a product at the end. There also seemed something lyrical about the uke itself, played as it is by Hawaiian musicians such as  Israel Kamakawiwo`ole (hear his beautiful rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ here).

As it turns out, this activity was an opportunity to work with people from across the school, many of whom I don’t often get the chance to work with or learn from. It was a wonderful chance to be ‘in flow’ in a workshop, gluing sanding, designing, decorating. I experienced firsthand why my students might want to stay in the woodwork workshop rather than packing away to come to my English class! It reminded me of our Year 10 English Term 4 unit, in which there are no marks or grades; both teacher and student were liberated from measuring success and failure. It was really up to the learners to decide how hard they wanted to work, how important the task was to them and what level of challenge was appropriate for them. Many, including our colleague who was our teacher for the day, worked through their lunchbreak. As well as intrinsic motivation, there was plenty of interdependence, as colleagues sought each other out for help and collaborative learning along the way. Barely any of us used the written instructions as our preferred way of learning.

What I loved was the way that, even though we all started with the same Wolfelele kit, the resultant products bore the marks and personalities of their makers. 

some of the range of ukuleles made during our activity

some of the range of ukuleles made during our activity

With this blog I also make choices about the marks I make, the stories I share, and the things I choose to leave off or leave out. While this blog isn’t quite my highlight reel, I do tend to privilege positive stories, rather than those times in which I am feeling stuck or vulnerable. The more uncomfortable posts tend to be around intellectual disequilibrirum (a word I’m borrowing from Costa and Garmston). There is interdepence, too, in the way many posts are inspired by, or in conversation with, others.

The #Eddies15 edublog nomination is affirming, in that it reflects that the writing I send out into the blogosphere touches someone somewhere. I’m also aware that, like any text, it presents versions of reality, time-frozen snapshots. It reflects my choices, my self as an author, my connections with others in the blogging community, and my state of self at ay given moment.

Postscript: This blog was voted fourth best individual blog in the 2015 edublog awards. You can see the winners list here.

Observation to transformation: The power of classroom data for teacher growth

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ John Lubbock

In my posts about my school’s teacher growth model, a growth-focused coaching initiative which sits alongside other professional development and evaluation work at the school, I have tended to focus of our use of Cognitive Coaching and the Danielson Framework for Teaching. As our model is being implemented this year, however, another aspect of the process is emerging as transformative in its own right: classroom data.

To explain how we use data in our collaborative coaching cycle, a one-year cycle looks like this:

a visual look at our coaching-observation cycle

a visual look at our coaching-observation cycle

  1. Self-reflect: Complete self-reflection against Danielson Framework for Teaching.
  2. Touch base: Pre conference with Teacher-Coach, identifying possible foci, deciding on type of lesson data to be collected.
  3. Collect data: 2 x 20 minute observations.
  4. Reflect & Plan: Post conference with Teacher-Coach following the Cognitive Coaching reflecting-into-planning conversation map and using Danielson Framework for Teaching.
  5. Repeat 2, 3 and 4.
  6. Self-reflect: Complete self-reflection against Danielson Framework for Teaching.

In this post, I would like to focus on Step 3, data generation.

You’ll notice that we use multiple short observations and the Danielson Framework for Teaching, as supported by the findings of the Measures of Effective Teaching study. A number of short observations mean that teachers build up a series of snapshots of the kinds of lessons in their classrooms, liberating them from feeling like ‘this 20 minutes is representative of all of my teaching all of the time.’ It is a moment in time on which to reflect.

*               *               *

What classroom data is generated?

Generating lesson data is a crucial part of our coaching teacher growth model. While all teachers are expected to have classroom data collected for the purposes of their reflection on practice, this is differentiated in the sense that the teacher decides what sort of data will be collected, depending on what they would like to know about their lessons. Below are the main types of lesson data we have been using.

Non-inferential observation notes

These notes usually look like verbatim scripting. That is, the observer takes down what they see and hear in a lesson. No judgements. No praise. No criticism. Just observed sights and described sounds. They include times and may also include mapping of students or classroom movement. Our coaches are trained in this kind of observation note taking. It can be challenging to take self and own biases out of lesson data, leaving just what happened for the teacher to do their own reflections and evaluations.

Observation notes are useful for looking at instructional clarity, questioning, student discussion and student group or individual work. In the case of the latter, the observer may go to students or groups and observe them or interact with them, recording interaction and responses. This means that observers can record those parts of the classroom where teachers are not. It also means that an in-class observer can glean details of student work and conversation which a video would not pick up.

A caution about this kind of note taking is that the observer bias does appear in what the observer chooses to take down. For instance, in a fast paced classroom discussion, often an observer needs to make a choice between capturing the teacher’s or the students’ responses.

The benefit of notes is that the run of the lesson is written down in black and white, without the distractions of watching multiple elements in a video.

Video

We have a few video options available to teachers for the purposes of lesson data collection. Still video. 360 degree video. SWIVL video. These each have their pros and cons, and require choices to be made, such as whose audio is picked up, or whose movement is tracked.

The 360 degree video is a more obvious piece of equipment in the classroom, but it simultaneously shows teacher and students. The SWIVL makes it easy for teachers to collect data on their iPhone or iPad, but as the camera follows the audio lanyard it privileges the person wearing it, usually the teacher.

Video is great for teachers wanting to see their own teaching, including movement and wait times. Our Physical Education, Music and Languages teachers love it, but so do those in other learning areas and various year levels.

Audio

Some teachers want laser like focus on what is said in their classrooms. They are keen to listen closely to their questioning or instructional clarity, and to their students’ responses, for instance. Like verbatim scripting, by isolating audio, teachers can pick up on very specific aspects of their teaching, although others will be missed.

*               *               *

Supplementary data include planning documents, goals and reflections, student work samples, student feedback and student achievement data. All data have their inherent biases, benefits and disadvantages. We are finding that mixing up the data so that teachers experience their classrooms in a variety of ways may be more effective than continually repeating the same data collection strategy for the same teacher.

Importantly, all data are owned exclusively by the teacher for their reflection and use. They are not for coaches or managers to use or publicise outside of the coach-coachee relationship. Focus groups with coached teachers at the school have revealed that teachers appreciate the choice and ownership over their classroom data. The trust in the coach-coachee relationship is paramount.by @debsnet

So while I have been focusing my own practice on refining my coaching skills, something else has been happening alongside. The data has been a tool for teacher learning and development, both in its own right and as part of the coaching cycle.

I’ve noticed that when, as coach, I get the data right, the conversation seems to almost take care of itself. The data, in these cases, has set off the teacher’s thinking, reflection, planning and action, before I turn up for the post conference.

In other conversations, looking at the data in detail, with well-crafted questions, can bring teachers to the point of an ‘a-ha’ moment or a change in practice. At times it is looking closely at the Danielson Framework for Teaching rubrics which allows teachers to see alternative teaching and learning possibilities, and refines their precision of language around practice. Other conversations require deeper coaching questions which drill into why lessons went the way they did, how teachers made decisions in their classrooms, what criteria they used to make those decisions, or what might have be going on for particular students in the lesson.

The data also provide an important ‘third party’ in the coaching conversation, allowing the conversation to be depersonalised and focused on the data, not the person.

Data is powerful stuff. And lesson data ‘done right’ – owned by the teacher, objective and giving the teacher a new perspective on their classroom, themselves and their students – can be transformative.

Good One, by @debsnet

Implementing a coaching model: One school’s approach

If threat, fear, pain even in the most minute portions are perceived, neurological and chemical processes occur which prepare the system for survival, not reflection. ~ Costa and Garmston

tulips in Monet’s Giverny garden: a beautiful example of individual and collective growth

Coaching has contested definitions and a range of models which include instructional coaching, peer coaching, literacy coaching, GROW coaching, Growth Coaching and Cognitive Coaching. In education, schools and systems have a variety of approaches to adopting and rolling out coaching models. In the lead up to Saturday’s #satchatoc Twitter chat on coaching, I thought I would write this post to outline some of my views. I know they are hard to articulate in 140 characters!

This post is based in my research and experience, and are of course coloured by these. Bear in mind when reading that I am one person, in one context, with one set of experiences, conducting one study. It’s one perspective of many. I enjoy being part of a wider conversation around coaching.

My coaching training is in Cognitive Coaching (I have done the Foundation course three times now in three consecutive years), in which I have experience as a coach and coachee. My PhD and school-based research has familiarised me with other models of coaching, with my thesis reference list running to almost 8000 words, with a portion of that around coaching research, as part of my focus on transformational professional learning. I also continue to work with a number of classroom consultants who have observed my lessons and worked with me to improve my classroom practice in a variety of ways from more to less directive. (While some might call this ‘coaching’, in a Cognitive Coaching sense, having a pedagogical expert giving you advice on your practice is called ‘consulting’.)

This post looks to outline my school’s particular approach to developing our coaching model, our guiding principles and the emerging practices, in order to share them and open up a conversation around others’ coaching principles and practices.

Start with context and vision.

The most important thing for me is this: start with and work from your school’s context. There is not a one-size-fits-all model, but rather each school should consider their values, vision, mission, current work going on and where the academic staff and professional growth processes are at. Where is your starting point? What do you want your end point to be?

When I was charged with researching, piloting and implementing a growth-based professional learning model at my school the principal said, “What I want is for this to grow the vibrant professional learning culture of our school.” Our model emerged from this aim and the school’s strategic intents. It aligned with work already being done, rather than being a tacked-on innovation. This reflects work from those such as Fullan and Senge on cohesive shared vision and aligned practice.

These were our aims:

'Take one' (or take all!) for your school

‘Take one’ (or take all!) for your school

Go slow to go fast. School change is an evolution not a revolution.

An outline of our model’s development goes something like this:

In 2012 I wrote a research and recommendation paper which took into account the school’s context, the strategic plan and current research on teacher quality, professional learning and school reform. In 2013 I worked with a team of teachers to pilot the recommended model and develop it for our context. We decided that after that initial pilot year, the model wasn’t yet ready, so I worked with another team of teachers in 2014 to continue the pilot. In the second pilot year we refined our model. Each year we collected data from the coaches and coached teachers through online surveys, online discussions, and focus groups. Each year I reported to the school board and principal who provided strategic feedback. In 2015 we have been rolling out the model at a whole school level, with teachers across the school. Each year we have used a Schooling by Design (Wiggins & McTighe) template to backwards plan our work with our goals in mind, aligned with deliberate action.

This is a very condensed run-down but it shows that we chose to go slow. We wanted the process to be owned and driven by teachers. We did not have a performativity and accountability agenda, but were interested in increasing the capacity and efficacy of teachers, in helping them on their own trajectories of growth. As I explained in this post, our model is about helping teachers open their doors from the inside.

Buy-in was key, and the decision to have teachers lead the development of our model, guided by research, the strategic plan and data we collected on our impacts, was very deliberate.

Believe in the capacity of all individuals to solve their own problems, do their own thinking and drive their own learning.

This belief has been the foundation of our use of Cognitive Coaching as the coaching model: everyone is coachable. I was initially skeptical of Cognitive Coaching. It seemed like common sense: build trust, listen actively, pause, paraphrase. Well, duh. And what about if people don’t have the capacity to do their own reflection? What if they need my expertise, for me to help them become their better selves? These were my reservations.

But what I love about the Cognitive Coaching course (remember: I’ve done it three times!) is that it is saturated with research and the why. Like the coaching model itself, it is about changing thinking in order to change practice.

Examples of research that shaped my thinking are: Costa and Garmston’s 2003 paper which points out on page 5 that “if threat, fear, pain even in the most minute portions are perceived, neurological and chemical processes occur which prepare the system for survival, not reflection”; and another study by Boyatzis and Jack (2010) which looked at brain imaging during coaching and found that “by spending 30 minutes talking about a person’s desired, personal vision, we could light up (activate) the parts of the brain 5-7 days later that are associated with cognitive, perceptual and emotional openness and better functioning.”

I realised that being helpful to coachees (and don’t we all want to be helpful and have a positive impact?) was helping them do their own thinking, their own reflecting.

In my consequent experiences as coach and coachee, I have found that people have the capacity to be highly self-aware, if given the opportunity.

The best feeling as a coach is when a coachee experiences what Cognitive Coaching calls ‘cognitive shift’, a moment of new previously-untapped realisation.

As I develop my own coaching practice I have realised how many layers of expertise and deceptively simple skill a coach requires. Incorporating the Five States of Mind, tracking eye movement, paraphrasing of non-verbal as well as verbal language, and artful asking of the right question for the right person at the right moment, are skills I continue to develop. As a coach it is like being a duck who appears to glide across the pond whilst its legs are madly paddling under water. There is a lot going on in the coaching brain! While I think everyone is coachable, I am not sure everyone can be a coach.

by @debsnet

Impacts

As a coach this year in our now-rolled-out model, my belief in the power of Cognitive Coaching continues to be affirmed. The approach has been well-received by teachers who are realising that this process is not about evaluation or accountability, but about their growth and authored by them. The other aspects of our model are also working. Lesson data is proving to be potentially transformational in its own right (that is another post for another time). The Danielson Framework for Teaching is enhancing teachers’ precision of reflection and goal setting around their practice.

We continue to collect data from a number of sources to continue to iterate the model. This includes external student achievement data, internal perception surveys and focus groups.

I want to leave you with this quote from Andy Hargreaves and Jane Skelton (2012), which really sums up for me what coaching should be about (my emphasis):

In some of its earliest origins, coaching is a learning journey undertaken willingly by travellers together. However, in the context of large-scale systematic reform, coaching has too often turned into enforced transportations from boardrooms into classrooms of unreflective practices based on inflexible ideologies or exaggerated sources of evidence.

A coach is a vehicle. But in education, it is not an inanimate one. Should a coach be a mere deliverer of other people’s goods and chattels? Or should the coach carry learners and learning along a self-chosen journey together? Are coaches providers of service learning, or vehicles that deliver people into bureaucratic servitude? Like life coaches, should educational coaches develop people’s own capacity to help themselves, or is their role to watch over teachers’ fidelity to or compliance with externally prescribed practice? …

It takes a big man or woman to step aside from surgery and actively help others take their place at the cutting edge of their profession. And it takes a great coach to stand up for the moral purpose of their work that is or should be at the core of all coaching – developing people, not implementing policies; building capacity rather than enforcing compliance; and giving colleagues a professional service rather than delivering them into ideological servitude.

by @debsnet

Reflections on the conference experience: Hawker Brownlow Melbourne 2015

Human interaction remains the key component of changing education. ~ Eric Sheninger

Yarra River, Melbourne

Yarra River, Melbourne

I have spent the last four days at the Hawker Brownlow Education Conference in Melbourne, an annual conference which brings big name educational thinkers together from around the world to present immersive sessions on educational issues of the moment. What follows is my reflection on the conference experience and the value of the conference model for learning.

I selected my conference sessions based on my particular areas of current interest. While Dylan Wiliam opened the conference by using William Schmidt’s warning against teaching an inflexible curriculum which is ‘a mile wide and an inch thick,’ my recent work in professional learning and effective school change has been an inch wide and a mile deep. The sessions I chose were therefore along this same vein and were intended to take me even deeper.

Many of the speakers’ points resonated with what I already know and affirmed my own thinking and practices. These added some layers of complexity to my existing understandings and acted as springboards for conversations around education.

Dylan Wiliam and Bruce Wellman pointed out that we learn when we are uncomfortable. Wiliam said, ‘we learn more when we’re wrong,’ while Wellman talked about the discomfort that comes with working towards understanding. He pointed out that teams and individuals need to be willing to squirm and grapple with challenging questions. A comfortable team is not a learning team.

Caulfield Racecourse view from the HBE conference

Caulfield Racecourse view from the HBE conference

Learning communities were a thread which appeared in the sessions I attended. Wellman, co-author of The Adaptive School, discussed how skilful high-performing groups share intellectual and emotional space, which includes being comfortable with pauses in discussion. Silence is not the enemy of learning and collaboration, but an ally.

Wellman pointed out that being in the same room together does not make a group a community of learners. Anthony Muhammad added that a professional learning community is not a collaborative team which meets regularly, but a systemic contextually-embedded paradigm which raises collective knowledge through collective inquiry. Much like the Adaptive School material, which advocates ‘graceful disagreement’ as a norm of effective teams, Muhammad maintains that constructive, professional disagreement is the foundation of innovation.

Muhammad’s work at Levey Middle School reflects that of my own school in that it emerged out of the specific context of that school and where its community and practices were at. While our context is vastly different, we too have built our teacher growth model out of our school’s mission, vision, values, existing work and knowledge of our students, teachers and leaders.

Part of our model is based around how feedback and conversation might be deliberately harnessed in order to build teacher capacity and amplify the learning culture of the school. Wellman says that feedback is ‘in the moment, about the past, to affect the future.’ He points out that advice has very little impact on the advisee, and instead advocates for using clear, shared standards and a focus on learning, within an environment of trust. The focus on learning is about meeting the person where they are. ‘Wherever I meet you in your practice,’ he says, ‘we’re going to grow from there.’ He adds that, ‘We are starving our master teachers of rich conversations; they are hungry to talk about the whys of what they are doing.’

As outlined in Lipton and Wellman’s Learning-Focused Supervision, Wellman sees standards as rallying points for important conversations which set aspirations for goal setting and growth. My Australian school similarly uses Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as a tool for developing shared understandings about teaching; and for reflection and data-based conversation around teaching practice. Our approach also gels with Wellman’s assertion that feedback should be customised and appropriate for the individual; one size does not fit all. Our model of teacher growth incorporates differentiation in terms of what sort of data teachers collect from their lessons and the ways in which coaches approach each conversation. As with the metaphor of the stage coach, our coaching model is about helping the coachee get to their desired destination.

Melbourne autumn

Melbourne autumn

One of Wellman’s points about data analysis was that, when looking at data, we should focus on analysing reasons for successes, rather than failure. What are the successful students or teachers doing? What knowledge and strategies do they have? How can we develop those in others? (He also has a great strategy for teams looking at student achievement data in which he employs prediction to engage people in their assumptions about what the data might hold, before revealing the data.)

At the end of the conference I met up with Eric Sheninger who had just landed in Melbourne for his first time working with Australian educators, districts and conferences (he will be keynoting at the EduTECH conference in Brisbane next week). I had tweeted a pile of books from the conference two days earlier, including Eric’s, with no idea that he was en route to Melbourne. Ours was an impromptu meeting which arose out of a morning Twitter conversation. We met up and chatted about our work, global educational thinkers, the world of connected educators and DIY professional learning. During our conversation, Eric pointed me towards some great apps which will be useful collaborative tools for my work with student and teacher learners, such as Verso, Tozzl and Padlet.

In addition, my first night in Melbourne had me meeting with some of my Twitter PLN – Greg Curran, Chris Munro and Jo Prestia – to discuss coaching in school settings, research journeys and approaches to school intervention implementation.

Both in and out of the conference I fielded questions about what my PhD is about. This was a great opportunity to hone my ideas about what is most important about my research and communicating that in effective ways.

So there were affirming moments in, and out, of the conference, which added nuanced layers to my thinking. Yet on reflection, I realise that much of what a conference can bring for the delegate are conversations with others, unexpected moments of collaboration, and the space and time to process and reflect. Although I was surprised at the lack of a backchannel at a national conference, by both presenters and delegates, – Where was the Tweetstream? – I found valuable connections with my own colleagues, other educators, presenters and connected educators who weren’t affiliated with the conference but were open to connecting in person.

Federation Square, Melbourne

Federation Square, Melbourne

Everyone is coachable: we are all capable of change & growth

All who wish to continually improve their craft … never lose the need to be coached. ~ Art Costa & Bob Garmston

dedicated to those who dream, by @debsnet

I was recently asked a question on Twitter: ‘Are some teachers un-mentorable?’ My response was along the lines of, ‘No-one is unmentorable or uncoachable; a person always has the capacity for growth.’ This belief underpins my ideas about school change and my school’s teacher growth model on which I presented at researchED conference in Sydney and ACEL in Melbourne.

In scholarly literatures, coaching (sometimes used interchangeable with the term ‘mentoring’, such as in the writings of Ellie Drago-Severson, who I talked with last year) seems to be divided into expert coaching and peer coaching.

Expert coaching involves an expert or master who provides guidance to a less-experienced apprentice. This includes Jim Knight’s instructional coaching in which the expert instructional coach provides judgements, feedback and suggestions, based on their expertise.

The other kind of coaching is peer or reciprocal coaching in which someone is paired with those of a similar level of expertise. These peers proceed to coach or mentor each other in a collaborative and non-hierarchical way. This approach, which is intended to develop a collaborative learning culture as well as the individual’s practice, includes models like instructional rounds, in which teachers form small professional learning groups which collectively work to enhance their practice.

Both coaching trends are based on use of data for growth (in a teaching sense, this would be some kind of classroom observation data) but are underpinned by different principles and beliefs. Expert coaching models assume that people learn best when someone with more knowledge and experience provides them with specific, targeted feedback for improvement, while the peer coaching models assumes that it is by working together that we can improve.

One form of coaching which can be conducted by a peer or an expert is Costa and Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching which is based in brain research like this which suggests that we are most likely to grow when we do thinking ourselves, rather than receive thoughts doled out by others. Cognitive Coaching focuses on developing individuals as self-directed learners who consciously reflect upon, conceptualise and apply understandings from one experience to the next. It is a data-based, non-judgemental, developmental and reflective model for conversations for planning, reflecting and problem resolving, as well as a tool for developing professional communities that value interdependence and individual capacity for self-directed learning.

The goal of Cognitive Coaching is the growth of individual and organisation through the development both of autonomy (of the individual) and interdependence (the development of a holonomous organisational culture in which individuals function as both autonomous, independent individuals and interdependent, responsive members of the larger system).

Unlike expert models of coaching which involve specific coach feedback, judgements and suggestions, Cognitive Coaching involves mediated processing. The Cognitive coach does not offer judgements, feedback or advice, but asks ‘artfully vague’ questions or presents impartial observational or other data, followed by silence, in order to encourage the cognitive and reflective processes of the teacher. There is certainly an art to the asking of well-crafted cognition-provoking questions, as I have found in my journey as a coach. This approach is intended to create personal change through new connections in the brain and reconstruct knowledge through a conscious, reflective approach to new experiences.

By avoiding positive and negative value judgements and opinion, by coaching ‘without manipulation,’ Cognitive Coaching aims to transform an individual’s beliefs about learning and refine their cognitive maps by encouraging them to talk and think about their decisions. In this way, talking aloud leads to examination and refinement of choices and behaviours.

The use of a Cognitive Coaching process for teacher learning and development is supported by Charlotte Danielson’s work (you can find my conversation with Charlotte here) in which she notes that mentors, supervisors, evaluators and colleagues should beware of imposing their own styles or preferences when observing. The question is not “Is this how I would do it?” but “Given the context, what is appropriate?” She also advises that classroom observations must be accompanied by conferences before and after observed lessons.

My own experiences as cognitive coach and coachee have shown me the power of this kind of coaching to allow people’s own internal resources to kick in to gear, their own passions and thinking to light up, and their confidence to solve their own problems and forge their own paths to soar. It has shown me the power of really being listened to and being given a safe, trusting place in which to verbally explore situations. It has also shown me that when you own your ‘a-ha’ moments, the learning sticks. Change happens. Practice shifts.

So, returning to the question of the uncoachable or unmentorable teacher, I wonder about the intent of the coaching or mentoring.

Cognitive Coaching aims to ‘convey a valued person from where they are, to where they want to be.’ There are some important assumptions being made here. The person is valued. They are assumed to be motivated and capable of reflection and growth. And they are helped on their learning journey to a destination to which they aspire. This model of coaching is not a deficiency model based on where the manager wishes the person would go or what an expert has identified as an area of growth. It is about the person. And. Where. THEY. Want. To. Go.

Do I believe that absolutely any teacher, any person, can be coached or mentored into professional growth? Absolutely.

We believe that all human beings are capable of change, that we continue to grow cognitively throughout our lifetime and that we all possess a vast reservoir of untapped potential. ~ Art Costa & Bob Garmston

buddha, by @debsnet

Research and education: a match made in the conference room? #rEDSyd

Luna Park, Opera House, Harbour Bridge

 If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. African Proverb

I have just returned from presenting at the researchED conference in Sydney. As explained on its website, researchED, founded by Glaswegian Tom Bennett (you can read his reflection on the day here), is a “grass-roots, teacher-led organisation aimed at improving research literacy in the educational communities, dismantling myths in education, getting the best research where it is needed most, and providing a platform for educators, academics, and all other parties to meet and discuss what does and doesn’t work in the great project of raising our children.”

It is the first time this conference has come to Australia and I was pleased to, through attending and presenting, be part of a movement to close the gap between educational research and practice, between academic theorising and school reality.

view from Sydney Harbour Bridge

view from Sydney Harbour Bridge

As a hybrid teacher-leader-researcher I believe in consuming, curating and creating research in order to influence theory and shape practice. At the researchED Sydney conference, I presented with a colleague on our school’s emerging-from-research teacher-professional-learning-and-growth model. It was a current example of how a school might utilise research and a scientific-but-also-people-driven process to develop a strategically aligned, evidence-based, context-appropriate initiative.

Opera House

Opera House

Some of our key presentation messages about school change were:

  • Go slow to go fast. School change is an evolution not a revolution.
  • Start with context and vision. Align initiatives and interventions with it.
  • Believe in the capacity of all individuals to solve their own problems, do their own thinking and drive their own learning.

This next image reflects those things we hoped our model would achieve. We have data measures planned to measure, as much as we can and in a variety of ways, the impact of this model.

'Take one' (or take all!) for your school

‘Take one’ (or take all!) for your school

The researchED conference (or is it a movement?) was one example of a forum for real life, cross-continental, global sharing of research-influenced education practice. You can read some other blog reflections here and here. We need frames and contexts which facilitate conversations between school and academic worlds, in order to facilitate more considered and systematic approaches to education.

Luna Park

Luna Park