On professional learning: My #AERA16 presentation slides

Yesterday I presented a paper in Washington DC at the American Educational Research Association national conference, in its 100th year. This particular paper outlines my PhD’s general findings around professional learning for teachers and school leaders. It was great that more than 50 people turned up to the session, in which four papers on professional learning, including mine, were presented. The papers were a complimentary combination that really spoke to each other; I learned a lot from my co-presenters. We had plenty of generous feedback and robust discussion which spilled out into the hallway for almost an hour after the session ended, and then beyond.

My full paper will be available in the online repository when the 2016 papers go live. In the meantime, here are copies of my presentation slides. The slides were designed for me to talk to, not read from, so much of the content is thin. That is, they’re light on text and light on references (see the paper for more depth), but you’ll get a sense of my main points. Of course I didn’t get through them all and ended up skipping over the participant quotes (19 slides in 12 minutes? What was I thinking? #overexcited #lessonlearned).

If you’re interested in more, my dissertation, which looks at professional learning in more depth, as well as its interactions with professional identity and school culture and change, can be downloaded here.

From my experience so far I can highly recommend the AERA national meeting. It’s a friendly conference with an impossibly wide range of interesting and important work being shared, and connections being made.

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Coaching: My state of play ~ #educoachOC

Let’s open the door for teachers to power us forward in defining the most promising paths for public school improvement. ~ Kim Farris-Berg & Edward Dirkswager, Flip the System

MET rooftop, by @debsnet

Tonight’s inaugural #educoachOC Twitter chat, of which I am a co-moderator, is titled ‘State of Play’. That is, my co-moderators and I are intending to gauge where our professional learning network are at in their coaching journeys and contexts, and to facilitate the sharing of stories.

In the lead up to the chat, I thought I would consider my own ‘state of play’; where I’m currently at with coaching.

My current role in my school involves, in part, bringing current research literature into the school context, and making it accessible to staff, leaders and the school board. My main brief has been to research, design and enact a bespoke, context-specific teacher growth model which brings that research to life. That is, I’ve been working with teachers, leaders and consultants to tailor evidence-based school-aligned professional growth practice, for and within my school’s context. This work has come both from the top down (initiated by the principal, and emerging out of the school’s vision and strategic intents) and the bottom up (driven, designed and piloted by teams of teachers).

In 2012, when I wrote a research paper for my school on how to improve teacher quality, I began looking seriously at coaching literature. In addition, in October 2012 I began my PhD study (I’m hoping to submit my thesis next month!) which asks what it is that shapes teachers and school leaders. What transforms professional identities and practices? What incites growth and change in educators? Part of the answer to these questions lies in coaching. I’m about to submit an article to an academic journal which outlines my research findings around coaching as a tool for professional growth.

As part of the training for the enactment of our teacher growth model, in 2013 I did the Cognitive Coaching Foundation course for the first time, as this was the model of coaching my school decided upon. I did the course again in 2014, and again this year. While I have repeated the course mainly for team-building reasons, I have found that re-visiting the material and the conversations has allowed me to add nuances and layers of complexity to my coaching practice. It has allowed me to internalise some of the skills and tools, and to refine others.

Our Teacher-Coaches (a small team of teachers trained and practised in Cognitive Coaching, lesson observation techniques and the Danielson Framework for Teaching – my elite squad!) and I began with piloting and iterative design-and-refine stages in 2013 and 2014. Across 2013-2014 there were 19 Teacher-Coach team members and an additional 11 teachers who volunteered to be coached; 30 teachers – from across year levels, subject areas and career stages – experienced the pilot model.

This year we have moved to a fully implemented model in which all teachers at our school are involved in a coaching cycle every year. The cycle is three-yearly, so in Years 1 and 2, teachers are coached by a Teacher-Coach, and in the third year, teachers are coached by their line manager. This third year is based in coaching, but managers also draw from consultative and evaluative toolboxes as appropriate.

My coaching dream is twofold. I have a ‘future perfect’ for myself as a coach, and also for my school. For me, I hope to continue to grow my own practice, to become a masterful coach who is able to paraphrase and craft questions in ways which clarify and extend a coachee’s thinking, while paying attention to where a coachee is operating and where they might be able to cognitively move. I’d like to be able to help even the most reflective practitioners to experience what Cognitive Coaching calls ‘cognitive shift’, in which the coachee has an ‘a-ha!’ moment of realisation which allows them to move beyond their current state.

For my school, I hope to see the continued development of a coaching model of teacher growth which is based in a positive belief in the capacities of teachers to choose their own trajectories of learning, to analyse and grow their own practice, to reflect deeply.

This year I have seen teachers take their own lesson observation data and share it with colleagues and line managers in order to start important conversations and share practice. I hope to continue to see the power of data to transform, not only individual practice, but collective capacity and professional community as an organic learning mass.

So, that’s a little about my own ‘state of play’. I look forward to hearing more tonight about where others are in their coaching journeys. The chat’s questions can be found here. Happy coaching!

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.

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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.

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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

Choose your own Edventure: Letting genius blossom

Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius. ~ Mozart

letting genius blossom

letting genius blossom

Yesterday, first semester ended at my Australian school (ah!). As I settle in for a break, my reflections keep bringing me back to the idea of immersive, meaningful and transformative learning for all: students, educators, academics. This is learning which privileges the intellectual freedom of the individual and trusts in each person’s capacity for self-directed growth.

In a school sense, I have been using variations of Genius Hour (a version of Google’s now-defunct 20% time) in my senior English classrooms. I found that in a high school context when I have four lessons per week, the idea of 20% time didn’t work as well as less-frequent, longer-lasting ‘genius’ projects. So instead I build ‘choose your own way to explore your understandings and inspirations’ time into units of work.

This time isn’t a total free-for-all but uses as its basis an essential question from a unit of work (like ‘Who is responsible for our actions?’ from a Macbeth unit) or a text we are studying. In this way, students use the course content as a springboard from which they can grow their ideas and design their works of genius. While this vies away from students choosing entirely their own passions, it reflects Google’s move to only focus on projects which align with its core mission and purpose. I have found that some focus helps as a starting point and that parameters can push creativity. And it means I can articulate its purpose in my English courses.

my Genius Hour poster

my Genius Hour poster

This Genius Hour work is much like things I’ve done before, with a new name attached. I like the name because it assumes that students are capable of ‘genius’. It says, “I believe you have the capacity for brilliance.” And in giving learners freedom, Genius Hour says, “I know you are capable of independence of learning, thought and creation.” It is this assumption of the awesomeness inside everyone which I like the most.

It reminds me of when I use BloomGard task options like the example below. This approach allows students to have ownership over their learning while encouraging creativity and creation (especially as I only offer the three highest levels of Blooms).

a BloomGard example

a BloomGard example

One of my favourite Genius Hour type moments was in 2004 when I was teaching the rigorous and relentless IB Diploma course. My class had spent three weeks smashing through the 800+ pages of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in analytic fury. At the end of it we had a two and a half hour class (which we always had each fortnight). I brought in paper, art materials, plus iconic Australian biscuits: Tim Tams and Mint Slices. I told my class they had that time to create a visual representation of the novel. What they produced was beyond amazing. A class of heavily science-maths-leaning students was abuzz with collaboration and coloured-pencil creativity. They chose key scenes from the novel and illustrated these in a series of train carriages, with Tolstoy driving the train. The artwork, which spanned the entire length of a classroom wall when it was done, started with a lit candle and ended with a snuffed out candle, symbolising Anna’s journey. The mood was electric and the class protected that work and talked about it for a long time afterwards as a defining moment in their year.

Monet's Nymphéas

Monet’s Nymphéas: painterly genius of floating blossoms

The other school-based experience propelling my reflections on immersive independent learning is my work in coaching some of the early learning teachers at my school. Watching a class of four or five year olds being given extensive reign to develop and interact with their learning environments, choose their own work (often play-based) and collaborate on self-chosen ideas, had me wondering: What does it say when the students at a school with the most ownership over their learning are the youngest ones? What happens as classrooms and curricula trust in students less and less?

I’ve also been thinking about adult learning. As adult learners, we should be following our own passions and directing our own learning. Some of my most transformative learning has been immersive and driven by me, especially my PhD study and the professional learning trip I took to New York last year.

Researching my PhD has allowed me to totally immerse myself in my educational passions, driving my own learning with the support of my supervisors, my school and others. It has thrown me into and through my discomfort zone in the most brain-bending and delicious ways. My trip to New York last year, in which I organised meetings with school leaders, professors and world-renowned edu-experts, allowed me the time and away-from-home-ness to really immerse myself in my learning. This blog was a way to track my experiences and reflections. Andrea Stringer is currently on her own self-directed professional gauntlet, and has been using her blog, Periscope and the Twitter hashtag #EdVentures to track her learning and share it with others. My recent PhD writing retreat was another example of immersive self-directed passion-driven learning, with a blog post reflection allowing me to think more deeply about my writing processes.

Surely our core business as educators is to nurture our students to be innovative, efficacious ever-learners who trust in their own capacities for growth and follow their own dreams? Surely it is the job of school leaders to provide the same opportunities for their staff? We want for students and educators to balance persistence with creativity. To pursue design thinking and moonshot-bluesky-rainbowunicorn thinking.

How else can we promote and enact immersive, choose-your-own-edventure learning? What might be more ways we can trust our students and ourselves to follow passions and drive own learning?

thrive, flourish, grow

thrive, flourish, grow

Can anyone be a coach? Selecting coaches for a school teacher growth model.

Coaches, to attain psychological safety and cognitive demand, must attend to both learning and relationship. ~ Costa and Garmston

Can anyone be a coach?

Who can and should coach?

My school has a variety of people in a multiplicity of roles to help teachers develop their practice, including colleagues in PLC groups, line managers who balance nurturing and evaluative roles, and classroom consultants who offer teachers specific targeted advice on strategies to improve their instructive practice. Our teacher growth model sits alongside these other roles and relationships. The role of coach is a specific and clearly delineated one.

While I believe that everyone is coachable, I’m not sure that everyone can be a coach. In my everyone is coachable post, I explain the dichotomy of peer (or reciprocal) coaching, and expert coaching (sometimes called mentoring). We have opted for  teachers-trained-as-coaches to be the coaches for our model. These teacher-coaches are in some ways peers, as they do not hold a managerial position, and are experts in the sense of knowing how to record non-inferential teacher-owned lesson data, work with the Danielson Framework for Teaching and conduct Cognitive Coaching conversations.

Teachers choose what lesson data might be meaningful for them, whether written verbatim transcripts, audio recording of lessons or video recording (including 360 degree video or SWIVL video). For each coaching conversation, data is taken from two twenty minute lesson segments (for the rationale of we do multiple short observations, rather than full lessons, see p.25 of this Measures of Effective Teaching study report). The teacher coach, from a different year level and discipline, is responsible for helping teachers decide on the most useful data for collection, collecting that data and facilitating the reflection around that data.

by @debsnet

The aim of Cognitive Coaching – to ‘convey a valued person from where they are, to where they want to be’ – shapes our view of the coaching role. The metaphor of the horse-drawn stage coach is used in Cognitive Coaching training. A passenger does not get into a coach, for the coach-driver to say, ‘Welcome, I’ll be taking you to a destination of my choice today.’ Instead it is the coach’s passenger who decides on the destination, and the coach’s job to get them there. So the definition of coach for us is: non-judgmental mediator of thinking committed to helping each teacher grow their own practice along their own trajectory.

Last week I had the opportunity to reconnect with a consultant and trainer for both the Danielson Group (on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching including involvement in the MET study) and Thinking Collaborative (Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools). What was really pleasing was that from her outsider perspective she felt that our coaches were thoughtful, reflective and approachable, with a really clear sense of their role. In their work with her across the week, the coaches demonstrated their understanding of the role as building a non-hierarchical trust relationship which is centrally focused on the teacher being coached.

'Where to today?' ~ the person, not the coach, chooses the direction & destination

‘Where to today?’ ~ the person, not the coach, chooses the direction & destination

This was affirming because we have been very deliberate about the selection and training of our coaching team. Firstly, we advertised internally for teacher-coaches and conducted interviews in which candidates were required to both conduct a coaching conversation (ten minutes) and answer interview questions about the role (thirty minutes). In the conversation, we looked for each person’s ability to develop rapport, be non-judgemental, pause, paraphrase and ask mediative questions. In the interview portion of selection, we asked the following questions:

  • What does being a coach mean to you and why does this role interest you?
  • Please give us an overview of how your background and experience are applicable to this role.
  • What do you think the main issues are with regard to being a coach for teachers?
  • What sorts of things help you develop your own teaching, and how might these apply to this role?

We assessed candidates on their ability to reflect on and analyse their own coaching conversation; coaching experience and knowledge; consciousness of self and others; efficacy; craftsmanship as a coach; interdependence; flexibility; and capacity to be a continuous learner. Some of those selected to be coaches had no prior experience or training, while some had been involved in the pilot model.

Having a dedicated, trained, collaborative and focused team allows us to discuss and work through coaching challenges such as ensuring the process is meaningful for highly-reflective veteran teachers. These are staff who are incredibly experienced, responsive to their students and with longstanding internalised classroom decision making. We are finding that two things are helping our coaches to reach these teachers:

  • Using the Danielson Framework for Teaching as a rigorous reflective instrument, giving some precision to teachers’ reflections and helping to bring consciousness to the decisions teachers are making in their classrooms.
  • Crafting a range of mediative questions for helping teachers analyse why lessons went the way they did, encouraging teachers to consider how they make decisions in their classrooms, what criteria they use to make those decisions or what might be going on for particular students.

Having a dedicated coaching team allows us to add layers to coaches’ coaching practice. Continuing to work and train together, and experimenting with meta-coaching (the coach being coached), is helping the coaching team to grow their own practice.

Additionally we are considering how technology might help coaches. While we are already using technology like SWIVL for some classrooms observations, we are considering how Voxer might be used for in-between coaching, to overcome logistical issues of having to meet face-to-face, or to give coachees ‘take away’ questions. Chris Munro tells me he has been trialling coaching via Voxer. Certainly it would allow the coach to listen carefully to the coachee and thoughtfully craft paraphrases and questions.

So, my school has worked from the belief that it isn’t enough for a coach to be given an acronym to follow or a laminated A4 conversation map; coaching is much more than following a protocol. As our model intends to be meaningful for all teachers at the school, coaches need to have nuances of training and expertise to apply mindfully in their practice. As we continue to iterate our model, we are adding tools to our arsenal and finding ways to differentiate and personalise the growth process for each teacher.

We all have the extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released. ~ Jean Houston

keeping our focus on growth ~ growing people, not fixing people

keeping our focus on growth ~ growing people, not fixing people

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