Flashback Friday: The end of the PhD

The end of the PhD. I remember it well, or so my long line of PhD-finishing blog posts might seem to attest. These include (and this is just a selection) …

The end of a doctorate is a rollercoaster of emotion. One, it turns out, I had largely forgotten. While my blog posts act as bread crumbs back to those experiences, the feelings themselves have faded, softened and blunted over time.

Today, I was reminded.

I still connect with the ‘DocVox’ Voxer (voice-to-voice messaging app) group that helped support me through my PhD. This is a group of mostly doctoral (PhD and EdD) candidates from the USA, plus a couple of us from Australasia. I figure staying in the Voxer group despite having finished the PhD helps me to pay back by continuing to support those who are still on their journey. It was via this group that I was today reminded of the visceral nature of the last bit of the PhD.

This morning a candidate from the US was Voxing about the blind panic they were feeling as they near dissertation submission. As I Voxed a response, I tried to reassure the person that their experience was normal. I recalled how in the last months of my PhD I had brutal insomnia. I clenched my jaw in my sleep despite chomping magnesium before bed to try and calm myself down and slow the mania of my obsessive mind. When I did sleep, I had nightmares, a recurring one of which was that I died and my almost-but-not-yet-finished PhD never saw the light of day, but languished, unexamined and unpublished. As I spoke, tears sprang to my eyes and my voice cracked. Some of that emotion returned in an intense flash. Wow, I thought, I didn’t think I was very affected by my experience. I was reminded as I spoke of the isolation of those moments, ones I didn’t really talk about because despite being surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, it didn’t seem something they would understand.

There are times in the PhD when everyone thinks you must be finished by now but you know you have so far to go, and times when it seems you should feel happy but instead you feel strange and empty. It’s a weird, emotional and quite a lonely time.

*                                    *                                    *

It’s almost 13 months since I was doctored. That moment was a glorious one. I awoke in Washington DC, after attending and presenting at the American Education Research Association (AERA) Conference. I had met a number of my academic heroes, as well as colleagues I knew only through Twitter and those that I met at the conference at sessions or in the epically long queue at Starbucks. I had nailed the presentation about my research and spent an hour in the corridor afterwards fielding questions and discussion. One of these discussions carried over to lunch and an ongoing professional connection. I’d had a great conference and was in edu-nerd heaven. It was the perfect moment for doctoring.

So, the day after AERA closed, I awoke in my Dupont Circle Airbnb apartment and checked my email, to find a ‘Congratulations, Doctor Netolicky’ email confirming the conferment of my PhD. I whooped, I shrieked, I clapped. I cried. I fist pumped. I felt overwhelmed and triumphant.

It was my last day in DC and I floated on rainbow-fairy-floss-cloud-nine as I swanned around the city in the magnificent sunshine. I was on my own, so I took this selfie (below) to remind myself of that elation. The iPhone snap mightn’t look like much to anyone else, but whenever I see it, it catapults me back to that moment of pure joy. Unadulterated I-am-now-Dr-Me exhilaration.

Now I have the luxury of being a pracademic, part school leader-teacher-practitioner, part early-career-scholar-researcher. During the PhD, finishing the doctorate always felt like an ending, but as I look back I can see that it was a beginning. I am now able to luxuriate more serenely in the oasis of academic writing, and to enjoy the gentle challenge of scholarly collaboration and conversation. And to apply my doctoral experience to my daily work.

The emotions fade, but it turns out they’re still there, in memory and in deep in the bowels of the iPhone camera roll.

DC doctor selfie

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Spider-web connectivity: Technology for networked learning

Nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle. ~ E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

This image was passed from Dr Helen Kara to Dr Naomi Barnes, after I had challenged Helen with an image for the #blimage (blog+image) blogging challenge (see how messily interconnected that is?). You can read Helen’s post here and Naomi’s post here. You can see my first #blimage post, with an explanation of the challenge, here.

Helen’s image spoke to me. It reminded me that one of my research participants used the metaphor of the spider’s web to describe the school as organisational web. It is reminiscent of the symmetrical black and white webs in my mandala colouring book. Mostly, it speaks to me of connectedness in education, in our schools and classrooms, but especially through technology and social media.

So the image forms the basis of this post about technology which connects.

The labyrinthine tangle of webs are like snow-flake-like in their perfect imperfection. The wintery stems provide angular anchors for the fragile delicacy of the web strands which stretch and overlap. Some strands extend long distances, while others are strung tightly together. There is symmetry and asymmetry. Strength and vulnerability. Flexibility and rigidity. Beauty and disorder. A clamour and a stillness.

These dewy webs evoke my experience of the professional connections I see and experience through technology and social media. My journey through various tools of connectivity as an educator has been one mirrored by others. Often I adapt before educators in my own school environment, but after those in the global spheres. As this blog approaches its first birthday, I am reflecting on how blogging has transformed my use of social media and my connections with others.

mandala sunburst

mandala sunburst

Twitter has been a place of learning for me since 2009. As with most educators, I began lurking in the background, figuring out what might be in it for me, or consuming information. I moved on to curating others’ content, and then participating in education chats. That is where I stayed for a number of years, although the more chats with which I engaged, the more people with which I connected. The chats were a place for me to participate in conversations. In fact, my favourite part of being in a Twitter chat is when a small group goes off piste into their own tangential conversation. These are moments of connection and engagement, which are epitomic of Twitter’s rhizomatic chaos; its tangle of webs. In one Twitter chat Adriano di Prato and I came up with an accidental concept of ‘leaning environments’, showing the unexpected possibilities of connecting via social media.

(I enjoyed this recent New York Magazine article about why the messiness and “vast confusion” of Twitter should be celebrated.)

Last year, I began this blog as an experiment in blogging, and as a way to log and record my fellowship experiences in New York. My continued blogging has shifted the boundaries of my self and my connections.

Not only does exploring my thoughts and ideas in 600-1000 word blog posts allow me to thrash out and clarify my thinking in more than 140 characters, it also opens up conversations with others who might want to engage with me or with the content of my posts. It is this opening of conversation which has expanded me and my network. My spider-web tendrils reach out and curl together with others’. Some connections are tentative while others are strong. Some traverse long distances while others are at arm’s length.

mandala web

mandala web

As an individual, my blog feels like an extension of myself. Colouring outside the lines of my demarcated self, I share parts of my story, my thinking, my experiences, and my teaching, researching or writing practices. These tendrils of me reach out and entangle with the labyrinth of connection and conversation in the blogosphere. I respond, and am responded to. And so I become absorbed, in part, into the often unpretty cacophonous jumble of thoughts, hyperlinks and voices.

More recently, thanks to the encouragement of Andrea StringerI have started using Voxer and I’m loving the immediacy and personal, conversational, collaborative nature of the medium. Right now, I’m involved in different professional learning groups and a doctoral researcher group. Valerie Lewis, who I’ve connected with on Voxer, in this blog post calls her Voxer PLN her ‘Vox Squad’, a kind of A-Team of professional learning and solidarity (‘I pity the fool who doesn’t Vox!’). I’ve introduced Voxer to my students as a collaborative tool for group work, and to my team of coaches as a tool for our collective growth and the ongoing refinement of our practice.

To finish this reflection on connectivity, I’ll leave you with a very different web, as a contrast. Below is a picture I took in Richmond Park when I lived in London. A solitary dew-jewelled web at sunrise. This image doesn’t speaks of connectedness in the same way that the first image of webs does. It shows a beautiful but lonely structure, tenuously clinging to the solidity of the fence posts.

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Which would you rather be? The solitary web or a web in a mess of other webs? A lone voice or one of a cacophony of voices? Are we better alone or together? Can our individual voices be heard in amongst the noise of social media?

if the web were perfectly pre-set,

the spider could

never find

a perfect place to set it in; and

if the web were

perfectly adaptable,

if freedom and possibility were without limit,

the web would

lose its special identity. ~

A. R. Ammons

* Note: this is what happens when I am in the middle of tough PhD work. Lyrical, metaphorical musings and colouring-in become my creative antidote to the hard systematic work of thesis revision.

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