By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

I recently read a blog from Take It Personel-ly, (takeitpersonelly.com) that shared three ways to really get to know employees better in the workplace. In reading it, I noticed how applicable these three ways are to the classroom environment. It’s appropriate now because there is much talk around personalizing the classroom experience with in-person learning and/or hybrid learning. Becoming acquainted with each other is an engagement strategy that works.

See what you think:

1)      Bucket List Guessing… 10 things employees write down as items on their bucket lists. Those lists are sealed and at a subsequent meeting, unseal the lists and play a guessing game about whose list was read. I definitely think this can be done in a virtual or face to face classroom. The game can continue with different things that reveal something about each student.

2)      Virtual Escape Room…this is one way to identify areas of strength and areas of need. This would be a fun way to get students to work together in teams in an online environment. This can be extended to building bridges which, of course, becomes a unity builder literally as well as figuratively. Once in-person learning has resumed, the team building of something creative can continue very effectively.

3)      Hosting a Talent Show…an online talent show for students can be such fun. Students can showcase their musical or dance talent; they can create a fashion show; or if they are into building with Legos, they can share a treasured Lego structure they created.

I would actually add a fourth fun activity… what about a charades game where students could act out a movie or television show they loved, a movie they recently saw, or the title of a favorite song. There are so many ways to engage students virtually. I would ask students for some ideas, too. They are creative in ways we need to encourage!

What are some of your ideas for getting to know each other better?

Thursday, January 7, 2021

 “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem” (Eldridge Cleaver). This has so many applications in today’s world.

A recent blog from philosiblog.com goes further to explain the meaning and indicates that a longer African Proverb quoted the idea in this way, “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” One is either in the “solution camp” or the “problem camp.” Where do you sit?

In my January TPIIC Coaching Tip of the Month (here), I mentioned that we need to invest in education (social, emotional, financial, etc.) and turn our words into action. We need to do something, but not just anything. We need to be deliberate in our thinking, planning, and acceptance of things that we consider normal. We need to identify the problems; discuss ideas to address the issues; plan for the “what ifs”; and start taking action. We need to start small with a group of open-minded individuals who understand the importance of multiple perspectives and collective problem-solving. Tap into the human capacities of your teaching colleagues.

If you are a former instructional coach and have returned to the classroom during this pandemic, open your virtual or hybrid door and continue to foster collaboration and shared learning experiences. Take a step; evolve into the best facilitator/presenter/teacher you can be; learn from your past experiences, both positive and negative; embrace change and do it with compassion and reflection. Be that non-evaluative colleague and continue to move practice forward regardless of where that practice occurs. Be an active participant in your learning and the learning of your colleagues. Be part of the solution to ensure that your students are not underserved.

Monday, December 28, 2020

In these times of remote, virtual, and/or hybrid learning, I wonder about the level of understanding connecting clear expectations and effective feedback. It may sound odd to you but I don’t think providing clear expectations means the same to everyone and then once the expectations are shared, what is the follow up? How do I know that what I said is understood in ways that make the outcomes realistic? Then, am I providing feedback that is linked to the expectations or are there some surprises there?

I actually don’t think this is endemic to just this pandemic panic; I believe that thinking about and delivering clear expectations and providing appropriate feedback should be the norm for all schools, all the time.

Edutopia recently published a piece on the topic of assessment and clear learning targets. In the article, John Hattie’s Visible Learning is referenced: “… self-assessment, feedback, and student clarity yield substantial growth in student learning.” We are reminded that understanding the expectations and asking students to reflect on their learning moves practice forward. Being able to provide specific, timely, descriptive, and nonjudgmental feedback has to be linked to the expectations. If students are not clear on what is expected, the outcomes will reflect their misunderstandings and perhaps the vagueness of the task. The directions may be clear in a teacher’s head but if it is not communicated appropriately and followed up to maintain clarity, the outcomes will not be aligned to the expectations. Remember, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” (Alan Greenspan).

So, then what happens? Misunderstanding, misinformation, misrepresentation, and probably lots of frustration because what you thought you said was not understood in the way you wanted it to happen. And, of course, the outcomes are not what you expected.

Here are three helpful hints for continuous implementation suggested in the Edutopia article: 1) Rubrics don’t tell the story so don’t rely just on them; share exemplars instead to model the expectations; 2) Ask clarifying questions so you’ll know if the expectations were understood and follow up with interval questioning so you can see in real time what needs more explaining; and 3) model and provide opportunities for students to give and get feedback which can be analyzed in real time so that the link between expectations and feedback makes sense. 

How do you ensure that your expectations are understood as they were meant to be?

Monday, December 7, 2020

 “I failed over and over again. But every time I got myself back up, and I dusted myself off, and I thought, ‘Okay, what do I need to change so that I can become better?’ So really, if you’re not willing to fail, you’re actually not willing to succeed. Because failure is just a part of the process of getting to success and facing those fears” says Siri Lindley, 2x World Champion triathlete (RealLeaders, Nov 1, 2020).

Wise words – not only for athletes but for all of us, especially in these challenging times.

No one is perfect. Pivoting back and forth from in-person to virtual and back again may make one feel like a ping pong ball, never really knowing what the next day may bring until the day is here. And, sometimes we don’t even know what will happen on a particular day because our times are so uncertain. And, yes, we will make mistakes as we move forward.

There is one thing, however, that needs to remain steadfast, confident, and authentic. That’s the support instructional coaches offer to teachers and other teacher leaders. We may not know if schools will re-open with in-person or remote instruction, but we do know that teachers still need to meet their students “where they are” and provide meaningful ways to engage in the learning process. And, if one or two engagement strategies are not working, “pivot” and try another one or two until a match is made. Be detectives and find the ones that work!

Teachers and students are trying their best to be effective stewards of the learning process. Some “classes” run more smoothly than others; some days are better than others. This happens in both remote and face to face environments. Teachers still have fears and anxieties about enabling their students to reach their fullest potential. But sometimes, those fears cause teachers to focus on things for which they have no control. This is especially true now, e.g., my students have sporadic internet connections, or my students don’t want their cameras activated because of their physical environment. These are things that teachers cannot control; they are worrisome, for sure, but the show must go on. Remember, creativity is the mother of invention (Poem on Life, Sha Azam Siddiqui). Collaborate with your teaching colleagues and collectively problem-solve around these issues of concern.

The goal is not to ignore that which can sideline our intentions; our goal is to focus on the effort, attitude, and authenticity to engage with students and help them learn. Be mindful of what we want students to learn, adjust our instructional practices so we can address their needs, and recognize that one size fits one! (We really don’t have a manual for this, do we?)

How are you staying “in the moment”?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the same experience, but I’m embarrassed to admit that when I was teaching, I often talked too much! Imagine that… I would ask a question but then didn’t recognize the idea of wait time to allow my students the opportunity to think about what and how to answer the question I asked. It took me quite some time to realize and admit why I was so impatient.

There were actually two reasons…1) I was nervous about letting the silence rule the moment; and 2) I was thinking about my next question rather than waiting to see if a teachable moment would follow student responses.

If I were teaching now, I’d like to think that I would remember to give ample wait time for my students to respond, regardless of my environment being virtual, in-person, or a hybrid. But I wonder… is it easier, the same, or more difficult to provide wait time in a remote learning setting?

I asked three teachers the same question and their answers were interesting. One teacher is a five-year veteran who is tech savvy and quite comfortable navigating most websites. She said that she and her class identified norms at the beginning of the year and one of the norms addressed being patient when questions were asked allowing the responder to take time to answer. She said she did the same thing in her F2F environment. She does admit, though, that she must remind her virtual students that waiting for a response doesn’t mean to move away from the computer and get something to eat!

The second teacher is a 20-year veteran and comfortable with a limited number of technology tools. What she knows, she knows well and integrates tools seamlessly into her classroom community. Wait time does pose some concerns because 50% of her students are virtual and the other 50% are F2F. So, the virtual students are seeing the lessons that she is providing to the F2F students. It’s easier for her to monitor the F2F students because she is in the room with them and there is no delay in transmission when students respond like there have been with some virtual transmissions.

The third teacher is a newly hired teacher. He taught for two years in a program and then found full time employment in 2019. Very shortly after being hired, the school went on lockdown and he found himself in a virtual environment for which he was unprepared. But, there is a silver lining here… he is very tech savvy and had no difficulty exploring tools that would complement his instructional practice. On the other hand, wait time became an issue because he concentrated so much on the tool that he forgot to focus on the content. It became clear to him that wait time wasn’t the problem; it was his instructional design! He admitted this would have been the case in a F2F environment as well.

So, regardless of the venue, if you are a coach and you see teachers struggling with wait time issues, what strategies have you offered to help navigate the wait-time is "think time" process?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

On October 21, 2020, The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC) offered a ½ day virtual conversation for participants from around the globe. By design, it was a conversation, not a conference, with topics generated from an action research project based on interviews with teachers and coaches (some of whom were parents, too) conducted in the spring. There was a general session, a facilitated breakout session based on topics, and a participant-selected problem of practice. Although there were several “takeaways,” the one that stood out the most was the desire for participants to continue collaborating with their colleagues in ways that promote changes in thinking and practice.

With that in my mind, I just read Karin Hurt and David Dye’s Let’s Grow Leaders Blog in the October 29th SmartBrief on Leadership. The writers share that their most often heard concern is all about sustaining relationships and keeping connected when working remotely. Surprising? Not at all. We found the very same thing in our virtual conversation… the necessity of keeping those relationships active and collaboration alive when teaching in a hybrid or virtual setting.

Being socially distant but emotionally connected does present a balancing act of great proportion. The key is to think about how those relationships were established and sustained in a face to face environment and recognizing what can be carried over to the remote teaching and learning one.

Hurt and Dye suggest the “virtual watercooler” idea as a place for sharing and caring. Instructional coaches can certainly launch a virtual time and place for this to happen. In fact, many coaches routinely schedule virtual office hours to work with colleagues that they can’t see during the day, especially if the coach and teacher have simultaneous teaching periods. The number of participants can determine if the group remains together or if individual breakout rooms are needed. Think virtual PLCs if enough participants can be grouped by interest or topic.

Just like the informal communication occurring in schools is incredibly powerful, the informal exchange of ideas, albeit in an intentional time and space, can bring colleagues together and help them stay in touch with each other. This is crucial in supporting the social emotional state of the community.

What “virtual watercooler” ideas have you tried that keeps you and your colleagues connected? 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Here we are in mid-October and we only know slightly more now than we knew prior to school opening. We know that we want our students and teachers to be in safe environments, engaged in meaningful work, and supported in every way possible. We don’t know when school will be fully F2F for all students in all buildings as they were in February 2020. So, what does that mean for us here and now?

Well, this is still a new year brimming with energy for new learning, a “rebirth” if you will. Of course, this “rebirth” is not the same as it’s been in the past but there are some things in common: 1) students still need to be engaged; 2) teachers still need ongoing and consistent professional learning opportunities; and 3) technology is the means of communication keeping us connected while we are maintaining our social distancing. We still need to become acquainted with our students, their needs, and learning styles. As coaches, we still need to familiarize ourselves with how teachers learn and what they think about how their students learn. We still need to ensure that our teachers have multiple opportunities to share ideas, “visit” each other in their workspaces, rethink what they are teaching, assess how they are teaching, and reflect on ways to improve teaching and learning. We still need to follow the BDA cycle to support professional learning. That hasn’t changed even though the instructional delivery may have changed.

On the other hand, we need to remind ourselves that we cannot approach the year with the same systems in place, the same personnel providing support for both F2F and virtual classes, the same rules and regulations, or the same plans to move learning forward. We need to reconsider our modus operandi and build on our previous successes in ways that continue to encourage growth, reimagine learning, collect data about how and what our students are learning, address the disparities that distance learning has highlighted, and restore our commitment to teaching and learning regardless of the venue. Students still need to learn and teachers still need to be supported. 

What did you do F2F that you can adapt and implement in a remote environment?