By Ellen Eisenberg

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

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”?