I’ve had a lot of great conversations since starting this blog about teaching and coaching and how the two are intertwined. Two of the questions that have come up a lot are
How do you ACTUALLY teach like a coach?
What does that look like in real practice?
This has gotten me to reflect about my own practice in a variety of roles in education as well as how for many of us, our schooling did not prepare us for teaching this way. As many of you are doing your own reflecting and planning over Winter Break for changes and refinements you want to make in 2019, I thought that a series of posts dedicated to answering these two questions would be timely and hopefully useful. 🙂
It All Starts With…
Knowing your team. I’m not going to try to pretend that I am the greatest basketball fan of all time, but I’ve learned a lot from Phil Jackson’s leadership philosophies via Dr. Marc Pinto. He was a hockey coach and geneticist turned chiropractor whom I would have the most amazing conversations at our weekly appointments. Dr. Pinto had read Phil Jackson’s books cover to cover hundreds of times and no matter what we were discussing his philosophies seemed to always creep into our conversation, especially when I was applying for the learning support coach position in Naperville. One of the quotes from his book 11 Rings: The Soul of Success that really resonates with being a coach in the classroom is:
“My approach was always to relate to each player as a whole person, not just a cog in the basketball machine. That meant pushing him to discover what distinct qualities he could bring to the game beyond taking shots and making passes. How much courage did he have? Or resilience? What about character under fire? Many players I’ve coached didn’t look special on paper, but in the process of creating a role for themselves they grew into formidable champions.” – Phil Jackson
I love that Phil Jackson’s goal wasn’t just to create amazing basketball players, it was to build on the strengths of his players overall and in that action he created a dynasty. Our main job as educators is to help learners to know their strengths, develop their passions and help them to develop new abilities that sometimes feel outside their grasp. In order to be effective at this you have to essentially know your team inside and out.
Deciding what skills you will be looking for is a critical first step. There are so many options that it is easy to get stuck here, weighing the options. If the thought of that is already making your head spin, here are some ideas to start with:
1. The 6 C’s – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Character, Citizenship
This is helpful for: Promoting more global skills in your students that will transfer to a variety of contexts, subjects, and ages.
Something to think about: Because these are broad skills you might want to have a conversation with others or your PLC about what each of these look like at the age of students you teach to create a specific definition of each.
2. The Standards – The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), College, Career & Civic Life (C3), ISTE Standards for Students
This is helpful for: Collecting information that is more related to academic achievement in different subject areas (with the exception of the ISTE standards that are more global like the 6C’s)
Something to think about: If your school uses standards based reporting, this is a great place to start. Because the standards are vast, it might be good to see how the broader ideas from each of the subject standards are connected. This document from NGSS does a nice job of making this connection already.
3. Student Interests & Passions – This one is pretty self-explanatory. You are collecting information on things your students are interested in, especially the topics they are passionate about! These interests and passions are often strengths we overlook because they may not be subjects we teach in school.
This is helpful for: Diversifying the definition of what a good student is. Helping students to be able to name a wide variety of skills they have that aren’t necessarily taught in school, but still incredibly valuable. Creating engaging lessons connected to your students’ interests and passions.
Something to think about: You may find that your students have a broad range of interests and passions. If you are overwhelmed in how to honor these strengths or incorporate them into the curriculum, ask the students what they think. I am always blown away by the ideas my students come up with when I can’t seem to find a solution.
So How Do I Organize All This Stuff?
You probably have your own way of keeping data on your students. I know I certainly tried it a million different ways as an educator, coach, and now administrator. What I found was there are basically two different ways you can go about this: individual or whole group. Regardless, you are going to need a system that works for you, the simpler the better.
As an instructional coach I started with OneNote for keeping notes on each of my meetings with teachers and eventually moved to a Google folder per teacher. If I was back in the classroom I would most likely the Google. Here’s what I would do:
- Create a Google form for the data I would like to create. (Like this one that tracks the 6C’s)
- Use the Doc-Appender Add-on so that the data I collected would automatically populate into individual Google folders for each student. (Here is a video of how to use it if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.)
- On a side note, this add-on is amazing because now you have a Google doc for each student that can be shared easily with other teachers working with the student or parents. It’s great for conferring notes as well. 🙂
- As I was walking around and talking to students use my phone to use the form to quickly jot down notes.
- Create a chart for each student using Google docs like this one.
- Print out each of these sheets and keep them in binder. Create a new sheet for each student per week. (Or if you’re not a fan of paper, you could also do something similar with a folder for each student, but this might be difficult to manage as you are walking around throughout the day.)
- Keep the binder with me throughout the day. As I am noticing strengths, ideas etc. about students jot down a quick note in their tab.
Benefits of Individual Data: Great for looking at students as a whole. Also easy to share with students, parents and other staff members because your forms are per individual student.
Drawbacks of Individual Data: When planning for groups or looking for patterns based on the information you have collected you may be doing a lot of flipping back and forth or scrolling to find commonalities. This can be more time consuming. However, if you use Idea #1 Google forms will allow you to sort the spreadsheet that the form creates which solves this problem.
Sometimes I found keeping individual data overwhelming and found it easier to keep track of the entire class at one time. When taking this approach you are having the descriptors at the top of the chart while the student names go down the side of the chart. Here is an example of what I mean by keeping track of the class’ strengths. One of the reasons that I like this chart is the ability to write down goals for students directly in the chart so that they are all in one place. (The student can formulate these goals as well) This makes it easy when you are reflecting at the end of the week for next steps for the following week.
Another way you might do this is by using an old plan book and assigning student names to each box. You can then use post-its to take notes through-out the week and stick them to the boxes.
Benefits of Group Data: All of your data is in one place. It is easy to create groups and see overall how your class is doing. You can make plans for next steps without having to look back and forth at individual students.
Drawbacks of Individual Data: It takes an extra step to share this data with individuals because you will have to transfer the information to individual forms. It’s not as easy to see individual progress from week to to week as it is with individual data.
When deciding how to collect your learner data think about your personal preference for collection as well as your purpose. I would recommend starting small. Select one type of data you wish to collect and try out different methodologies until you find one that works best for you. You can then transfer that protocol to the other information you are keeping on your students.
Even if you find the ultimate way to collect information on your students there will never be any impact if you don’t take the time to analyze and reflect upon this data. You might find that reflecting at the end of each day is better for you or perhaps weekly is more preferable. Again, it’s your preference, there is no perfect methodology. Here are some questions to consider when you are reflecting each week.
- What are patterns I am noticing in my classroom? (passions, interests, strengths, abilities that need strengthening)’
- Who stood out as a leader? Who struggled? What is my plan for celebrating or intervening?
- What lessons should I plan based on this information?
- What groupings or partnerships might I plan as a result of the patterns I am noticing? Who might work together best?
If you are a fan of forms, here is a Google doc with these questions that you can use in your reflection. Another simple way to reflect is to create a daily list of 3 accomplishments that you would like to achieve by the end of the day based on the observations and patterns you are seeing. This could be individual or as a class.
It is powerful to share your reflections with students or to even do the reflecting side by side with the student. Share with them what you have observed and create goals together. By involving them in the process and citing specifically their talents or skills they need to work on you are empowering them to own the next steps.
Recognizing and developing strengths, passions and talents in our students is not something new or revolutionary to education. It’s what we do with this knowledge that makes the difference, positively affecting students and creating innovation in our schools. Approaching the classroom as a coach creates a deeper understanding and connection to students because you are purposefully connecting with each student daily and reflecting upon, not what EVERY student should know and be able to do, but what is best for the individual learners. This creates a classroom culture where students are energized to build on their strengths and empowered to learn in ways they may have thought previously was beyond their grasp.
Part 2 of this series will be focused on the next step: instructional practices. I look forward to hearing your feedback! Christina