This week I am writing my first blog post for a new quarter, one where we will explore what it means to be a servant leader following the model of a peer coach. Through the quarter my classmates and I will use those two frameworks to investigate the integration of technology into instruction. This quarter is different than those before because previously I’ve been reflecting on my own classroom, my instruction, my students or at times my organization. In contrast, this quarter I will reflect on my work as a technology coach as I work in classrooms around my school district in a variety of lessons and subjects. It is a new experience for me just as being a technology coach is new.
I shouldn’t be surprised then that I’m looking for clarity. I guess it is fitting that my question leads me in two different directions during this module. On one hand I am curious to find out how technology coaches play a role in implementing strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations in schools and classrooms? Secondly, I want to know how can a coach aid in the change process while maintaining (or establishing) a positive relationship?
Advocating for Teachers and Change
Those two things seem at odds for me both from my personal experience two months into the role of being a technology coach and from my experience as a classroom teacher. Through my daily practice and the communication I have with the technology department I’m starting to see how I might be able to initiate change and push for innovation in classrooms. Often in our weekly meetings with the technology department a manager has said something similar to this, we can solve a problem or recommend a product or service but it is up to the coaches to tell us what is really happening in the classroom and how teachers and student are affected by those changes. We are teachers, we work with teachers, so our insight should be supportive to limitations in the classroom environment and sensitive to the needs of teachers.
In a way I guess we can as coaches can act as a bridge between the technology department and the teachers.
I would like to think that our work allows for more proactive support as opposed to reactive support. Finally one last way to support innovation is by having a clear focus and goals. One way to have and maintain a clear focus is alignment in purpose and goals at all levels of an organization. I’ve read that support from an administrative or district level is extremely important for the success of the coaching program and the individual coaches. This support is reflected in the impact on teachers and students based on these resources. In Exploring Coaching for Powerful Technology Use in Education, Ehsanipour and Gomez Zaccarelli (2017) write,
“As the Annenberg Institute for School Reform asserts, “[i]nstructional coaching is fundamentally about teachers, teacher leaders, school administrators, and central office leaders examining practice in reflective ways, with a strong focus on student learning and results as the ultimate barometer of improvement” (King et al., 2004, p. 3).” In order for that to happen, all parties would need to be on the same page, working toward the same goal and in support of the work of individual coaches. At a high level within an organization coaching would be understood and thought of as a method for improving teacher practice and student learning with a focus on results. I do wonder how those results and data would be collected and evaluated, but that would lead me to an entirely different exploration and post.
In my reading over the past two weeks I’ve read some articles and reports that begin to touch on the idea of initiating and sustaining innovation while maintaining relationships. I’ve read that it takes a lot of reflection. Trying to find information about how coaches aid in the change process but continue to establish and maintain positive relationships was challenging. At best I have speculations and loose connections from different sources. I think this is a question that I will continue to revisit as I gain experience as a technology coach and make inroads in a new district. In some respects being new might be seen as a benefit, I don’t know the majority of what was happening before now, and I bring new ideas from my previous experience because of those two things my suggestions might be seen as more acceptable than a coach who is already established in a district and has been for some time. At the same time I have to learn quickly what was done before, what didn’t work and why. There is a lot to catch up on.
One ideas has arisen consistently in my reading is the clarity of a coaches role. According to Elena Aguilar clarity is important. Coaches should know their roles, what it means, there should be a shared definition and the coaching role should “be discussed between coachees/mentees to ensure clarity” (Aguilar, 2017). I wonder when this comes up in a coaching relationship? Does it occur naturally at some time in meeting with a teacher or in passing like it has with me? My conversations about clarity have been informal and infrequent, once a teacher said something like, “I want to do this ______ in my classroom, is that something you can help with?” I said, “Sure!” because as I work to establish relationships putting in the time seems most important. Now I’m looking ahead and wondering when is there a shift, when do we move toward a more focused or intentional integration of technology? I’m curious about interactions like the ones described in Exploring Coaching for Powerful Technology Use in Education like this, “in a coaching relationship, teachers and coaches engage in a sustained professional dialogue aimed to improve teaching by developing instructional skills (Lofthouse, Leat, Towler, Hall, & Cummings, 2010)” (Ehsanipour & Gomez Zaccarelli, 2017). When do those begin to happen? It might coming but I’m not quite sure when. I think at this point building relationships and being generally helpful is a big part of my focus.
Working as a technology coach does have inherent value for teachers and students, but I don’t know if it is always easily seen. I think establishing relationships is key to finding value as a coach and providing a valuable service for teachers and students. Finally, I think those who are successful share this common trait – “These successful individuals and organizations know what their purpose is, and because they lead with their purpose, they are able to impact those around them and get their “clients” on board” (Ehsanipour & Gomez Zaccarelli, 2017). In my time as an elementary instructional technology coach I hope my purpose is clear. When purpose is clear and clearly communicated it allows for true visionary leadership.
As I end my first reflection of the quarter I’m still left with some additional questions from my reading and writing that weren’t necessarily related to my two questions above. I wanted to have some recorded to return to later in the quarter or further in the future.
More Unanswered Questions:
Here are some of the questions I’m continuing to think about going forward:
- How can a peer coaching role clearly be communicated when working in multiple schools?
- I’ve read that coaches might assume the learning for teachers.
- If that happens, how can learned helplessness be limited or reversed?
- How is risk taking rewarded or discouraged in my district or in the schools I work in?
I might be able to reflect on these questions in future posts, but in case I don’t I wanted to make sure I recorded them on my blog. Feel free to post your own thoughts and reactions below.
Aguilar, E. (2017). What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring? Retrieved October 16, 2017, from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2017/07/whats_the_difference_between_c.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-FB
Ehsanipour, T., & Gomez Zaccarelli, F. (2017). Exploring Coaching for Powerful Technology Use in Education (pp. 1-18). Digital Promise. Retrieved from http://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Dynamic-Learning-Project-Paper-Final.pdf
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=nlebk&AN=1046240&site=ehost-live