Last week, I attended the first meeting of a Supervision and Evaluation course I'm taking as part of an administration credentials program. The bulk of our class period was spent discussing the question: Can administrators--who must evaluate teachers as part of their roles--also be instructional coaches?
What a hard question to answer.
As an instructional coach, my role is deliberately non-evaluative. In fact, a primary argument in favor of having instructional coaches in a building is the idea that teachers are more willing to be vulnerable with a coach than they might be with an administrator, since anything a coach observes or assists with will not have any relationship to evaluation or employment.
I have seen first-hand that this model works, as long as the coach is adept at building relationships and approaching other teachers with empathy, patience, and positive encouragement.
Yet, can we bring some of that same philosophy into administration? Can an administrator serve both as a coach and as an evaluator? I guess it depends on how well that administrator has build up trust and credibility with their faculty.
Dr. David Franklin of The Principal's Desk recently discussed "5 Ways Principals Can Build Trust" in an article on the ASCD Edge. He argues that a principal should:
This advice hit home for me. The best supervisors I've had--both in education and outside of it-- have always followed these principles. Their doors were always open and they were always willing to give me their full attention when I needed it. They were direct and open with me about what I needed to know, even when I didn't like it. They took the time to understand my perspective. They stayed current with the work being done by their employees and participated in community events. And they always kept the mission or goal of the work in the forefront--something that we could all agree on, even when we disagreed about the methods by which we met that mission or goal.
And as a result, I did go to these supervisors for coaching and mentoring, knowing that they valued what I was learning as much as they valued my results.
So...can an administrator be a coach? I think the answer is a qualified "yes". But I suspect that it takes empathy, deep wells of patience, a solid understanding of human nature, and a never-ending trust in people to do their best when given the chance. I hope that I can live up to those standards as I transition into school leadership.
Two years ago, I introduced an assignment in my 9th grade technology class called the "Keynote 6-Word Story." Honestly, the idea was born of desperation--I was going to be absent for a day but needed my students to maintain their momentum in our unit about presentation tools. Inspired by a six-word video assignment created by Dan Goble, I decided to challenge my students to create six-word stories using Keynote instead. I was floored by the resulting projects and by my students' enthusiasm.
So I couldn't wait to try it again this year, particularly with Keynote's new shapes and animations. Combine those new features with Magic Move...and the results from students are truly magical this time around! Even better, this assignment has opened new levels of creativity for my students with regard to their presentation skills--gone are the tired slides with dozens of bullet points. Check out these two samples for a taste of the possibilities!
Want to turn the Keynote presentations into videos? Export them as a Quicktime video from a Mac, or use the new screen recording feature in iOS 11 to record the Keynote on an iPad or iPhone.
I also wanted to try my hand at something that would allow me to create material myself. Then it occurred to me that I could do that AND solve a problem I'd been struggling with all summer.
I serve a hybrid role in my school building--although I am the Instructional Technology Coach, I also usually teach a class or two. But due to scheduling and FTE challenges for my school this fall, my teaching load has increased to nearly full time during the first semester. I love working with students and innovating in the classroom, but I have been struggling with how to balance that work with continuing to support my colleagues, particularly with the quick "in-the-moment" tips and tricks that are the usual bread and butter of my days.
Enter Clip That! Clips--a series of quick videos I am creating that focus on small tips to help educators enhance their productivity and creativity. Each video is designed for the busy educators I work with; they are 60 seconds or less and focus on the information, tools, or needs that are directly relevant to my colleagues' work that week. I email them out on Friday afternoons so teachers have a chance to watch and think about the information over the weekend. Simply put, my colleagues should be able to "watch a minute, then save a minute" by following the tip in the video.
So far, the videos have ranged from simple tips like creating contact lists in Outlook to more extensive challenges like syncing grades from Schoology to PowerSchool. I've also gotten some creative elements in, like introducing the new Clips app. Check out the videos on the ClipThat! Clips YouTube channel.
Is it working? We'll see. Stay tuned for more reflection on this question once my survey data comes in!
In the meantime, check out the videos below that help explain the idea, and please spread the word to your schools and on social media! Don't forget to use #OneStoryForward so we can cheer you on!
We did it! I'm still sweating a bit...but I'm still standing.
During the last two weeks of the semester, our Speech and Graphic Design students jointly wrestled with interpersonal conflicts, design snafus, confusion over expectations, and deadlines as they worked through their prototyping and testing phases of a joint design challenge. (See my previous post for details about the challenge.) They experienced triumph when design ideas came together, frustration over incomplete work by absent teammates, and satisfaction over final products being displayed. And on the final exam day, they presented what they learned to the full joint class.
So what did they learn? I decided to dig a bit deeper with a post-project survey. The results were both satisfying and thought-provoking.
Although many students offered positive feedback and comments about their experiences, a few threads in the feedback will need to be addressed the next time we try a project like this.
But one thread of feedback worries me. Quite a few students expressed frustration over not being given specific expectations for the project--in other words, some of them wanted us to tell them exactly what to do right from the beginning. The inherently messy, uncertain nature of a design process clearly made them feel uncomfortable, and they saw that as negative.
This reflects the reduction in resilience and grit that education and youth experts have recently raised as a growing concern (click HERE for a Pinterest board of materials on this subject), and it's one that I have become similarly worried about with regard to my own students. While being able to follow exact parameters and specifications might be easier, it does not prepare them for the astoundingly messy-yet-brilliant experience that is professional life in most fields. Knowing that, I can't help but think we are not serving our students by making their academic experience too predictable. I want students to see a project like this as an opportunity to be creative, outside-the-box solution-finders. But I worry that our society's current systems and parenting styles have made it increasingly difficult for our students to do this.
I'm particularly struck by the research of Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan and many others regarding "self-determination theory"--that people are best motivated when they can see themselves gaining competence, acting from autonomy, and finding personal connection to their work. Daniel Pink similarly argues that people are motivated by "mastery, autonomy, and purpose."
And the reality is that most of our current "status quo" educational methodologies are not designed to engage the intrinsic motivations of our students. So we fall back on extrinsic motivators like grades. And even those are waning as our students discover and connect with other activities--sometimes benign and sometimes not-- outside school and home.
Will I do this again? I hope so. This is my third experience facilitating a design challenge in class, and every time I have worked to reimagine and refine the experience. I never seem to find the perfect recipe, and yet I have come to recognize that teaching is a prime example of the design process at work--so perhaps there is no perfect recipe to find. More importantly, I have learned to thrive on the discomfort that comes from uncertainty. And I believe that my students and colleagues will benefit as a result.
But this time around, I am working in tandem with our Graphic Design teacher whose class meets at the same time as my Speech class. We have created a joint challenge that requires our students to work in small teams of both Speech and Graphic Design students.
The theme: "We Believe" (which is the new branding phrase for our school).
The objective: Create a large display that reflects what a variety of groups within our community believe. Each team is responsible for choosing a target group and, through the Stanford d.School design thinking process, creating a poster-size design that communicates the beliefs of the target group. The designs will all be added together to create a larger display. This students must then formally present their designs to an authentic audience.
The graphic design students are primarily responsible for the visual designs, which can be flat or multi-dimensional. The speech students are primarily responsible for how the information is communicated (either through words on the poster or through an audio/video element that is attached as a QR code) and then designing and running the final presentation.
Week 1 Progress and Reflection:
May 12 (45 min): We launched our project by bringing both classes together for a quick introduction to design thinking, using David Kelley's TED Talk "How to Build Your Creative Confidence" (see above) as the focus. The lively discussion allowed us to help students think more expansively about what it means to be creative, and to introduce the terminology associated with the Stanford d.School design thinking process.
Reflection: I highly recommend David Kelley's TED Talk for this purpose. It's 11 minutes long, leaving plenty of time for engaging discussion. I asked students to come up with the questions a designer would have to ask to fix a product, and that led us very smoothly into the terminology. I was really pleased with this experience.
May 16 (85 min): Students were introduced to their new joint teams, then led through a 70-minute "Crash Course" design challenge, loosely based around the Stanford d.School Crash Course. Students engaged in the Empathy, Definition, Ideation, Prototyping, and Testing phases to create an item their partner could use for their lockers. Not only did this help solidify the concepts of design thinking, but it allowed the new teams to get to know each other a bit better. By the end of the class, the teams had also chosen a target audience for their actual design challenge. Their homework was to interview at least 3 members of the target audience.
Reflection: A crash course is always an exercise in structured chaos, and students who are used to more "traditional" methods of learning often scoff a bit at this experience. But by the end of it, they are having fun and usually asking for more time to prototype. I was happier with my revisions to the instructions this time around--having them design something for a locker worked well--but I found that trying to run this with 50 students was a lot more challenging and left us less time for reflective discussion. Next time, I would split the teams into two classrooms and have each teacher run a challenge.
May 18 (85 min): This was Day 1 of our actual design challenge. Today we focused on definition and ideation. Class started with the Stanford d.School post-it note activity, found in The Bootcamp Bootleg (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). From there, students filled out a modified definition statement, then jumped into ideating potential designs and plans.
Reflection: Students expressed confusion and discomfort at not having exact instructions on what to do. We had deliberately chosen not to give them too many parameters, fearing that it would limit their creativity. But I did worry that perhaps the confusion was also getting in the way. After the class, the Graphic Design teacher and I decided to spend a little time separately with our classes the next day to clarify our expectations.
May 19 (45 min): We spent 30 minutes in separate classrooms, going over our joint rubric and the specific expectations for students in each of the two classes. We then got the teams together again for 15 minutes for quick team meetings before heading into the weekend.
Reflection: This was a much needed and appreciated "time-out". Going over the rubrics helped us clarify the general expectations and alleviate confusion over process and final product. My Speech students were more relaxed by the end of the 30 minutes and therefore more excited about the process moving forward. I saw more creative thinking as a result.
That brings me up to date--this week we have two class periods, both of which will be dedicated to prototyping and testing designs. I'm looking forward to seeing what our students can do!
Look for upcoming blog posts on our progress!
I sat in my car this morning at 7 am finishing my coffee and browsing my emails on my phone as usual. It's been a good but challenging week--I'm trying hard to get my colleagues' spirits lifted and moving in a positive direction despite Spring Break fever weighing everyone down. And I'm working on some new sub protocols that I've decided to approach as a design challenge...which means listening with an open heart to both the enthusiastic and critical comments.
I opened George Couros' "The Principal of Change" post for 3/16/2017 and had to laugh. It was as if Couros has been watching over my shoulder this week. "I would rather be a creator than a critic," he writes. What a relief to have someone succinctly state the tension I've been feeling all week!
Thanks to what is now my mantra (and yes, I even made a graphic in it's honor!), I will keep up my SMA Inspiration Padlet project--which is picking up speed, thankfully! I will keep seeking opinions about how we might revise our substitute protocols to take advantage of technology--even from those I know will only want to criticize it. And I will keep working on outside-the-box activities for my Speech class. And to connect it back to Monday's #IMMOOC week 3 live cast, I think it is through focusing on creation that we find the groove rather than the rut.
George Couros' third #IMMOOC video chat with Amber Teamann and Matt Arend not only gave me a chance to attempt sketchnoting (see below) but also offered some validating insights into leadership. One that stood out for me was Amber's point that when faculty think they will be judged for failing, they will stop taking risks. This same message was shared by two principals at a recent leadership collaboration group I attended.
"Two-way trust" is imperative, of course, as both Amber and Matt discussed. But you don't get trust by just waving a magic wand--as much as many of wish were true!
It seems to me that that one cornerstone of building trust is honest, clear, transparent communication. Most people are willing to accept constructive feedback as long as they don't feel like it is part of a "gotcha game." Leaders create a sense of security when they communicate clear, consistent expectations and are patient with process. If it's necessary to evaluate or critique a teacher, good leaders reduce tension by giving the teacher time to think about and prepare for a conversation--no drive-by meetings or cryptic emails! Leaders build relationships by asking lots of questions and really listening to the responses. And leaders demonstrate that they are part of the team when they invite honest feedback and act on it.
I may not be an administrator, but I can certainly incorporate these elements into my daily practice as a coach and teacher. Here goes!
I truly did not understand at first why so many others saw a battlefield of deadly traps instead of a wonderland. And that was often my kryptonite; it's nearly impossible to work with someone when you fail to observe their needs, feelings, or perceptions.
Thus, the past five years have been a journey in educating myself in empathy and observation. And from that has developed a deeper commitment to celebrating not just my own learning, but the triumphs of my colleagues as they battle through their discomfort in the face of change, challenge, and new choices.
Lasting innovation becomes a reality when that educator in your building who fears social media finally lets her students use their phones in class to post their work on an Instagram account. Or when that stalwart "stand-and-deliver" lecturer next door finally trusts the students in her room to learn for themselves through a project-based assessment. Or when that veteran tech-opposed administrator finally uses Twitter to shout out the work of the teachers in her building. Lasting innovation is in the hands of ALL of us. And we owe it to our students to set aside our nerves and join them as learners side-by-side.
What a treat to listen to George Couros, Katie Martin, AJ Juliani, and John Spencer talk about design thinking and innovation in education during the first #IMMOOC event! Their discussion about taking risks and sharing learning hit home for me, especially their comments about fear being a main reason for risk aversion in education. No matter how innovative or enthusiastic we are, I think all of us worry about the potential consequences of stepping outside the safety zone.
I’ve certainly had my fair share of blows. One of the hardest ones happened last year, and was, ironically, related to design thinking.
I had just participated in a school-sponsored Design Challenge that was intended to help us ideate some options for a new library space. Inspired by that experience, I reframed the last unit of my high school speech class into a design challenge to give students a chance to design spaces for a new building we were in the process of developing. My students’ ideas impressed me so much that I asked our administrators to join us for their final presentations.
But here’s the part of the story that I didn’t tell in my previous post. One of the administrators who watched the final presentations called me into her office the next day. I thought she wanted to talk about about the students’ ideas—after all, she had been the one to champion the design challenge I participated in. Instead, she told me that the presentation skills demonstrated by the students did not meet her expectations of what students should be able to do at the end of a speech class. The implication was that I had failed to teach my students what they were supposed to learn.
I was left speechless (no pun intended) and crushed. She had completely missed the point of the exercise—which was not about giving a formal presentation. She passed judgement on an entire curriculum without asking a single question about it. And worse, she seemed to have completely missed the students’ ideas—I felt like I had let them down.
What did I do? Well, I certainly wallowed in anger and hurt feelings for a while. I toyed with giving up on doing anything innovative. After all, if my ideas weren’t appreciated, then why bother?
But then a friend helped me realize I had another option. I could look past what felt like an injustice and ask myself “What constructive feedback can I take from that conversation that would help me improve learning?” And as Martin put it in the #IMMOOC discussion, I could choose not to wait for permission to try again.
The next semester, I ran another revised design challenge (take 2!) in my speech class. Included was a requirement that students formally present their ideas—this time with an expectation that they demonstrate the speaking skills I knew they had learned in the class. With much trepidation, I invited administrators and faculty to join us for the presentations. My worries came to nothing. Faculty and administrative feedback to the students was positive and encouraging. The students felt heard. And I felt validated in retaining design thinking as an experience in the class.
As a coach, this experience was also invaluable. It helped me better understand the concerns that many of my colleagues feel about change and risk, and yet also encourage them to take those chances when it will help kids.
So…change is absolutely a chance to do something amazing. But I think it’s also essential to recognize that the “amazing” part may come after a few stumbles or even flat out face-plants. Innovators like Couros, Martin, Juliani, and Spencer succeed not because they are just that awesome (which they are!) but because they don’t give up. And that’s something any of us can aspire to.
"Getting Girls into STEM: The Power of Blended (and All-Female) Instruction". (Tormala) EdSurge, March 21, 2017.
"Confronting the Abominable Snow Day". (Gilbert & Tormala) Edutopia, Feb. 2017.
"Video Interviews with iPads: The Power of Mobile Technology". (Tormala) EdTechTeam, Jan 2017.
"Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation." (Tormala) Edutopia, Oct. 2016.
"5 Epiphanies on Learning in a 1:1 iPad Classroom." (Tormala) Edutopia, July 2014.