After another quarter of being an instructional coach I have learned so many things. Many ideas are still in development. I am working to find ways to bring them to the forefront and implement, but change takes time. Like anything I do, many seem a bit out there, but I believe that all you have to do is believe and get a few people to engage and let them spread the word if it is worthwhile.
Until that happens here are four broad ideas I have found to be needed by instructional coaches or education leaders to keep things moving forward.
1. Tell the Tale – We have to be able to tell the story of the school, of how projects came to be, why things are the way they are. It is important that you know why things are the way they are. You don’t have to agree with all of it, but when people have questions, it is important that we understand why things are they way they are. Once you understand the story and how we go to NOW, then you can start to develop a plan for the FUTURE.
2. Get Visual – Communication is essential in this job. Be prepared to share content and help in all modes of media. Some learn by reading, some by doing, some by talking. Almost everyone understands visually so we must provide examples, help demonstrate ideas, and be a equal partner. One thing I have found is that the more visual I can make an idea the better the conversation and development of ideas. How you visualize your thoughts is up to you, but it is vital in expressing your ideas. Remember, people cannot crawl into your head so help them out. This goes both ways as both an instructional coach and for the educator.
3. Be Present – When working with someone that person is your priority. Do not think about what is next. Do not think about what just happened. If you want buy in, be in the moment. Give them your attention. Look them in the eye, do not internet browse, check email, etc. We do this all the time and in some ways has become the norm, but it is rude. Stop. Look them in the eye. Be engaged. Take notes as needed. Work side by side. Be respectful of the people who are giving up precious planning time to be with you. If you want them to come back, then make them feel cared for and worthwhile.
4. Promote the Team – Collaboration is essential with anything. The goal is not giving yourself credit. The goal is to share the stories of success and sometimes failures. When educators do great things be sure that you are helping to share their stories. Celebrate their hard work, taking risks, and making an impact on learning. Most educators won’t toot their own horn(even though they should), so help celebrate all the great things they are doing.
5. Food and Drink – Nothing brightens up the mood more than snacks and drinks. Cookies, Chocolate, Coffee, and Chips. The 4 C’s of education right?
One of my go to resources when I need a new idea to help teachers, students, or myself with developing new ideas and tactics. All of his material is excellent. Brainwriting is one of my favorite ideas! More info →
Before you get into how this method works let me explain that this one would work really well with students. During our PD we were trying to come up with new ways to use the resources available in our building. It was tough because we just could not get past the conventional ideas. Perhaps I should have started with some sideways thinking activities first and then moved into this technique. Next time I will do so because I think that would help greatly.
You can see the ideas generated in the slideshow below. We needed more time to get this completely done, but it was fun to try and now I know I need to do some prep work prior to launching this technique
We were all born as spontaneous, creative thinkers. Yet a great deal of our education may be regarded as the inculcation of mind sets. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental attitudes (based on what past thinkers thought) that predetermine our response to problems or situations. Typically, we think on the basis of similar problems encountered in the past. When confronted with problems, we fixate on something in our past that has worked before. Then we analytically select the most promising approach based on past experiences, excluding all other approaches, and work within a clearly defined direction toward the solution of the problem.
Our Rutted Paths Of Thinking
Once we think we know what works or can be done, it becomes hard for us to consider alternative ideas. We tend to develop narrow ideas and stick with them until proven wrong. Following is an interesting experiment, which was originally conducted by the British psychologist Peter Watson, demonstrating the way we typically process information. Watson would present subjects with the following three numbers in sequence:
2 … 4 … 6 …
He would then ask subjects to explain the number rule for the sequence and to give other examples of the rule. The subjects could ask as many questions as they wished without penalty.
He found that almost invariably most people will initially say, “4, 6, 8” or some similar sequence. And Watson would say, “Yes, that is an example of a number rule.” Then they will say, “20, 22, 24” or “50, 52, 54” and so on — all numbers increasing by two. After a few tries, and getting affirmative answers each time, they are confident that the rule is numbers increasing by two without exploring alternative possibilities.
Actually, the rule Watson was looking for is much simpler; it is simply numbers increasing. They could be 1, 2, 3 or 10, 20, 40 or 400, 678, 10,944. And testing such an alternative would be easy. All the subjects had to say was “1, 2, 3” to Watson to test it and it would be affirmed. Or, for example, a subject could throw out any series of numbers, for example, 5, 4, 3 to see if they got a positive or negative answer. And that information would tell them a lot about whether their guess about the rule is true.
The profound discovery Watson made was that most people process the same information over and over until proven wrong, without searching for alternatives, even when there is no penalty for asking questions that give them a negative answer. In his hundreds of experiments, he, incredibly, never had an instance in which someone spontaneously offered an alternative hypotheses to find out if it were true. In short, his subjects didn’t even try to find out if there is a simpler or even, another, rule.
Creative Geniuses Think Differently
Creative geniuses don’t think this way. The creative genius will always look for a multiplicity of ways to approach a subject. It is this willingness to entertain different perspectives and alternative approaches that broadens their thinking and opens them up to new information and the new possibilities that the rest of us don’t see. Einstein was once asked what the difference was between him and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in a haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all possible needles.
When Charles Darwin first set to solve the problem of evolution, he did not analytically settle on the most promising approach to natural selection and then process the information in a way that would exclude all other approaches. Instead, he initially organized his thinking around significant themes, principally eight, of the problem, which gave his thinking some order but with the themes connected loosely enough so that he could easily alter them singly or in groups. His themes helped him capture his thoughts about evolutionary change by allowing him to reach out in many alternative directions at once and pulling seemingly unrelated information into a coalescent body of thought.
Darwin used his themes to work through many points that led to his theory of evolution by helping him to comprehend what is known and to guide in the search for what is not yet known. He used them as a way of classifying the relation of different species to each other, as a way to represent the accident of life, the irregularity of nature, the explosiveness of growth, and of the necessity to keep the number of species constant. Over time, he rejected some of his themes — the idea of direct adaptation, for instance. Some were emphasized — the idea of continuity. Some were confirmed for the first time — the idea that change is continuous. Some were recognized — the frequency of variation. By adjusting and altering the number of themes and connections, Darwin was able to keep his thought fluid and to bring about adaptive shifts in his thinking. He played the critic, surveying his own positions; the inventor, devising new solutions and ideas; and the learner, accumulating new facts not prominent before.
The Lotus Blossom Brainstorming Technique
The point is that by organizing his thinking around loosely-connected themes, Darwin expanded his thinking by inventing alternative possibilities and explanations that, otherwise, may have been ignored. A creative thinking technique that will help you expand your thinking in a similar fashion is Lotus Blossom, which was originally developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Chiba City, Japan. The technique helps you to diagrammatically mimic Darwin’s thinking strategy by organizing your thinking around significant themes. You start with a central subject and expand into themes and sub-themes, each with separate entry points. In Lotus Blossom, the petals around the core of the blossom are figuratively “peeled back” one at a time, revealing a key component or theme. This approach is pursued in ever-widening circles until the subject or opportunity is comprehensively explored. The cluster of themes and surrounding ideas and applications, which are developed in one way or another, provide several different alternative possibilities. The guidelines for Lotus Blossom are:
Write the central problem in the center of the diagram.
Write the significant themes, components or dimensions of your subject in the circles labeled A to H surrounding the central theme. The optimal number of themes for a manageable diagram is between six and eight. If you have more than eight, make additional diagrams. Ask questions like: What are my specific objectives? What are the constants in my problem? If my subject were a book, what would the chapter headings be? What are the dimensions of my problem?
Use the ideas written in the circles as the central themes for the surrounding lotus blossom petals or boxes. Thus, the idea or application you wrote in Circle A would become the central theme for the lower middle box A. It now becomes the basis for generating eight new ideas or applications.
Continue the process until the lotus blossom diagram is completed.
An Example: How To Add Value To Your Organization
Suppose, for example, you want to create more value for your organization by increasing productivity or decreasing costs. You would write “Add Value” in the center box. Next, write the eight most significant areas in your organization where you can increase productivity or decrease costs in the circles labeled A to H that surround your central box. Also write the same significant areas in the circles with the corresponding letters spread around the diagram. In my example, I selected the themes “suppliers,” “travel expenses,” “partnerships,” “delivery methods,” “personnel,” “technology,” “facilities,” and “evaluation.” Also write the same significant areas in the circles with the corresponding letters spread around the diagram. For instance, in the sample diagram the word “technology” in the circle labeled A, serves as the theme for the lower middle group of boxes. Each area now represents a theme that ties together the surrounding boxes.
For each theme, try to think of eight ways to add value. Phrase each theme as a question to yourself. For example, ask, “In what ways might we use technology to increase productivity?” and “In what ways might we use technology to decrease expenses?” Write the ideas and applications in the boxes numbered 1 through 8 surrounding the technology theme. Do this for each theme. Think of eight ideas or ways to make personnel more productive or ways to decrease personnel expenses, eight ideas or ways to create more value for your delivery methods, your facilities and so on. If you complete the entire diagram, you’ll have 64 new ideas or ways to increase productivity or decrease expenses.
When you write your ideas in the diagram, you’ll discover that ideas continually evolve into other ideas and applications, as ideas seem to flow outward with a conceptual momentum all their own.
An important aspect of this technique is that it shifts you from reacting to a “static” snapshot of the problem and will encourage you to examine the significant themes of the problem and the relationships and connections between them. Sometimes when you complete a diagram with ideas and applications for each theme, a property or feature not previously seen will emerge. Generally, higher level properties are regarded as emergent — a car, for example, is an emergent property of the interconnected parts. If a car were disassembled and all the parts were thrown into a heap, the property disappears. If you placed the parts in piles according to function, you begin to see a pattern and make connections between the piles that may inspire you to imagine the emergent property — the car, which you can then build. Similarly, when you diagram your problem thematically with ideas and applications, it enhances your opportunity to see patterns and make connections. The connections you make between the themes and ideas and applications will sometimes create a emergent new property or feature not previously considered.
Last week I had to lead a variety of teaching moments. I jumped into an 8th grade classroom to help with a project and lead students through a brainstorming……well not brainstorming, but BRAINWRITING activity. It was awesome and one I highly encourage teachers to use.
This activity levels the playing field and keeps extroverts like myself from dominating a brainstorming conversation. Here is the activity straight from the book Cracking Creativity
One of my go to resources when I need a new idea to help teachers, students, or myself with developing new ideas and tactics. All of his material is excellent. Brainwriting is one of my favorite ideas! More info →
Richard Feynman, while working at Los Alamos on the first atomic bomb, noted that only one problem was fed into the computer at a time. Instead of thinking of more efficient ways of solving one problem at a time, he thought of ways of processing multiple problems in parallel, spontaneous sequences. He invented a system for sending three problems through the machine simultaneously. He had his team work with colored cards with a different color for each problem. The cards circled the table in a multicolored sequence, small batches occasionally having to pass other batches like impatient golfers playing through. This simple innovation dramatically increased idea production and accelerated the work on the bomb.
Horst Geschka and his associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, developed a variety of group creative-thinking techniques called Brainwriting which, like Feynman’s innovative problem-solving approach, are designed to process ideas in parallel, spontaneous sequences. In traditional brainstorming groups, people suggest ideas one at a time. This is serial processing of information: i.e., only one idea is offered at a time in a series. Brainwriting, in contrast, allows multiple ideas to be suggested at the same time. This is parallel processing of information: i.e., many ideas produced at once in parallel. If a brainwriting group has 10 members, up to 10 ideas will be generated for every one generated in a typical brainstorming session of 10 members. Brainwriting increases idea production dramatically. The basic guidelines are:
First, discuss the problem to clarify it. Write the problem in a location visible to all group members.
Distribute 3×5 index cards to each participant and instruct them to silently write their ideas on the cards, one idea per card. Whereas group brainstorming involves participants shouting ideas out loud, “brainwriting” has people silently writing down ideas.
As participants complete a card, they pass it silently to the person on the right.
Tell the group members to read the cards they are passed and to regard them as “stimulation” cards. Write down any new ideas inspired by the “stimulation” cards on blank cards and pass them to the person on their right. Within a few minutes, several idea cards will be rotating around the table.
After 20-30 minutes, collect all cards and have the group members tape them to a wall. The cards should be arranged into columns according to different categories of ideas, with a title card above each column. Eliminate the duplicates.
Evaluate the ideas by giving each participant a packet of self-sticking dots and have them place the dots on their preferred ideas. They can allocate the dots in any manner desired, placing them all on one idea, one each on five different ideas, or any other combination.
Only one person can offer an idea at a time during brainstorming, and despite encouragement to let loose, some people hold back out of inhibition or for fear of ridicule. Brainwriting ensures that the loudest voices don’t prevail, participants feel less pressure from managers and bosses, and ideas can’t be shot down as soon as they are offered. You can design your own “brainwriting” format based on the two principles:
Idea generation is silent.
Ideas are created spontaneously in parallel.
You can see the results from watching my teaching(not the best teaching) where I used this method. I had to cut the work time to meet timeline of YouTube, but you can see some of this. I had to cut the actual work process from the video, but you will gain an understanding of how it works. Also, instead of 20-30 minutes we cut things down to about 5-7 minutes because middle school students start to lose focus after 5 minutes. Gauge your classroom accordingly.
After using this activity we had the students work collectively as a class to group their ideas into categories. We had them tape them on the walls. They had to hold discussions and share their ideas to figure out the best placement.
This activity worked really well. I cannot wait to share out with the world the ideas students have not developed. In the meantime, I hope you find this activity helpful.
Another excellent read in 2014. Shane Snow is able to weave key elements to help become more successful in an entertaining and engaging read. I have not been this entertained by stories of success before and it was nice to not hear the same old stories over and over. Shane Snow has a real knack for providing helping tips and ideas and delivering it in quality format. More info →
It might just be one of my favorite chapter titles and cleverest uses of the F Word play on words.
The reason it is so solid is because it is so true. Educators spend their waking hours providing constant feedback to students all day long. It was what we do whether through body language, conversation, formative, summative, common assessments, or just daily checks.
HOWEVER, we are the worst at receiving feedback. We do not like to be told that our ideas could improve, that our teaching could be better, or perhaps we should try something new. We hold our classroom near and dear to our hearts. It is hard to separate emotion from the idea that we must be constantly working to improve.
Education is a job that we cannot plateau. It is a job that requires us to always be on top of our game. Over time it is commonplace that we quit pushing hard to improve or think we should improve.
There is this delicate balance in delivering feedback. I think it goes back to the idea of being professional. If we want to be considered professionals and experts, then we must adhere to the times when our teaching is challenged.
I live by my word. Last week I taught a class to an 8th grade language arts class. I was helping them move from research to action. I decided to record myself so I could improve my craft.
We don’t like written feedback or even verbal feedback. Video feedback is the worst! I want to barf watching myself talk and attempt to teach. I wish I could go back and reteach, but it is what it is.
I am sharing this so that you can provide me feedback. I have tough skin and want to lead by example. Additionally, I think it is important to share what we are doing in the classroom and I think this message is worth spreading. Many times in school we gather info, research, and do nothing with it.
So, drop me some F bombs and let me know what you think about my teaching for this lesson.
I will tell you that I wanted to scream when I kept saying “Right” or “K”! I could have floated more around the room. I also spoke too long. My plan was 9-11 minutes, but I went a bit long. I got fired up. The brainwriting activity was awesome and one that I will use again.
Let me know what you think and hopefully by doing this you will open up yourself to feedback. Feedback can be very powerful if we let it work for us.
Even more importantly, I hope this moves you to action. I hope you consider opening up and seeking feedback and then reflecting on how to improve.
As I continue to work through what it means to be an Instructional Coach and what exactly I should be doing I started to think in terms of many magazines that I read like Fast Co. and Inc. Through my notes on some articles I started to ask whether IC are Managers or Leaders?
As I connect with others I see that some schools are really using them as managers for the admin. I don’t see that as properly implementing and utilizing the amazing tool available to all teachers. IC are there for the teachers to help them work through their struggles to be better. We are not there to provide answers, but to help educators down the path to finding their OWN answers.
One thing I read was filling in the following:
Managers do this____________, but leaders do this _________________.
A great read for educators. I found some chapters amazing and speaking to me and my concerns. This is not a book that you have to read cover to cover. Pick what you want and skip the rest. The book will challenge some of your existing thoughts and ideas and hopefully you take time to ponder to see if you need to change your perspective. This has something for everyone of all grades, subjects, and education positions. More info →
“There are stark differences between the two. Managers concentrate on traditional leadership duties. These typically include methods of operation focused on site management…….Educational leaders are transformative by nature. In addition to understanding the relationship between standards and assessment, they also aim to inspire their people with a vision that energizes and encourages others to work collaboratively toward a common goal.”
The item in bold is key. I believe that this is our job as instructional coaches. Our goal is to lead and help educators celebrate what they are doing while still working to improve their craft.
More teachers need to work to celebrate their hard work. More teachers need to share their ideas. There are so many great things happening in so many classrooms. However, we don’t have time to see other teachers teach or to chat and exchhange ideas. Instructional coaches can be the strings connecting the dots. We can share ideas. We can cover classes so other teachers and can watch other teachers teach. We can help promote teachers to showcase their work. This is so important. We have to strive to develop an open culture of sharing so we can all improve.
In order for that to happen we must continue to break down the walls and work towards more open spaces of learning.
Where do we start? As the chapter in the book suggests we need to prioritize. In education today we are being pulled in a million directions. What if we could organize the list and focus on the top one or two ideas. Once those are taken care of we can then move to the next item. If all we do is try to multitask we will never really implement quality.
Lastly, this one last piece stood out to me
“How much more enjoyable would teaching be if teachers had classrooms where students walk through the door and immediately understand the difference between their social world (outside the classroom) and the world of work (insdie the classroom)?”
If we developed an open culture where students came to our rooms and plugged in and go to work how great would that be? This would require a transformation of how schools look. We would need social spaces outside the classrooms to allow them time to identify the differences.
Perhaps this last piece is a bit off topic to the post, but in my mind this is a vision that I have. This might be something I tackle as an instructional coach to help make the open culture of learning more real for both students and teachers. I will be prioritizing my list and this idea sits at the top. See how I just made some things happen? What are you going to do?
Authentic audience is a vital component to any project based learning unit. As teachers across the nation strive to develop high level PBL I think there is one vital aspect that is often overlooked in the process.
For many teachers, shifting to PBL is not something that happens overnight. We have to push beyond our comfort zones to change how we teach and how we deliver content. I don’t think there is one teacher who would love to have a project take off and connect with the world to showcase the work of students. BUT, in order for that to happen teacher confidence cannot be overlooked.
I don’t always think it is realistic for teachers to launch a new project and expect the community to be involved. Sometimes we have to test out a project idea to gain a sense of what works, what does not work, and how things will all fit together. Only after teaching a project for a year or two do we begin to think about introducing the ideas to the world.
Not every teacher has that entrepreneur mindset where they just launch an idea and have the tough skin to let it roll. We all bring our own flavor to our classrooms and that needs to be embraced.
Many times I witness the glitches that happen in delivery are many times due to overlooking the simple idea of teacher confidence. Teachers need to feel confident in their work and their ideas. We are no different than our students. Once we have a project figured out we can then begin to push our ideas out to the community. We need to make sure that we support the comfort levels of teachers as long as they are still pushing their own comfort zones. This is key. I am not suggesting we don’t change our ways. What I am talking about is that as teachers stretch the edges of their comfort zone we must support and help them gain confidence to continue to purse these paths and not cut them down with negativity and critique. This only shuts them down. There will always be teachers who push beyond the walls of the school, but to expect every single teacher to do so is asking a lot. It takes time and by encouraging and helping teachers move to this type of mindset takes time.
Focus on your own school. Make your walls and halls shine with deep learning of students. Turn your school into a marketing department of deeper learning so when the community sees the work they will want to be part of the process. They will be asking how they can get involved. Start with the culture of your own building first before moving the community.
This year I begin my second year as an instructional coach. Last year I was a guinea pig being the only one in the district. This year there are not 12 of us dispersed from k-12. It is an amazing structure to help teachers and develop teacher leaders at the ground level.
This year is proving more difficult than last year. Last year was wide open where I sifted through it all to find what worked, what did not work, etc. This year there are more than me and we are working to figure out the best approach to helping teachers.
As we continue to unravel what it means to be an instructional coach we(myself and other two instructional coaches in my building) have had some great discussions. I think the topics are worth sharing because it might be good for others to think about or perhaps people have answers.
1. Instructional Coaching cannot be forced – I really believe in this idea. We cannot come into classrooms and force ourselves into the lives of teachers. Our job is important and we can be a huge resource and help to teachers, but it cannot feel forced. It has to happen naturally with both sides in agreement. This can be difficult. Teachers need to open up to admitting they need help(which we don’t always like to admit) while at the same time instructional coaches cannot act like they know it all or have the answers. This is an organic process that just takes time. When you have a building like ours that has never had these resources before it is not going to be celebrated overnight. However, if forced the whole process can be hated and receive negative tones.
2. We are equals – As we continue to test out ways to help teachers, provide feedback on projects and ideas, possibly observe and help teachers learn from themselves we have to toe that line that we are equal. In no way do any of us feel like we are a step above the teachers, but some of our duties can be perceived that way if we are not careful. Currently, we are reading through all the projects teachers submitted. It is awesome seeing so many great ideas being crafted in the building. Where we struggle right now is how to deliver our feedback in a way that does not come across like we are “right” or we know all the answers. Finding a proper channel to communicate is key. It goes back to the concept of not really giving straight feedback but holding conversations where we ask questions to help teachers find their own answers. Unfortunately, there is not a book or guide that teaches one how to do this so it is a skill that takes time.
3. Defining our roles – This is perhaps the hardest aspect of the job we are tackling. I feel like we have only provided what we are not to do, but nothing in terms of what we are to do. This is not good for educators. I want to be able to spill out what it is that we do. I don’t know what is all part of the job. To do this will require an entire year of feeling things out to determine what the building and staff needs from us. I think each district and school will have different ideas and expectations. Developing dialogue among schools will be critical. We can learn from each other, both what works and what was not so good.
Currently, I would say that our job consists of the following
1. Brainstorming with teachers about ideas for projects and units
2. Developing high quality PBL
3. Finding and curating resources that could benefit their teaching that teachers just don’t have time to do
4. Working to find connections with other schools and classrooms to enhance the learning
5. I hate to say observing, but when a teacher wants to see how a new idea works we could come in and take notes or record video where the teacher can go back and reflect on themselves. We would not be offering any evaluative ideas, but just being a support person in the process
6. Being able to help educators improve their craft
7. Help develop PD
This job is not easy in terms of developing buy in and trust with staff. If we are not careful we can lose the trust of staff in the process and our job duties. We must work to establish relationships before we get into any type of coaching. This is not any different than what we have to do when teaching students. Before students learn we have to earn their trust and develop a relationship. Our classroom is now our building. We don’t have students, but colleagues. Amazing colleagues doing amazing things and we are here to help them along their way.