Coaching and feelings.

Photo by Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr CC
Photo by Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr CC

I’m developing online courses using an LMS I’ve never used to author anything before. I won’t name the LMS, you can probably guess which of those available might be the only one to frustrate me to the point of actual tears. For serious. Tears came out of my eyes.

I found it so counterintuitive, organized in a way that, to me, was overwhelming and confusing and redundant and alarmingly annoying and with every second I was forced to interact with it, I wanted to scream. My blood pressure raised, breathing became faster… I vented to my husband and yes, indeed, he agreed that the platform was frustrating to work with, that it wasn’t just me, and several in my PLN agreed.

But that doesn’t much matter, because I don’t get to choose the tool. The organization does. And the point of this post isn’t to say it’s the right or wrong decision or all instructors should be able to choose their platform because certainly that would create issues with continuity and what not.

For heaven’s sake, I’m a tech coach! I can’t be so easily frustrated by technology! Can I?!

What this experience made me realize is that, beyond having someone show me click-by-click where I needed to go to add elements to my course, beyond accessing the readily available video and screencast tutorials for the LMS, I needed someone to empathize with my situation.

I needed someone to care.

I needed a coach.

A skilled coach can sense that you’re struggling. Can look at the situation and try to understand why. What elements of the situation are causing angst? What skills, if acquired, will help reduce anxiety and lead to success? What strategies can the coach use to simultaneously calm your fears, address your concerns, and enhance your skill set?

Some teachers aren’t open to coaching, not because they wouldn’t appreciate the development, but because they’re not comfortable admitting they’re uncomfortable. They don’t want to let their guards down. We see a teacher who’s reluctant to innovate and we consider them stubborn, traditional, grounded in their ways. What they allow us to see isn’t enough to understand why. We need to know what they’re feeling.

If you’re a teacher struggling, whether it’s with technology integration or with a new instructional strategy, don’t be afraid to communicate honestly about your emotions surrounding the situation. That can only help your coach better design support strategies for you.

If you’re a coach and you don’t acknowledge the feelings of those with whom you work, you’re doing it wrong. The person comes first. Development won’t happen without essential relationship-building.

My increasing frustration working with a new LMS made me realize that when I coach teachers, I need to find out why they’re nervous or reluctant about tech integration, why they’re over-the-top zealous about it, why they display negative feelings about it. Everyone’s past experiences shape them as a teacher, as a learner, as a leader. I know I didn’t always put feelings first in my approach to working with teachers, and I would go back and change some of my strategies if I could.

The real value of a coach is having someone willing to be by your side when the learning gets tough. Whether it’s coach-teacher, teacher-student, admin-teacher, remember to acknowledge the fears, the needs, the aspirations of the person you’re learning alongside.


The first year.

Image via icanread
Image via icanread

This year marked the fifteenth (gak!) in my career in education, so it’s nice that I still have the opportunity to reflect upon firsts. As time passes, many of us transition into new and exciting roles, and the 13-14 school year was one of those for me.

I accepted the position of elementary instructional technology integrator for our district after my son was born last school year. I had no desire to attempt to balance the demands of new motherhood with the likely-more-insane-and-less-fun demands of being an elementary principal, so I resigned at the end of my maternity leave. (People often ask me if I miss administration. That is a terribly phrased question. I do not miss administration. Do I miss being the principal? Every now and then. I miss kid time and -some- decision-making authority.)

My current role is to support the teachers and students of three elementary schools in our district. I have a “base” in each of the three schools, and spend my work days each week traveling to the three buildings. I commute a decent distance so I will say one of the lows of this position is all of the driving that is involved. I dislike commuting immensely, so I need to devise a plan to make that time more worthwhile. Perhaps a Voxer podcast? 🙂 I also end up schlepping around my belongings from place to place, thus my cart and I have become intimately acquainted this year. (And for the record, I really need one of these. Cords are pesky.)

To guide my reflections on this year, I’m using some questions shared by Elena Aguilar in her collection of coaching tools  (also check out her post, Reflecting on a Year of Learning for more great tips on the reflection process). I uploaded her Questions for reflecting on a year of learning document here in Google Drive for you to access. It’s available in Word in her post.

My reflections go a little something like this.

This Year

This year I crafted the role of the elementary tech integrator kind of from scratch, as it did not previously exist in our district, although my job description mirrored that of our secondary tech integrator. I spent time getting to know the teachers and students at each building. I made sure certain online accounts were up and running, such as those for Kidblog and Qwertytown. I devoted a good deal of time to curating and sharing resources. I used Google Forms for record keeping purposes, to easily track the grade levels, teachers, students and teams I worked with, as well as the different topics and tools that I coached/provided tutorials and/or direct instruction. My summary of responses indicated that I spent a lot of time working with grades 3-6 and less time in the primary grades. Reflecting on that, our Grades 4-6 students learn in a 1:1 setting and therefore have more opportunities for fluent tech use on a daily basis, where the primary classes typically share devices and/or utilize the computer labs for project work. Google Apps for Ed accounts begin in grade 3, and I completed numerous lessons and push-in support for students and teachers on GAFE topics this year. I worked 1:1 with a number of teachers, supporting their classroom endeavors, and also with specific grade levels supporting needs as requested. I had the opportunity to push into a grade five classroom during their Genius Hour project work time for a handful of hours, and the students really inspired me with their questions, thinking, and project work! Also this year I finalized the K-6 technology integration framework that is built on ISTE Standards for Students, and I worked with the secondary tech integrator, the mighty Tim, to write Spartan Digital Competencies for Teachers based on ISTE Standards for Teachers. This will be used in conjunction with our teacher evaluation system to provide teachers with the opportunity to set goals and make plans to integrate technology meaningfully into their practice and classroom activities. I worked through the Common Sense Media scope and sequence and instructed students in grades 3-6 on various lessons from that framework, and also met with our computer lab personnel to help them roll out these lessons in their settings as well. Throughout the year I developed and presented sessions during our elementary in-service days. We learned more about blogging with students, incorporating Google Drive into classroom activities, digital storytelling projects, and formative assessment with digital tools. Tim and I co-planned the end of year “Tech Day” for all K-12 staff, which was held on the last day of school. We received some really positive feedback about the structure of the day and the sessions offered! I also ended up assuming the role of overseeing some of the district’s social media channels.

I’d like to think I made a positive impact this first year. I noticed an increase in use of many of the digital tools our district offers, and I received some complimentary feedback on a personal level from a number of teachers. That being said, I didn’t reach as many people as I could have. I didn’t “push” enough and perhaps didn’t make myself as available as possible. My hope is that now that my position is well established, folks will think of me sooner than later next year, and eagerly ask for my input and help when needed. What I learned about adult learners is that they want relevant, timely resources. They want to be coached in a way that does not belittle them or make them feel as though the skills they already have are not important. Teachers will not plan to use technology/devices/tools that are unreliable. There is nothing more defeating than getting psyched up to take a risk and try something new in your classroom, and then have a huge fail: device fail, network fail, battery fail, whatever. What I learned about students is that they want to talk about their digital interactions and their lives using technology. Even our youngest learners are using technology in ways that can be powerful, yet many are subscribed to services and using apps and platforms that are collecting their data and using their personally identifiable information, and they’re doing so without a parent’s permission or without some adult in their life looking over their activities. That makes me nervous and further solidifies to me that we, as educators, need to model for our students what it means to be a critical, wise, healthy, and kind consumer and creator in the digital age.

As I spent a lot of time locating, curating, and sharing resources for my teachers and school community, I can share evidence such as my Elementary Tech Integrator blog, Tech Tidbits issues made on Smore, and family newsletters. I also created instructional materials to accompany the Common Sense Media digital citizenship lessons we taught in grades 3-6 and became a Common Sense Media Certified Educator this year. I presented with some of our district support staff at a Title 1 parent conference at our IU to share family-focused digital citizenship resources.

In the connected edusphere, I had the opportunity to write a chapter for an upcoming Learning Forward publication, presented at FETC, PETE & C, and several webinars for Simple K-12. I facilitated another successful Educational Leadership in the Digital Age course for PLP (hoping to run another section in the fall, if you’re interested!) and next year I am slated to attend and present at Edscape, the Learning Forward conference, and integratED PDX.

This Summer

Truthbomb: this summer I am going to spend a lot of time with my ridiculously handsome and personable toddler and family and a lot of time at the beach! My position is a teacher contracted position and thus I am no longer a 12-month employee. I am scheduled to work a handful of days in the summer months, which will include

  • Attending IU13’s e-Learning Revolution conference next week, presenting on digital age professional development on day 2 and the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit in August to share about elem. tech integration
  • Providing a day of training for staff with our new district blogs through Edublogs/Campuspress!
  • Continuing to update the Elem Tech Integrator blog and sharing resources with staff
  • Working with our grades 1 and 6 teams who are transitioning to a hybrid instructional model next year
  • Reading Invent to Learn and putting some ideas together for an elementary makerspace
  • Continuing to moderate the Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches Google+ community
  • Capturing family moments in thousands of photos and videos, using Day One to journal our special time together, and working on my Project Life 2014 album

No matter what your role this year, take some time to reflect. You’ll be surprised at how this process allows you to see how much you’ve learned, the ways in which you contributed to your learning community, and the things you need to do to improve and grow professionally to make an even more lasting impact in years to come. This post is certainly worthy of a TLDR tag, and I know I didn’t articulate all of the ways in which I served my district this year, but this reflective process is truly a powerful one.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the final two sections of Aguilar’s reflection guide: what I hope to accomplish come August/Fall and Next School Year. Stay tuned!