Technology is often seen as an addition to the learning experience. In the 21st century, in a time of Common Core State Standards, that is no longer the case. Change is hard. Doing right by our students and each other is hard. Playing with the newest toys is easy, and can feel like change. But it often is not and good instructional practices, like all good habits, take time and effort to develop. The work of connected educators, then involves helping learners to make connections to good tools and habits, and to break connections to the bad ones.
They did some editing.1 See if you can find the extra spaces and commas.2
But take a peek at the posts. Some good stuff in there.
Lengthened short sentences, fiddled with some of my preposition placement, and got rid of a couple of contractions. It’s cool. Their website, their rules. By way of comparison, here’s the paragraph from above as I submitted it. I find the edits fascinating. I couldn’t resist changing a couple of things back in the excerpt above, too. Take a peek at the original. [↩]
And where you would’ve linked to things. I sent them a text with seven embedded links. One remained. Huh. [↩]
We’re reading Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight together as a large team at work. This is the third post in my series on that reading and reflection.
This month’s chapter is on coaching, both the role of the coach and the practices and habits an instructional coach can use to make a difference in his or her work. As someone who’s often in a coaching role, I found the broad strokes of the chapter useful, both as reminder and as a bit of a challenge for thinking through.
What are instructional coaches, according to Knight? Well, they’re folks who “partner with teachers to help them incorporate research-based practices into their teaching.” Also, the “partner with teachers to help them incorporate instructional practices into their teaching.” (Kindle location 1837)
The thread of choice was woven through the chapter for me, too. Here’re some choice1 quotes:
If a coach and teacher come together as equal partners, the teacher must have choices. Partners don’t do the choosing for each other. In coaching, this means, most fundamentally, that teachers have a choice about whether or not they want to work with a coach. . . . choice does not mean that teachers can choose to not participate in professional meaning. No professional can choose to be unprofessional. (1872)
When professionals are told what to do and when and how to do it, with no room for their individual thoughts, that is a spiritual death experience.(1900)
And this, though not directly about choice, seems particularly relevant to my thinking about coaching and the choices that coaches should make:
When coaches focus on capacity building, there are tasks they do not do. Usually coaches do not sub when teachers are away, do administrivia, or work directly with students except in the service of the larger goal of promoting teacher growth. Certainly, there are occasions when these general guidelines are ignored. Just as a principal may be forced to sub if there in no other alternative, so might a coach. However, this should occur very rarely. (1978)
A little later in the chapter, Knight points to some data that suggests that the coaches he has studied often report that they spend only between 10 and 25 percent of their time as “coaches” instead of the fill in tasks he describes above. That’s troubling to me because either instructional coaches are making pretty terrible choices about how to spend their time, or (and I think this is much more likely) they are not in the place to choose how to spend that time to begin with. While they should be advocates for choice for the teachers they work with, their own choices are quite limited.
That leads me to my larger reflection on this chapter, which is that I find that the role of an instructional coach and the role of a classroom teacher are really quite similar, or should be. The job of a teacher shouldn’t be to force change on a student, nor a coach to force change on a teacher. It’s a partnership. The whole endeavor of learning, as I see it, should be the development of agency in the individual. And perhaps the problem of instructional leaders choosing to put their coaches in places of fill in is one of a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a teacher/coach. And that fundamental misunderstanding isn’t simply a misunderstanding in the mind of the leader – it’s a deeply cultural mess that we’re in because what we think “teaching” looks like isn’t really what good teaching looks like.
When a teacher is “teaching,”2 what is happening? Does “teaching” mean the teacher is speaking? I bet for most of us, that’s the first thought that pops into our heads. But it shouldn’t be. What about when a teacher is “listening?” Or “pausing?” Or waiting patiently while monitoring a classroom writing assignment3? I think much of what we consider “best practice” in teaching and what we think of when we think of a teacher “teaching” just don’t line up in our heads and hearts as they should.
And so sometimes we make serious errors in judgment about what a teacher is or isn’t doing.
I think about all of my friends and colleagues who are wicked nervous about new evaluations in Colorado and other places, and I understand some of their dilemma. Whenever a principal came into my room to observe, I wanted to be doing something awesome so that they “saw me teaching.” The problem is, no one learns much in a room when I’m doing all the talking. The real learning happens when I turn students loose on a concept or problem or task. But me monitoring a roomful of excited and engaged students isn’t what I wanted my principal to see – because it wasn’t “awesome teaching.” Except that it was.
Other teachers I know reschedule their thoughtfully planned lessons and timelines around evaluations so that the principal sees them “in action.” That’s a problem, because the thoughtful planning and scheduling was done intentionally, for good reason. And the change is for a crummy, “observing a thing changes it” sort of reason.
This is a ramble, and only a little bit about coaching now, but that said, let me return to my role as an instructional coach for a second. Sometimes, the best way I can be helpful to a teacher is to say nothing. To do nothing. To sit very quietly and let the words that just were spoken roll back over the speaker. Choosing to respond is a choice. It’s often what “good teaching” looks like. But choosing not to respond is also a choice, and should be honored more often.
Because that’s better teaching, and better coaching, too.
After the announcement last week, and carrying on into today, I’ve gotten such nice messages from people, many I know, several I do not, saying the nicest things about me. It’s been pretty nice. Really nice. Wonderfully . . . you get the idea.
I wonder why we don’t always take the time to say nice things to other folks whenever we feel them, rather than waiting for a social cue like a big announcement or award or life event.
And then I saw this video, and realized that he said what I want to say pretty well:
It’s Thanksgiving Eve here in these United States. Thanksgiving is certainly a time for being grateful and remembering to honor the people we are thankful for. So would you do something for me this weekend? Won’t take but five minutes, tops. Take a second to think about someone for whom you are thankful, or proud of, or excited to know, and write them a short note, email, tweet, status update, or any other message, and let them know. Be sincere, and be specific, but take the moment.
It’s so worth doing. And so easy to forget to do. Go ahead. I’ll save this corn dog for you for when you get done.
I’m still decompressing from the blur of the last several days and, in some ways, couple of weeks. I’m now safely home from Washington, D.C., where I went with my best friend to be honored for my work by the White House. And the President. As I was processing the events of last Thursday with my wife, she and I realized that this was one of those experiences that will become family lore, that will be passed on by my daughters and, hopefully, grandchildren as “something that Daddy did.” So I thought it’d be a good idea to try to get some of my recollections down as a piece of my own family history. That said, I suspect my recollections and reflections will trickle out over the next few weeks as I have some time to further process them.
Earlier this fall, a friend and colleague contacted me to let me know she had nominated me as a White House Champion of Change. I provided her with some of my resume, per her request, so that she could complete her nomination, and then I promptly forgot about it, as I has suggested others to nominate, and I was certain that others would and should receive this recognition. Then, in early November, I was contacted by the White House and asked to provide some contact information so that they could complete a standard security check. At that point, I hasn’t received an award, I was just in the running.
It was a couple of weeks later when I was notified that I had been selected, and then things started to happen very quickly. For a short moment, I considered whether or not it was worth it to bother traveling to Washington, D.C., to be honored. I asked my wife if she would consider joining me, and by the end of the day, had booked a flight. How many times does someone like me get to go to the White House? There were photos to take, as the White House needed a good headshot for their website, and some additional writing to do, as they wanted to add a blog post from me to their collection of stories from other Champions. And, of course, I needed a new suit. My last suit was one I purchased several years ago, and, well, I’d lost fifty pounds since that suit was acquired. It didn’t really do the job I needed it to do. Many travel arrangements were made, and my mother graciously agreed to watch our children so that Tiffany and I could travel together to experience the award ceremony. Quickly, things came together and we were off to Washington, D.C., and the White House.
On the day we flew to Washington, D.C., I made it to the gym for a run before the flight. While I was running, I caught the footage of a special event – the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to several notable Americans. Oprah Winfrey, President Bill Clinton, and Ben Bradlee were three of the award recipients who were honored in a ceremony in the East Room with President Obama. I remember thinking that their accomplishments were pretty amazing, and I thought that perhaps I was be so lucky as to catch a glimpse of the President, but that he would be too busy to visit with us during our time. We had been prepared that, although the President really liked to attend the Champions of Change events, that he was often too busy with the work of the day to stop by.
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
The day began with a trip to the White House for a public tour organized by the Office of Communications. This was the standard public tour, available to anyone who obtained a pass from their Congressional office.1 But in this case, we didn’t have to go through any waiting period – we were basically moved to the front of the line. Tiffany and I walked up to the White House and passed through several checkpoints. Our IDs were taken. And taken. And taken. A dog sniffed us for what I imagine was traces of explosives or weapons – we passed – and then we were inside the East Wing. While we couldn’t take photos inside, both Tiffany and I did manage to check in via Foursquare and Facebook to document that we were, in fact, inside the White House.
As we walked the hallways and made our way into rooms with so much history, I realized that we had entered a large room that seemed familiar. It struck me that I was in the same room I had watched the day before while running at my gym. We were in the East Room, where the day before, I watched Steven Spielberg wave across to his friend Oprah as the Presidents looked on. Whoa. We soaked in as much as we could, asking questions and exploring places I had read about and seen on television, but was now standing inside. We took our fill and emerged outside where it was once again safe to take pictures. Here’s one:
We then toured the grounds and took a few shots of the exterior that was so familiar. I discovered later that this was the entrance used by many dignitaries who visited the White House. To walk that same ground – wow.
It was then time to return to the hotel to prepare for the ceremony. As we made our way back, I took a quick scan of the President’s public schedule, something I’d begun doing once I knew when and where we would intersect with the Commander in Chief. And there was a new entry on the day’s events at 2pm:
The President would, indeed, be attending. Deep breath.
We changed for the ceremony and headed to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, or the EEOB as those in the know refer to it.2 After more security checks, we entered the labyrinth of checkered tiles that was the EEOB and headed for the auditorium where the event would take place.
Then we started waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We were told there was a special surprise or two in store, and we began to be posed for a photo. The photo, though, kept getting delayed. Unbeknownst to us, the reason for the delay, I would find out later, was that the President, our “surprise” guest, was delayed because he needed to speak to the press regarding the Senate rules change that had just taken place. But we were to delay for the President, because he really wanted to attend and visit with us.
No problem. I didn’t mind waiting for the President. Not one bit. While we waited, our picture was taken with Gene Sperling. And Valerie Jarrett came by to say hello. And the nerves built up. Lots of them.
Eventually, he did arrive, and we began. The opening of the event looked like this:
When the President came on stage, the first thought in my head was that the fellow on stage really looked like the President – but it couldn’t actually BE him. My brain had not yet processed that this was, in fact, the President. Of course it was. We were invited up to the stage to shake hands. I did my best to remain calm, as you’ll see in the video. But what you won’t see is that it took a great deal of work on my part to not jump the stage to shake his hand. I’m pretty proud of myself that I waited patiently, so patiently, as my heart beat a hole in my chest. I calmly, and firmly, shook the President’s hand and introduced myself. I remember distinctly that it was a perfect handshake – good hand placement, and firm squeeze and appropriate amount of pump. My father would have been so proud.
And then we moved into the rest of the event, with each of us taking a turn on stage in a panel conversation about education and technology. For the next two hours, I was alternatively pinching myself about what I was experiencing while also wishing for a more substantive conversation. That’s not a dig on the event, which was perfect, it was just my desire, in the middle of a group of educators who are on their game, to get into the weeds a bit and go deeper than surface level conversations about our work. I took some notes about what I wish we had talked about, and a couple of points that I’ll expand upon in a future post.
At the end of the event, the crowd cleared pretty quickly. I said hello to a couple of folks I knew who were in the room, and met a few more. Then the auditorium was empty and it was time to leave. With a deep breath, I stepped out of the EEOB, returned my visitor’s pass, and went through the gate.
The evening was a trip to the Lincoln Memorial. We had promised Ani, my oldest daughter, that we would try to take a picture of it for her if we could. And boy, did we.
After the visit, we stepped into a gift shop or two to find the right souvenirs for our daughters. Of course, the souvenir I want them most to remember and share is perhaps this one:
Or, better yet, this:
The perfect end to a magical experience was dinner after with Tiffany. We enjoyed a great meal, but more important, time to talk through and decompress on the day that had just happened. As I mentioned, I’m still processing and will share my thoughts here as I can compile them.
What an honor to represent all of my teachers and colleagues and the folks who helped me to become who I am at the White House. I stood with the President not for what I have accomplished, but because of what they have done with and for and through me. Thank you to all the folks who made this such an experience, and a special thank you to all of you who might read this who have been my teachers. You did your jobs well, and I am forever better because of you. I’ll have more to say about being grateful in another post, but know that I am, indeed, grateful. I hope that my daughters have teachers like you to guide them and help them discover and chase after their dreams.
Many of the pictures I’ve shared here, as well as several more, are now online in a Flickr set, if you’ve an interest in seeing them.
I wasn’t familiar with that location, but did remember the frequent references to the OEOB from the West Wing. Turns out that the building was renamed by President George W. Bush. Same place. My inner TV geek was elated. [↩]
I’m writing this morning from Washington, D.C., where later today, they’ll be honoring the Connected Educator Champions for Change in a ceremony at the White House complex1.
If you’d like to watch the event, they’ll be streaming it on the White House streaming site. Please join us at 2pm Eastern, noon Mountain, today and learn along with me. The hashtag the White House prefers, if you’re going to be tweeting along, is #WHChamps. I’m not yet sure what my connectivity will be in the room, but you can bet that if I can get to an Internet connection during that time, I most certainly will.
While you wait, head over to the Champions for Change website where you can learn more about the Connected Educator Champions for Change and what they’re up to in their work.
The “complex” is code for “At the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.” But I’m off for a White House tour this morning, so I’m certainly getting the full experience. [↩]
I don’t usually repost press releases here or on the blog or, well, anywhere else. But this time, I’m going to make an exception.
I’m honored to represent all of my teachers, colleagues, and educator friends at the White House as I meet with the other honorees to discuss the challenges and opportunities of teaching in these exciting times.
The Discovery Center for Make/Hack/Play has rescheduled its flood-delayed grand opening for Monday, October 14th. Hope to see you there! Bring your children and make a morning or early afternoon of it. Here’s a PDF with event specifics: Make Hack Play Grand Opening
I highlighted an awful lot of chapter two of this book. The chapter is a focus on partnerships – the necessary criteria for successful ones, what they look like, and some of how to be a good partner. It’s tricky stuff, building a true partnership, particularly when issues of power come along. It’s hard to be equal when you’re in fear of your job status due to the other person in your partnership.
A few choice passages (Kindle locations in italics):
What is needed for choice to flourish is a structure that reconciles freedom and form. (863)
The solution is to create structures that provide focus for human experiences, while respecting the autonomy of each individual. (864)
When leaders choose to do the thinking for teachers — by creating scripts, pacing guides, and step-by-step procedures to be followed blindly — they engage in short-term thinking. pacing guides and similar prescriptions may lead to a quick bump in test scores, but the long-term impact can be disastrous. (946)
Every act of dialogue is a hopeful act, a sign that we believe a better future is possible. When I listen to you, and you listen to me, there is the hope that we can create something new and better, that we can advance thought, and, through dialogue, a better tomorrow. (1034)
People who live out the principle of reciprocity approach others with humility, expecting to learn from them. When we look at everyone else as a teacher and a learner, regardless of their credentials or years of experience, we will be delightfully surprised by new ideas, concepts, strategies, and passions. (1070)
As I look back on these saved passages, I realize that what I’m taking away from this reading on partnerships isn’t how I want to build partnerships, but rather how I want to prepare myself for them.
The chapter speaks of partnering being a choice – it’s important to me that the people I work with, be it in a class or training or meeting or long-term teaching situation, are there by their own choice, and, if that can’t be the case, that they can shape the experience to their benefit through the exercise of meaningful choices. This is messy. Sometimes, this principle of choice means that someone I’d like to work with simply won’t want to. That’s a loss for both of us, but I can’t force a situation to my liking and simultaneously honor the other person or persons involved. Giving people choice means also allowing them to choose something other than you or the work you find important. That’s essential to remember.
It’s also important to remember that the best we can do for ourselves to prepare for a partnership opportunity – and most interactions with others are opportunities – is to approach those others as honestly and openly as one can. A simple question, addressed as a learning opportunity for all involved, can be an invitation to further learning.
I think partnership thinking should also impact how leaders handle conflict and change. When a decision I’m involved in will impact someone, I can do my best to prepare them for that impact. Better yet, I can seek their input before they are impacted as a way of working to mitigate or even prevent a negative impact. That’s a way to create a possible partnership out of a potentially negative situation. I hope my leaders approach situations as potential partnerships, opportunities to bridge division, rather than opportunities for creating distance.
I think of past partnerships where events that ultimately affected me were handled far beyond my control and awareness, for no good reason other than the comfort and convenience of the leaders involved. As a district representative, I don’t want to take an easy way out or around a potential problem or sticky situation. That doesn’t honor the humanity of the others involved.
So preparing for partnership is largely, for me, about preparing myself to be kind and open and curious. And approaching others as if they’re the same. Because most likely, they are.
When you think about partnerships, and preparing yourself as a possible partner, what do you think about?
It’s quit raining in Fort Collins at the moment, after three days of continual drizzle and sometimes pounding rain. Last night, a patched hole in my roof began to drip a bit of water into the house. That’s nothing.
The town where I work right now, though? It’s cut in half by the river that’s blown its banks across the town. Two other communities in the district where I serve are cut off from the rest of the world as all the roads that could get you in or out of there are no longer available for travel, or are simply gone. And to the south, in Denver, more and more reports of flooding and evacuation. They’re calling it, in Longmont, a 500-year flood event.
But it’s not raining here right now, and tomorrow my children will head to school, as they have a pretty normal day.
Across Twitter and Facebook and the eavesdropping police scanner app I promised that I wouldn’t download or turn on, I’m seeing/hearing/checking in on lots of folks who are having terrible evenings. Homes flooded. Families separated. Water seeping into places water just doesn’t usually go.
And there’s pretty much nothing I can do tonight from my reasonably dry home not so far away from the communities and students and teachers I serve. Save for listening and watching and cheering on the bus drivers and support staff and police, fire, and community leaders who are digging in and helping out as best they can.
Being helpless isn’t something I’m all that good at.
So let me say this, as I’m wringing my hands in helplessness and thinking of how to help down the line: If you’re in the thick of it tonight, and bringing comfort, or blankets, or warm snacks to those without; if you’re driving a borrowed bus around the drowning streets of a Colorado town, taking families to safety, or reuniting them; if you’re coordinating shelters, or support, or just passing information along as a way of making sure it’s out there; if you’re helping right now; if you’re doing what you can,
I’m excited to announce that we’ll be kicking off our programming and opening the doors of the Discovery Center for Make/Hack/Play at Spark! Discovery Preschool on Saturday, September 14th, from 10am to 2 pm here in Frederick, Colorado. If you’re in the neighborhood, you should come make something and bring your family. Admission is free – and there’s plenty to play with.
I’d love to see you there. And I love that this idea is becoming a real place. Now to build the community . . .