I was asked to write a few words about Assessment for Learning for another purpose and it got me thinking about the topic I assigned myself this month – coaching. Assessment for learning becomes a leading indicator rather than a lagging one because it is at the point of learning. Since the teacher (coach) has information on the strength and weaknesses of the learner, he/she can adjust the instruction accordingly. By offering feedback on incorrect responses, the learner can immediately learn and practice the correct response. And this is one of the reasons coaching educators is so powerful.
In my 20+ years in education, we’ve spent an awful lot of time focusing on “training teachers to use technology”. As if we just have them sit in a room long enough listening to step by step directions, it’ll transform their classrooms. My guess is that’s not going to work out if it hasn’t in the last 20 years! What I have found is that coaching is a much better way to lead transformational changes in teaching and learning with technology.
There are a few key strategies to coaching teachers towards effective technology use. One of which Elena Aguilar writes about in “Five Practices that Could Transform Your Coaching”. And that is one teacher, one goal. I would put this as finding the key influencers. Often instructional technologists find themselves in a position of coaching literally hundreds of teachers. A daunting task for which I have the utmost respect! Just keep it all in perspective – if you are able to reach one teacher and help them through a transformation that’s a huge accomplishment. Once the teacher begins to have success and feel confidence, he/she will send out ripples of success to all those around him/her.
Another critical strategy for coaches is that of questioning. Rather than telling a teacher “fix this, change that, do this”, ask questions. Open ended questions that force the user to be reflective about their own practice. As this kind of coaching is often about planning for a lesson, start with “what do you want kids to know and be able to do”? Focus not on the technology, but on the learning. You might ask “do you know of any tools that would help accomplish this goal?”
The transformed classroom moves from teacher-centered to student-centered, so as the teacher becomes more comfortable it’s important to work towards student use of technology. This change in the locus of control can be unsettling. It’s important to focus on classroom management techniques at this stage. Always have a Plan B (and maybe C).
Finally, stretch people, don’t hurt them. Just like exercising muscles the goal should be to make enough change that it’s a challenge but not so much that it’s painful. Trying to make the full swing to the optimally desired level of technology use will only result in frustration and shut-down. Make small changes over time and the results will be much more powerful and satisfying.
Pete Carroll probably says it best. “Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” Add coaching into your instructional technology tool belt and make great things happen where you are!