You've made it to my site, now why not gain a deeper understanding of why I do what I do and how I can help YOU do what YOU do! This episode shares exactly that- my why, my what, and my how (full disclosure- I have a hiccup in the very beginning of the episode... let's see if you can catch it!).
As an instructional impact consultant, I focus on partnering with schools to collaborate around high impact strategies that solve the problems that programs and products aren't solving. Yes, that's right, I said it- programs and products are NOT solving the problems that come up again and again in our schools- lack of student engagement, motivation, and ownership; low morale due to overwhelm; an overabundance of resources; minimal gains in student achievement or increasing gaps; and lack of knowledge transfer and application.
But as an attempt at a quick fix, we bandaid the problems we encounter with curriculum programs and technology products. Imagine the time, effort, and money spent on these things that have only minimal lasting and positive impact, or worse, NO positive impact! The solution to these problems does NOT lie in the THINGS we purchase. The solutions lie within the walls of our buildings- in our leaders, our educators, and our students.
But what we know is that taking a step back to analyze the effectiveness of our people can be daunting work. Each individual in an organization comes with their own perspective of problems and solutions, alike. This can make it challenging as a collaborative group to get to the heart of the real challenges at hand, much less the real solution to the challenges. And THIS is where I come in!
I'm able to take a seat in the balcony of your school to analyze the challenges your school faces from all perspectives. I ask the instructional leaders the right questions to get to the real challenge. I have the right conversations with teachers to gauge the school culture and mindset. And I observe students and classrooms with just the right lenses to analyze the current reality. Finally, I strategically and intentionally partner with teams to facilitate collaborative learning around the strategies that will have the highest impact on student achievement and teacher empowerment.
A great deal of what I do revolves around not only facilitating collaboration, but more specifically modeling and explicitly teaching about collaboration. Why? Because I believe that the greatest instructional impact lies in our ability to and our success in collaborating with colleagues and students. I believe that collaboration can be hard, complex, and challenging work- but this kind of work is often the most inspiring and empowering. And I believe that products and programs DO NOT empower and inspire.... PEOPLE empower and inspire.
It is through successful collaboration that our continual problems can be solved. And I would love nothing more than to partner with you and your school to solve the problems that products and programs aren't solving!
Do you ever have those moments where you feel like TIME simply does not allow for additional professional development opportunities with your teachers? It's something we, as instructional leaders, wish we could implement regularly. After all, as educators we know it is best practice to continuously learn and hone our craft so that, in the end, students are the primary benefiters. But you probably hear it from teachers and colleagues as much as I do: "I don't have time." And to an extent, there is a lot of truth to this statement. Conference times are sucked up by mandatory meetings, lesson planning, gathering materials, completing stacks of paper work, and simply sitting back to take a breath of air! Finding subs for half or full day PD is near impossible in this day and age. Even if we did have subs, teachers find it difficult to lose any instructional time with their students- understandably so. And asking a teacher to stay after school can feel like asking them for their left kidney! Even if we did have teachers willingly stay after school for a brief PD, exhaustion from the day significantly limits the functions of our brains making it rather challenging to pull off a successful PD session.
So what are we to do? How do we ensure continuous learning for our staff with all the aforementioned barriers?
Enter: PD IN A...
Stephanie Affinito originally wrote about this idea of "PD in a (fill-in-the-blank)" a good while back. It's a strategy I latched onto when I started thinking about how to launch collaborative studies. The idea is that you provide "on-the-go" PD for educators that can come in multiple different and fun formats.
There are three major things I love about this kind of PD:
Here's how I implement PD in a (blank):
All the Ideas!!
How Creative Can We Get?? Here's a list to help spark your creativity:
While the preferred method of delivering PD is face-to-face with multiple staff members, this is another method that can prove beneficial. When implemented strategically, you can get that face-to-face time and promote collaboration between and among colleagues.
What would you like to try? What other create ideas can you share that get your teachers on the path of continued learning and improvement?!
And so you've made it to the end- that's all there is to it! If you've gone through the first three parts of this blog series, you know all there is to know about implementing collaborative studies!
This last post on the blog series is SUPER fun! This is where we get to think about all of the possibilities of topics and modes of delivery. The only problem is that the possibilities are actually ENDLESS!!
Have more ideas?! Share away and let us know how it goes! Together, our ideas are limitless. Any of the possibilities listed above can be combined, tweaked, stretched, and arranged in a way that makes the collaborative learning experience one that attendees LOVE and remember!
Before digging into "the one where invitations are sent", let me include a little anecdote to share how collaborative studies came about. When I began working as an instructional coach at a new district, I asked about PLCs and how they were implemented on each campus. The answer: PLCs were non-existent. My first thought in hearing this was, "Sweet! I can bring PLCs to life and implement them in the way they were originally intended." Of course, I wasn't considering that, in a year interrupted by COVID mitigations, nothing would be implemented as intended. In fact, grade levels of teachers didn't even share conference times, and even if they did, conference times were somewhat abbreviated and overridden with teachers' never-ending to-do lists. Pretty quickly I realized that PLCs would not be a happening thing for the time being. But I wasn't content with the idea of letting professional learning go by the wayside, even in a year where obstacles would be highly present. ENTER: Collaborative Studies!
Quite simply put, collaborative studies are a time for colleagues to meet, collaborate, and study a topic of particular interest. You can catch my interview with Allison Peterson in her New to Coaching group on Facebook here! These studies vary just a bit from traditional PLCs (as you'll see below). First, collaborative studies are completely optional. Yes, teachers are encouraged to attend, but are definitely not required. This is especially important if you are new to the district or new to the instructional coaching role and plan to implement collaborative studies. Second, collaborative studies are generally short in session length, but span over the course of three to four weeks. Finally, collaborative studies may or may not follow a specific framework, depending on the content being studied and the goal of the participants. Now, let's get to the nitty gritty of it all- the fun part- where invitations are created and sent!!
Get the word out!!
Setting the stage and building interest in collaborative studies is a MUST!! There is a series of steps that is crucial to follow in order to get the results you desire.
Come back soon for Part 2 of this series!!
Now that the word is out and your teachers know about and (hopefully, somewhat, kind of) understand the gist of collaborative studies, it will be time to send your first google form, as promised on the invitations!! Come back soon to see the next blogpost on getting teachers signed up for collaborative studies! Don't forget to get your free google templates before you wrap up this read and share your thoughts and comments below!!
If you're asking yourself (or the screen), "What are Wonder Walks??", then you definitely need to find out more by seeing my last blog post. It is there that I explain all of the logistics to Wonder Walks. So... click here... go read the post....
And now you might be asking, "And what does the debrief look like?"
Great question! Remember that the debriefing portion of the Wonder Walks is likely the most important part of the whole process, not only because it holds teachers accountable for their attention to instruction during the observation time, but also because it can encourage deep, thoughtful discussion about quality teaching. And HOPEFULLY great practices will be replicated across the campus. This is the best kind of professional development you could ask for: in-house, student-based, and actionable! So let's get to it:
3+3: Debriefing Wonder Walks
Three ways to gather teachers
Three Parts of a Debrief
Part 1: Setting Norms
When you begin your meeting, it will be important to set some norms with colleagues. This should be simple and brief so that you can move on to the "meat" of the meeting. Begin with the goal of the Wonder Walks. It might sound like this, "Remember that our goal from wonder walks was to peruse classrooms to glean wonderful instructional strategies and determine ways to replicate or modify these strategies across classrooms." After the goal has been restated, ask teachers what three or four things the group can agree to as you begin a deep dive into the data collected. Be sure teachers are stating only positive norms. For example, "We will share only positive statements", or "We will remain kind and respectful toward colleagues," or, "We will have an open mind..." Setting norms in this way can help build collective efficacy among staff.
Part 2: Deep Dive
And now it's time for the MEAT of the meeting!! There are so many ways that a team can go about diving into the data collected from Wonder Walks. Any of the instructional strategies from Jim Knight's The Instructional Playbook, or other strategy lists, can be used during this time. (If that's the case, your deep dive benefits teachers two-fold: a discussion on practices observed AND experience with modeled instructional strategies that can be used with students!) No matter the structure or format you choose, this time is spent allowing colleagues to converse and collaborate with partners or teams in an interactive and engaging way. The best way to get teachers to truly dig deep is to ask the right questions that keep them focused on INSTRUCTION. Those might sound something like this:
Part 3: Call to Action
While the Deep Dive is the heartiest piece of the meeting, the Call to Action is the most important piece. For it is here that teachers decide what it is they will add to (or take away from) their teaching practices. Just as you asked questions during the deep dive, you'll ask questions as you probe teachers to bring action to their thoughts and ideas. The questions suggested below stem from the work of Michael Bungay Stanier and promote growth both professionally and personally.
What does 3+3 equal??
Pure bliss??? Why, YES! That is, of course, IF YOU take the next steps to coach teachers to keep doing the great work. In order for the coaching to naturally take place, you'll want to know what teachers' are taking from the Call to Action. How could they jot their take-away ideas down in a way that is visible, not only to themselves, but also to you as an instructional leader? Perhaps you include a form that allows them to request support from an instructional leader before they even leave the meeting. In this case, get to the teachers that DO request support as soon as possible and begin some coaching conversations with them. For others that do not immediately request support, give a good portion of time for them to put some of their new ideas in place. Then make a point to check in with teachers, casually and individually, to see how their new practice has been going.
I can't wait to hear about how 3+3 equals pure bliss in your schools and classrooms! Reach out to share how you've found this to be effective!
Oh, the wonderful WONDER WALKS strategy! Chances are you've heard about something similar to this strategy. Several schools implement a tool called "Pineapple Charts" as informal PD between and among teachers. You can find out more about this method HERE! This method allows teachers to observe colleagues and gain ideas about specific teaching tools and strategies. "Wonder Walks" are similar in that teachers spend time observing and learning from other teachers. The difference is that they can go into any classroom, observe any content area, and are expected to walk away with something wonderful they noticed and something they are wondering about for their own instruction.
Here are the logistics to get "Wonder Walks" started:
And when the wonder walks are over?
Great question! You'll want to be sure that teachers hold on to the notes they take! This is likely the most important part of the whole process. After the open period of observations, you'll want to have teachers debrief as a whole. This is so important, not only because it holds teachers accountable for their attention to instruction during the observation time, but also because it can encourage deep, thoughtful discussion about quality teaching. And HOPEFULLY great practices will be replicated across the campus. This is the best kind of professional development you could ask for- in-house, student-based, and actionable! Wondering what the debrief looks like?? Be sure to check out next week's blog post to learn about 3+3 Debriefing AFTER Wonder Walks!
Did someone say "SMORES"?! Why, yes! But it's not what you might be thinking. When I first heard of this site, I was kind of confused about its purpose. Was it supposed to be a virtual campfire? A virtual kumbaya of sorts? A place to learn about outdoor activities? But Smore actually has nothing to do with any of the aforementioned categories. So what IS it and how can it be effectively used by educators or educational leaders?
To quote the website, "Smore makes it easy to design beautiful and effective online newsletters." What I love about that statement is that it is, first of all, true and second, it makes use of the word "effective". The words in the statement the website creators use to tell about their site were certainly carefully chosen. So, let's see how:
What to include...
Of course, absolutely anything can be included in your digital newsletter. Obviously, it depends on your audience and purpose. As an instructional coach, I send out a newsletter every two weeks to share about current school events, professional resources, and more. Here's what I usually include:
Check out the example beloW!
Share your digital newsletter designs! Let us know if you use Smore and what makes it easy, beautiful, and effective for you!
How to have a bang-up PD session- even on a whim!
Honestly, if you were to put into every professional development session what you would your best session with teachers, you’d be spending ALL of your time doing nothing but prepping for PD. As amazing as that would be, instructional coaches simply don’t have the time (or resources) to create bang up, incredible PD sessions every time BECAUSE sometimes, a PD session or event happens with very short notice or no notice at all. And then there are other times when you simply forgot about professional development you were leading (or it was unclear that you were, in fact, the one leading it). Yes, it’s a stressful situation to find yourself in. But thankfully, there is a way to be ready for professional development in a S*N*A*P!
"S" is for Structures
Have a handful of no-prep structures in mind. We all know that the BEST PD sessions are those that encourage active responses and conversations among participants. Thinking about how to make this happen to its maximum potential can take a lot of thought and planning. But having a variety of no-prep structures in mind can make this possible in any PD session. The most common (and simple) structure presenters use is a "Turn and Talk". While this is an easy go-to, there are several others that can provoke the depth of conversation and participation you so desire. Even better? These require NO PREP and can all be found on my TPT store
"N" is for Niche
Consider your niche. Think about how can you fit the PD topic on the agenda into your niche. Are you great at delivering mini lessons? Structure it as a mini lesson with a connection, teach point, active engagement, and link. Are you particularly talented in leading conversations? Make it a conversational session and provide talking points on the topic. Perhaps you love ice breakers and team-building activities. Incorporate these into your PD. Chair Tag, Count to Ten, or Edu-Charades are a few that come to mind. Is technology your jam?? Have some go-to tech tools with which you're familiar and enjoy using. After all, your participants most likely will all have devices on hand. Some easy and quick-to-use favorites are Mentimeter, Jamboard, and Padlet. Regardless of the topic for the PD session you're leading, find your niche and use it to your advantage.
"A" is for Analyzing Your Audience
Get in the mainframe of your audience and find ways to capture their attention with a matching narrative. We are all naturally drawn to stories and their metaphorical and analogical nature. When a presenter uses a story to match, in one way or another, our situations, we are more likely to engage in the presentation, be more receptive to the message, and hold on to the information for a longer period of time. But before you throw any old story out there, you first have to analyze your audience and the PD topic. My suggestion is to have a running list of personal stories (that may be yours or borrowed) on your handy-dandy phone. Sift through them and think about what story might make for a great analogy to the topic at hand.
Here's an example:
"P" is for Participants as Presenters
Make the teachers (or your audience) the presenters. I can't lie... this is something I turn to quite often, but what a great thing to turn to! Chances are that, a lot of the time, your audience can come up with so many great thoughts and ideas that you hadn't even considered in relation to your topic. Allow for opportunities for your audience to collaborate and then present their findings. In order for this to work well, you WILL need a broad agenda mapped out in your mind. This could be mapped out in the form of questions the audience will consider, talking points you want them to discuss, or action steps to take collaboratively. Using "structures", as mentioned above, can support this method of delivery as well. What's great about this method is that your audience will feel empowered as they take ownership of the material!
Next time you’re in a pinch for PD, try these suggestions so you’re ready for PD in a snap!
Welcome! I am Casey Watts- Collaborative Leader and Culture Changer!