Hey Fellow Educators!! You don't want to miss this episode all about four major collaboration killers and three mindsets you can take on to combat them! In this episode, I talk with Aimee Gilbert and Valerie Ayers, two instructional coaches from across the nation about what kills collaboration. They share their experiences with collaboration and we dive deep into the work of what makes the most impact when trying to build a culture of collaboration!
Catch the episode HERE!
You can read Valerie's blogpost about these on her website, On Deck Teaching.
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?!
Time for planning to begin... but how?!
So you've heard about "Collaborative Studies" (or maybe you haven't and you need to visit this link to find out more)! Now you're wondering about the practical steps it takes to actually plan one! Let me take you behind the scenes of how I plan my first collaborative study! In this episode you'll learn about why you need to build a culture of collaboration, what is a collaborative study, and how to begin planning collaborative studies with a calendar!
Need to register for the Simply Coaching Summit? There is still time! Follow the link to register and you'll have access to the content until October!
I also reference a blogpost from Stephanie Affinito of The Coaching Sketchnote Book! She has some great information on hosting "Pd in a Blank" and I plan on using it at the beginning of each collaborative study this year!
Have a watch or listen ?? and comment below!
More of a podcast Person? Check out the podcast here!
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!
You're Here to learn more?!
Or perhaps you're here for the first time! If that's the case, hop on over to the first post in this blog series all about Collaborative Studies and how to introduce them to teachers. THEN, read on in this post, PART TWO, to learn about what it looks like to get teachers signed up!
Of the four parts to this blog series, this is quite possibly the easiest and least complex piece. Now, it's important to state here that following the first steps that are listed in this blog series is extremely important. Once you have done so, and have gotten the word out about collaborative studies, it's time to settle down and plan your collaborative study events! This can be done many different ways. You may decide to host collaborative studies monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly and pre-plan the topics across the year. You also may choose to host collaborative studies sporadically based on patterns noticed across the classroom. To make this decision, think about the culture and climate of your school, the initiatives of administration, and the current teacher workload. No matter the case, be sure your teachers know what to look forward to as the year goes on. *Side note: My first time implementing collaborative studies, I decided to host them monthly. It did have its benefits, but I suggest hosting them bimonthly or quarterly so that you might illicit better teacher turn out.*
How to Get Teachers Signed Up for the First Event
You now have a broad plan for the year, you know your first topic of study (more on this in a future blog post!), and now you're ready to get teachers signed up! This will require you to take a step on the bridge of vulnerability. You're essentially giving teachers power to say "yes" or "no" to what you are proposing. And, let's face it, a "NO" kind of hurts, even if you've vowed to yourself not to take it personally! This is how a carefully written sign up form can be super helpful to both you and the teachers completing the form. So let's visit the secrets to building the form and then we'll jump into the logistics of getting it out to teachers and, more importantly, completed and submitted!
Secrets to Building the Form
The easiest way to get teachers signed up is by sending out a Google Form. You can also use Sign Up Genius, but I find that Google Forms are much more user friendly and can easily be customized. And, of course, I have a great form template ready for you to download. Simply scroll down to get your copy!
You'll notice in the template that there is space for all the details of your collaborative study and topic of choice. These details are much like a session description you might find on any conference pamphlet. Make it as enticing and intriguing as possible and cater to the unique personality of your campus. This should be what teachers see first on the form. Whether they are interested or not, I request that all teachers complete the form. Therefore, they will include their name, email address, and grade level (if needed).
The next part is where you can allow them to "let you down easy" and also can give you a ton of great information about where the teachers are in relation to the content being studied. Include only positively stated options for involvement. Not only does this ease the pain of the "no's" for you as the host, but it also encourages a positive attitude toward collaborative studies, even if the teacher chooses not to participate.
Here are possible participation options to include:
Logistics of Getting Forms Completed and Submitted
Got the form done?! Ready to hit "send"?? HOLD ON!!! First and foremost, have a dear friend or colleagues proof read it. And then let your administrator know that you're going to send it out. If you're not completely comfortable with sending it out, or you believe it will have more weight coming from an administrator, you could ask them to send it on your behalf. Ideally, you'd want it to come directly from you. The best option, if you're using Google, is to email it using the option through Google Forms. This will allow you to see who has responded and who has yet to respond.
You won't simply email the form and await responses. The primary way to gain the most responses is by visiting teachers or striking conversation about it in passing: "Hey, have you seen the email about the upcoming collaborative study? Be sure to respond soon. I can't wait to find a way for us to partner and learn together!" Another way to gain responses is by including information about the collaborative study and the form you're expecting them to complete in multiple formats and outlets. If you send a weekly newsletter, include the Google Form link or QR code on the newsletter. Post a few flyers at various locations throughout the school (perhaps the bathroom- as was the case for this flyer!).
These collaborative studies are meant to be more casual than formal and are optional. Make it enticing, relevant, and professional, but never underestimate the power of FUN! As you are marketing this idea of collaborative studies, show your enthusiasm and interest in the things that are on the teachers' minds and seek out their expertise.
After all, to collaborate is to partner with others in the quest to better ourselves collectively for the sole purpose of supporting the broader audience: our students.
Until next time, when we dig into WHAT to do when teachers attend the collaborative studies, grab this free Google Form template and get your teachers signed up!
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!!
Welcome! I am Casey Watts- Collaborative Leader and Culture Changer!