Thursday, March 21, 2019

Work With an Instructional Coach? Whoa...Talk About Vulnerability!

It was my seventh year teaching, but my first year as a second grade teacher.  To me,
this was just like being a brand new teacher. I was teaching in a very low socioeconomic
building in the District and the sense of urgency for me to give students a rich learning
experience was extremely high.  I had every bit of confidence that I could rise to the
occasion, but I was also realistic enough to know that if I wanted to meet the level of
expectation I set for myself, I would need to learn a whole lot more and have support in
doing so.  

I remember my first “coaching cycle” was with my literacy coach.  New to second grade,
it first real experience in teaching phonics.  I wanted support with connecting the little
understanding I had around phonics instruction and the scope and sequence within the
resource we had at the time.  I asked her questions and she asked me questions. Both
of us realizing we didn’t have all the answers, but together we would figure it out. We
looked at the resource, planned, co-taught, and through the gradual release model, she
eventually stepped back to let me do my thing.  The best part is, even though this little bird
was flying on her own, I knew that my coach was always there to be a thinking partner
with me along the way. I knew I was never truly alone in my work.
Fast forward eight years...on the other side of this story as an elementary instructional
coach. What I’ve learned is coaching and creating a culture of coaching in a school relies
heavily on relationships, trust, honesty, and a whole lot of vulnerability.  Vulnerability...very
tricky and truthfully, quite challenging.

As a coach, I have worked with teachers who don’t seem to be nervous about showing
vulnerability. They have been eager to learn as much as they possibly can for their
students. I have also been able to witness other colleagues who appear to be protecting
themselves from vulnerability. Perhaps our need to seem confident, skillful, and in control
prevents us from taking risks. In fact, Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor who has
spent two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy says, “You can’t
get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”  

The question then becomes, how can we ask our students to be vulnerable if we aren’t
modeling it ourselves? I have always been an honest person (perhaps too honest at
times). I modeled honesty and vulnerability with my students. Without a doubt, there are
limits; as educators, in the classroom we can not overshare, and we need to be sensitive
to the personal experiences of our students and colleagues. But, it is not beyond our
capability to be courageous and take risks.  The same is true in the context of being a
lifelong learner. It takes courage and vulnerability to reach out and say, “I need to learn
more about this and I think I need support in doing so.” In her Ted Talk,
Listening to Shame, Brown shares, “Vulnerability is not weakness.  It is our most accurate
measure of courage.”

Education is a very difficult profession.  The demands to deliver high quality instruction
using research based best practices, understand the continuum of learning, be diagnostic
for our students across all content areas, and so much more are simply daunting.  The
bottom line...we need each other. We need a culture of coaching. We need to know and
understand that we do not have to go it alone. The urgency is too great and the
responsibility is too high.

Twitter Tuesday Questions:
Q1:  How can you embrace vulnerability within yourself?
Q2:  How are you authentic and vulnerable with your students? Colleagues?
Q3:  What are some ways you’ve modeled vulnerability with your students?
Q4:  What are some ways you’ve been vulnerable with your colleagues or instructional
Q5:  Think about a time when you noticed someone showing vulnerability. How did you
feel during that situation? To what extent do you view them as brave or courageous?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Do I have to???.....................Yes, you get to! Student Engagement

Teachers wonder why students are not engaged, not participating, and not interested.  Why do I have to know this? How is this important to me? Two questions heard so often from students.

We try to get them to see that it is important. We spend time trying to find connections, things they can relate to, and ways to peak their curiosity.

Personally, I have spent the last three months specifically looking at hooking my students. When it comes to writing, we teach students that our introduction needs to grab the reader’s attention. We want to hook the reader into reading the story. The first couple sentences, works to grab the reader’s attention. So I have made it a personal goal to take those first few minutes of class, my introduction, to hook my students into learning. I want them to be as excited and as interested in the content as me. And I know that science is not for everyone, but we encounter science and live in science all the time.  I deeply believe that students should understand that science affects them daily. I strive to bring real world connections to my students all the time. Even with a connection, I still feel like I have my work cut out for me. Just making a connection doesn’t do it for everyone. I try to get their brain thinking, once their curiosity peaks, then I have them hooked!

A few units ago we were learning about Mitosis. We watched a video in class called “The Unknown World” which helped build awareness and allowed students to start making connections. The next class while still learning about mitosis, I posted this statement on the board:

I had a visual representation of what this statement looked like (bags of sugar).

That student that is usually completely disengaged, had his eyes glued and was in aww of the amount of skin cells being lost. His response was, “gross, where does that go?” Another student said, “Which part of our body do you think we lose most of our skin cells?” Another said, “dead skin cells make up dust, EWWW!?!” And another said, “I get it! If we lose all these cells you want us to connect Mitosis because it is the process to reproduce, replace and repair.”  YES, YES, YES! We are making connections, we are asking relevant questions, and we are thinking. Mission accomplished, hooked!

Dave Burgess is popular for his book, Teach Like a PIRATE. It offers inspiration, practical techniques, and innovative ideas that will help teachers to increase student engagement and boost creativity. Dave believes engagement hooks are powerful and success is based on your willingness to relentlessly search for what engages students in the classroom and then having the guts to do it. The following link has a poster of the Pirate Hooks used by Dave.

I have read many articles and there seems to be many things that disengage students; factors we can control and factors that we can’t control. We are not miracle workers but we do what we can. We give those kiddos every opportunity they can to be successful.  We try to help them overcome those barriers and provide rich inquisitive learning opportunities.

Twitter Chat Questions Tuesday, March 12th:

Q1: What factors prevent your students from engaging during class?
Q2: How do you involve all your students?
Q3: Name a strategy that you have found useful in helping increase student
Q4: What kinds of ideas have you used to hook your students?