Digital learning coaching kept me busy. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that last spring all educators learned the importance of blended learning. Regardless of whether it is about the integration of the tools or the actual best practice pedagogy, digital learning trainers for schools and districts are more important than ever. Kentucky’s Digital Learning Coaches had their first official conference (virtual of course) last month. Thanks to Laura RaganasOrganizing last school year was the start of a new cohort opportunity for us to meet and learn in person and through our hashtag #KYDLC. Under the generous sponsorship of KET educationConference attendees received a fantastic package:
– Adam Watson (@watsonedtech) June 10, 2020
One of the books in the box and the first one I grabbed to read it cover to cover was Catlin R. Tucker‘s Power Up Blended Learning: A professional learning infrastructure to support sustainable change. (Tucker also provided a virtual keynote address for our KYDLC conference.) I was particularly impressed with the “Sustainable Change” part, as this is the hardest part. Even if you prioritize the budget to get 1: 1 student devices, transforming teaching with technology is a legacy mindset that cannot be achieved in a “one and do” summer PD. In a broader sense, the book is an excellent guide for a person who has yet to grow into the role of a digital learning coach (or in the parlance of Tucker, a “blended learning coach”), and I join that category!
Here are some of my personal key features and highlights from Tucker’s book:
- Start with the why. Tucker is actually referring to Simon Sinek and his “Golden Circle” here, but their connection to integrating technology for lasting change is important: “When leaders are clear about theirs Why“Teachers are more likely to buy and take risks” (3, author’s italics). Then why should you drive How (How do you achieve your why?) And ultimately yours What (What do you produce?). I’ve been guilty of teaching technology from the opposite direction in the past: I started with this What Then a tool did How to use it, and if I was lucky, glossed over it Why The use of the tool was primarily important. This may work for a superficial PD someday, but is not effective for permanent, sustained technical integration that should match the educational beliefs of your school or district. To paraphrase Sinek: If the digital tool does not serve the “purpose of an organization”, one should reconsider its use. Why does your district or school belief need blended learning at all? Answer that, and the right tools and digital platforms should of course follow suit.
- Explain, see, discuss, try. While Tucker describes this as a “simple approach to professional learning” (36), I would argue that what seems simple and obvious is not always what PD moderators follow. Not surprisingly, “explaining” begins with why a teacher would want to use a particular strategy or tool in the first place. Next, you need to model its usage to make the summary concrete. Teachers (like all learners) then need to talk about it to reflect on how the tool or strategy can be applied to their own classrooms and modify their pre-lesson / PD scheme by making meaningful, relevant connections. After all, knowing without application is an empty exercise: teachers have to try the tool / strategy for themselves. This can occur live at the end of the PD (e.g. when creating your own PD) Screencastify Video after learning the tool) but ideally it would be later with actual students in an actual lesson when a coach or colleague could observe and / or analyze data and then provide feedback.
- Effective coaching for blended learning must be individualized, intensive, sustainable, context-specific and focused. Tucker goes into great detail on each of these points (45-47), but I particularly want to highlight how she recognizes that a “kickoff” PD in a group setting is pragmatic a likely beginning of the coaching process. It’s what happens after kick-off that makes the difference: “The blended learning trainer has to Take the spark created throughout group training or on the professional development day of all employees and keep it alive with individual, intensive, contextual and focused professional learning “(47, my italics). You need a spark to light a campfire, but you need constant lighting and taking care of the flame to keep it going. No matter how charismatic or inspiring the summer PD presenter may be, it takes months and years to take a boots on the ground approach with coaches to be professional Learning to design meaningfully and sensibly Long-lasting.
- Coaching has to be a partnership. Tucker highlights Jim Knight’s “seven partnership principles”: equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, practice (application), and reciprocity (trainers must also be willing to learn!) (68-69). I have to say that I probably underestimated some of the dialogue necessary for good coaching relationships, especially at the beginning of the coaching cycles. Tucker does a great job detailing the “power of dialogical interviews” and even provides a useful downloadable template for the process (58-59).
- When a coach introduces a blended learning model, your learning purpose should be considered. A blended learning coach may be asked, for the benefit of a whole group or one-on-one, to create a lesson that emphasizes a Blended learning model (Station rotation, mirrored, etc.). However, Tucker offers some simple but very insightful questions that trainers should ask themselves (111):
- Can I highlight a slightly different approach that will encourage teachers to broaden their approach?
- Can I use technology to encourage collaboration and get kids to collaborate?
- Do my activities feel like work or leisure? (This could be my favorite!)
- Will children be excited to engage with the concepts and with each other?
- Virtual coaching works differently than personal coaching. While this may seem obvious, I appreciate that Tucker is offering her entire Chapter 11 to address this issue. Given the uncertainty that awaits us in the coming school year, this chapter alone makes the book invaluable!
When I wrap up my entry on Blended Learning Professional Development, I should mention that Monica Wainscott (Beechwood Independent), Stella Pollard (Franklin County) and I recently shared some perspectives and resources on what student selection and personalization can be like in a post-NTI world at a KyGoDigital virtual conference. (In Shelby and in many districts of the state, we emphasize that, thanks to the planning and reflection time, the combined learning opportunities for students in the fall should look different than the “emergency” distance teachers that had to be managed last spring.) As digital learning coaches / Coordinators, we have been happy to demonstrate our role in supporting our districts at the educational frontier that lies ahead. Our half hour session is shortly after the keynote of day 2 (approx. 1 hour 6 minutes) and ours You can find slides here::
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