Taking a Risk

Our school year has come to a close and I thought I would take some time to reflect on my first year as an instructional coach.  Last April when I considered stepping into this role, I felt very nervous and uncertain.  I loved being a classroom teacher.  My classroom was a safe and comfortable space for my students and me.  As somewhat of a quiet type, I don’t typically embrace risk-taking or being in the spotlight so the idea of doing a job that involved conducting whole staff professional development and coaching teachers was…intimidating.  If it hadn’t been for the friendly nudging of my friends and family, I may have passed this opportunity up.  And I definitely would have kicked myself for it later (thanks guys!).

This year has been just, well, great.  I have grown so much as a professional and educator.  I have had the opportunity to build great relationships with teachers throughout the building.  Maybe most importantly, I have learned how to flex my “risk-taking muscle” and step outside of my comfort zone.  My risk-taking muscle isn’t exactly huge now, but I know it’s there and I plan on flexing it more often. It’s not always easy, but it’s good for you.  It allows you to better serve yourself and those around you.

A piece of my reflection this year included creating a trailer and digital story using iMovie to summarize our work at Tollgate.  Check it out!  If you’re an instructional coach doing something similar will produce a product to help you reflect on and share the work involved in your role with others.  If you’re a teacher, you can use something like this as an end of year gift for students.  The following year you could use it as part of your back to school night to give parents an idea of what their children will experience in your classroom.  If you’re not really comfortable with “techie” projects like this, who cares!  I wasn’t either.  Take a risk.

As educators, it’s important to keep taking risks in order to grow as professionals.  What risks have you taken lately or are considering taking?

Creating a Professional Development Space

Wouldn’t it be nice if all schools had a designated space for teachers to gather together on a regular basis to learn and share ideas?  Where they could relax a bit, enjoy a cup of coffee, and consider how to improve their instruction?  I thought so too.  That’s why I really wanted to create a professional development space for teachers this year.

When I was in the classroom, creating an engaging and beautiful learning space was one of my favorite things to do.  I wanted it to be a place where students looked forward to coming to everyday and felt inspired to learn.  I used this same thinking when I set out to create our school’s professional development space. I know the current school year is coming to a close, but if you are able to create a professional development space for the next school year, here are some ideas to consider.

Don’t Go Crazy With Colors

Although it’s tempting to think the more colorful the better, it’s really not.  Too many loud colors can be distracting.  Keep it simple with one muted color on the walls and add a pop of color with borders or accent boards.

Plants and Lighting

I have one big plant in a bright green pot that sits by my desk and helps freshen the air.    I’ve also added different lighting around the room to create a more inviting space.

Work and Teaching Spaces

I chose round tables for workspace so teachers could easily collaborate and share ideas.  I added baskets on top with pens, highlighters, and sticky notes for teachers to use.

For teaching space, I have a small round table that I dressed up a bit with some fun fabric that holds my projector.  Having chart paper and markers on hand for recording agenda’s or impromptu notes from discussions is also important.

Materials Organization

It’s important to have a space to store any handouts and/or other materials you may need to support your professional development meetings.  For me, a few plastic bins from Target and a labeler make quick work of this organizational task!

 Teacher Ownership

Just as you would want students to feel ownership of their classroom, I wanted teachers to feel connected to our professional development space.  I made sure that teacher faces were seen in the room in different ways.

I made magnet name cards for each of the teachers that they use for the “check-in” questions we have in place at the start of each PD session

My colleague and I also thought it would be a great idea for teachers to make “A Bit About Me” cards. We used these for an opening activity for one of our PD sessions and then displayed them throughout the year. These gave teachers a way to learn something about others they may not have known before

Here are the question we used:

  • What is one of your passions?
  • What is a quirk of yours no one knows about?
  • What is your favorite book?

What Have We Been Working On?

It’s important that the work and learning of teachers is celebrated and displayed throughout the room.

A documentation panel I made to tell the story of our work connected to guided reading

Our work plan goal for the year

Supporting targets for the work plan goal

Continuum of reading proficiency levels

Displayed read-alouds to support student engagement. These along with the professional learning books to the left are all available for check-out

Our staff habits connected to the text, "Mindset" (seen below)

Café!

One of the best parts of our PD room is the mini coffee bar I set up.  We have professional development at the end of the day and teachers are often pretty drained.  It really helps to have a pot of fresh coffee and a few snacks waiting for them.  I also have a mini-fridge for storing small cans of soda and Emergen-C packs for those teachers who need a bit of a pick-up, but would rather not have caffeine.  Teachers have nicknamed this space “Houser’s Cafe.”

Add Some Humor!

Our science teacher made this for me and I just love it.  It is a good reminder of why we all come together every week!

And Don’t Forget…

A space for yourself.  Some instructional coaches have offices outside of their professional development space or they may not have an office at all!  If you are able to create an organized and comfortable workspace for yourself, definitely do!  I chose to put mine by the window for a little natural light and I only furnish it with what is really essential.  The last thing you want to do when you have a chance to sit down and think, is deal with a bunch of clutter!

A little extra inspiration from Coach John Wooden

There aren’t a ton of ideas out there for how to create a professional development space for teachers, so if you have any additional thinking to contribute, please let us know!

iPad for Instructional Coaches

I’m super lucky…over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to play around with one of our school’s 30 iPads.  As I started to work with it, I focused mainly on researching and testing out different apps and iBooks to support literacy instruction.  Then I began to wonder about how I might use it to support the work I do as an instructional coach…hmmm…

After a few Google searches, I found a wealth of information on how to use the iPad in the classroom.  There was very little information however (none really!) on how to use an iPad as an instructional coach.  OK, I thought, I’ll just figure it out on my own.  Well, this figuring out piece ended up taking much more time than I thought…but I thought I was on to something.  Up to this point, I had been doing my observations and debriefs with paper and pencil and keeping them all in a binder.  I like paper and pencil because it feels much less intrusive in a classroom than a laptop and it’s also what I’m used to, so I feel comfortable with it.  On the other hand, I really don’t like it.  I wasn’t doing a good job of making my notes accessible to teachers and my notes felt more like a jumbled mess than a solid record of our work together.

By using an iPad, I had the opportunity to not only improve my efficiency and effectiveness, but to also serve as a model for other teachers for how they might use an iPad.  So I persevered and finally came up with a functional system.  I’ve been test-driving my new system for the past few weeks and I like it…a lot.  In case you’re an instructional coach (or teacher) wondering how you might use an iPad to support your work, I hope the ideas below will save you some time in “figuring it out.”

Notes Plus

Notes Plus is $7.99. There are less expensive handwriting apps also available.

I knew that I didn’t want to use a big, bulky laptop to take notes when in a classroom observation, so my first task was to find an app that would support handwriting.  After some thorough review, I narrowed my choices down to “Notes Plus” and “Ghostwriter”  I tried using consumer reviews and information on each of their websites, but I couldn’t make up my mind…so I bought both.  The plus of Ghostwriter is that you can upload your notes to Evernote.  This is one plus however compared to the many pluses in my mind of Notes Plus (no pun intentended). With Notes Plus your handwriting feels super smooth and natural.   You can also easily organize your notes into “Coaching Notebooks.”

My coaching notebooks organized in Notes Plus

Once I’ve collected notes from a classroom observation, I upload them to Google Docs where I create a folder for each teacher I work with.  Without making any adjustments, you can upload your notes in a PDF format and add them to your teacher folders for later use.  I like to do some editing of my notes before I debrief with teachers however, and I prefer for these notes I share to be typed.  In comes the “convert handwriting to text” feature of Notes Plus.  Yes, it’s an extra $1.99, but it’s pretty cool and a feature I definitely use.   During the debrief, I can easily add information from our discussion to this existing document.  This is then housed in my teacher created folder, which I share with them.  In doing this, there is no need to email the teacher your notes (which I sometimes forget to do).  It also ensures that you both have an organized system for storing, accessing, and using information collected during the coaching cycle to support your work.

My teacher folders in Google Docs on my laptop

My handwritten notes using Notes Plus

My notes after converting to text

I also use Notes Plus to take notes during other school meetings.  I store these notes in a “School Notes” notebook. (see photo above)

One last cool feature of Notes Plus is that you can take pictures during a classroom visit or walkthrough and add it straight into your notes to refer to later!

GoDocs

GoDocs is $4.99

As an add-on to Google Docs, GoDocs allows you to quickly and neatly manage your Google Docs on your iPad.  You don’t need this, but GoDocs leverages the iPad interface making it easier to work with your Google Doc files.   I love how well organized my files appear and how quickly I can access my docs.

My teacher folders organized in GoDocs

Evernote

Evernote is free!

For keeping up with small chunks of information and taking more thorough notes, I turn to Evernote.  I have the Evernote app on my iPad, computer, and phone and it’s free!  I have one main “School Notebook” setup with different stacks, which allows me to organize my information more thoroughly than I can in Notes Plus.  While I still use Notes Plus as my primary teacher observation tool, I prefer Evernote for other teacher meetings, planning sessions, and jotting down quick ideas.

Evernote on my computer

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is free!

Awhile back I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and because I’m always looking for new ways to stay organized and on top of things, I was immediately hooked.  I tried out his system with a paper notebook, which worked for awhile.  Then I came across Wunderlist…love it!  You can sync it across all of your devices and it’s completely free.  When I’m out and about in the building and something pops into my head, I immediately pull out my iPad and record it.  When I meet with a teacher and we discuss any actionable next steps, I can create a list and share it with the teacher so that we both remain accountable.  My lists are pretty simple, but you can make them as specific as you want.  Everything in Wunderlist is considered an “actionable” item.  If something comes to mind that I don’t need to take action on right away, I store it away for later in Evernote to reflect on when I have more time. 

Wunderlist on my iPad

Diggo

Diggo is free!

Last, but not least, I would recommend adding Diggo to your collection of tools.  An easy way to think about Diggo is that it’s a smart bookmarking tool.  It allows you to highlight information on a certain web page and add personal notes.  You can the share these notes and highlights with others.  With the Diggo iPad app, you can quickly pull up your organized bookmarks to refer to when meeting with teachers.

 

 

 

Although the apps and ideas described above have worked for me, you may find an iPad system that works even better for you!  Please feel free to share how you have used the iPad to support the work you do as an instructional coach or teacher.