A Pinch, a Dash and a Smidgen ~ Blending 21st Century Skills with Proven Practices

I tend to be a simple cook.  Generally, I make what I am familiar with, either from what I grew up eating or what I figured out how to make when I first lived on my own.  I attempt to branch out but it takes extra time, focus and effort and life can feel too busy to try and find new ingredients at the store or to figure out if a cooking gadget I have will work instead of the fancy gadget the recipe says to use but I don’t own. I do try to mix it up though because it is boring to eat the same things over and over.  Last week, I tried a new recipe. It always feels a bit overwhelming at first yet the anticipation of having something new is exciting – for me and my family.  Once the meal is on the table, the dinner conversation tends to revolve around me giving disclaimers to my family (If it’s terrible, we can pop that frozen pizza in!).  We all eat the first few bites thoughtfully and talk about what we are tasting.  I reflect throughout the meal about what I will do differently next time while my husband and kids reassure me that it is good and that they really do like it.  Then, if it was actually good, I fine tune the recipe the next time I make it and as I make it more often, it becomes easier each time.  Eventually, the recipe is not in front of me but instead, a part of what I know.   

In reality, I already know how to do the most important parts of every new recipe, the basic cooking steps, it is just getting comfortable with the new ingredients, sequence or cooking style. I have also realized that each time I ventured out of my cooking comfort zone, I become more comfortable. This process and awareness of learning applies to how 21st Century skills can enrich prior teaching practices. The basic skills educators have gained throughout their careers do not become null and void just because there are new skills to fine tune and try out with. As a coach, I hope to inspire who I am working with to add a pinch of this, a dash of that and a smidgen of something new until they are using these skills more naturally in how they approach teaching.  Shifting one’s educational philosophy and pedagogy is not about changing everything at once but to instead mix new ways of thinking in to find the right teaching recipe that works for the them and the learners they are working with, which remains a tried and true pedagogical practice just with a 21st Century perspective thoughtfully added. This leads me to my question, how do 21st century skills influence the changing criteria for effective learning and technology integration? 

(Let’s look more closely with the idea of a recipe in mind)

21st Century Skills and 21st Century Learning 

(These are the basic cooking steps that we don’t have to relearn with every new recipe but are reimagined in a new way when new ingredients are added!) 

Educators have always had to keep up with the changing landscape of the world that they and their students interact with and live in. When thinking about how 21st Century Skills influence effective learning environments and pedagogical approach, there seems to be the theme of focusing on an updated process of learning rather than just the outcome of facts, data and what students know or do not know through summative assessments.  The National Education Association (NEA) goes beyond just the skills and talks about the elements of 21st Century Learning as: 

  • Emphasize core subjects 
  • Emphasize learning skills 
  • Use 21st century tools to develop learning skills 
  • Teach and learn in a 21st century context 
  • Teach and learn new 21st century content 
  • Use 21st century assessments that measure core subjects and 21st century skills 

I appreciate the distinction NEA has made between 21st Century Skills (often talked about as the 4 C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) and 21st Century Learning which encompasses the 4 C’s but also includes the elements listed above to reflect the technology, learning environment and content/context changes that connect past and present approaches. 

Learning Progressions 

(This is the time where you learn a new sequence of steps to blend with your prior knowledge of cooking that is required for your new recipe!)

In the article, Learning Progressions: Road Maps for 21st-Century Students—and Teachers, we are reminded that the pedagogical shift of 21st Century is about the progression of learning.  “…The focus should be on Learning progressions—the journeys that students take as they move toward mastering skills in specific areas or disciplines—rather than on outcomes in the form of scores on standardized tests “(Kim, H. & Scoular C., 2017).  Kim and Scoular focus on the idea of moving learners from novices to experts and that learning progressions emphasize how students move through the learning of the core subjects. 

“Tried-and-true progressions exist for those subjects [literacy, science numeracy], and we know they work. We can thus use this established approach to benefit our understanding of more complex skills—not just of the skills themselves, but also of how students demonstrate them at various levels.”  

(Kim, H. & Scoular C., 2017)

Building a Bridge Together 

(This is the part of the recipe where you are taking a risk and trying out the new and some unfamiliar ingredients, steps and/or cooking style to see how this influences the meal in a new and exciting way!) 

In the book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Foltos reminds us that, “Educators and the Peer Coaches that work with them find it easy to talk about 21st-century skills but much more difficult to turn abstract ideas like critical thinking, analyzing and synthesizing information, transference, information literacy, and creativity into practical classroom learning activities.”  This is where coaches and educators benefit from strong collaboration and take the learning activities they are already familiar with and reimagine them by tweaking the process and end result to be more student centered and fine tune what they already have instead of reinventing the wheel.  Using a process such as the Learning Design Matrix (Peer Coaching, 2018) below can help to inspire rethinking and focus on the teaching, learning environment and desired outcome. 

21st Century Pedagogy  

(This is the part of the recipe that once everything is mixed in and cooked, you must finalize the meal with the last critical step – putting it on the plate.) 

While thinking about bridging the old with the new, it is important to realize how intertwined the new and old ideas, philosophies and approaches already are. It benefits all stakeholders to remember that focusing on teaching styles, learner centered instruction and 21st Century ways to showcase deeper learning is key to not becoming overwhelmed with thinking everything around education is new. Like always, each aspect relies on the other. Much like how basic salt and pepper, turning on the stove and trying out new recipes and tools enhances our basic ability to cook and better feed ourselves and each other.  

Below is an example of a new pedagogical approach: 

Context matters, and the diagram from edorigami captures this, though not from the perspective of the student and content knowledge, but the teacher and various pedagogical components themselves, including Higher-Order Thinking SkillsPeer Collaboration, and Media Fluency. (TeachThought Staff, 2018)

And finally… 

I thought this was an interesting way of thinking about past versus present – this was not how every classroom always was in the past or how it currently is for every classroom  in the present but elements of each ring true and what an exciting time this is for education and the changing landscape within and outside of the classroom. The powerful connection between school and real life…considering school is real life and learning forever embedded in the lives of the generations we are teaching today – 21st Century and beyond.  

Follow this link to see page 2 of the document: http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/20th-vs-21st-century-classroom.html

Resources: 

21st Century Schools. 20th Century Classroom vs. the 21st Century Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/20th-vs-21st-century-classroom.html.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin. 

Kim, H. & Scoular C. (April 24,2017). Learning Progressions: Road Maps for 21st-Century Students—and Teachers. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/learning_progressions_for_students_and_teachers# 

McAlpin, Renee. (2017) Brookings Institute. Skills for a changing world: The global movement to prepare students for the 21st century. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2017/04/24/skills-for-a-changing-world-the-global-movement-to-prepare-students-for-the-21st-century/ 

National Education Association. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/34888.htm 

Peer Coaching. (2018). Learning Design Matrix.  

The Coaching Relationship ~ The Many Layers of Building Trust through Communication and Collaboration

  • ISTE-Coaching:
    • Standard 1: Visionary Leadershipd. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms
    • Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessmentf. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

Through researching and conversations with my SPU Digital Education Leadership cohort, I have found myself continually wondering how to best communicate and collaborate when starting a coaching relationship while still connecting in a way that felt organic versus clinical or predetermined.  In my own experience, why do I sometimes accept clarifying, probing and paraphrasing communication as a positive communication strategy with some people (coaches, other teachers, admin/leadership positions) yet with others I feel it is predetermined and just a sequence of steps they are applying to our conversation?  This led me to my question, What are best practices for starting to use probing and clarifying questions when you first start coaching someone and how do probing and clarifying questions strengthen trust with who you are coaching?

The most obvious answer is trust. When I am collaborating and communicating in a trusted relationship, I can let down my guard, be vulnerable and break away from my own initial thoughts or usual tendencies. But how do we gain that trust? In a coaching role, active listening inspires educators to feel truly heard through communication which is a crucial building block for trust and sets the stage for the other foundational block, compassion (I hear you, not a predetermined agenda) and commitment (I hear what you need and commit to those needs/desires/hopes first and foremost)

Peer-Ed (2018)

In the graphic above from Center for Creative Leadership, each active listening skill reinforces being heard before diving into deeper thinking. When I reflect on these skills from the perspective of being coached, I would say #6 – be attuned to and reflect feelings, #1 – be attentive and #5 – paraphrase are the skills that strengthen my relationship with the coach and results in be being more available to be coached. 

The article, Getting Better Results Through Authentically Curious Leadership, touches on how our subconscious wants to connect immediately with our past experiences which means we draw conclusions and make judgments quickly (Garrison, 2018). To be authentically curious, Garrison tells us about 3 techniques that can apply to the coaching relationship to create a fresh perspective that is ready to be built with the coaching partnership. The three techniques he describes are:

Assume a Blank Canvas: The goal is to allow the other person to “fill in” this canvas with their words, emotions and meaning. Rather than responding with phrases like, “Don’t you think … ?” (a thin disguise for trying to convince someone of their point of view), authentically curious leaders listen deeply and ask clarifying questions that begin with phrases like, “Can you tell me more about … ?” or “How do you see … ?” This allows for additional clarity and perhaps new insights. When the authentically curious leader does make a point, they invite challenges or conflicting views in a respectful and authentic manner.

Prepare For The Unexpected: The brain sees data that supports its model of the world, but this model also inhibits our ability to consider other unexpected points of view. The brain must be trained to consider all the data, especially that which does not support our current beliefs. 

Make Decisions Using Common Criteria: When a group is working to address a problem or make a decision, the authentically curious leader doesn’t debate alternatives. Instead, the leader solicits answers to the question, “How will we know a great decision when we see it?” Note that the question is not, “What’s a great outcome?” When a group can agree on common criteria for a great decision, then each member is free to explore alternatives with certainty of how each will be evaluated.

(Garrison, 2018)

Through building trust with thoughtful communication skills and coming to the table with no solution already determined, only then can collaboration occur.  Les Foltos describes in his book, Peer Coaching, Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, the importance of inquiry over advocacy.

When is the right time for advocacy? How often can [coaches] present their solutions? As I noted in earlier chapters, successful coaches feel that a little advocacy works, but only after a strong coaching relationship based on inquiry is formed. Too much advocacy, they observed, means the coach becomes the expert with the answer. Garmston and Wellman (1999) argue it is important for successful collaboration to balance advocacy and inquiry. Effective Peer Coaches emphasize inquiry over advocacy. Too much advocacy can produce learned helplessness. Inquiry builds capacity to improve teaching and learning by helping teachers to be more effective at designing and implementing learning activities that meet the needs of their students.

(Foltos, 2013)

Once a coaching relationship has been built on trust and communication skills that bring out inquiry based conversations, coaches can begin to know how to best deepen the thinking of who is being coached.  In order to achieve what Foltos and Garrison are speaking about, coaches need to understand that the questions they ask and how they ask them are critical to the relationship, especially in the beginning. In the article, The Questions Good Coaches Ask by Amy Jen Su, she reminds us that…”Asking the right coaching questions means the difference between a one-way interrogation and a dynamic learning session. Good coaching questions give someone who’s busy and competent the space in which to step back and examine herself. The right question can stop her in her tracks as she finally sees her own actions from a different perspective or envisions a new solution to an old problem. She may indeed learn to question herself so that next time she can catch herself in the act and change her actions in the moment. (2014). Once a coach has achieved showing authentic curiosity and an inquiring approach by asking opened questions and paraphrasing, they can then move into clarifying and probing questions resulting in the communication and collaboration as a dynamic partnership…and if advocacy comes into play, when it seems appropriate, it will be from all perspectives, not just the coaches. A true collaborative approach.

 Philipp Schneider (2013) Balanced Action. Sketchnote: Coaching Essentials.

Resources:

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

Garrison, David W. (2018).  Forbes. Getting Better Results Through Authentically Curious Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/10/18/getting-better-results-with-authentically-curious-leadership/#7de6ef971cfc

Jen Su, Amy. (2014). Harvard Business Review. The Questions Good Coaches Ask. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/12/the-questions-good-coaches-ask

Schneider, Philipp. (2013) Balanced Action. Sketchnote: Coaching Essentials. Retrieved from

Coaching All: Thinking about the whole school community – educators, parents and caregivers.

ISTE-C Standard 1: Visionary Leadership 

d. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms 

My question: What are best practices for establishing trust with teachers and families at our school and guiding our school community towards a positive digital education perspective.  (versus just telling them the positive ways students can use digital tools in the classroom) 

Gaining the trust of the whole school community to implement educational technology in classrooms is tricky because there are many preconceived notions around screen time and a variety of perspectives and backgrounds that everyone (teachers, parents, caregivers) comes to the table with. As I prepare to lead a Digital Education Presentation for the PTA at my school, I have been looking at the ISTE Coaching Standard 1, Visionary Leadership, and more specifically the ISTE Coaching Standard 1d – Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms to better prepare for this presentation by using a coaching mindset to find best practices for gaining this invaluable trust.  

When it comes to the whole school community, there are 3 main takeaways from my research that I believe will help to alleviate some of the fear or nervousness around using digital education in the classroom. In the article, Engaging Families as Learning Partners Using Digital Tools by Matthew Lynch, there is a breakdown of how to teach families what it means to use technology in the classroom.  These same suggestions apply to fellow teachers, as well. He has 5 suggestions to engage families but the first 3 are what I am focusing on to first build the trust needed for support of digital education implementation. The first suggestion that Lynch makes is to Teach the Parents How to Use the Digital Tool.  If we take the time to give families hands on experiences with the tools and platforms students are learning, they are more likely to see the active role students have in their learning when engaged with digital tools. If teachers take on a coaching role with parents (and invite other teachers to join in on this as learners) then it moves away from the teacher trying to solely make a case for why educational technology is great and instead puts the experience directly in the hands of the adults to see for themselves.  This is more likely to shift perspective because it is a hands on experience for them versus a lecture trying to convince them.     

The second suggestion Lynch makes is to Explain the Importance of Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship. Students are growing up in a digital age and there is no getting around that. Coming at this reality with a digital citizenship focus in order to better teach how to manage our online and offline lives helps families to see that we have the chance to teach mindfulness and awareness of navigating the digital world AND how we can influence the use of digital tools as a way to enhance learning versus passive consumption.  When a student learns how to create their own digital portfolio highlighting their learning, this is powerful and stays with them as they move through their K-12 education and beyond.  

A third suggestion from Lynch is Using Digital Tools for Communication.  Highlighting the way digital tools and platforms can strengthen home to school connections and making these connections personal and meaningful for parents and students helps teachers to build strong relationships with families. Megan Ryder writes about the importance of not just building relationships with others but also maintaining them in her blog post, Strategies for Building Relationships as an Instructional Coach.  Though she is talking specifically about relationships with staff, this is crucial for families, as well. Communication is what maintains relationships so using easy platforms to keep communication alive, relevant, timely and positive can slowly shift negative perspectives of using digital education in the classroom when parents see a benefit for themselves, as well as for their child. 

Through all of this, there will be hiccups, missteps, technology that doesn’t work like you hoped and a learning curve for how to find and use the best digital education tools and platforms in your school and classroom. Two of my favorite suggestions for building trust with those you are coaching (whole school community) was from Ashley Paschal, 5 ways to Build a Trusting Coaching Relationship.  She speaks to the importance of listening without judgment and to laugh.  Parents and other educators are looking to coaches to feel safe in how the uneasiness they may feel about the fast paced and always changing digital education world.  My own perspective has shifted immensely since staring the SPU Digital Education Leadership program but that has taken a lot of research, conversation, patience and time.  Remembering to accept where parents and educators are at in their journey with digital education and truly listening without judgement to understand where they are at in their journey (and WHY!) is the only way to start forging a pathway of trust that can enable you to guide towards a shift in perspective.  

Here is a great resource from Common Sense Media to start engaging your community! Learn how to make parents and caregivers an integral part of your digital citizenship program 

Resources: 

Cogswell, Ben. (July 11, 2018) Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/engage-your-community-with-parent-digital-citizenship-academies 

Lynch, Matthew. (Feb. 8, 2019). The Tech Advocate. Retrieved from Engaging Families as Learning Partners Using Digital Tools.  

Paschal, Ashley. (Fed. 28, 2018). Education Elements. Retrieved from 5 Ways to Build a Trusting Coaching Relationship. 

Ryder, Megan. (May 8, 2017). TeachBoost. Retrieved from Strategies for Building Relationships as an Instructional Coach.