How Culture Creates Room for Coaching and Collaboration (or… Culture – it’s what’s for breakfast!)

ISTE-Coaching Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 

f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences 

Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth 

b. Engage in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management, and adult learning to improve professional practice 

c. Regularly evaluate and reflect on their professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology-enhanced learning experiences

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. To be clear he didn’t mean that strategy was unimportant – rather that a powerful and empowering culture was a surer route to organisational success. ~Ross Bernard

While learning about and researching the ISTE Coaching Standards and how to be an effective and meaningful coach throughout this quarter, building trust and authentic relationships with teachers around student learning and educational practices has been at the forefront.  Drawing on my own personal experience as an educator, I realize every day that there is more to learn, do and adjust as a teacher when striving to keep student learning and success moving. Yet, I must admit, I know that for myself and fellow teachers I work with, there is a twinge of uneasiness and uncomfortable vulnerability if assigned a coach. Reflecting on my own knee-jerk reaction, I have come to realize that this is because coaching is not currently the norm within the overall education setting. When it is present, coaching tends to focus on new teachers or teachers whose evaluation marks are low. (Please note that this is my opinion and experience, and I do not believe everyone feels this way and it is not viewed like this at all schools, thank goodness!) When this is the current culture around coaching, educators see coaching as someone trying to fix them rather than an opportunity for authentic growth, collaboration and student-centered reflection – something everyone in the education field would benefit being a part of – from principals to teachers to specialists to instructional assistants, etc. 

In the article, The Instructional Coach: A Springboard, Not a Scarlet Letter, Jensen writes, “…how can schools pull back the curtain on teaching and turn it into a team sport, complete with a coach for every teacher?” In order to pull back the curtain, Jensen suggests 4 ways that schools, especially leaders and coaches within our education system, can help educators feel more comfortable with coaching. 

  • Spotlight Strengths – focus on the strengths that all the teachers in the building already have.  Have them reflect on their own strengths and each others strengths – at my school, we do shout-outs at the beginning of every staff meeting and having this occur within a coaching session could be really helpful for building trust. “Acknowledging that the building is full of capable and competent educators goes a long way in shifting the culture toward accepting coaching.”  
  • Team Up for Growth – From the starting point of strengths, educators are more likely to be ready to focus on areas of growth.  When teachers determine how they want to grow, the door is open for collaboration, rather than dreading the knock from the outside.  When coaches provide support in the self-identified areas for growth, we honor the expertise of the teacher and position ourselves as a springboard for growth rather than a scarlet letter.”
  • Be Flexible – Coaches need to be flexible and adapt to the educators schedule, timing and the busy nature of education. “Finally, part of every school leaders’ responsibility in building staff capacity includes making coaching accessible.”
  • Spread the Word – If a school is lucky enough to have the resources to have coaches, starting with the teachers who are willing and experienced could go a long way when trickling down to teachers who may be uneasy about coaching.  When the vocal teacher leaders within a staff have a positive experience with coaching, they will become your greatest asset as they spread the word that coaching works, it is worth the time, and everyone needs a coach.”

Bernard Ross, an internationally regarded expert in strategic thinking, organizational change and personal effectiveness with The Management Centre, lays out 5 steps to change and align culture. Below is an excerpt from his article, Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast – I highly suggest reading the article in full but for the purposes of this blog post and focusing on changing culture, these steps seem critical and I have left in the descriptions that seem relevant to the educational system since he focuses more on organizations and companies. 

Understanding culture is not enough. The point is to change it. And to do this you need to follow five steps.”

1. Analyse culture as it is now (and be honest!)

Job one is to sit down and work out accurately what the culture is now. There are a number of ways to do this.[. . .] Focus groups, especially externally facilitated ones, can be a great way to get a real handle on this. You also might want to run an anonymous survey monkey study.

2. Imagine the culture as you want it to be

[. . .] think about how you want your culture to work, if everything was correctly aligned. To make it concrete we often then list the key stakeholders and describe how things will be better for them in the new culture. These stakeholders could include: staff, beneficiaries, service users, donors and others.

3. Map the differences between the two

Now compare your two cultural web diagrams, and identify the differences between them. [. . .]

4. Make an action plan

You need an action plan to make sure that the culture change actually takes place. [. . .] This plan should ideally be published and available to everyone. (Provided transparency is a part of your culture!)

5. Measure differences over time

You need track that your approach was actually implemented and that it has had the desired effect. [. . .]

Ross also explains in his article how to map out current cultural desires using specific questions that can help guide coaches and leaders in determining what is creating the current culture – positively and what opportunities are available to shift. 

One of the deepest takeaways that I have had when looking at how to establish a positive coaching culture is the importance of starting at the top and having the positive outcomes filter down throughout the school. Magdalena Mook speaks to the importance of starting at the top in her article, How to Create a Coaching Culture

1. Start from the top, but include everyone

Typically, coaching takes hold in organizations where a well-respected senior leader is engaged in a coaching relationship and can promote its benefits across the company. While buy-in and strong support are very important at this rank, ultimately, coaching should be made available across each level of an organization, to professionals of all ages and levels of experience. This is crucial for a lasting, enterprise-wide impact.

I have noticed in education, coaching tends to focus solely on teachers. It would be interesting to see if not only investment from administration but also participation in being coached, helped to lessen anxiety and/or hesitation for a teacher who is offered coaching..especially if it was being offered to all teachers, as well.  But that is another topic for another time!  

Finally, here is an interesting video that gives a unique perspective of having a coaching mindset. These ideas translate into the education realm…which makes sense considering coaching is adaptable to all professions and focuses on growth for who is being coached and those who they interact with, especially.

Resources:

Gawande, Atul. (Jan. 30, 2018). Want to Get Good at Something? Get a Coach. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHDq1PcYkT4

Jensen, Sydney Clark. (Jan. 3, 2019). The Instructional Coach: A Springboard, Not a Scarlet Letter. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol14/num13/instructional-coaches-a-springboard-not-a-scarlet-letter.aspx?fbclid=IwAR1PmF0lge4tIB_dmDaGB0Xozgic5dcSb9-UGKqbB_tc1YDV0uommOqJ71Q

Kobulnicky, Ben. Does Culture Really Eat Strategy for breakfast. Retrieved from https://medium.com/startup-grind/does-culture-really-eat-strategy-a3172df58912

Mook, Magdalena. (Jan.11, 2017) How to Create a Coaching Culture. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2016/01/how-to-create-a-coaching-culture.htm

Ross, Bernard. Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. Retrieved from https://www.managementcentre.co.uk/culture-eats-strategy-for-breakfast/

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.