Personalized learning is an approach within our profession that excites, motivates, and even sometimes overwhelms teachers charged with implementing practices. Personalized learning has been developed and tailored to the local contexts in a variety of ways throughout the state. In order to support a customized approach to educating youth, teachers need a reflective partner, guide-on-the-side, and advocate. Instructional Coaches serving in districts throughout the state support personalized learning by serving teachers in these capacities. Below are perspectives on supporting personalized learning from Instructional Coaches at Benton Community. They speak to how they support personalized learning for teachers and with teachers for students.
Personalized Learning for Teachers:
Personalized learning for teachers starts by having a conversation with the teacher or a team to decide what they want their learning to be. Once this is decided, then I look for resources to help guide them in their work towards their goal. I help teachers look at their data and assist them where they feel they need the most help.
When I am working with teams, I always make sure that I ask the teachers what their personal learning outcome is, in addition to their team goal. If I know both, I can try to connect the team with one another to model or share what they are doing to impact their students. When I'm working with an individual, it is again goal-based. I also try to see how and when they are going to apply their learning to their instruction, which is a great entry point for me as the coach to observe/script for them, etc.
Personalized learning can take shape in many different forms. As an Instructional Coach, it is my goal to be the connector to support movement within the goal that is personal. This connection piece might entail reflective conversation to ask questions or gain another's insight, it might mean finding resources related to the goal area to further our knowledge base, it might charge me with the task to model a strategy or co-teach with a teacher, it might be collaborative planning and/or analyzing student data. Supporting personalized learning really is the essence of my job. Being the connector is where the art of coaching occurs.
Personalized Learning with Teachers for Students:
When I think of personalized learning I think about data-driven decision making, flexible content, targeted instruction, and student reflection. In coaching cycles, I work on many of these aspects daily. In our data team work, all teachers work to make data-driven decisions. In student-centered coaching cycles, we focus on data-driven decision making. I am working in a coaching cycle with a teacher right now where we are working on developing individual learning plans for students that target instructional steps using a combination of technology and individual instruction. Any time we help teachers focus instruction to address individual student needs, we are personalizing learning.
By using technology, we are helping teachers make content flexible for students. Students can now focus their learning on areas that interest them by using technology to access information. In addition, technology allows teachers to receive individual responses to check for understanding. These individual responses help us personalize learning. When I know where each student is in their understanding, I can target my instruction. Finally, I have also worked with my own students in Spanish class to focus on individual reflection. When I ask students to journal on questions that make them reflect on their learning, I am personalizing learning.
As the "OG" on our instructional coaching team at Benton Community, I have often wondered how I would have responded as a teacher in the classroom when the teacher leadership program rolled out in Iowa. Although I was willing to jump in with both feet to try out this new job of instructional coaching, I hypothesized that I might have been a little less than receptive to working with a coach. This hesitation has nothing to do with not wanting to collaborate, but instead, I think it would have been seeded in not knowing what to do with a coach. Five years later, I find myself back in the classroom teaching one section of Exploratory Spanish and so excited to collaborate with my co-worker. I have so many ideas of how I can use my instructional coach.
As I rolled out my first exploratory Spanish class, I really needed a reflective partner. My instructional coach was there to reflect with me over the ideas of what I wanted my 30-day course to include and all the ideas I had for my students. Like always, I had way more than 30 days worth of material; my instructional coach helped me narrow my focus to determine what to keep and what to let go. My instructional coach was there to help me think about how to set up my gradebook, my learning management system, and my communication home to parents. All of these conversations happened naturally when I was ready to receive her advice. Many were quick conversations before, after class or school that left me thinking and reflecting more at home to help me determine my next best move.
As the first 30 days rolled out, I found myself wanting to try new ideas, but in all honesty, I was nervous about implementing. I found several technology tools over the past five years that I felt could help my students. I just needed a little encouragement and there again was my instructional coach. Willing to lend a helping hand and give me the encouragement I needed to make the leap, my instructional coach came into the classroom to support my next moves. She joined a small group to help support and then provided technology support during another lesson. Each time she helped in the classroom, she made me feel more comfortable and confident in the classroom.
Finally, my instructional coach was a supportive accountability partner. When I told her something I wanted to try or something I was struggling with in the classroom, she would check back in with me to see how things were going. Did I implement the new seating chart? How was the Spain research project? How are you planning to end your course? All of these questions followed up on something I said I was going to do. When she checked back in, she reminded me of what I said I wanted to do. If I gave it a try, I could share my success or my next steps. If I didn't, it reminded me of my intentions and often encouraged me to think about it again. All this was done with a supportive tone that reminded me that I was not alone.
I will never know how I would have responded to instructional coaching, but now I will never be at a loss for what I could do with an instructional coach. Feeling the support and encouragement reminded me of the importance of teacher efficacy. A teacher's level of confidence about their own abilities greatly impacts student achievement. For me, having the support of an instructional coach was the added confidence I needed to help me impact my students.
It has been a long time since I was a freshman in high school. This was before cell phones were in everyone’s pocket, prior to social media being a mode of communication and connection, and before any of us imagined taking notes on anything put a spiral or loose-leaf. I had a very positive high school experience and was excited to get to know more about what it is like to walk the halls, sit in classrooms, and operate as a student in our high school today.
As part of continuous improvement work, Benton Community Middle School/High School is participating in a self-study with Grant Wood AEA and The Highlander Institute. One step of the self-study was to have all administrators spend a day shadowing a student in our secondary building. Collectively, we shadowed a total of five students in the building ranging in age from 8th to 12th grades. I knew in order to really learn from the experience, I needed to fully commit to being a student on my shadow day. I spent the day in jeans and Bobcat gear, followed the bell schedule, sat in desks, used learning management systems, and did all other things that are part of being a freshman student at Benton Community in 2019.
The Student Shadow Challenge resources from School Retool provided me with excellent materials to prepare for the experience and really think about the mindset I needed to be in to have a positive learning experience. As I prepared, I thought about what I wanted to know or learn about being a freshman in 2019, it was mainly focused on the experience as a whole. I knew I was going to need to monitor my feelings, actions, words, and questions. I realized I was going to have to be intentional about ensuring this day was focused on life as a student and not about observing teachers are providing adults feedback on instruction.
As I reflect on why the experience made such a profound impact on my thoughts and perspective as a leader, I’m drawn to something Professor John Hattie said in a conversation we had a short time ago. “Sometimes administrators need to stop and smell the roses.” As he was saying this, I reflected on my own tendencies and the balance between affirmation and next step feedback. Prior to the student shadow experience, our administrative team did just what Professor Hattie suggested. We went on a “Love Walk” around our building and stopped in so many areas of the building to discuss points of pride. These include topics related to instruction, facilities, projects, student achievement, community relations, and more. What I knew prior to the experiences is that the one big thing that makes our school community so special: the people. By stopping, I was reminded of all of the little things that make our school community a place to belong.
I challenge other lead learners to participate in a student shadow experience. Consider the prompts and questions below when deciding who to follow and preparing for your day.
Recently the Benton Community Instructional Coach team was invited to listen to author, Alisa Simeral, speak at Vinton-Shellsburg on instructional coaching. Along with Benton Community and Vinton-Shellsburg, Center Point-Urbana and Monticello instructional coaches were in attendance. Many thanks to Vinton-Shellsburg for inviting us to join! It was a great morning of processing new learning, refining current practices, and networking with other districts. As we left to return to our buildings, there were so many reflections that each of us had. I was lucky enough this summer to get to read Simeral’s book that she wrote with Pete Hall, Teach, Reflect, Learn as part of our summer learning options. Having both experiences with Simeral’s work I was really excited to write this blog post as combined reflection.
For those of you not familiar with Simeral’s work, she is a consultant (amongst other roles) for schools to help teachers, coaches, administrators, etc. build strong reflective habits. These habits will build capacity for systems to thrive as they reach the student level through teacher actions and mindsets.
The major take-aways that I had from Simeral’s presentation was that, as coaches, we can change behaviors; but if we don’t change mindsets, we aren’t building maximum capacity for change in our system. When I am working with a teacher or a team of teachers, I try to get them talking so I can start to understand how they process, plan, reflect, and assess. Simeral said it best when she explains that we really need to “listen to the teacher’s questions because that is what drives their thinking”. This was a powerful thought for me because it is 100% right. When I am engaged in a coaching cycle, I try to have open discourse to get the teacher to process verbally. Through that conversation I can gain clarity on their belief system. This clarity is important to really dive deep into our coaching relationship. I am not coaching to give activities or classroom management suggestions. I am coaching for metacognition! With those thoughts, how can the BCTLT meet your needs as a teacher? Let’s start that work today!
Throughout the summer, the Benton Community Teacher Leadership Team engaged in a book study on The Data Teams Experience by Angela B. Peery. This book study supports the work Benton Community teachers and administrators have been implementing the last few years. The data teams process is a process that supports continuous improvement. As Benton Community strives to the standard of educational excellence, structures like the data teams process supports us in analyzing data to support student achievement.
Teacher leaders spent time reading and reflecting on new information, current practice, and next steps around the data teams process. They then gathered to discuss more about what this looks like in action at all grades and contents across our system. Their commitment to learning and continuous improvement is inspiring. As you can see in the Benton Community Professional Learning Action Plan for the 2019-2020 school year, our focus will continue to be on ensuring all students are making a years growth.
When the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant was first introduced to schools, it was clear that teacher leader roles were not intended to be career-long positions. The intent is that teachers would serve in leadership roles and then, in time, take what they learned from that role back to the classroom to further impact students. This year, Sherrie Collins, one of our coaches decided it was time to take what she learned about planning and implementing research-based strategies, best-practices in caring for the whole child, and making data informed decisions to the sixth grade classroom. Sherrie's impact on students and teachers will continue in her next role.
The Class of 2019 at Benton Community had an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishment of high school graduation. As a community, our school district worked together to coordinate an experience for both our seniors, our younger students, and our staff to celebrate together.
Our senior Bobcats had a chance to walk the halls of all our buildings in the district one more time as a class. During this experience we visited 4 elementary buildings and finished the experience at the middle/high school where they currently attend. We hope this experience allowed our seniors to know how proud we are of this accomplishment in their life. We also hope that this experience allowed our youth to see the final goal of education in action!
Graduation is the beginning of new opportunities for our students. As educators in the system, we are so proud to have played a small role in helping these students accomplish the life they have chosen for themselves. Good luck Class of 2019! It's a great day to be a Bobcat!
*This post is intended to accompany podcast episode #6 "The Bobcat Experience: A Student Perspective". This can be found on the "Podcast" tab at the top of this page.
This winter was a rough one, I think we can all collectively agree on that! Missing 12 days changed more than just our instructional scope and sequence, it pushed our system to go deeper through May and into June with students. This intensifies the age-old challenge of how to combat the “May Slide”. There is no denying that May is a tricky time to keep your foot on the accelerator to optimize student opportunities for learning, but our kids deserve that...as Bobcats we believe this. One way instructional coaches can provide support is to take a page out of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and “keep first things first” (please see the linked video below). As I think through this lens, I think about how I intentionally plan my week to be responsive to my big rocks (teacher and district needs).
So...here are my big rocks for May!
These are my big rocks that I will continue to push myself to honor and prioritize through the end of the year. Feel free to share with me what your big rocks are and how you push yourself while supporting others through the end of the year.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrinsically motivated to learn. When I was young, I remember spending a countless number of hours learning as much as I could about the Titanic, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the branches of government. As a mother, sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, friend, and community volunteer, I’m constantly trying to learn how I “add value” or can learn and contribute to overall well-being of others in each role.
As a lead learner in a school district, learning occurs on the daily. Some days, the topics I’m learning about are big and heavy. I’d include ESSA, system cultures, and second-order change in this category. I’m also learning about people, who my colleagues are personally and professionally, and how I can bring my best for all Bobcats. I also learn things that are “quick wins” but vital to serving successfully in my role. ISASP sticker labels, PO account codes, and the bell schedule seem to be ideas I’ve put in this category as of late.
I believe everyone should be learning on the daily. However, I believe this is especially true for those leading learners. We should all be prepared to answer that question at any time. As I think and reflect on this idea, I have been considering what I’ve learned most recently.
Last weekend, I finished a book focused on the gifts introverts have to offer the world. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a text that analyzes and synthesizes research done on personality tendencies and how those tendencies impact society, relationships, and even the educational experience a person has.
What I’ve learned and what I’m thinking about as a result of the learning…
Nature and nurture both play a role in whether a person is more introverted or extroverted. As I think about this as a parent and as a teacher, I wonder about the experience introverted children have at school, on the ball diamond, basketball court, lunch table, or even at recess. What can I do as a parent to support healthy risk taking and personal growth in my child while honoring the gifts he is able to share with the world from his introverted lens?
People are naturally more likely to follow the most dominant in the room, regardless of the quality of their ideas. Society favors people with extroverted tendencies consciously and unconsciously. What does this look like in my life personally and professionally? What did this look like in my classroom? How did I support students who would identify as introverts or extroverts? How are other teachers supporting the needs of both types of learners and how can I help highlight those practices?
Cain wrote another book on introversion geared towards adolescents. I’m excited to read this with Carson this summer.
The Power of Introverts TED Talk
Once I finished Quiet, I started Culturize by Jimmy Casas. I’ll share key takeaways when I’m finished!
“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Our district has been on a journey the last 3 years learning how to function in Data Teams. One thing I have found to better the health of any system I’ve ever been part of is to revisit why you ever started. In this post I hope you gain clarity around your “why” in order to push forward to the next level along your Data Team journey.
There were two main “why’s” for the district when we chose Data Teams.
So let’s take this next step together. Each building has a designated time reserved for Data Team Leaders. That is OUR protected and prioritized time to collaborate and build our knowledge and facilitation skills to take our Data Team meetings to the next level. Reach out to your Instructional Coaches and let them know your specific needs. This input really helps us plan purposefully to maximize our time together.
One piece I challenge each of you to bring to your next Data Team Leader meeting is a simple status report. Tell the group where your team is currently within the Data Team process and what your next steps are. By just sharing this status report it allows you to mentally prepare for your next CLDT time with the help of your peers. Using collaboration to prepare to facilitate a collaborative group...GENIUS!
So let’s take this plunge together. Our kids deserve us to take our Data Teams deeper, but we deserve it as educators too!