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!
As an Instructional Coach, one of the skills (or practices) I have refined and strengthened over the course of the last 4 years is my sense of reflection and its importance. The benefits include but, are not limited to; growth, confidence, more defined goal setting, an increase in vulnerability, and a stronger sense of team and collaboration.
Reflection is something I know many of us do throughout our day, maybe without even knowing it but, when you have a reflective partner, the quality (or depth) at which you can reflect is very different.
One of the ways an Instructional Coach can support teachers is through being a reflective partner.
If you look up any kind of inquiry cycle, data team process, or decision scale...you will find reflection as part of those processes. Only through reflecting can you gain a true understanding of where you need to go.
Because reflection allows us to see the steps and actions that have gotten us to the present in order to know what must be done (or redone or changed) in order to move us forward.
Having an Instructional Coach as a reflective partner can give teachers new insight, ask themselves different questions, and may allow for teachers to see things in a different way. Through the training received in various types of coaching (especially Cognitive Coaching) we have learned so many different forms of questioning that leads to deeper understanding and deeper reflection.
As a reflective partner your coach can have many roles: Listener, collaborator, co-planner, processing partner, motivator, role player, brainstormer, empathizer, and supporter. What this partnership looks like is based on the goals and/or needs of the teacher. The main goal in a reflective coaching cycle is that the teacher is able to learn, grow, and refine their practice, acknowledge all the aspects of their actions and progress, in order to move forward and be successful in what they have chosen to identify as their goals for themselves and their students.
“One of the most important benefits of reaching out to others is learning that the experiences that make us feel the most alone are actually universal” - Brené Brown
In the book Dare to Lead, author Brené Brown talks about the importance of resisting the shame so many leaders carry on their shoulders. As leaders we often feel the shame of not doing enough or being enough for the people we are attempting to lead. Being a leader is sometimes a very lonely job. One way that Brown encourages leaders to resist the shame of not being “enough” is by reaching out to others. By connecting with other leaders and colleagues we start to realize that we are not alone.
Many other people feel like they are struggling through their days and just doing everything they can to stay a float. As teachers, we often find ourselves drowning in lesson plans, homework, quizzes, tests, the list goes on and on. We are doing everything we can to just be ready for the next lesson, the next day. We feel less than, not enough, alone. By connecting with other teachers, other leaders, we can start to see this feeling of not enough is really universal. We all feel this way! We all know that we are imperfect leaders, imperfect teachers who are just doing the best we can. Brown said it best when she said, “Either we are all normal or we are all weird. Either way, it’s not just you.”
Isolation cultivates shame. As leaders, we need to resist isolation and seek comfort in the imperfection of our lives. Get out of your classroom, get out of your office and go talk with other colleagues to help you realize you are not alone! Find your tribe! Those people who are willing to admit their imperfection are the people you need to be a part of your inner circle or as Brown calls them, your “square squad”. These are the people you are the most vulnerable with and the people that help you realize you are not alone. As a leader and a teacher you are more than enough for your colleagues and your students.
Benton Community School District will be hosting the 5th annual BCEdCamp on Tuesday, June 25 at the Benton Community High School. BCEdCamp was created by the Teacher Leadership Team as an opportunity to network with other leaders and to learn together. Over the years, the vision of this day has changed each year as the attendees develop the topics for discussion. The event has grown each year, and we hope to have a large group again this year.
An EdCamp is a free learning opportunity that is open to all educators. EdCamps are participant-driven events; the schedule for the day’s topics is determined on that day by the participants. Participants can post a question for discussion or suggest a topic that they want to share about or learn about. EdCamps are not about planned presentations, but each center will have conversations about the topic. Teachers share information and experiences with each other. There is not necessarily an “expert” in the room; educators collaborate and solve problems together. Participants are free to choose the sessions that best fit their needs and can walk in and out of sessions as needed.
Attending BCEdCamp is a great way to reflect on the past school year and to get energized for the upcoming year. BCEdCamp is open to all educators but does tend to have a focus on educational leadership. This is an opportunity for Principals, Teacher Leaders, and Instructional Coaches, and other leaders to learn from one another. Some topics that could be discussed are instructional frameworks, coaching models, ISASP, ESSA, classroom-level leaders, professional learning structures, personal development, blended learning, and collaboration structures.
Remember, the schedule of topics is set that day, so if you have a burning question or something you are eager to share with others, this is a great opportunity. Whether you are a new Instructional Coach or a seasoned leader, BCEdCamp will be a chance to network and learn from each other. The Benton Teacher Leadership Team works hard to make this a fun day of learning. Snacks and lunch will be available on site.
This is a free event! For more information or to register, go to https://tinyurl.com/bcedcamp19