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.