I felt the blood rushing to my face. I was standing in front of a group of teachers presenting on a topic I was very familiar with and all of the sudden, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was saying. The teachers were very gracious, but I was cringing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the strategies to make my next move. I sure could've used some coaching in that moment.
I often have the opportunity to work with teachers as a professional learning provider or coach around the implementation and assessment of the three-dimensional learning expected from the Next Generation Science Standards. In this work, I’m expected to be the “expert” and the collaborator, but sometimes I need coaching too.
Thinking about my need for coaching immediately reminded me of Jim Knight, the instructional coach guy. Jim Knight is a well-known author and guru of instructional coaching. Jim is a professional development provider who realized early on that “one and done workshops” don’t work. He understands that improving practice is hard work and often means change. Change is difficult and takes time and support, thus the need for coaching.
In Jim Knight’s work, he talks about the Five Simple Truths:
- We don’t know what it looks like when we do what we do.
- It’s personal.
- Don’t think for others.
- Don’t play the one up game.
- Investment matters.
When reflecting on my workshop video, the connections to Jim’s Five Simple Truths, the first two, in particular, became clear to me.
Simple Truth # 1: We Don’t Know What It Looks or Sounds Like When We Do The Things We Do
As I reflect on the video clip from the first of the NGSS Performance Assessment workshops I offered, I focus first on the things we don't know. The objectives of this workshop were to:
- Clarify the need for developing performance assessments in a proficiency-based learning system.
- Develop a shared understanding of performance assessments.
- Introduce teachers to the NGSS bundle.
- Identify and evaluate potential anchoring phenomena.
In this clip, my purpose was to develop a shared understanding of performance assessment.
I really had no idea what I looked like or sounded like when I was delivering professional learning. I should say that I did record myself years ago for my NBCT application, but that was the last time I watched myself and really looked at my practice with a critical or coaching eye.
I’m not sure what I expected to see, but my expectations and what I saw were two very different pictures. In my mind’s eye I was Sandra Bullock, Diane Sawyer, Sarah Brown Wessling; but no, I saw myself, either looking like a statue with my hands planted on my hips or talking with my hands flailing. I heard the sound of my own voice, which I've always disliked, not to mention what seemed like hundreds of "ums" just taking up space in my delivery. After some immediate distress, I watched the video again to think about what I wanted to change and the reasons change would be necessary. Somewhat calmer, I decided to use a protocol called Two Stars and a Wish as I watched the video for the second time. The results are below:
- My delivery seems to be relaxed.
- I gave clear directions for the collaborative task.
- I want to talk with my hands a lot less.
So let’s look at what I do well and why it's important.
- It’s important that I'm confident, yet relaxed as I work with my colleagues on this challenging work. I want them to feel invited into the learning, willing to dig into the hard work.
- Giving clear directions is always necessary whether working with students or teachers. One thing I do to help with clarity is to create a visual.
- I need to stop the constant use of my hands as I speak. I'm sure that my hands moving all over the place must have been distracting to the participants, therefore detracting from the information I was trying to share.
I also said ”um,” “OK,” and “yeah” more than I’d have liked. In my mind’s eye, I was very articulate. In the video, a very different story emerges. I need to work on the fillers because the participants might be concerned about my understanding of the material I'm presenting. Saying “yeah” and ‘OK” doesn’t sound professional. I think I can do a better job of using clear, precise language now that I know what I sound like.
Simple Truth #2: It's Personal
I’d be lying if I said I was perfectly OK with what I saw. I thought…
Oh, my! This is what I really look and sound like.
I wonder what these teachers are thinking…
Some of them are amazing when delivering NGSS professional learning.
Watching the next clip, which immediately followed in real time, provided me some additional information to think about as I began planning my next session. I wondered to myself... how much worse can it get?
While far from perfect, it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. I felt like improvement was doable after watching this clip.
- I responded to a participant’s question in a timely manner as promised, which helps to build my credibility as a presenter.
- Knowing the benefits of audience engagement, I used the strategy of wait time to hear as many voices as possible.
- I made connections to what the teachers were already doing in their classrooms, thus valuing the expertise the participants brought to the learning.
- And last, but certainly not least, I used the technology available to include a participant who could not attend in person. By making the effort, I was demonstrating to everyone that I would go out of my way to accommodate their needs, which is important when working with adults.
Now on to the tougher realities. In my next presentation, I'll make a conscious effort to move around the room. No more standing in the front of the room with my hands on my hips. By moving around, I'll try to further show that I don’t know everything and that I value the expertise in the room. I've already addressed the waving hands, so I'm letting that go for now.
I’m so glad I took the opportunity to understand the Five Simple Truths and really learn what it looks and sounds like when I’m presenting. It was video that allowed me to do that. While I always do exit tickets, I don’t get the same information from watching myself teach.
Reflecting on this video has been an amazing opportunity for my personal professional learning journey. This experience has allowed me to become my own coach and now I’ve set a few measurable goals for myself because of my video reflection.
The more we look at what our practice looks and sounds like, the more opportunity we'll all have to improve, regardless of whether we’re the learner, the teacher, or the professional learning provider.
And there are tools to help you do this work. I didn’t use a protocol this time, but Teaching Channel has a great resource guide with many protocols from which to choose. Check it out and consider using it with your own selfie video. Remember, you do NOT have to share until you are ready because “it’s personal.”
What I’d really like is for you to respond to my videos as critical friends, because I’m only seeing things from one perspective -- my own. Do you think from what you saw that I met my meeting outcome of developing a shared understanding of protocols? Were you distracted by my moving hands? Maybe you can use one of the protocols mentioned above. Your feedback is always appreciated because it will help me grow.
Kathy Renfrew is the K-5 science coordinator for the Vermont AOE. She has been deeply involved with the development and implementation of the NGSS and is co-developer/presenter of NSTA: Teaching NGSS in K-5 webinars. Kathy earned National Board Certification in 1998 and won the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2000. She taught science for over 30 years. While in the classroom, Kathy won a Toyota Tapestry grant and built a 16×20 foot log cabin with her students outside her classroom window. Kathy’s passion is improving science opportunities and education for all K-5 Students.