To jump-start the beginning of the school year, the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) has released seven back-to-school mini-task collections that give teachers instructional items they can add to their arsenal of worthwhile resources.
For those of you unfamiliar with LDC, it’s a community of educators who are using a teacher-designed framework to create literacy-rich assignments. The collections in this new release include the works of contributors from across the nation who thrive on creating worthy learning experiences for students. So what’s in this back-to-school set of collections, you ask? Let’s dive in.
If we happen to meet by chance or even if you’re a close companion, the odds are good that I’ll bring up the Literacy Design Collaborative at least once in our conversation.
Some people obsess over reality TV or the latest diet trend. One of my fixations revolves around a framework for embedding rigorous literacy experiences into the classroom through a teacher-designed module, called LDC for short. I have been involved with LDC for going on five years now, and I’m just as excited about it today as I was years ago.
You know the expression “two heads are better than one?” When it comes to coaching teachers using video, I say that two sets of “eyes” are better than one. Last week, I equipped myself with an iPad and set off to record a lesson in an ELA classroom. I have done a plethora of observations on my own without a camera, and this time I wanted to see if using video for the coaching conversation would make for a more productive coaching experience. And it did.
Prior to using video to coach teachers, I would leave the room to draft up my observation report. The notes I had taken during the lesson were used to inform my wows (areas of strength) and wonders (areas of growth), and make recommendations for the teacher. I had to rely on my notes and my memory of the lesson for this report, and I did wonder if using recorded video of the teacher would facilitate a more authentic coaching experience. Let’s talk about my takeaways from the video coaching experience.
Oh the dreaded difficult conversation! The thought of engaging in one makes even the most vocal of coaches cringe. The conversation could be needed because a teacher is not implementing a strategy with fidelity, or lacks enthusiasm and energy for the profession. Perhaps a teacher is not pulling his or her weight at work. Even heavier are situations where students are not being treated fairly, or a teacher’s behavior becomes borderline unethical. It’s easy for coaches to overthink the “what-ifs?” of the difficult conversation. What if the teacher loses trust in me? What if someone reacts angrily towards me? What if this person quits? However, the biggest “what if” with which to contend is this: what if I stand idly by and do nothing while students don’t get what they need?
While we do not necessarily like them, difficult conversations have to happen if we are truly working in the best interests of the students. Change rarely happens without a catalyst, and these conversations can be the igniting factor. The teacher on the other end of the conversation may be unaware of his or her actions until they are brought to light by a trusted colleague. Remaining true to the following three tenets of difficult conversations may elicit a non-threatening and productive experience for both the coach and the teacher.
Now that we’re getting back into the groove of the classroom, it can be a good opportunity to try some new things, improve on the old, and reignite your classroom vision. With help from Instructional Coach Katie Lyons, I’ve come up with a list of quick adjustments to your practice that will have big payoffs:
1. Revamp classroom management: Do you have some classroom management loose ends? Take some time to hash out those situations with your students and revisit classroom expectations. Together with the students, form new expectations if necessary, and the consequences for not meeting them.
2. Get organized: Are ungraded papers cluttering your desk? Create an organization system that is easy to manage. If you don’t have them already, create a file folder for each student. Have three baskets available on your desk for papers returned, papers that need to be graded, and papers that need to be filed.
Boost Your Practice
A wise person once told me that if you lose a teacher’s trust, it’s nearly impossible to regain it. Without trust, an instructional coach has very little influence over the professional growth of a teacher, and ultimately, student achievement. The majority of coaches, including myself, do not possess the “power of the pen,” meaning that our advice is not enforced by consequences (like being written up or getting dinged on evaluations). When a coach works with a teacher, and the teacher accepts feedback and recommendations, it’s because they want to improve their practice.
Instructional coaching is one of those positions within a system of schools that is complex — not complex in terms of being difficult, but complex because of the nature of the relationships that exist between coaches and teachers. There is a balancing act between providing relevant and honest feedback and supporting the school’s bottom line. How does trust fit into this act?
Science teachers have a passion for science — the intrigue, the connection to everyday life, and its reliance on evidence. The love of the content drives science teachers to share the beauty of science with students, and not many are willing to forgo content in place of reading for reading’s sake. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which promote discipline-specific literacy, are prompting some questions from the science-teacher community: “Why teach literacy in the science classroom?” “Won’t that take time away from science content?”
However, the beauty of discipline-specific literacy is that science teachers do not have to sacrifice scientific practices; in fact, science and literacy blend together beautifully and in ways that support scientific practices. In the age of the NGSS as well as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), discipline-specific literacy is not just suggested, it’s required if a teacher is to meet the demands of current standards.
Here are 3 ways the NGSS support scientific thinking:
Science isn’t science without reporting results. Scientists as well as engineers rely on the results of previous studies to drive their research or planning. A big component of NGSS is implementing scientific and engineering practices. Literacy is a part of those practices. Think about a career scientist — not the stereotypical wild-haired, serious character who dons a white lab coat and glasses, holding fizzy test tubes. Think about a real scientist — a scholarly individual who actually spends a great deal of his or her time reading the works of other scientists and writing about their own in order to add to the knowledge base. Real-life scientists spend a lot of time reading and writing, and their writing has specific formats and purposes.