Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Adventures Embracing the Jungle Tiger

I spent my first eight years teaching and learning in a fourth grade classroom at Benton Community.  As a classroom teacher, I was challenged by my teammates and colleagues within my building to think differently and continue to be a learner.  I got a taste of teacher leadership having been on our building and district leadership teams.  I also had the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, administrators, and community members to write our district's grant for teacher leadership.  As we went through that process, I didn't think I would be able to step outside of my zone of comfort and leave my classroom for one of the full time teacher leadership positions.  When the opportunity of teachers leadership came to Benton Community and we were awarded the grant, I made a difficult decision of trying something new, putting myself out there for failure, something completely outside of my zone of comfort.  I had never been an instructional coach, I had never been coached as as teacher.  What would this look like at Benton Community?  Would it be embraced by our teachers?  What would happen if I failed?

I have been extremely blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to support students and teachers at Keystone Elementary and in the Benton Community School District as a teacher leader.  Now looking back, I am so thankful I took that leap of faith three years ago.  I was unsure of what it would look like, how I would like it, and how much people would embrace working with a teacher leader.  Our team and district built teacher leadership from the ground up.  We often speak of the analogy of building a plane as we were flying it.  This is because we had teachers willing to learn on the edge, try new things with us, fail together, modify our goals, and try again.  Still today, my colleagues continue to amaze me by being willing to collaborate and learn together and take risks with me -- learning in the wild.
Back in October, this learning theory was solidified when I heard a message about finding your inner Jungle Tiger from Trevor Ragan on an #IAedChat LIVE show. I encourage you to take a look at his videos on learning and growth.  His message challenged me to dance with my fears and live beyond my comfort zone.  I challenge each of you taking the time to read this post to dance with your fears, for you never know what kind of opportunities will unfold when you take a risk.  I have absolutely no doubt that the staff at Benton Community will continue to amaze me with their willingness to be learners and dance with their fears.  

This summer I will start a new journey at Grant Wood AEA as a School Improvement Consultant. Benton Community will always be our home, a place to raise our family, with an opportunity be a part of an amazing community.  It is the place I was able to start my journey... because of people who believed in me.  I had great mentors my first several years of teaching and continue to have mentors in my leadership roles.  These people are my tribe.  They push me to want to be better, do better, and know better.  They are my coaches whether or not they have the title. To the people who have believed in me along the way, thank you for pushing me to step outside of my zone of comfort, to continue to grow as a learner, and find my inner jungle tiger.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Student-Centered Coaching Focus at Benton Community

Benton Community is in its third year of implementation of Iowa's Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant.  In those three years, we have learned a lot about teacher leadership and its impact on teaching and learning in our district.  

Our first year, we honestly felt that we were building a plane as we were flying it.  None of the five instructional coaches that were hired had ever been an instructional coach.  Only one of them had ever had the opportunity to work with an instructional coach.  We learned a lot from our colleagues at Grant Wood AEA and from the other first year implementation schools.  We have also learned in the past three years that we aren't finished learning.  

Throughout year one we learned with Grant Wood AEA and the New Teacher Center.  Our learning centered around coaching language and ways to look for entry points to build relationships with teachers.  We also did a book study on a book by Elena Aguilar called The Art of Coaching and a book study on the book Student Centered Coaching by Diane Sweeney.  

The spring of our first year, we started planning a summer #BCedCamp focused on Teacher Leadership.  This was an opportunity for teacher leaders from around the state to get together and learn together about the new TLC grant and initiative in Iowa.  We are in planning stages of our Third Annual #BCedCamp, planned for June 15, 2017, so mark your calendars!

Our second year we learned with Grant Wood AEA and Jim Knight.  His sessions focused on high impact instruction and taking advantage of videoing teaching in the classroom to make connections for teacher improvement.  We also read a Pete Hall book, Building Teachers' Capacity for Success, and attended trainings with Pete Hall and Elena Aguilar to strengthen our coaching knowledge. 

This year we are learning from our neighbors at AEA 267 and Diane Sweeney around Student Centered Coaching.  Our team and our administration feel this is the best way to make the greatest impact on student achievement in our district.  To support this shift to a more student-centered approach, we created a visual to outline the supports we can provide.

The continuum below shows the progression from relationship building to coaching cycles.  All levels of the continuum are important in any coaching relationship.  This visual simply outlines that the goal is to provide teachers support as they move toward the right side of the continuum; a deeper coaching relationship which is more student-centered.   Below the continuum, the instructional supports we can provide are also outlined.  

Next, we felt it was beneficial to show that there are a few options for coaching cycles.  One option is an individual or group data team cycle focused on data from the classroom.  We will outline a focus for support, provide observation and co-teaching support, learn together about improvements which will positively effect student achievement, and support analysis of classroom data to gauge proficiency toward our goal.  This process closely aligns with our district data team goals, it is simply focused on a classroom goal rather than a district goal.  Another option is with support with implementing new instructional practices such as small-groups or differentiated levels of support for students.  Also included in this support is planning, feedback, and reflection on the process.  
Overall, our mission is to get into coaching relationships with as many teachers as possible to support teachers as they strive to get better.  With all of the learning we have done over the past three years with such impactful instructional coaching models, we feel we are more prepared than ever to help teachers accomplish their goals.  We are always learning to find ways to best fit our teachers' and students' needs.  This quote by Dylan Wiliam highlights our mission: "Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better."  BCTLT does not want to 'fix' teachers.  We want to empower teachers as they yearn to get better for the good of our students.  

If you'd like to talk more about our TLC journey at Benton Community, please contact me or one of my teammates!