This week I experienced a couple of things that made me rethink and reflect. Rather than making you read a few thousand words, I would just like to share the experiences in my first week (or so) of being a Peer Coach. All experiences were inspirational in their own way – at least to me – and each has left me with ideas and strategies for the future.
My school is currently deploying a new approach to ICT-related professional development that is based on Microsoft’s Peer Coaching model. As our Learning Technologies Advisor tells us, peer coaching has a much higher rate of classroom application compared to other forms of professional learning (around 85-90%). This is because it is targeted at what the teacher is currently doing in their daily practice and can be moulded to suit that individual’s goals and skills.
I have the pleasure of playing coach to two of my colleagues at the moment. One is a Science teacher with a phenomenal skill set and knowledge base in relation to many areas of teaching and learning and the other is a Mathematics teacher who is well-respected, experienced and keen to add new features to her practice. (That sentence is one of those that seems to indicate that one of my colleagues does not have the attributes of the other, but that is not the case.)
On the one hand, I’m starting from scratch in a very real way by engaging with colleagues from other Key Learning Areas (KLAs) – I myself am a History and English specialist. Despite the fact that I consider myself a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, it’s still a daunting experience trying to assist colleagues who have such vast knowledge in an area where I have so little. Luckily for me, the Peer Coaching model allows me to ask more questions than offer advice and to rely on their expertise and creativity to move forward.
My Science-minded colleague and I have decided to focus on literacy strategies and to review current policy and practice in the school. She has already created fantastic resources and so needs little advice from me on that, but we’re working on integrating some technology into her practice and also widening the scope to make our efforts more effective. This involves us, within a week, designing a teaching and learning program from scratch so that all KLAs can work from the same structure and that we have similar goals despite achieving them in different ways.
The programs will involve an integration of essential syllabus-based requirements (outcomes, content, skills, etc – notably based on the Australian Curriculum) as well as what we consider to be essential features of a 21st century program (including essential questions [structured/core/extended] for differentiation, vocabulary, ICT and other general capabilities etc). These documents will require teachers to think more widely than just content. Something that I need to do, especially in senior years where in the History courses at least we are swamped with content and restricted with time.
With my colleague from the department of angles and statistics, we decided to focus on creating a series of lessons for practical application in the near future. Initially it was data (I successfully silenced an impending groan at that point) but switched to probability as it was more suitable to our timeframe. After just two sessions, we have found myriad resources available online for probability activities: some fantastically interactive, some clearly for teacher presentation only and some behind a pay wall that we will avoid.
I have benefited directly from this experience. It makes me think more widely than the ancient Roman walls of my History/English garden and forces me to consider the progress of students from their point of view. Just because we (teachers) think we are moving through a program at an appropriate speed does not mean our students are learning or that they are progressing through stages of understanding.
I am being forced to ask questions rather than provide solutions. Asking questions, be they probing or challenging or clarifying, makes the process much more valuable as both myself and my ‘coachees’ have to justify our decisions and ideas before moving forward. Even if a line of thought or action leads to naught, at least there was a clear intention, process and reflection as part of the experience.
As for what’s next, my colleagues and I will continue to work through our plans and achieve SMART goals, with one goal a whole-school Literacy framework for years 7-10 to be sorted out in the next few weeks (yep, we work fast!). Lucky for me I have a fantastic PLN who can support me and share their experiences of embedding literacy strategies across KLAs, and also my participation in AITSL’s Leading Curriculum Change program (www.lcc.uq.edu.au) gives me access to others attempting the same thing.
Let me know if you have models or ideas for what we are trying to achieve. All advice welcome.
And for those of you in New South Wales with HSC classes this term, I’m feeling your pain. Keep smiling and keep challenging those kids to think, not just to write!