2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Power of Collegial Coaching

Last night I edited my last few lines of my final paper for my graduate course, hit the submit button, immediately checked to see that I actually submitted the damned paper, checked again, and then poured myself a glass of wine.  Whew.

[caption id="attachment_298" align="alignnone" width="300"]Error Message This is EXACTLY what I was afraid I would see just as I submitted my paper.[/caption]

It was a bumpy ride, this course on Mentoring and Leadership, but I have to say that it was completely worthwhile.  I have been thinking a lot about Leadership lately.  I am currently a mentor for a second-year Resident Educator in Ohio, and it's a big responsibility.  I remember every mentor I've ever had, and it just occurred to me before I took this course that all of my mentors have retired.  Sure, I still visit with them, and they still offer great support, but who is currently my mentor at school?  This is the first step to realizing that I am old.

[caption id="attachment_299" align="alignnone" width="300"]This is EXACTLY how I look when I realize that I am an old teacher. This is EXACTLY how I look when I realize that I am an old teacher.[/caption]



[caption id="attachment_231" align="alignnone" width="225"]IMG_0322 See the resemblance?[/caption]

The model that I often use in my mentoring experiences is that of Cognitive Coaching.  The premise of Cognitive Coaching is that my colleague has the answers to her questions/problems already, but she needs some help to bring them out.  I first learned about Cognitive Coaching when I helped to start our Mentorship Steering Committee in my school district about fifteen years ago.  I find that truly listening and reflecting back a colleague's thoughts gives that person the chance to discover his own truths.  When a teacher can find his own answers, it builds that teacher's sense of efficacy, and that is a large part of the goal of Cognitive Coaching.

Through my Leadership course I learned about Collegial Coaching, a process where two or more colleagues work together to form their own professional development.  This may include reading groups, reciprocal observations and critiques, and group discussions designed to improve teaching and learning.  The premise behind Collegial Coaching is that teachers know what they need to do to improve their classroom performance, but one can not force professional development on a teacher.  Professional development must be relevant, it must be authentic, and it must be clear in its payoff in the classroom.  Overall, teachers want to do what is best for students; if professional development does not offer immediate improvement in this area, teachers will not value it.

My colleagues and I have been formally and informally practicing collegial coaching for years; we just didn't know it.  Rob, the English teacher, sends out a group email at least once a week in which he attaches an article about educational practices or trends in education.  Some of his colleagues meet him for lunch for a lively discussion about the article; the rest of us (who don't eat during that time) weigh in by email or Google docs.  Our Blended Learning Pioneer Team meets weekly to discuss Best Practices in Blended Learning.   This is a practice started by our original  Tech Integration Administrator (Shout out to Stacy!), and our current Instructional Tech Coach (Christina) continues the practice.  Shannon (the Blended Learning Social Studies Teacher) and I meet nearly every day, or every night in a Facebook chat, to go over our trials and tribulations (See my post Snookledorp Means Camaraderie.) and rehash our day in the classroom.  In all of these practices, we continually challenge ourselves and each other, and the discussions can get heated.  The best part about Collegial Coaching in my building is that it all comes down to one question:  How is this good for kids?  We may have differences of opinion about many educational topics, but we all agree that our ultimate goal is to be the best teachers we can be to serve our students.

Last week Christina and I participated in a professional development session at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati.  We saw a group of dedicated teachers who were in the same boat we were in three years ago: they can see the headlights of the big Mack truck that is called Blended Learning, and they want to drive the truck instead of getting run over by it.

[caption id="attachment_300" align="alignnone" width="300"]My name is Blended Learning, and unless you can drive me, I'll mow you down! My name is Blended Learning, and unless you can drive me, I'll mow you down![/caption]


We spent the day listening to them, and we heard our own voices from three years ago.  The difference now is that we know we have something to share with these teachers.  Three years ago we didn't know what the hell we were doing, and it seemed like there was no mentor for us.  Today I am thankful that there is an ever-expanding Blended Learning network in Ohio and, via Twitter, in the world.  This is what we were able to introduce to our colleagues, mentors who are willing to encourage, critique, and share.  What we saw at Purcell Marian was the beginning of great Collegial Coaching.  These teachers have the will to examine themselves and their practices with a critical eye, and they have the sense of efficacy to know that they can create a learning environment that is good for kids.

My colleagues at Purcell Marian made me hopeful for the next step in Collegial Coaching in our own district.  How can teachers provide even more leadership through professional development?  How can we be the leaders we need in our classrooms, our schools, our district?  How can we continually question our practices with the idea of what is good for kids?

This is an exciting thought for someone who believes in encouraging efficacy, who believes that she and her colleagues can create their own intellectually and creatively stimulating environment.

Rock on, Purcell Marian Friends.  You have inspired me to fight the good fight in education.

Stephani Itibrout

Blended Rhetoric and Composition

Like what you read?  Follow me on Twitter @itibrout.

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