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Strategies for Coaching Educators in the Digital World

April 24, 2019

What does it look like to make the most of EdTech tools in a digital world? And how can school leaders support the tech-rich work happening in classrooms? Coaching educators in the digital world presents unique opportunities and challenges. So when I heard about a new book on the topic, I was excited to learn more.

Tech Request: A Guide for Coaching Educators in the Digital World was just published by Routledge. It provides research-based strategies to help instructional coaches and school leaders support educators in their school community. Authors Emily L. Davis is the co-Founder of the Teacher Development Network, and Brad M. Currie is the Supervisor of Instruction and Dean of Students for the Chester School District in Chester, New Jersey. I’ve had the chance to connect with Brad during his popular Twitter Chat #satchat. He is also part of the Evolving Educator team who hosts events here in New Jersey. Tech Request is out now in paperback and Kindle. It includes resources for coaching educators to help them make the most of digital tools.

Tech Request: A Guide for Coaching Educators in the Digital World

I’m excited to share more about Tech Request in this blog post. Emily and Brad were kind enough to answer a few questions about their new book. They shared their co-authored responses below and I can’t wait for you to learn more about their work!

Coaching Educators

What motivated you to write a book on this topic?

Emily and Brad wrote this book because they are both passionate about the role instructional coaches play in the development of educators, especially in the digital world. Over the past decade, school districts have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on technological and infrastructure upgrades, new devices, and web-based applications.

Too often though, these investments are wasted because educators at the classroom, school, and district levels do not know how to integrate these new tools into high-quality instruction in a way that promotes the success of all students. If school districts truly want these initiatives to succeed, they need to invest, not only in the technology but, more importantly, in developing instructional coaching staff who can help educators integrate that technology in meaningful ways.

For close to twenty years, Emily and Brad have worked in school districts, universities, and non-profits. They’ve had the roles of teachers, leaders and, most importantly, as developers of instructional coaches because we believe that coaching is a game changer in education. When smart teachers work together, anything is possible.

Why is this topic important to you?

Both Brad and Emily have both seen first hand the incredible possibilities technology can create for teachers and students. It allows teachers to create learning experiences never before possible and provides students the opportunity to interact with, create, and curate information in ways never before possible.

Brad’s Background

Brad is the Director of Planning, Research, and Evaluation for the Chester School District in Chester, New Jersey and has seen students thrive over the past five years in a 1:1 Chromebook environment. Whether it’s students creating their own virtual reality experience, collaborating on a Google Slide presentation in real time, or designing a website on the Google Sites platform, the options are endless. Brad is totally amazed by the engaging lessons that teachers create, and students get to experience.

Emily’s Background

Emily, as a former New Teacher Center leader and Program Director for the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project, led mentoring, instructional coaching, and school leadership efforts for teachers at both the K-12 and higher education levels. She quickly realized that being proficient in the digital landscape was a requirement for success in these roles and that teachers, leaders, and the coaches who support them, desperately need a digital tool kit to survive. They needed to know not only how to employ technology for their own needs, but also how to select and use technology as part of quality instruction. Learning to do this kind of work on one’s own, however, is a big challenge.

Emily and Brad believe that the impact of teachers can be amplified with the support of instructional coaches who have a solid working knowledge of technology integration and know how to be effective coaches. Just because an educator understands technology, or is successful in using it in her own classroom, does not mean she will know how to help others integrate technology into their practice. Strong programs help coaches take what they know about technology and pair it with effective coaching practice in order to create the strongest impact possible.

Emily and Brad believe that the impact of teachers can be amplified with the support of instructional coaches who have a solid working knowledge of technology integration and know how to be effective coaches. Just because an educator understands technology, or is successful in using it in her own classroom, does not mean she will know how to help others integrate technology into their practice. Strong programs help coaches take what they know about technology and pair it with effective coaching practice in order to create the strongest impact possible.

How can coaches support educators just starting out using technology in the classroom?

Instructional coaches can support educators who are just starting out using technology in the classroom by simply being available and listening to teachers. Stopping by the classroom, visiting grade level meetings, or sending a simple email can let your colleagues know that you are there to support them in any way possible. Listening to their needs and finding small ways to solve their challenges can create quick wins that build trust and encourage educators to seek out that coach again.

Once you gain their trust, finding larger projects to work on together that the teacher is passionate about and support high-quality instruction is the next step. For these projects to succeed, it’s important to set up consistent times to meet, brainstorm and problem solve, plan, help them gather and review data, and troubleshoot.

It’s also important to highlight the great work of your colleagues as they infuse new technologies in their classrooms. Sharing the success of others is a great way to get others interested in working with you, too. A simple tweet or blurb in the monthly newsletter can go along way in telling their story and building confidence.

Make sure you and your building administrator are both clear about your role and are on board with your work. When school leaders communicate to staff that your work is critical and that collaborating with you is an expectation, not an option, it’s easier to ensure your work is aligned with school and district goals, is a priority, and is more likely to get traction.

Research-Based Coaching Strategies

In your book, you discuss the research behind best practices for coaches. Was there a particular piece of research that surprised you?

There are so many great studies out there on what works and does not work in the field of education. Take for example the research of John Hattie. In looking at effect sizes on what truly impacts student achievement, the effect sizes of coaching and collaboration are quite strong. However, the jury is still out on the effect size of technology. Knowing this, Emily and Brad looked more closely at effect sizes that relate to sound instructional practices. Ones that can be enhanced through technology with the support of a coach.

For example, classroom discussion has a very high effect size (.82). So coaches need to think about how they can leverage technology to amplify student voice. A tool like Flipgrid might be a great place for a coach to start. It allows students to hold a virtual classroom discussion. A teacher simply creates an online classroom. Then they post a video to stimulate discussion. Students can then complete the process by posting their very own video response.

It’s pretty special to see every student have a chance to virtually raise their hand and participate in the conversation. We know that if it is done well, it is having a positive effect on student learning. Tech coaches need to be aware of this kind of research. They can partner it with frameworks like T-PACK and SAMR in mind. This can help them guide educators on how to best select and integrate technology and instruction in powerful research-driven ways.

Do you have advice for school leader making coaching in their school a priority this year?

Brad and Emily want school leaders to know that they don’t have to take on technological projects by themselves. Coaches are powerful partners in advancing school initiatives. They have the knowledge and skills to help make the leader’s vision a reality. In addition to working with coaches themselves, school leaders must ensure that every teacher in his or her building understands the importance of collaborating with the instructional coaches. This can happen on a consistent basis to achieve common goals.

Learn new strategies for coaching educators in a digital world in the new book Tech Request by Emily L. Davis and Brad M. Currie.

It’s also important to understand that coaching will not be a quick fix. It takes time to build the culture, knowledge, skill, and confidence required to change teaching and learning to fully integrate technology in the ways we know it can. Involving instructional coaches in planning and leading faculty meetings, professional learning communities, staff in-services, and subject area meetings can help to ensure technology decisions are woven into all aspects of the work and are not an afterthought. Good coaching can sometimes go unnoticed. So highlighting the important work of instructional coaches in your communications to stakeholders can help elevate this important work and ensure it continues to be funded.

Most importantly, make sure your instructional coaches have an opportunity to enhance their own effectiveness by participating in ongoing learning and attending or presenting at conferences and workshops. Technology changes constantly and it takes time to learn to coach well, so these experiences are necessary for their continued success and to the success of your technological initiatives.

What technology tools or strategies can help a coach work effectively in their role?

Leveraging the power of specific technologies and strategies can help an instructional coach be more effective in the role. For example, Google Forms can help gain feedback from your colleagues. They can tell you what they need to improve upon with technology integration. Google Calendar can help with scheduling appointments and keep a record of the support you provided throughout the school year. Using social media to tell not only your story but the story of your colleagues, is critical. It will give you a sense of validation and help recognize the great work of your colleagues.

Emerging Technologies

Piloting emerging technologies can help improve instruction in the classrooms. It can also raise the awareness of, comfort with, and willingness to try new technologies by your colleagues. For example, a coach might collaborate with a science teacher. They could to use a set of virtual reality goggles to take students on a virtual tour of Yosemite. This activity could be part of their unit National Parks. The result is a teacher who was able to do something with her students that she could not do without technology. And she has a stronger desire to collaborate with the coach around other new possibilities.

Some technological tools can be both a strategy for coaching and for the teacher. For example, Swivl is a robotic camera connected to a portable microphone. It allows the user to plug in their device and record what’s going on in the classroom. Working with a teacher to record their own classrooms and then breaking down that footage together during a coaching session can be a powerful way to change instruction. When teachers watch their own practice on film, the research shows they are more likely to make changes more quickly than when a coach takes notes in the back of the room. Thus, this is a win-win for both the teacher and the coach.

Learn more about Tech Request: A Guide for Coaching Educators in the Digital World by heading over to Amazon! It’s available now on paperback and Kindle.

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Dr. Monica Burns is a former classroom teacher, Author, Speaker, and Curriculum & EdTech Consultant. Visit her site ClassTechTips.com for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.

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