Art of Coaching, Part I

Many people in my PLN are currently reading The Art of Coaching, by Elena Aguilar. While we are in the education field, I could absolutely see the strategies and activities she presents in the book applying to any form of coaching, from high school football to corporate coaches. Recently a colleague was commenting how non-fiction is bringing her down these days. One concept being drawn out and badgered to death – taking 300 pages to lay out what could have been done in 75 or 80. Then noting the ease at which she can put those books aside and never finish them. At which point I told her, so far, this book is not one of those. This book is practical, applicable, and enjoyable. I am only five chapters in, but there have been plenty of a-ha’s for me.

I am particularly enjoying the exercises. These are steps I wish I had taken before I started coaching schools. But as I read this book, I am becoming more and more certain that I am still a coach, just in a different capacity than being face to face in schools. Using technology as a way to access others to enroll in blended coaching opportunities is what I have been trying to do in my current job. That is why I am including it in this blog.

I am still working through her updated mission/vision document, but step one in determining your coaching vision, or the stance that was referenced in the National Equity Project work I engaged in last fall, is determining your core values. The process is to choose 10 from an existing list…

From 5 to 3.
Original 10.

…and get it down to 5…

From 10 to 5.

…then from 5 to 3. These are my core values from this first iteration of the process. In the reflection, Elena encourages you to post these values somewhere prominent and reflect on them over two weeks. So, here are mine, right next to my desk with all of the inspirational notes that keep me motivated during challenging times.

How will these three values surface in my coaching vision?
How will these three values surface in my coaching vision?

These are sitting well with me as the core values at the moment, yet are not necessarily clear in my current work. So as I continue engaging with this book, I look forward to seeing how my definition of coaching and my vision shape and are related to my core values.

Are you reading this book too? If so, how are your core values resonating with you?


Blended Learning 101: My Thoughts

Khan Academy, in partnership with the Clayton Christensen Institute and the Silicon Schools Fund, recently released an online course titled Blended Learning 101. The series of over 40 videos are an excellent overview of some of the more introductory components to three types of blended learning models: flex, station rotation, and lab rotation. What I like best about these videos is what they are calling the protagonists. Essentially, the series focuses on three different schools – KIPP LA, Summit Public Schools, and Navigator Schools – and the ways they are changing the look of education by implementing blended learning with their students. I also enjoyed the explanations from both Michael Horn and Brain Greenberg as they narrated the video series and made a sometimes complicated topic easily accessible for all.

There are some excellent tutorials for those who are interested in learning what blended learning is and how to begin implementing in your individual classroom. However, the bulk of the content really is focused on shifting structures within a traditional school setting to allow for blended learning to become a reality. I particularly enjoyed the sections that focused on the end in mind. How would you intentionally design a school that would allow for blended learning to be implemented, supported, and encouraged? What would you need to throw out of our existing schools in order to create that structure? What would you keep? How does the role of the teacher shift in a blended environment and what role does technology play?

But my favorite video was about the ways a strong blended learning program can demonstrate the learning outcomes that are necessary for college and career today. Agency is mentioned often in the course and for anyone, adult or student, who has engaged in online or blended learning, it quickly becomes apparent that skill needs to be developed and supported in order to be successful. How are you encouraging agency in your classroom through blended practices?

Those and many other questions are answered in the course. Is there room for improvement? Sure. I was definitely missing an interactive component to the course. There were only so many videos I could watch in succession. I think this would be a great series for a school to go through with some face to face discussions, especially if they are considering large shifts in their structures to support blended learning. I could also see some visible thinking routines used to make connections from the content to current practices found in a school, either by myself as a way to articulate what I am learning or with a PLN.  I also was desperately missing the high school version on the protagonist stories. While Summit has higher level grades, I didn’t see or hear much about what that looks like and how it is different from elementary level blended learning, which in its nature and structure more easily adapts to the concepts.

Overall, this is an excellent overview for those willing to rethink school and what it means to blend. What did you find most helpful?

The Connectivity Gap and Equity

EducationSuperHighway released a report this month on the status of technology in more than 1,000 districts across the U.S. The schools in these districts were evaluated on their progress toward President Obama’s “ConnectED” initiative. One of the goals is to have 99% of schools with access to high speed internet capable of supporting 1:1 learning environments within five years. The findings of the study are not entirely surprising – schools with higher per pupil spending on technology are on their way to achieving the ConnectED goals, while those that spend less, often cannot afford the cost of reliable high-speed internet. In short,

Connecting America’s Students: Opportunities for Action An Analysis of E-rate Spending Offers Key Insights for Expanding Educational Opportunity April, 2014, p. 5


If all students are to be aware, eligible, and prepared for college and careers, then we need to address the reality of access and equity in the world of online, digital, and blended learning. When it comes to online courses, if there is no high speed connectivity, then that option for education limits those who do have consistent, reliable access. In most cases, this means that traditionally under-served populations will continue to be under-served in the world of online learning. The same can be said for digital learning programs that are designed for remediation. If students are not provided a space and time during school hours, the chance of those students who most often need remedial programs having reliable access and time outside of school to complete the work is not guaranteed. I think there may be a slightly more optimistic view for blended programs depending on their type of implementation, but it still is cause for concern when the mere cost of internet in economically challenged districts is unaffordable. How can schools effectively implement innovative blended learning models without the structures to support them?

I love the idea of the “ConnectED” plan because I believe that access to internet will give students more opportunities to be prepared for college and career. But I don’t love the goals themselves because they only address the technical aspect of improved technology, not the more adaptive shift that is needed to truly make technology a powerful tool in the classroom. That requires dedicated professional development time that is not required or even guaranteed to be offered in districts who do meet the five year goal benchmarks. In some school systems, having access and the technology exists but having teachers who know how to use it well and harness the power of the tools is another question. Is it fair to assume that schools who can already afford to have high speed internet can also afford the training for teachers to more effectively use it? I think so. And conversely, the schools who can’t afford the internet are not going to be able to afford the professional development either.

Connectivity is not the entire challenge. It is step one in improving equitable access in schools and it must be closed. But connectivity only gets people so far. I wonder if the current push for more digital opportunities in schools without addressing the training and professional development needs of teachers using technology is actually increasing inequities for our students?



This Is How We DID It

It’s been one week since travelling to California for our SoCal Ragnar Relay Race and we can proudly say that we did it! But it wouldn’t be a New Tech event if we didn’t debrief the process and reflect on our experience.

Team Jedi Mind Trix completes Ragnar in 30:21:46
Team Jedi Mind Trix completes Ragnar in 30:21:46

All of the learning outcomes that New Tech embraces were put to the test multiple times and we dove deeper into our relationships with each other throughout the process.  Our lessons learned include what to pack next time to ensure optimal sleeping in parks (note: the sleeping bag is key!), remembering that having our leg maps actually does matter as sometimes people miss signs or go off course = more miles than necessary, and that running through the night is really challenging, especially if mother nature decides to rain on your leg…sorry about that one Jenny!

But our takeaways extend far beyond the technical aspects of our learning outcomes and reminded us of the “why” for collaboration, communication, and agency. They are not just skills needed for college and career readiness. They are skills needed for life. We entered this crazy race to tackle a team challenge that differs from our everyday interaction with one another.  What we walked away with is something much deeper than that – a sense of community and a common experience that will forever link us together. Here are what some of my colleagues found to be most valuable from our weekend together:

  • I think my biggest take-away was a renewed respect and admiration for my colleagues as regular people. That no matter what position we occupy within NTN, that we all struggled at times, all leaned on each other, and all felt immensely supported by the rest of the team.
  • A big takeaway for me is that people’s strengths really shine when on little to no sleep and with a totally altered eating schedule. It’s almost as if you go into survival mode, and teammates’ most carnal strengths emerge out of necessity. It’s also an incredibly validating experience to successfully dominate your relay legs, knowing that your training has paid off and you’ve earned your place in the experience.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in something [distance running] that is typically undertaken individually via a group [relay] format. I loved spending such a big block of time with my co-worker friends and getting to better know them. Cheering for them and having them cheer for me at exchange sites was just one very cool aspect of the event.
  • It reminded me of how much more impactful it can be to achieve something incredibly difficult as an individual when that accomplishment is also directly contributing to, and supported by, a larger collective effort.  That impact simultaneously empowers and invigorates the individual while also strengthening the group as a whole, creating this feedback loop of positive energy that lifts everybody up.  It’s that energy that really helps us achieve at levels we didn’t think we could.  This event seemed to provide the perfect mixture  of activities to achieve maximum positive impact in this way:  repeated individual challenges (running legs), collective challenges (exhaustion, shared challenges), collaborative support (exchanges, travel), all in a compact time span that ended in a celebration.   I’m now wondering how that formula might apply in other contexts.      Mostly, though, I’m just really happy that I was able to experience it with my fantastic colleagues.
  • My takeaway is the power of a team in what is normally such an individual sport. Also, the power of a good kill!!!
  • I think my biggest take-away was, honestly, around physical challenge and challenging yourself- namely, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you spend the time to prep and have 11 people motivating you and cheering you on.

My takeaway? That this event truly engaged the NTN core principles and leaning on each other was necessary to finish strong. The power of collaboration, even when seemingly doing something individually, made for an overall better end product. I am so proud of us as a team and as individuals. We can now say that we are Ragnarians!

Yes We Are!
Yes We Are!

This Is How WE Do It

Collaboration. Communication. Agency.

Ask any New Tech Network member and they will say that these are just some of the skills that not only make New Tech unique, but that take time and practice to do well. They require scaffolding, support, clarification, and revision in order to achieve. As coaches, these are the things that we encourage from the second a facilitator or director enters into this challenging work. It will be hard and will require perseverance. In the words of Yoda,


Star Wars + New Tech. Let's do this.
Star Wars + New Tech. Let’s do this.

So the time has come to answer the driving question: what exactly does happen when 12 NTN employees start running in LA and end up in San Diego?

For months, we have been preparing for a Ragnar Relay Race. This race is 36 continuous hours of running between Huntington Beach and San Diego, California. There are two vans of six runners that will each run three legs to complete the distance. It sounds a little crazy. It probably will be. But it will also put to use all of the skills that we believe are needed to solve real world problems.

Agency. We are running 196 miles. Each person is running between 12 and 26 miles. That takes practice and determination. There have definitely been challenges for us as we have trained while travelling to support schools and built up the mileage and endurance to complete this crazy task. Personally, I have also struggled with having a growth mindset about running. It’s still a battle but now I know I can do 7.2 miles (my longest leg). I am the slowest team member, and I have had to learn to be okay with that. Definitely an exercise in my own agency – growing from set back and more internal battling conversations about my ability to continue than I would have imagined. I also imagine that on my third leg somewhere along the Pacific coast around 4:00 am Saturday, I will need to engage these skills to finish my last leg.

Communication. Have you ever tried to coordinate 12 people in a relay race who are geographically dispersed through four US time zones? And tried to make sure that the race rules (it’s really a 68 page book) are followed? Our fearless team captain @jennypieratt did a fantastic job organizing these shenanigans. This took unbelievable amounts of communication, via emails, chats, phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook, a hot mess of a Google Doc, and even some last minute face to face shopping and item hand offs. All of that coordination requires amazing communication skills and almost all was done virtually. And it isn’t over yet. We will have to utilize these skills to ensure each van is at the correct exchange point at the correct time. And to hand off hotel room keys. And probably a bunch more ways that we have yet to discover.

Let’s add in content knowledge for fun. Math: There is a rather intense spreadsheet that exists to predict when each runner will be at the exchange points. Each runner needs to keep their pre-submitted pace so as to not get a team penalty for going too quickly or too slowly. It also adjusts for fatigue in the third leg. Now, how close will we come to the predicted finishing time? We will let you know Saturday. Science: How much hydration does someone need to complete this race? On long runs, how many gu like products should you carry? How funky will the van smell by the end of day one? Day two? All interesting science questions to investigate. Social studies: Van one has all out of towners and only one Californian. Maybe not our best plan, but our map skills will sure come in handy! Ragnar even encourages you to carry maps with you when you run. In case you get lost or someone turns, moves, or removes the course signs. Our philosophy on being lost? Hug a tree. We will find you. English: It’s called communication. Have I mentioned that we need to cheer one another on and communicate with the other van? And all the planning? Enough said. Art: costumes. Oh, have I forgotten to mention that we have costumes for this race? And that we need to decorate our vans too? You can find us sporting some Star Wars themed outfits, waving our Star Wars flag, and throwing Trix cereal on people.

It goes without saying that none of this could be accomplished without collaboration. This team not only works well supporting schools, but also rocks at supporting each other. We are about to demonstrate just how all of our New Tech Learning Outcomes work to get us from point A to point B. So, I invite you to follow us along this journey on the New Tech Network Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram using #ragnarsocal or #teamjedimindtrix. If you follow any NTN employees on Twitter, you can check out our individual profiles to see what is happening. Good luck Team Jedi Mind Trix!

Blending Deeper Learning

The Teaching Channel has recently released a series of Deeper Learning videos to demonstrate the various ways schools in that network are preparing kids to think critically and engage more intensely with content. These videos are all outstanding and contain useful, practical tips for teachers to use in the classroom immediately. However, they can also be a bit intimidating because the schools featured here follow specific models that you may not be familiar with. But don’t worry, there is always a way to begin conversations with those videos and your colleagues. And the best part is that it can be blended.

So, how can you use these videos as a jumping off point to engage your team/grade level/department/PLC in trying something new that you are excited about from these particular schools?

Teaching Channel does such a great job of posing “Questions to Consider” in the right hand margin of the videos right under the objectives. These questions would be great discussion starters that could be done in any LMS discussion tool. Let’s say you want to try using group contracts on your next project. You bring this idea to your PLC and are hoping to think through the idea with your colleagues before testing it out. Set up a modified See, Think, Wonder protocol for them:

1. (5  minutes) Watch the Group Contracts for Collaborative Work video prior to your face to face meeting. If you have or create a Teaching Channel account, you can take notes in the “My Notes” section for future reference on the video.

2. (15 minutes) Respond to the “Question to Ponder” from the Teaching Channel in the discussion tool of your LMS.

2. (15 minutes) Once in your PLC, show the video again more to ground the conversation and review the posts in the discussion thread. Share your responses aloud to the following questions spending no more than five minutes on each question.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think about that?
  • What does it make you wonder?

3. (5 minutes) Explore the video resources to see if any of your wonders are answered. Discuss any findings.

4. (5 minutes) Share out your next steps with group contracts and any changes you are planning to make based on the conversation with your PLC.

When looking at the videos in this way, you can spend 20 minutes prior to the meeting engaging in deep thinking about the content in an online forum. This allows you to jump right into discussion in person which shortens the meetings, as well as giving people additional processing time, if needed.

Get creative with these videos and use them as part of your adult learning practices in PLCs. Find a video that speaks to you and modify, find, or create a protocol for looking at it with colleagues. There are such good resources that can be found, if you just spend a little (blended) time unpacking them. Happy watching!