Part 2 of our conversation with Joellen Killion, author and professional learning expert

Here is the transcript.

– Hi, I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena and this is #PLtogether and we’re here for another Lounge Talk. We’re talking today with Joellen Killion. She’s a senior adviser for Learning Forward, and the author of several books, including a second edition of a book called “Coaching Matters,” which is coming out this summer 2020. Joellen, thanks so much for joining us.

– I’m happy to be here with you, Adam.

– So in our last conversation, we were talking a lot about the teachers and that relationship that they have with the students and the day-to-day planning. And I wanna step back from that one bit and talk a little bit about the coaches. There are a lot of folks who are in the role to support teachers. They may or may not have that title of coach but they, prior to COVID, were in schools and in classrooms and in that supportive role. So maybe let’s start with maybe a bit of a leading question on purpose. Teachers aren’t in the classrooms anymore. Do we still need coaches?

– We probably need them more than ever now, Adam, especially if we just stop to think about how much learning everyone is doing so rapidly and their desire, teachers’ desire, educators’ desire to become proficient and competent, almost by force they were required to do that. And the amount of change that people are undergoing, coaches, now more than ever, helping people get comfortable, feel comfortable and being courageous.

– I think what’s interesting there is you framed up the general purpose of why a coach exists is to support the teacher in that journey to continually increase effectiveness. And yeah, as you said, now more than ever, everybody’s learning it all over again, so it’d be pretty foolish to think that teachers don’t need some support and guidance along the way. You mentioned all the change that’s happening, all the rapid learning, all the discomfort and we pulled off the BAND-AID on a lot of things and just did it. So there’s a lot of things that feel uncertain, uncomfortable, what aspects of the current situation can people focus on and realize and hold onto that they should recognize are similar or the same as they were before?

– There’s so much of it that is the same. Teaching is the same. We are still engaged in designing learning experiences for student success. We’re still working with the same curriculum. We still are thinking about how we know whether or not students are learning. We still are building relationships with students and coaches with the teachers they support. So much of what we’re doing in terms of the actual day-to-day work is at the root the same, it’s on a different platform, in it’s a different environment. And that environment is causing us to think about what is really critical, less is more is really important now. Focusing on the most critical elements. That’s pretty much all the same. So I think what’s scary is that the environment is so different. And the tools we’re using are unfamiliar. But I know teachers can figure it out and having support from coaches gives them that extra benefit, that extra effort to know that they will succeed as will their students, which is the most important part to follow.

– I think one of the things I’ve been thinking about for roles of coaches and I’ve been trying to remind people, like their new role is not to be the tech captain and it’s not to say there’s not an aspect of that extra person, the extra adult who can help another adult be a faster learner with a new process, in this case, it is a lot of technology but the example I give folks is look, if use of academic language in the content area was a priority before, isn’t it still a priority now? Like you could still be coaching teachers about the use of the academic language as they.

– Absolutely.

– Let’s say they’re recording a little flipped classroom tutorial for students that they post onto a video site. Well, review that video, talk about it. What’s actually happening in that video? There’s still instruction, there’s still the kind of core things that six months ago, your district believed were important for the students in your district to be successful. So that’s been how I’ve been kind of trying to help people just anchor to the things they’ve already been working on I guess.

– I think that’s a great way to anchor it. What was important before continues to be important and now we have some other things to add to the mix.

– Just a few, one or two things. Well, imagine the coaches out there, just in the same way that teachers are feeling overwhelmed, I imagine there are coaches that are feeling very overwhelmed. And in some sense, coaches have the hard task of being the steady rudder for some teachers. So if I’m a coach and I’m, we were talking about anchoring before, well, what if I’m feeling lost at sea? I know there’s no magic answer here but what questions should I be asking or what questions would you ask me to help me kind of start finding my way? ‘Cause I, to kinda continue the analogy, I need to find a new north in all this.

– Yeah. I think the questions might center around these ideas. What are the expectations for students, for teachers, and for you as a coach if I’m speaking to coaches? Let’s get clear on what those expectations are. I think we didn’t have those expectations early on. I’d also ask about prioritizing my work as a coach. I love that you mentioned coaches are not the tech captains. Who are those resource people who are available to support in those areas, even in areas such as which aspects of the curriculum is a district prioritizing at this point of the year in this situation versus what we might be prioritizing at another point if we were still in schools? So I’d ask about expectations, I’d ask about prioritizing. And then I’d be sure that I knew how to listen carefully to the needs of the teachers I’m supporting, and be ready to be responsive to those needs. I think they’re all over the board. It’s emotional support, it’s prioritizing a teacher’s day who may be home with her own students, her own children who need learning. It would be providing resources and access to those resources that will help solve tech problems. It may be organizing very brief professional learning sessions that help teachers think about different assessment strategies, how to engage with students. Maybe there’s a need to connect with some new tech tools. But I think fundamentally, coaches are still helping teachers plan instruction that is high quality, helping teachers know how to know whether students are learning and use that information to design subsequent instructional units. Focusing on student success will always be what a teacher and coach do together, and they’ll do that and improve that student success through the medium of high-quality instruction. So I don’t want, coaches I know are lost and teachers are lost. It’s often lost because there’s so much change and if we can pause and take a few deep breaths, and remember who we are, what we do, why we came to this work, and remember everything is something. Every small step forward is something and that is a huge success. And while we want it perfect, we’re gonna celebrate every mistake as well.

– I like that you, when I think about when we describe what kind of culturally responsive teaching looks like, and being aware of who the students are and the whole student and not just being this kind of operator with an end goal in mind. You, in some ways transferred that, to the role of the coach here without sacrificing any clarity of why we were here, made it okay to help the whole teacher be successful in this moment and that the realities of being at home can be emotionally stressful and maybe that’s a little bit of how you help them work through things. Maybe give them tools to schedule their day or whatever it might be. So yeah, I really like that. Joellen, thank you for these thoughts on coaches and how coaches can be adjusting. We will continue the conversation shortly. For those of you watching or listening, this is a #PLtogether Lounge Talk. You can find more of them at Joellen, thanks so much for joining us again.

– Thank you, Adam, I appreciate it.