Part 3 of our conversation with Joellen Killion, author and instructional coaching expert

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Here is the transcript.

– Hi, this is PLtogether lounge talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of at Edthena, the professional learning platform. Today we are joined by Joellen Killion, she is a senior advisor at Learning Forward and also the author of books about instructional coaching, and generally professional learning in all of its various forms and working at an organization that’s been around for a long time talking about professional learning in all of its various forms. Joellen, thanks so much for joining us again.

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

– So, we’ve talked so far about the teachers, we’ve talked about the coaches and the coaches’ role and we’ve kind of been skirting around this question of the relationship between the teacher and the coach, which I think is very central to a successful coaching relationship. I can’t even describe it without using the word relationship. So, I think one of the things I’m interested to kind of explore with you is some of our notions that we may have had about what makes a good relationship. And one of the first things I’m curious about, everybody’s at home right now, they may be at home in variations going forward. Do you think that being at home, but needing to continue working at a distance has helped us pull apart the kind of collapsed definition that we previously had that a good relationship was one where I showed up and gave you my full attention?

– Yeah, wow, that question about relationship is so critical. Coaching is really dependent on trust and integrity and coaches have a significant responsibility to be present with the teachers they’re supporting. In some cases, I can demonstrate my commitment to being present better in a face-to-face environment. Although I can do it just like this, I am present with you. I’m giving you my full attention. I don’t in many cases have much distracting me at this moment. And because contacts like this face-to-face in Zoom gives me an opportunity to see your face and to know a little bit about what’s going on around you. I can be with you, and I can develop and sustain that relationship. And maybe more, I can see your home and I know a little bit about what you like. And there’s something very interesting on your wall behind you that’s blue that I’d love to get a little closer look at so I can discover things about you that I might not know in the environment of our school building.

– Yeah, I think so. I wanna make sure I don’t put words in your mouth here. I know what my personal opinions are on this, but you would advocate that it is definitely possible and we should be thinking that a successful relationship does not require me to be physically in person with you.

– I think that’s true, Adam, I do believe it. I do believe that relationships can be enhanced if we could sit and have face-to-face, a cup of tea or coffee. But I do think we can do it.

– I will add the caveat, I didn’t mean 100% replacement for ever forgoing in person.

– Absolutely, it is possible. We’re not missing anything, and particularly right now, we did have a face-to-face relationship that we’re basing all of this on. I think what would be sad is if we started the school year, and there’s a brand new teacher who comes to join our staff, and I haven’t had a chance to meet with that teacher face-to-face, that might stretch my ability to build that relationship. Yet I know I could do it because I can schedule a cup of coffee with that new teacher face-to-face.

– Right, it might even take new strategies for building relationships, just like is taking new strategies for helping students learn.

– That’s exactly right.

– Well, I think there’s an an interesting new possibility with having these relationships at a distance which is the ability to have some asynchronous or more asynchronous community. I think before, there was some asynchronous communication in schools, primarily email, sometimes a note in the teachers mailbox or post it note or whatever it might be. But now that we’re all communicating digitally, seems like that asynchronous option can be in some ways, like a force multiplier, right? Like maybe the time we spent together is the rich conversation and the time we spent apart is that independent analysis of our teaching? I don’t know what are you thinking about how asynchronous tools can really change what that relationship looks like, hopefully for the better?

– Well, I’ll admit that maybe 20 years ago, when some of these asynchronous tools were first appearing, and people were so interested in them and wanted to use them to totally replace things like professional learning. And then to replace in-classroom observation that I was a skeptic, yet I know today I can work more, precisely with the teacher on an aspect of teaching. If I ask that teacher, show me a segment that we can look at together, where you’re worried about student engagement, you worried about how you were asking questions to encourage students to be involved in productive struggle. Show me that segment, let’s look at that together, let’s analyze it together. Now let’s walk through what might be some possibilities and we might look at five minutes of video together. Sometimes I believe that doing that, helps the teacher discover his or her own inner teacher, just by seeing it and me being present, perhaps to pause and ask a question. So that asynchronous capacity by having video that I can look at independently, the teacher can look at independently. Or maybe we come together and look at it as a team and walk through it together. These are all different ways we didn’t have and we have them now. And I think it enriches the work that we do. I do have a couple of cautions, particularly now. And one caution I have is start with success. Build on success, ask, if I were a coach, I’d ask a teacher to show me a recorded video that demonstrated the use of some process I wanted students to practice. Show me that video, that you’re really proud of. tell me what you’re proud of, what made that a success. Before I jumped into show me something that you don’t think worked. I build on that success space right now as a means to jump into the use of asynchronous capacity with technology.

– You did me a favor and meandered into my favorite topic area, of course, which is video reflection. And I guess I do want to call out and make explicit folks that we did go from the kind of general idea of asynchronous which I positioned as email and you very quickly told us that, well, we’ve arrived at a better version of the future because asynchronous collaboration can involve these very rich artifacts and rich representations of the teaching practice, in its various forms. And that, that is really the night and day difference. ’cause if it was all email or all chat or all something else or all sit and get, watch a video online, then I would quickly be like the, as you said the older version of yourself, the past version of yourself which is like no, that’s it’s not a rich engagement of teaching practice. Man, I had another thought coming out of that, but now I don’t remember what it was.

– While you’re thinking about that, let me just say that using technology like this, teachers and coaches can look at students work together. We can be, if students are doing a presentation they posted or we have scanned work, we can look at that work together. Even though we may be seven miles apart, we can look at that work, dig in to that work and ask ourselves, where is it that students are struggling? What misconceptions might they be demonstrating in this particular part of the work? What implications does that have in terms of what comes next for this student or this cluster of students? So it’s not just the teaching we can look at, we can also be using it to think about student work and we can do planning, we can meet in a grade level team together, with the focus for the next week’s lessons, ready to go and we can talk about how we’re going to do that, how will we differentiate and we can work together as a team with a coach facilitating that planning. That’s more synchronous, yet we can do it asynchronously as well.

– Yeah, like that. Your call out to the the student aspect of rich representations of student learning. One of the things I’ve thought about recently is that for schools that are doing some online synchronous video conferencing style learning, and have progressed to hopefully, students collaborating on the video, not just talking head, teacher to the students. But, if you have students working in groups, if you could record those student groups, now suddenly you have a very rich representation of student collaboration and student talk and wow, that’s in some ways, more powerful than trying to observe that by lean over the kids thing. I did remember though, the other thought that I had from when you were sharing before and it was that idea of starting with a place of success or growth in the representations of teaching practice that you have or teaching and learning. And it called to mine, one of my favorite stories from a teacher that I heard, it was actually after the first year of building Edthena, and the teacher is at the end of his first year of teaching. And he pointed out to me, it was so insightful. I mean, it really just was eye opening for me. He said, “Yeah, of course, I had these videos “that showed me all the things I was still working on, “getting better at. “But I also could see that even as a first year teacher, “I had made so much progress.” It is that same thing that you’re talking about right there, you don’t have to be afraid of the video in a professional learning context. You can use the video in a lot of different ways. And for him, he was using those kind of regular videos to not only see what else you have to work on, but also to kind of really recognize and dig in on, where was he already having success.

– That’s great.

– There’s one other thing I think, related to asynchronous before we wrap that I was pushed by an educator recently, she supports, she’s on the teacher, educator side of the spectrum and she supports first year teachers and she was kind of remarking about how asynchronous support for her teachers is now important because of all the demands that are on the teachers. The teachers are not just teachers, the teachers are parents, the teachers are doing this, the teachers, like they are also people that are at home with a whole different set of responsibilities on top of, quote, unquote, being a teacher and needing to figure out all those things as well. So I’m curious, should we be thinking of flexibility in the ways that we design the supports for teachers? I mean, should we kind of bucket that under the umbrella of equity for the teachers because teachers just like students, have a lot of different things going on. Some may have different access to technology even. I guess how do we balance that? ’cause we don’t often talk about what’s equitable for the teachers.

– I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is really the same issue. If we’re not personalizing the support for teachers to fit their context, their need. Certainly coaches work with teachers around their own professional growth goals. They are goal focused in the work they do with teachers. We’re doing this same thing with coaching, we’re making sure that we’re looking closely at the needs of the teacher, given the students, the teachers working with, and we’re personalizing the supports to help the teacher grow in the areas that were necessary for the students, but also in terms of what the teacher chooses to focus on or the school’s improvement goals are focused on. So I think the issue of equity in terms of making opportunities for reflection or opportunities for engaging in some dialogue with a coach available at different times of the day, for example, or in different ways, ways that we as coaches can help meet those needs of teachers and making sure that we’re sensitive to, aware of and responsive to their home environment, their contacts, their availability. We have a lot of teachers, young teachers, working multiple jobs. They work all weekend, they have evening jobs just to make ends meet or pay back student loans. And so, how can we use the asynchronous capacity on technology, to engage them in reflection and to learning that helps them become more effective in their work?

– It’s like we talked about in our last conversation, about setting the goals for student achievement and note that, if you didn’t take into account the context of the learner, you would be doing the learner a disservice, well, here the teacher is the learner. In the same way, we said the students learn before you could just substitute student for teacher and it would be the same statement. Well, Joellen, before we go, I wanna ask you one extra question, that’s called the extra credit question. So since the sheltering in place has come to be part of our normal, what’s something that you’ve changed or adopted in your routine, and that you’ve been thinking about valuing as a result?

– Well, I think I would have to put learning as the first thing that I have changed. Not that I didn’t learn before, but it is more intentionally a part of virtually every day. I’m involved in participating in webinars, I have engaged in several online courses to learn what that experience is like, I’m doing more writing than I would typically do. And I’m having just some more downtime as well. So I’m working hard to maintain balance. But I’m also working hard just like all the other educators to learn what it means to be working in this kind of environment. Zoom has become a new best friend, both for socializing with friends around the world and also for learning as well. And being engaged in conversations with people such as you that I wouldn’t necessarily have a chance to sit down and have this kind of conversation with you on it. We might see each other at the conference and sit and have a cup of coffee, but we wouldn’t be talking about issues necessarily that really matter to our students and teachers today. These are the things I’m changing as well.

– Yeah, I agree with suddenly recognizing we had all these tools available, we weren’t using them. I think it’s because, I mean, if I were to summarize, I think that there was this pervasive thing around, you’ve got to connect physically in person for it to count. And that I think, the idea that I just, like you’re talking about connecting people for happy hours and family get togethers, all these things, the idea that we could get together virtually could count. It was just as valuable or maybe not 100% replacement, I don’t wanna suggest that we’re getting everything we need, we can’t go hug our family members, but, yeah, it’s valuable and important, and I agree it has definitely opened up some new opportunities.

– It is, and I think it’s important because we’re being more intentional about doing it. I think we took a lot of those connections for granted, they were casual. They occurred if we had time, or it was just accidental. And now we’re really being intentional about scheduling time to make those connections and it feels better. I’ve set aside this time to be with you. And I think that’s exciting.

– Well, thank you for that. On behalf of other educators who get to sit in on this conversation, thank you for the time. Joellen, thanks again for being part of PLtogether. And look forward to talking again soon.

– All right, Adam, thanks so much, I wish you well.

 

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