If you are like many of the tech-savvy, sometimes simply tech-aware, educators I have spoken to recently, you are getting “pinged” by colleagues who hope you will help them shift their pre-COVID teaching practice to a model that supports remote, hybrid and in-person teaching.
As we prepare for the coming school year, the curriculum and learning outcomes for students will remain unchanged, but the strategies to master them will change dramatically due to COVID-19’s impact on schools.
As a result, educators are eager to find a comfort level with instructional technology that can help us reach and teach children in the varied models in which schools will exist this fall.
In spring 2020, we were “emergency teaching” and did the best we could to promote academic success and emotional health among students and staff during a highly uncertain time. But this fall, classroom teachers must evolve their practice beyond “emergency teaching.” Educators have had time to gain their footing and better understand the characteristics of quality technology-enhanced instruction, whether virtual or in person. In remodeling instruction for the coming school year, we would be wise to capitalize on the expertise found in our own schools.
Based on feedback from the thousands of aspiring leaders I have taught over my career, including at Virginia’s University of Richmond, teachers’ most powerful professional learning often is supported by their schools but initiated by common interests among peers. One hallmark of a healthy school culture is a spirit of teacher leadership through collaboration, trust and sharing.
Peer coaching is one particularly powerful model of teacher leadership and, this year, educators need the benefits of peer coaching more than ever to update their skills and promote quality remote instruction as well as in-person instruction that accounts for COVID-19 safety measures.
What might high-quality peer coaching look like? Coaching behaviors are grounded in some simple and familiar ideas. Quality coaching creates relationship, builds trust, asks questions, sets goals, promotes collaboration and sharing, and celebrates success. Through effective peer coaching, we can expand quality teaching practices, and this collaboration does not have to be complicated or time consuming.
If you are ready to lead and learn with peers, here are SIX WAYS you can get in motion.
1. Acknowledge that you see yourself as a leader. Supporting professional learning among adults is a critical leadership role in schools. If you want to make a difference, actively look for ways to contribute. This call to leadership applies to classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, but also to building and division leaders.
2. Build a professional learning community that encourages sharing ways you and your colleagues have reached students successfully in the past. Each of us has an area of unique knowledge, a particular strategy or skill that brings success in the classroom. What are your simple, consistent and proven strategies? How can you convert these strategies to be successful in this fall’s new forms of instruction? The core ideas of how students learn best don’t change when learning is remote or online. Offering choice and voice in assignments and activities, making real-world connections, promoting collaborative learning among students, engaging in direct instruction that grabs students’ attention, and building positive relationships with your students all still matter. Talk with colleagues about ways to best accomplish these goals remotely, without a complete overhaul of your lesson plans.
3. Lead conversation among your colleagues about tech tools and strategies you will utilize across your grade level, content area, or school. There are countless tools available; if every teacher uses unique tools, students easily can be overwhelmed. It is much easier for students (and teachers) to learn and be comfortable with a few core strategies and apps that will be used by most or all of their teachers. Focus on tools that support what you already know about quality teaching.
4. But also don’t be afraid to try new things. Learning involves trying and failing sometimes. All educators worry about things not being perfect the first time, and this feeling is amplified if we aren’t familiar with our tech tools. Choose thoughtfully and give new tools a whirl. Consult your students (most of whom know more about technology than you) and encourage them to share tech ideas with you. In fact, let them lead sometimes.
5. Seek out formal and informal training. From formal university sponsored instructional technology courses on broad ideas like differentiation through technology to short YouTube tutorials on a specific website or app, embrace your inner lifelong learner and jump in. People are learning valuable new skills through a variety of resources. Build your skills so you can share them with others.
6. Help your colleagues build their confidence as you build yours. You can lead by sharing small successes with others and encouraging them to share theirs with you. Set a calendar that will ensure you carve out time to share successful ideas and celebrate wins. Our calendars demonstrate what we value – be sure to value consistent collaboration and celebration.
We are all trying to make sense of what “beyond emergency teaching” will look like in the coming school year. As a former school principal and current Education professor, I have seen countless educators with the desire and skill to lead, but not the opportunity or confidence to do so. Now is your chance. Start small and work with a few peers. Share relevant and applicable ideas, test them on each other, and talk to your content area and technology specialists about ways to enhance instruction. By partnering with just a few colleagues through effective peer coaching you have the potential to improve instruction for hundreds of students.
If you want to build your leadership skills, you may be interested in a graduate course in Technology Integration Coaching offered through a recent partnership between University of Richmond and Discovery Education. The partnership offers educators online professional development courses focused on teaching and learning through virtual, in-person, and hybrid formats. Intentional learning such as this can support growth among educators as we prepare effective, evidence-based instructional practices throughout the coming school year.
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