The etymology of COLLABORATION is from the Latin co meaning together and the verb laborare meaning work, so collaboration is working together. Well, that’s easy enough to explain, but maybe not so easy to put into practice because together requires establishing and building effective relationships, and that bit is not so easy.
As a teacher, my classroom is built around collaboration. Group projects, peer editing, seminar discussions, study buddies, and group work all require a flexible classroom with students able to move furniture to suit their particular learning needs. Moving furniture is easy, moving hearts takes time, skill, and empathy.
I appreciate ISTE’s breakdown of the collaborator standard for students, educators, and coaches because it underscores that we not only learn better from each other, but we learn for each other. The explanation of each indicator reflects that, whether coaches, teachers, or students, we all are co-learners.
The coaching standard requires that coaches establish productive relationships with educators to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes.
For my investigation of Indicator 3a, I relied heavily on the wisdom of Les Foltos. In his book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Foltos states that communication and collaboration skills are a prerequisite to successful collaboration. In chapter five, Foltos underscores that collaboration has to be structured, taught, and learned. I was introduced to two terms I had not heard of while reading his text: Norm Setting and Active Listening, both important components for successful coaching conversations.
If like me, you want to understand the value of setting the ground rules for coaching conversations that lead to effective coach/mentor collaboration, then read my blog post, Two Essential Conditions for Essential for Collaboration: Active Listening and Norm Setting. The last two lines of my post still ring true as I continually remind myself of Foltos’ words that collaboration has to be structured, taught, and learned: My big take-away from this investigation is INTENTIONALITY. To be a successful coach I need to honor my learning partner by LISTENING (actively) and by being PREDICTABLE (sticking to the norms.) Honestly, neither are my strong suit … so grateful that these are skills that can be practiced.
Building trust when developing a coaching relationship is vital for effective collaboration. I reflected on an authentic coaching experience in the post, Coaching Plans Honor Learning Partners, which explains how I created and used a coaching plan for my learning partner and me to follow. Neither of us really had the time or energy to rework a tired and somewhat outdated lesson, however, with the coaching plan we had a framework that kept us on track and which made the task seem less onerous.
In the same post I highlight some really helpful articles, for example, Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles, which he outlines in The Impact Cycle: What Instructional Coaches Should Do to Foster Powerful Improvements in Teaching, and Joy Defors’ Establishing Trust: Transitioning from Teacher to Coach. Sidenote: while re-reading the Defors article, I found another article by Mia Pumo which I think is worth sharing: Build Trust and Improve Team Collaboration with Appreciative Inquiry. I love the idea of appreciative inquiry and the accompanying graphic (5-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry) demonstrates how it works, however, I urge you to read the post, it is delightful.
A cursory review of my posts over the two years of this Master’s course will quickly show you that the effects of Covid-19 have played a prominent role. Yes, the consequences of the Covid lockdown have brought real challenges to our normal teaching day and subsequently, teachers are talking about their ‘new normal’ in education. But I think Covid-19 has uncovered a more daunting challenge – how we address cultural differences, and issues of equity and diversity in our schools.
It is now the end of May 2021, and in notes for an assignment for August 2020, I commented, The social unrest we have experienced since May (2020) is testimony to the fact that teaching about diversity cannot be a ‘done and dusted’ worksheet, lesson or unit. Talking [openly] about diversity, understanding diversity, embracing diversity, and valuing diversity must be woven into the fabric of our classes.
Sidenote: Well, two sidenotes really:
1) I am a white South African. I grew up during the Apartheid era. I went to a liberal university in the early ’80s when the social and political climate of the country was a hotbed of discontent, riots, but also an incredible dichotomy of injustice and hope. My first teaching position was at a public school which served a middle- to lower-middle-income white population of predominantly Portuguese immigrants who had fled from the civil war in Mozambique. (This civil war took place between 1977-1992.) The school was also one of the first schools to fully integrate black students under a special mandate, even before Apartheid was officially abolished.
Back then, our diversity training was very much like: let’s learn a bit about your culture and then see how we can make you fit into our culture. From what I can tell, the same process was followed in American schools when they de-segregated. The current socio-political upheaval that we’re experiencing now is testimony to the fact that we can’t force one culture to become another. All cultures need to be affirmed, valued, and treated equally. Unfortunately, South Africa and America are not the only two countries in the world dealing with a crisis of cultural acceptance or understanding. My colleagues in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are also discussing ways to create culturally sensitive classrooms and a culturally relevant curriculum.
2) Issues of diversity, equity, and cultural sensitivity cannot only be taught, they need to be trained. I think there is a difference. I was taught my 12 x tables, I learned them by rote, I did math assignments to help me remember them and show me how to use them in different real-world scenarios, but I don’t remember any of that now. I was trained to brush my teeth, greet people politely, be punctual, say grace before meals, and I still do those things. Training instills habits – like muscle memory. Talking about diversity, understanding diversity, embracing diversity, and valuing diversity must be woven into the fabric of our classes.
I really enjoyed writing the piece, Culturally Relevant Teaching, firstly because I love learning about other peoples’ cultures and secondly, I didn’t know there was such a thing as ‘culturally relevant’ teaching. I pose the question: how can educators foster a culturally sensitive learning environment? One of the ways is to check our own bias. Honestly, I felt that I had already gone through this process, but it is important to make a habit of often checking our own biases. It’s easy to think that we are unbiased or that we are not prejudiced when we are in established ‘comfort zones’, or situations and environments that we have already gotten used to or made our own. But when that ‘comfort zone’ is disrupted, often our biases are exposed.
In Culturally Relevant Teaching, I refer to White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh. She compares our biases to a bag or a knapsack, which we carry with us. Are you ready to take a look at your knapsack? If so, I urge you to go to the post and read through the 50 Statements that reveal White Privilege as well as the excerpted essay version of McIntosh’s text.
Another excellent and practical text I refer to in this post is Brenda Slater McNeil’s Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice. Although the book is primarily about reconciliation, there is no way it can be read without reflecting on how we personally deal with all cultural diversity (race, ethnicity, gender, age, social standing, religion, etc.) Each chapter ends with a section called Getting Practical. This section challenges readers to think about their own journey, their own responses, or as at the end of Chapter 4, gives readers practical ideas to give their cultural responsiveness ‘feet.’
One way I tried to help students reach across the globe to learn about another culture was for our global collaboration project. You can read about my experience in the post-Global Collaboration and Empathy. The post also has a lot of great resources for teachers who want to build empathy into projects and assignments. I’ll just give one quick shoutout here to Empatico – you’ll have to read my post to find out why.
Experimenting with new digital learning tools is ‘my jam.’ I think of myself as an early adopter, my classroom is my lab, my students are my lab assistants, and together we try new things. If they work, a tool works, it gets used again the next year, if it does not, well, there is always another tool to try in its place.
I love sharing what I have discovered. One thing I have not been as diligent about is having a robust evaluation process. I have worked on ‘gut feel’ rather than a well-thought-out rubric for testing the efficacy of a product.
However, I have found a fairly detailed evaluation rubric from Western University (Canada) created by Lauren Anstey and Gavin Watson. Since they have made their rubric freely available under a Creative Commons license, it would be easy to adapt for my own purposes. You can read about the rubric and access it in an Educause article: A Rubric for Evaluating e-Learning Tools in Higher Education.
The framework of the rubric includes functionality (considering a tool’s operations or affordances does the tool serve its intended purpose well?) accessibility (is the tool flexible & adaptable to support multiple learning approaches and engagement for all students especially the specific accessibility needs of learners with disabilities?) privacy (protecting personal information and intellectual property,) technical (considering the basic technologies needed to make a tool work,) social presence (focuses on establishing a safe, trusting environment that fosters collaboration, teamwork, and an overall sense of community,) teaching presence (tool elements that enable instructors to establish and maintain their teaching presence through facilitation, customization, and feedback,) and cognitive presence (considering a tool’s ability to support students’ cognitive engagement in learning tasks.)
Another tool to evaluate new digital tools is the SAMR model developed by Dr. Reuben Puentedura. The framework asks educators to consider their use of particular tools. Does the new tool enhance or transform their teaching? Enhance teaching: Substitution (the new technology is a direct substitute for what is already being done,) Augmentation (incorporates interactive features to enhance the content, for example using Kahoot or Forms instead of paper and pen quiz.) Transform teaching: Modification (could include using your LMS to track data which informs teaching and learning,) and Redefinition (using technology to create previously impossible opportunities, for example, virtual tours of the Globe Theatre, or communicating with NASA scientists on ISS or self-publishing a novel.) You can read more about the SAMR model in the Edutopia article by Youki Terada, SAMR: A Powerful Model for Understanding Good Tech Integration.
For my investigation of Open Educational Resources (OER), I acknowledge that evaluating the resource is important. Educators should be discerning. Just because a resource is free does not mean that it can effectively strengthen a student’s learning experience. In the post Open Educational Resources: Access for All, I also include the .pdf version of SPU’s faculty guide for evaluating OER.
For this indicator, I am also sharing my post, Computational Thinking in the Humanities because it records my experience of looking for a suitable curriculum that includes computational thinking for humanities classes. I found that Ignitemyfutureinschool.org has a comprehensive list of K-12 computational thinking resources – many of them suitable for humanities classes. The site also has a Curriculum Connector, to help educators find suitable digital curriculum.
I like Ignite My Future‘s tagline: Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.
Just before Covid-19 hit, I was starting to experiment with a new job description. It hadn’t been developed yet and I was hoping to create it as I experimented. One aspect of the job would have been exactly what this indicator calls for, personalized support for teachers by planning and modeling effective use of technology.
My first experiment was working with the teachers of our Grade 5 classes on an extension activity for their unit on personal memoirs. Teachers and students had been working on a long writing unit and now they were looking for an alternative to the traditional essay style presentation. I suggested Book Creator and agreed to spend some time in their classes showing the students how to transpose their memoirs into lovely picture stories. I encouraged teachers to join in the fun and create their own memoirs along with their students. I modeled each step of the way.
First, I created my own memoir using Book Creator. It was a short anecdote about a close encounter with Hyenas while traveling through Botswana. Then I showed the students how they could summarize information from their draft memoirs into captions or thought and speech bubbles to accompany pictures they either drew or found or uploaded. We experimented with fonts, colors, page design, and page borders. Once the books were created, students had a reading day, sharing their stories. You can read a little more about how I worked with one particular teacher in my discussion of ISTE Coaching Standard 4a – which is about collaborating with teachers to design authentic and active learning experiences.
The post, Share the Love, focuses on two digital learning tools which make sharing information easy, efficient, and organized, OneNote and Wakelet. In the post, I use each tool as an example of how teachers can efficiently share information about new technologies and innovative teaching practices which they learn from attending webinars, workshops, or conferences. A way of sharing information gained from a personalized professional development experience with colleagues who might benefit. Both tools can also be used by coaches as they create personalized support for teachers.
I use the post What Happens to Peer Coaching When Life Happens to demonstrate my thoughts on planning and modeling effective use of technology in a collaborative lesson plan. I was working with Kayley to update a tired lesson plan and help her find ideas to give students voice and choice by offering some digital options for their presentations. As you read through the post you’ll see that because ‘life happened’ our coaching meetings were postponed and then readjusted. Eventually, Kaley presented her lesson; students had the option of presenting using Flipgrid, PowerPoint, or in-person speeches. She also tried and conquered the Single Point Rubric for the first time. Success!
I like the reminder about the nature of 21st Century Learners from Wabisabi Learning. It’s important as teachers to realize that our ‘tech-savvy’ students expect their teachers to challenge and provide them with the thinking skills and technology skills to make them successful in the 21st-century world of work. It’s the job of coaches to support teachers to find innovative ways of using digital tools to help their students be challenged, inspired, and successful.