Summer is Here! It’s Time For Some #SPF20

I’ve been in education for about 30 years, but today happens to be the last day of school of my 20th year working in my district. I’ve done a lot in 20 years here. I taught special education resource room and in-class support. I taught every elementary grade level. I was an elementary computer teacher, and I’ve been a district Technology Integration Specialist for the past three years. I ran a STEM Club called STEAMMakers. I’ve brought in new programs, secured grants, and started district-wide initiatives. I even went back to college and got certified as a school administrator three years ago.

I couldn’t have done all of this if I didn’t fully embrace a perpetual love of learning. I am ridiculously addicted to learning new things – to keeping my mind active, staying cutting edge, and continually working toward self-improvement. It really is an obsession. But there’s more – I have a second “affliction”. I am insatiably passionate about teaching it all to others.

The teachers throughout my district depend on me to be an edtech expert. I serve as a team mentor and bring new resources, skills, ideas, and learning to the other Technology Integration Specialists in my district. I now own my own edtech consulting business, Integration Innovation, LLC. I do presentations for thousands of attendees nationally and even internationally. I owe it to all of these people to stay current and really be a powerhouse resource for edtech learning.

So on this first day of summer of my 20th year in my district, I’m kicking off this summer by setting a goal called #SPF20. It stands for summer professional fun! The fun part is obvious, and the 20 means that I intend to learn or deepen my learning of 20 edtech things by the time I go back to school. Some of these things are brand new to me, and have just been things ‘on my radar’ that I knew I wanted to learn when I could find the time. Many of these goals are platforms or tools with which I’m already familiar, but I really want to dive deeper and become more of an expert. I also want to curate dynamic presentations based on what I learn.

Why 20? Well, it is originally inspired by the celebration of my 20th year in one district, but it’s also based on the fact that I have just about 10 weeks of summer vacation. That means that I can pointedly learn two new things each week. I first I thought that number sounded too low, but the more I thought about it the more I realize that it’s a really good balance. If I had made it #SPF50, I’d dabble in a lot, but not really become an expert at anything…and I’m craving expertise this summer. Balance is something I’m working on in my life, so 20 it is! If I learn something new on a Monday, and something else on Thursday, I have all those other days of the week to:

    Just spread out the learning – go deeper into my inquiry, or just wake up the next day and explore things I wondered about after reflecting
    Reach out to other friends and folks on Twitter who use these sites or tools and ask questions, and maybe even schedule in-person or virtual meetups to explore and learn together! (I would really love this!)
    Contact the vendors with any questions I have, request demos, or just build good relationships with them
    Curate presentations and resources to share with colleagues
    Take a day or two off when I just want to! I need some pool days in the sunshine, fishing trips, beach days, and down time with my family, too!

How am I going about this #SPF20 thing? Well, I have a list. I REALLY like my #SPF20 list – it is ambitious but inspired! To be honest, it’s not quite finished yet, but I have about 15 things on there so far. I’m saving some open spots until after ISTE in late June, where I’ll meet all kinds of people who will undoubtedly inspire me to learn things I haven’t yet even considered. I was going to schedule the items from my list on the calendar, but I realized I want the flexibility and freedom to decide what I’m going to learn week by week…it IS summer, after all! So the list and the learning will remain fluid.

So I’ll be using #SPF20 liberally this summer. I’m always up for having learning buddies – so if you want to teach me cool new stuff, learn with me, or just suggest something I should put on my list, I would love it! I don’t yet know if I’ll blog as I go along, or post to Twitter using the hashtag #SPF20, but I’m open to your ideas and input about that, too. And hey, if anyone else wants to hop on this hashtag and create your own list (or share mine), let’s rock some #SPF20 together!

Oh, and I’m reserving the right to up that #SPF level… extra coverage, ya’ know?

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Thoughts on Collaborative Peer Coaching

I was recently asked to consider some advantages and disadvantages of the practice of peer coaching.  This is different from the subject-specific edu-coach model we hear so much about these days.  This isn’t a Literacy Coach, a Math Coach or a Tech Coach.  This is old-style, tried-and-true, perhaps forgotten, real, collaborative PEER coaching.  It has been said that peer coaching can become the heart of professional development. 

coaching-cartoon

Peer coaching is a professional development model in which pairs of teachers work together through initial discussions, classroom observations, and coaching meetings to refine specific areas of their teaching.  It is a model that has received much recognition over the past few decades, and is often celebrated in research.  All systems, however, have pros and cons, and teachers may or may not find peer coaching beneficial.  There are many factors to consider in order to determine if a coaching model is truly an effective means to change and enhance classroom teachings and practices of teachers for development of students.

Ultimately, the human component needs to be considered first.  The peer coaching model will presumably be most effective with teachers who are willing or at least semi-willing to engage in collegial pairings with the intention of improving their instruction.  In other words, choosing teachers who are receptive to change is paramount. Similarly, the way in which teachers are paired for these relationships is critical.  There needs to be such an extreme level of trust that allows for vulnerability, freedom from judgement, openness, and a sincere intent to improve instructional practices.  If these factors are in place and a well-constructed peer coaching pair has been established, I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for professional growth.

Joyce and Showers (1980) specified the process as :”two or more teachers who meet regularly for problem solving using planning, observation, feedback, and creative thinking for the development of a specific skill.”  Leadership authors Sullivan and Glanz state, “Through ongoing discussion of teaching and learning, curriculum development, and implementation, peer coaching can become the heart of professional development.”   In my opinion, all four of these authors paint an obvious picture which would result from the ideal peer coaching set-up.  Given the right teachers who have a choice in whether or not to participate and perhaps choice of their peer coaching partners, it seems to be the absolute epitome of what teaching should be.  I am an optimist, and I embrace models like this.  I strive for continuous self-improvement and want to keep learning, and I strive to surround myself with educators who share that mindset.  However, even I can imagine some of the pitfalls.

Given human nature, hurt feelings and jealousy can arise.  Insecurities may surface.  Competition can become an issue, and perhaps not in a healthy way.  As a matter of fact, most of the downfalls of a system like this have to do with negative human emotions.  I can’t think of any instructional down side, nor can I think of any negative impact on students.  The issue of finding time, sometimes professional release time, can be an issue, as it often is in education.

With robust administrative support, this is a model that could work beautifully in schools.  First, administrators would need to commit to establishing time and resources to make peer coaching possible.  They would need to guarantee teachers release time for peer and even larger group reflective discussion.    A good administrator would allow for some choice in the way the model is implemented and how the pairings take place.  A good administrator would initially present this is the most positive way, with assurance that it is not ‘observation’ and a celebration and accolades for those willing to try it.  A good administrator would be a cheerleader for this type of model.

Teachers helping teachers improve their craft through collegial reflective practice?  Isn’t that how it always should be?