The Future of Instructional Coaching (Ed Tech Club Podcast)

Where is instructional coaching headed in the new school year? That’s what Violet Christensen and Courtney Groskin discussed on TCEA’s Ed Tech Club Podcast.

The two learning coaches from St. Vrain Valley Schools (Longmont, CO) talked about supporting teachers and students during the pandemic, video coaching, and the lessons they’re carrying into this year. Listen for mentions of how they used Edthena at the 10-minute and 12-minute marks!

Listen to the full conversation above, or read the full transcript below.

For more from Violet and Courtney, check out their article about the top 5 instructional coaching practices or check out their podcast, C3: Connecting Coaches Cognition.

The Future of Instructional Coaching

Andrew Roush:
Instructional coaches, also known as learning coaches, are now a common part of the education landscape. They have a role to play in helping educators develop professionally, get their professional learning, to reflect on their teaching practices. And sometimes, just to have someone to talk to about their teaching practices.

Andrew Roush:
Of course, that support is needed even more when you go through what is probably the most trying year of your professional life. And during the last year, instructional coaches like today’s guests, Courtney Groskin and Violet Christensen, have been developing ways to help support educators. And as in many parts of the country, we move back to in-person education, many are wondering what practices can we continue. What did we learn when we had to change everything? And, how is that going to help us when we go back to the classroom? Big questions, but of course, Courtney and Violet are here to help us answer them. They’ve been exploring ways that learning coaches can take the knowledge gained during the pandemic and develop new best practices for the future, pandemic or now.

Andrew Roush:
So as we head into summer, it’s a good time to reflect on some things we’re going to want to do once we get back in that classroom. We’ll cover all that, we’ll talk about social-emotional learning, we’ll talk about self care and we’ll even include some good tech tips along the way. So get excited, because that’s all coming up in this meeting of the Ed Tech Club. It all starts right now.

Andrew Roush:
Hey everyone, and welcome back to another meeting of the Ed Tech Club, the podcast from TCEA. I’m your club sponsor, Andrew Roush. This week, as I said, two guest speakers, Violet Christensen and Courtney Groskin, instructional coaches from Colorado who are going to take us through some of the lessons they’ve picked up in the last year and how they want to carry those best practices forward in the future.

Courtney Groskin:
Hi, I’m Courtney Groskin. I’m a learning coach in St. Vrain, and also a cohost of Connecting Coaches Cognition Podcast.

Violet Christensen:
Hi, I’m Violet Christensen, and I am a learning coach as well, in St. Vrain Valley School District. I am the other cohost to C3 Podcast. Thank you for having us.

Andrew Roush:
We’re really happy to have you. You your both learning coaches, or instructional coaches sometimes it’s called. That’s a relatively new role in education. If it was around when I was a kid, I wasn’t aware of it. But, it’s definitely around now and it seems to be a growing field.

Andrew Roush:
For people who maybe don’t get to interact with people in your role a lot, how would you describe what a learning coach or an instructional coach does?

Violet Christensen:
To me, an instructional coach or a learning coach is someone who really just helps support educators through whatever mode they are. We want to help them to be able to have clarity in their thinking and be able to reflect on their practices, plan for best practices, and really just be able to help them calibrate their thinking and support them in their journey to support their students.

Andrew Roush:
Yeah. We hear a lot about how teachers are basically under-resourced a lot of times. Even when they might have the right tools at their disposal, or the funding to do the kinds of projects they want, they may not have the time or the energy to go out and find certain kinds of solutions that work for them. Is that the space that learning coaches are filling?

Courtney Groskin:
Yeah. I think it’s really a thought partnership. We go in to really help people elevate and shift that cognition, and give them a place and a space in time to really think through their instruction and pause. The power of that pause, because teachers are on the run, they’re asked to do so many things, so providing that appointment time and their calendar, and that’s their dedicated time to think through and take a breath, and look at how things are going and where they might want to shift some practice.

Andrew Roush:
I suppose in that role, then, you also get to see and hear a lot of, well not complaints, but a lot of the challenges that teachers are running into, that maybe they don’t have a conduit to go to administration to talk about, or they don’t have other ways to work out these issues. You must be able to get a lot of that frontline information, even if it’s anecdotal, about how teachers are going about their work.

Andrew Roush:
Of course, one thing that we know has changed their work as been the Coronavirus pandemic. Obviously, there was a big switch to remote learning in most places. It’s shifted back slowly in many places, and not as slowly in other places. But, we know that looking forward to the next fall semester, the coming school year, ’21, ’22, we’re going to have to think a lot about what happened when we were all forced to flip and blend our classrooms.

Andrew Roush:
You’ve been able to learn about how teachers have dealt with this. You talk about what coaches are doing, in one way, is helping share best practices, but all the practices we had got changed. Give me the overview, your take, on what you’ve learned about how educators are approaching teaching during the pandemic. And then, we can get into maybe the lessons we can take forward.

Violet Christensen:
Some of the changes that I have seen is there was just this remarkable moment of everyone had to raise their bar. Everyone across the board, no matter how deep their practices were with blended practices, or technology usage, or just instructional best practices, they all had to be elevated because there was so many restrictions. Whether we were hybrid, or remote, or back in-person and spaced out, some of the things that our teachers really relied on in their back pocket, or as strategies that always worked for them, they had to start shifting and they had to start adapting.

Violet Christensen:
Just like everyone, some people adapt quicker or less quickly, depending on who they are. So helping them through that cognition, to be able to have clarity around what are they doing and why are they doing it, and what do they want their students to know and be able to do, we just had to think flexibly. A lot of times, it came back to, “Okay, well how did you do it regularly, last year, in a pre-pandemic state? And, how can we transform that same practice into, whether it’s a hybrid, or a virtual, or a spaced out format?” But, just being able to get past the “ick,” if you will, of the situation at hand and being able to press forward into the production of something useful, and an instructional flow or instructional practice that will work for them.

Violet Christensen:
Sometimes, it was just stepping back to have some time to think about it. I had one of my educators who always used call and responses in the classroom, and that was something that he relied on in his kindergarten room quite heavily. Once he had gone through online for so long, he almost forgot that that was just a best practice. So when they’re back in-person he’s like, “Guys, you’ve got to listen to me. Come on, kiddos, we’ve got you!” It was like, “Hey, maybe if we just use that call and response again,” and when we had some coaching sessions he realized. He’s like, “I just need to pull those back out. I totally forgot about them.”

Violet Christensen:
For them just being able to step back, and have a thought partner, and somebody who’s willing to support them, whether that be in listening, coaching, co-teaching or collaborating, just having that small shift for them is so huge I feel like, in this time of them being able to press forward.

Andrew Roush:
Y’all have co-written an article on this topic, we’ll link to it of course, in the show notes, The Top Five Instructional Coaching Practices to Carry Forward.

Andrew Roush:
As you have been working to gear up teachers, classroom teachers, for back to new normal, as we have been calling it I guess, you maybe have been reflecting on your own practices. What have you learned about coaches and what they’re going to need to do, as we move forward?

Courtney Groskin:
I think it’s really making that shift from consulting, we did a ton of consulting when COVID first hit because it was just a matter of, “Okay, we’re hitting the ground running. We have to get people ready.” So really falling back into that coaching mindset, of being that guide on the side, and asking those deep, mediative questions, and helping teachers to push and elevate, but really going back and honoring the role of coach and that shift in cognition.

Andrew Roush:
One of the things you point to, the first thing on your list, is video coaching. I think that was probably an obvious thing, when everybody had to leave their campuses, everybody said, “Oh, we’ve got to figure out a way to have a video meeting.” And, everyone did. It just happened.

Andrew Roush:
But, you suggest perhaps using that tool moving forward. What’s the thought process behind that and what’s the benefit?

Courtney Groskin:
We were really fortunate to have been using the video platform Edthena before COVID hit. We use it as part of our induction process with new educators so it was something, as coaches, we already had in our toolbox, and then brought to the forefront of using with teachers across the board. That’s something I think is so valuable, because we know the best practices, if you can view yourself on video and coach through it, you’re going to have a 90% implementation change, just with the shift of having that video there.

Courtney Groskin:
I would love to see … Teachers got over the fear of being on video. That used to be a big hurdle for us. Of, “Hey, do you think we could capture some video of what’s going on? You don’t have to be the focus.” That used to be our angle, but teachers are so comfortable now of being on video, because they did it for so long, that they don’t think twice now. When you’re like, “Hey, can we capture some video,” it’s second nature. I think, moving forward, it’s going to be really easy for people to make that jump, of being reflective through video coaching practices.

Andrew Roush:
Will that have a … I’m thinking about people showing back up to their campus in the fall. Is there a sense that some people will say, “Well, we don’t need these video things anymore?” What would the reaction be to that? What’s the benefit of video in a once again face-to-face world?

Violet Christensen:
I actually have seen more excitement around it than ever, just because of the fact that the trepidation is gone of being on video. And now, they’ve had such monumental jumps in their instructional practices that they’re wanting to watch their game tape. They’re starting to understand the power of seeing just even five minutes of their instruction, how many things that they notice, that they couldn’t actually comprehend while being the maximum multitasker that every teacher is while in the motions of teaching.

Violet Christensen:
So for them to actually have the time and space to stop and actually just look at it, even when it’s just between them and themselves, of looking at that video within Edthena and just making their own comments, I’ve found richer reflecting conversations coming out of that every single time. I have more teachers asking to jump into this because they’re hearing the buzz about this new model of coaching and doing lesson studies, and being able to elevate your craft.

Andrew Roush:
Yeah. A lot of educators go do observations when they’re training. Sometimes it’s in-person, sometimes it is video. I can see the appeal of, as you say, watching your game tape. I think anybody who has been a classroom educator, but anybody whose ever, I don’t know, performed music, or dance, or acting on stage, or public speaking for that matter, knows that feeling of getting off the stage and thinking, “Did I do what I was supposed to do? I can’t remember a moment of that.”

Andrew Roush:
I can only imagine a classroom teacher has that all the time, that sense of, “I was instructing, I was also watching people the whole time, and monitoring their behavior and thinking about the things I have to do during my next break. I was speaking and I hope I said all the right things.” This maybe gives that sense of not only yourself, but others who maybe have good practices, gives you that sense of as you talk about, going back, taking a moment to reflect, which is at the core of what a coach wants an educator to do.

Andrew Roush:
Another thing you talk about related to this is building a rapport with educators in a digital space. This feels like a natural outgrowth of, “Okay, we’ve gotten used to using video, maybe we’re a little bit more into it.” But, what does it mean? Part of the question is why build a rapport in a digital space? What might cause you to need to do that? And then also, what’s a good way to do that? I would imagine that coaches are thinking all the time about how they nurture their relationships with the teachers they work with.

Courtney Groskin:
We come from cognitive coach training, so building rapport with our coachees no matter what environment we’re in, is really important. That way, we can see when that cognitive shift is occurring. So being able to be comfortable and develop those nuances is much easier in-person, and then there’s a twist in the virtual world. You can only see someone from the waist up and you can’t read all of those body language cues as well virtually, so it’s really important to norm yourselves and get comfortable in this digital space. So that way, as those cognitive shifts are happening, as a coach you can read where they are, and where you can push and dive in a little deeper with them.

Violet Christensen:
I feel like, with this practice, it’s almost twofold of you have to be really intentional in that space, and paying attention to the tone and the facial gestures, as Courtney’s saying. But also, it helps us to build rapport on a bigger, global scale because we are no longer bound by time and space.

Violet Christensen:
If I have a teacher who needs to meet with me on a Wednesday and I need to be a different, specific site, yes I see them in-person and I build on that rapport and relationship. But we can maintain that through Webex, or through Zoom, or any video platform and still be able to have a rich coaching conversation. What I’ve found is it almost gives you a different tone. When they are into the screen, they can’t be distracted by the papers they need to grade, they’re not looking at the mess that Billy made in the corner that they might need to be picking up. They actually have more laser-like focus into the coaching conversation at times.

Violet Christensen:
So it’s harder for us to build a rapport physically with them, but sometimes mentally you can build that bridge even quicker, in this time and space.

Andrew Roush:
Yeah, that’s a good point. When somebody’s talking at you on your screen, you don’t get to shuffle your paperwork very much.

Andrew Roush:
I think that’s interesting. Do you find that there are … You mentioned that educators are getting a lot more used to video conferencing and all sorts of video and digital spaces. But, do you find that there are challenges that you’ve found ways to address, in terms of how to build that rapport? Or, whether it’s trickier sometimes?

Courtney Groskin:
I imagine it would be trickier if we weren’t in the situation we’re in, but I think everyone embraced the idea of, “This is the only way we can meet so we’re going to find a way to connect.”

Courtney Groskin:
I coach several teachers that were brand new to our district this year that I had never had the opportunity to even meet in-person. All of a sudden, we were meeting weekly. So it was just jump in and get to know them on a personal level, find out what their passions are, are they married, do they have kids, and connect on that level and take the time to jump into the coaching. But really, taking some time to build a relationship, just like you would when you walk in their classroom the first day that they’re there. Instead of hanging the bulletin board alongside of them, you’re just on the computer screen and having that conversation.

Andrew Roush:
Yeah. Yeah. I like the idea that it’s also another tool in the kit. You give that example of, if I have a coaching appointment and I have to be at Andrew Roush Memorial High School during a certain part of the day, but I have downtime and somebody wants to talk to me, I can conference with them. I can chat with them, and see them, and talk to them and get them to focus on me, as you point out, even though they’re off at Andrew Roush Memorial Elementary School, or something to that effect.

Andrew Roush:
Another tool you talk about, and another digital tool we hear a lot about at TCEA, is the digital whiteboard. A good example being, I guess, Google Jamboard, probably the one most people have heard of. But, I don’t know if everybody knows about these virtual whiteboards of what the best use of them is.

Andrew Roush:
In coaching, how are y’all using these digital whiteboards?

Violet Christensen:
I’ve seen them used in a multitude of different ways. In the article, we specifically outlined one which was really a celebration station. I feel like one of the biggest things that we’ve needed to inject into our coaching this last year is as much positivity as you can possibly put. Keep that light and that energy, when even some days were darker.

Violet Christensen:
We do a professional development called the Inter-District Coaching Collaborative. We bring coaches together to intentionally practice our craft, and coach one another, and tape ourselves, and look at our game tape and be able to elevate our practices. What we started this time was with a celebration station, so it was just what was your coaching win of the week or the month. It was so powerful and it started that professional development off with such a light because all these bright points are being pointed out, and just rolling in, in the matter of two minutes. We have an entire Jamboard filled with small, little sticky notes of various colors and various depths of commentary, but they’re all celebrations. Just being able to set that tone to start a professional development is really huge.

Violet Christensen:
I’ve also used it one-to-one with educators to help sort their thinking when we’re coaching. I had worked with one educator for a full year, he was a newer educator, and we were really thinking about are you ready to take a break for a moment and not have me as that scaffold anymore. He was sorting his Jamboard into things that he felt like were second nature to him, things that he was still working on, and things that just didn’t work for him that we tried and things that he still wanted to try.

Violet Christensen:
Being able to ideate and come up with lots of ideas collaboratively is really powerful through the Jamboard. I’ve seen it in just so many different ways. Teachers who utilize it with their students as well, in similar fashions, that everyone’s voice is heard at the same time and they’re all valued. It’s a very powerful tool for both coaching and instruction.

Andrew Roush:
Yeah. Maybe even calling it a whiteboard was too soft a metaphor because there’s a lot of tools you couldn’t … A whiteboard, you could stick things to it with magnets or with adhesive tape, and you could draw on it. These you can draw on, but you can put text boxes and virtual sticky notes, and lots of different ways to interact. I can also see using it, obviously it works as a mind map or a note taking thing, if you’re working on it individually.

Andrew Roush:
But, you point out in a group environment where you have everybody note one thing that’s going well or that they’re proud of, I could see how seeing everyone else’s wins could inspire people. It could also just practically spur them. If somebody’s win was finally turned in that form and I think, “Oh, I did not turn in that form, I’m glad somebody reminded me of that.” These are just the kinds of things you don’t always get the chance to share with your colleagues, too. The collaborative environment, not just between coach and educator, but between educators must be somewhat powerful, too.

Violet Christensen:
It’s powerful in action. Last week, I was working with an entire leadership team for a staff and they created their entire mission and vision work through it, in a matter of a couple hours, because they were able to do the wordsmithing while in separate partnerships throughout the building. It was amazing to watch it happen in realtime, while in different spaces, so everyone could be comfortable with their level of proximity to one another.

Andrew Roush:
One of the things that comes through as you talk about this is the sense that you have this dedication to supporting an educator. Obviously, scaffolding them in a learning-type way. But also, just being a backstop, a support, potentially even an emotional support for people doing a tough job.

Andrew Roush:
One of the things you point to in the article, too, is that teachers have to prioritize self care. Another popular thing these days, which boils down to a lot of things we’ve all known in the past, about wellbeing, and health, and mental health, and having the space and time to decompress, maybe renew creative energy. What have y’all learned about this sense of teachers and self care, during what for many teachers might be the toughest time in their career yet?

Courtney Groskin:
I think really bringing that social emotional health to the forefront. It was not taboo necessarily, but not something people openly spoke about. This year, I feel like people really opened up. There was that camaraderie around, “Hey, it’s Friday. What are you going to do this weekend for you? I know you’re running with the kids and you’re doing this, but what are you going to do for yourself so you can come back on Monday and be ready for your students?”

Courtney Groskin:
I’ve done a lot of reading on how, going through this COVID time, it’s trauma that everyone has experienced together and that’s really rare for that occurrence to happen. But, I think it’s brought this self care idea to the forefront. I think there’s still a lot of stigma around, “I don’t have time for that.” But now, it’s become a survival thing. I know for myself, if I don’t build out time and set boundaries, I’m not going to be the best coach or the best educator that I can be, so really instilling that in my educators.

Courtney Groskin:
I ended a lot of my coaching conversations this year of, “What’s something you can do for yourself? What’s something you can do say no to, to lighten your load?” And, normalizing that ability to say no is a huge self care tip. It doesn’t always have to be an activity, sometimes it’s just turning down an opportunity.

Andrew Roush:
I think a lot of educators, if you ask them, would say that it’s important for them to instill in their students the idea that they take care of themselves. Maybe it’s harder for them to practice what they preach, in that sense.

Andrew Roush:
Is that something you’ve encountered, as you’re coaching educators? You know that this is a useful thing for anybody, but you have to be willing to do it for yourself.

Courtney Groskin:
It’s that leading by example, it’s so easy. Educators are great with connecting with their students and helping them to do what’s best for them. But then it’s, “Remember, you’re that example. What are you going to do for yourself as well?” I think that’s been a big learning piece, too. I’m preaching this to my class that I want them to be healthy, and safe and to take care of themselves, but how can I take care of me as well?

Andrew Roush:
Yeah. I can imagine being a student and being told that I needed to take care of myself and then thinking, “Yeah, but my teacher’s running themselves ragged. That’s just what grown ups do.” I could see why that might be a useful lever, a way to flip. Say, “You have to model this behavior. You know that modeling good behavior is a part of the job. So, take a break.”

Andrew Roush:
Another thing, your fifth thing, is a little more anomalous but I think it all builds off of what you talked about. There’s a lot of good tools, there’s some good mindsets. One of the other things is getting inspiration from your peers and your colleagues, right?

Violet Christensen:
Absolutely. When we talk about shifts and changes throughout the last year, and things we want to pull forward, I’ve watched teams come together in ways they never have before. You were able to be in your own silo to some degree, until this point, and there was not a good way to survive the last year without having a comrade, or without having a team, or without having your go-to person. If you think about what Courtney was just speaking to with self care, I can’t tell you how many times she has checked me on, “But, are you shutting down, Violet? Have you clam shelled your computer?” Or just asking that simple question of, “How are you doing, really,” not just, “How are you doing?”

Violet Christensen:
I think the teams that have come together through this and figured out a way to adapt, whether that be that they planned an all day Friday if they didn’t have students, or whether they use Google Docs in order to be collaborating at night and leaving comments as they’re building things together. No matter what their model was, the teams that came together were the teams that actually thrived and really made the most rich learning experiences for their students.

Violet Christensen:
I would agree to that, also, with coaches. That the coaches that found a team in order to lean in, because we were taking a lot of that emotional burden from our teachers, trying to lift them up and console them in certain ways, that I think the coaches that had a team and found others to connect with, and to be able to reflect on their practices, really were the ones that thrived. As Courtney and I say all the time, “Every coach needs a coach,” and we are lucky that we have that in our system and that we’re continuously trying to build that for other coaches.

Andrew Roush:
So looking forward, how would you, as a coach, thoughtfully remind educators that they should keep that teamwork going? I guess what I’m asking is, is there a concern that maybe they’ll be a withdrawal, a sinking back into old habits, as we get back to something that looks more like the old way of teaching?

Courtney Groskin:
I think we all fall into our comfort zones, but I think when they look back on how much the collaboration moved them forward or what they were able to learn from their peers, I think it’s going to be a natural trajectory to want to find that common time to meet.

Violet Christensen:
We even had unique circumstances where our grade level teams this year didn’t have common planning time and they still found time to meet. I would imagine, when we go back to our regular schedule when they do have that time, they’re really going to leverage it because they truly saw the power in the hardest of teaching times. They leaned on each other so I see them naturally just falling back into that. If we used this during tough times, why wouldn’t we use this during our regular teaching time, to grow as professionals?

Andrew Roush:
I guess that’s the mindset behind a lot of these practices, right? If it’s served us well in the toughest time, it’s probably going to work okay when things are closer to a not tough time, let’s say. Doing a lot of hedging there, but I think that makes sense.

Courtney Groskin:
Well, and they have all these amazing, collaborative tools to not just have to do it during the school day. They can have a video chat at night, if that works better for them, because they’ve got to run out the door to get little kids after school. Or, hop on that Jamboard and fill it out when they have a second. I think that, in itself, is that they’ve developed all these tools in their toolkit of how to collaborate in different spaces, other than that face-to-face, common, shared planned time. It’s going to be transformational in itself.

Andrew Roush:
Well, I won’t take up too much more of your time. But I will tee you up, if there is a message you want to make sure you get out, something you forgot to mention, or you just want to let folks know how they can interact with you, find you online and listen to your show, let us know.

Violet Christensen:
Well, we obviously, as we mentioned before, are both co-hosts of C3, Connecting Coaches Cognition Podcast. We’d love for you to follow us at @c3coaches on Twitter. Or else, I am at @vhchristensen on Twitter. Or, you have at @missgroskin, at Twitter as well here. We are just really excited to jump into another year of the Inter-District Coaching Collaborative and continue our podcast, and working on other great learning opportunities for coaches and educators.

Andrew Roush:
All right, I can see you eyeing the clock. Indeed, the bell is going to ring soon. But don’t forget, you’ve got a little bit of homework. Go ahead and check out the links, the show notes for this meeting, this episode of The Ed Tech Club, including the article we referenced, written by Violet and Courtney, and their podcast, Connecting Coaches Cognition, C3. Go check that out in the show notes.

Andrew Roush:
Of course, keep up with all things ed tech by following TCEA on your favorite social media platform, by keeping up with our tech notes blog over at blog.tcea.org. And of course, by subscribing to The Ed Tech Club. Once you’ve done all that, if you’re looking for even more extra credit, well that’s okay, go check out the events. Coming up this summer, we’ve got all kinds of amazing professional learning events from TCEA, going all the way into next fall, including our Google Summer Camp that’s going to give you the tools to master Google and put it to use for you. So check out the details, that’s all over at our Internet World headquarters, tcea.org. Just look for events.

Andrew Roush:
And, that’s it for this week. But of course, we will be back with another episode of The Ed Tech Club next week. So until that time, I’m Andrew Roush. Thanks for being part of the club.

Andrew Roush:
Ed Tech Club is a production of TCEA. To learn more and to join, go to tcea.org.

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