Oct 08, 2021 2021-10-08
By Matt Spears
The following blog is reposted with permission from Digital Promise.
Schools have—for the most part—opened, which has been a monumental lift for districts, schools, and most of all, teachers. I have three kids in school, coached in school districts with tens of thousands of students, and supported programs running in schools across the country. In so many ways I’ve seen how schools, coaches, and teachers have cleared the hurdle of offering an education to students nationwide.
This past school year was certainly not without its challenges, but it also had its share of successes. Schools were tasked to provide a multitude of services that established a foundation for education, including food, shelter, connectivity, and social–emotional well-being for students. For now, let’s focus on some of the specific actions teachers and coaches took to impact the people in their school in a positive way.
Making Personal Connections
One of the ways instructional technology coaches impact the school community is to make time to connect with people. While that may sound redundant, that specific focus point is something I hear in so many conversations. Coach after coach shares how spending time with teachers helps them all do their jobs better. For coaches, conversation allows them to hear sticking points on which to focus professional development and provides an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a person and celebrate accomplishments publicly. For teachers, I hear the value in being listened to by a professional in the building with regularity and in a more personal setting. These small-group or one-on-one conversations are proving to be a major source of stress relief and relationship building among the people in schools.
There has also been an increased public presence of staff in school hallways, bus loops, and lunchrooms. While this may be policy in many schools, coaches are sharing just how valuable this time is when building relationships with the students and parents. Informal and unstructured conversations strengthen relationships between coaches and students. Staff being present publicly builds trust in the parent community, as it is much easier for me as a parent to relate to anyone I’ve met personally rather than via email.
Increased Focus on Wellness
Every coach and principal I talk to mentions their increased focus on achieving goals. Simply put, leadership teams are focused on the intentional use of time and bandwidth. This doesn’t always mean churning through meeting agenda items. In many cases, the general wellness of the people in the building is the main priority. Many schools are heavily investing time and training in social–emotional learning to better meet the learning needs of all staff and students. In addition to the investment in staff and student wellness, schools are connecting with families in the community to see how their needs might be served.
New Methods of Communication
Teachers are also connecting with students in a personalized way. After more than a year of teaching with a technology-rich toolset, teachers are using a variety of platforms to communicate more personalized messages to both students and parents. As a parent, I’m thrilled to receive a personal message about how my child, rather than the class as a whole, is adapting to new classroom procedures, a new teacher, and the school. Students are getting the hang of formal communication via technology too. For example, this past spring, students at two Verizon Innovative Learning Schools in San Francisco, Everett Middle School and James Lick Middle School, were responsible for leading progress conferences among their parents/guardians and their teachers. Students were required to self-evaluate their knowledge of content and performance on tasks, prepare their talking points as the leader of the conference, and then host the conference. The schools reported a tremendous amount of positive feedback from teachers, students, and parents/guardians.
Making Time to Celebrate
Finally, teachers are making time to celebrate. Leveraging exit tickets and warm-up style questions are common practices in classrooms; teachers are using this routine to gather items to celebrate. In some cases, there is time at the bookends of class for public acknowledgment. In other cases, teachers celebrate proud moments with a handwritten note to the student. With the classroom success of celebration practices, coaches are using the tactic in staff meetings as well; one school in Kentucky shared, “Every meeting and every training session begins with shout outs.”
As the education system attempts to return to a form of “normalcy,” there certainly is no shortage of difficulties facing schools and the people in them. While there is a long way to go before things are back to a prepandemic normal, thankfully, there are thousands of people in school who are deeply invested in each other and in their students.