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What Challenges Do Tech Coaches Face?

As part of the Coaching: From Theory to Practice course, I recently connected with the readings about the challenges that instructional coaches face. I’d like to start with a quote from Kim’s blog post: “It’s reassuring to me to see that other instructional coaches face this same dilemma.

So much from Kim’s post, the other readings and the video struck a nerve with me this week. Like Kim and Jeff say in the video, I love the crap out of my job, but it comes with its share of frustrations. I assumed most of my frustrations came from being one of the first tech coaches at AISKuwait. I was actually hired to teach robotics and didn’t know I was going to be a K-12 tech coach until I arrived in Kuwait. The only thing I knew about the job was that I wasn’t expected to repair the newly purchased iPads.

Struggles I related to from the video:

  • Do I help the willing or help everyone?
  • Unclear admin expectations.
  • Coaching teachers that you don’t have a natural relationship with.
  • Avoiding being thought of as “tech support.

Like Kim, I enjoy being a K-12 coach. At first I wasn’t sure how that job would “look, but I have ideas for all divisions and honestly, it’s more fun. Also like Kim, I want to be in the classroom as much as possible and want to help as many people as possible. I hate saying “no.

I am frustrated this year with how much I need to say no to more engaging projects because I am busy with the tech back end side of things with a new gradebook, etc. (I’ve been involved in setting up student accounts for a variety of apps/programs and it is soul-crushing). I miss being in the classroom as much as I was last year and I get cranky when anything takes me away from that, even a PD course that will help me do my job better. I feel guilty for taking my prep time or taking time for professional development. I feel like I’m slacking off whenever I’m not actively in the classroom.

Kim and Jeff touched on another issue of the staff’s perception of you. I’ve killed myself the last three and a half years to be as effective as I can be and am hyper-aware that me sitting in my office prepping or keeping current on tech looks a lot like just sitting in my office.

The Jill Jackson article writes about coaching efforts falling flat after a lot of fanfare. When the other tech coaches and I were hired to implement the 1:1 iPad initiative, I felt like we were touted as the shiny new thing, but for a variety of reasons… the program never took off. I feel strongly that I have implemented a lot of great initiatives that I am proud of at AISKuwait, but I feel like I’ve always been capable of so much more. I don’t think the school was prepped for our positions. I have kept busy over the last few years, but a similar thought to Jill Jackson‘s still keeps me up at night: “Am I busy on the RIGHT STUFF that’s going to have a major impact? Knowing that my time at AISKuwait is finite, this is on my mind even more, as I want to leave the school better than I found it, and want to know I had an impact after four years.

Hearing Jeff and Kim speak about so many shared experiences really affected me. I know a PLN could help me connect, but I am a social person. At school I prefer to meet face to face, not e-mail. I want a way to connect with other tech coaches that is more personal than twitter or blogs. (I feel like Twitter isn’t the right venue for the amount of swearing I do when I sometimes talk about my job. Is that just me?) I don’t know if anyone has any suggestions?

It’s somewhat cathartic to know my frustrations are not limited to my position here. It’s also scary that ANY tech coach position has similar frustrations…!

The other article that I connected with was John Spencer’s article about leaving the classroom. This year I am teaching a Design course while continuing to tech coach. It has given me a lot of insight and has been a good reminder of what a classroom teacher is capable of in a day, but it does NOT work combined with a full time coaching role. The responsibilities of planning, marking, giving formative feedback, etc have taken up far more of my time than the “1/5th division promised. Over the next two weeks, Individuals & Societies Head of Department Adam Pierce (heavily referenced in my previous post) is supervising my class while I pop into a few I&S classes during the same block as my design class. It is a huge compliment that Adam feels my lessons in his department are important enough to support like this, but illustrates one of the major issues of coaching while teaching.

As for this week’s assignment…

I observed my mentee, Rose, in class again this week and we had a (slightly rushed) debrief during a working lunch (she travels this evening and won’t be back until the start of next week).

Rose told me she wanted to focus on prompting her students ask more in-depth questions. She had a lesson in mind so I observed from the back, making general notes and focusing on prompting student questions.

Some general observations I made:

Rose is great about using first names first and creating a relaxed, creative classroom environment. She teaches with a sense of humor and allows fidgety students to play with magic sand (I played with it myself and it’s like a grainy play-doh) (as long as they didn’t distract anyone else).

Prompting In-Depth Questions:

Rose’s lesson consisted of a Jeopardy style review game. The students were in teams, chose questions based on point ranking and then had to answer the questions. At every desk, Rose placed a “deep thinking questions graphic organizer and promised bonus points for every deep thinking questions.

As the lesson progressed and students tried to claim their bonus points, Rose clarified that a “deeper question is not just a “harder question, but a question that makes you go “huh… that depends… Rose said “when your brain go to ten different places when someone asks a question, that’s a deep question! She also used real world examples that literally led to students saying “ah-ha!

When students participate, Rose clarifies student questions and repeats them for the rest of the class with emphasis.

Rose had a small graphic of the ocean next to her white board. When a student asked a “surface question, Rose would wave her hand above the surface and when someone asked a “deep question, she would lower her hand down into the water.

After the lesson, Rose and I had a debrief over lunch. I asked her what she thought of the class. We spoke very informally about some common teaching struggles. Rose makes the kids feel at ease with her good humor, and that encourages creative and abstract thought, but they get a little rowdy. When a class is quieter and “better behaved, Rose feels like she accomplishes more in a period, but the work isn’t as rich. I didn’t have any specific feedback on this, as I struggle with the same dilemma, but I think if I had to choose one classroom or the other, I side with Rose that a class full of creative but slightly rowdy students is better than eerily quiet zombies. Rose called it her “epic struggle.

I did have a few suggestions for Rose’s desire to prompt more in-depth questions from students. Her ocean graphic is great, but it’s a quick drawing she made on an A4 piece of paper. I suggested recreating it on a much larger scale on butcher paper and giving the students paper fish to write questions. Then the students can post their questions in the ocean, deciding if it is a surface question or a deeper question. Then, as questions are answered, they are either removed, or the answers are placed next to the question. It would be basically a word wall like in English, but further emphasizing Rose’s ocean metaphor.

I felt a little out of my depth as Rose wanted feedback on her instruction, but I am a technology coach. As far as getting back to tech, Rose has used Yammer in her classroom this year and I think the next step for her would to capitalize on her classroom blogging community to create a place for students to ask each other these “deep questions and receive feedback and answers from their peers. This would help me get back to my strengths as a Tech Coach.

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