Peer Coaching in Edmonds, Washington
By Kim Mathey
Back in 1998, my first assignment as the newly appointed Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Edmonds School District was to implement a professional development program that used peer coaching to model the integration of technology into curriculum and instruction.
During the school day, I coached teachers who were trying to teach with technology. And, twice a week after school, I taught classes I had planned earlier that same day. Although I found this exciting, I quickly realized that I alone could not coach all 1,000 teachers in the Edmonds School District.
Whatis more, much of our technology had become antiquated since the last significant technology levy had been passed in 1992. By 1998, many schools and teachers were busily writing grants and raising funds to gain access to technology tools and online resources. We were able to use Teacher Leadership Project funds to equip a number of classrooms with technology tools and offer teachers extensive training in how to use them.
Tapping Existing Resources
It took me only a few months to realize that I could develop a stronger technology integration program if I enlisted teachers who were already using technology effectively to teach professional development classes. In response to my e-mailed requests and advertisements in our course catalog, classroom teachers started sending course descriptions and ideas. By the end of the first year, I had 15 teachers teaching other teachers in our training lab or in their own classrooms.
Because of this influx of trainers, I was able to spend more time with teachers in their classrooms modeling, teaching, mentoring, and assisting their efforts as they tried new approaches with their students. This was still a challenge because very few classrooms had much usable technology. Once I secured the funding to purchase our first laptop lab, which consisted of 15 computers, a projector, and the necessary software, everything changed! Now I could take technology tools to any school, for student use or teacher training.
During the course of the school year, I was busy teaching teachers how to plan units tied to standards and training their students how to use the laptops. I taught and assisted each teacher until he or she seemed ready to take over. Because I helped them by laying ground rules for students, training them on the equipment, and then modeling how to have students help each other, the classroom teachers grew more confident that they could let students use the lab when I was not there.
Soon, I gradually began to ease myself out of the classroom by coming for only part of the class, leaving my business card for students to call me if there were problems, and checking in with the teacher frequently. By collaborating with teachers and students, including side-by-side teaching and mentoring support, I was able to provide the professional development teachers needed to become comfortable using technology and calling upon students to help solve problems.
I could see that we were beginning to have an impact on teaching and learning but the model was not quite right. I understood the importance of job-embedded, just-in-time professional development and knew that we were on the right track with our mentoring model. But with only one person doing the mentoring, our professional development program was growing very slowly.
Our after-school classes were well attended but they were random and provided little follow-up. Teachers took the information back to their schools and were on their own. A major deterrent to the growth of our program was that once a teacher completed a unit with me and the teacher and the class was comfortable using the technology, I packed up the tools and took them away. The class was back where it had started and I was left wondering what difference I was really making. I needed more laptop labs and I needed to clone myselfomany times over! No single person in the system could make the necessary difference.
Growing a Coaching Program
And then, just as I was wondering how to turn some of the teachers who were using technology innovatively in their classrooms into coaches for others, the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (PSCTLT) called me to see if our district would be interested in participating in a U.S. Department of Education grant for developing coaches in our schools.
During the next three years, we were given the opportunity to train nearly 40 teachers to coach others in lesson design, instructional strategies, and effective use of technology. Thus, the Teaching + Technology Coaching Initiative (T2CI) was born in the Edmonds School District.
We started slowly, with only six coaches who came from five different schools. These coaches received approximately 50 hours of professional development during the first year. They each agreed to work with two to four teachers in their buildings to help them develop technology and teaching skills. Our teachers met with other coaches and shared wonderful success stories.
Although everyone seemed energized by the process, we still faced a significant obstacle. The coaches all had technology in their classrooms but the teachers they were coaching did not. I was able to purchase two more sets of 10-laptop labs and a few more projectors. We loaned these labs out to the T2CI teachers and helped teachers scrounge a few usable computers for their classrooms. With the technology in place, the coaches worked with their teachers and the success grew.
In 2003, we added 17 more coaches from 14 schools. Using all the funds from our Title II-D (E2T2) grants, we purchased a computer and a projector for every teacher being coached. Now, when a classroom did not have access to the mobile lab, it at least met the "one computer classroom" model. And since most of the coaches had received Teacher Leadership Project grants, they had at least seven computers in their classrooms all the time. I created a "One Computer Classroom" course for them and their teachers, so they could work together to discover effective strategies for teaching in this limited environment.
Time Is Critical
Coaches reported from their experience the previous year that it was difficult to find time to meet together, especially during the school day. Some had common planning times but at no more than 30 minutes, this was not an effective block of time. Since the job-embedded, collaborative approach is what powers this professional development program, I devoted 25 percent of our E2T2 funds to providing release days for the teacher teams the following year.
Each team received 16 half-days to use for discussing their work, observing other teachers, or mentoring in each otheris classrooms. At this point, it seemed we were on the right track. The coaches committed to a literacy focus to help meet a district goal. They agreed to keep a log of their collaborations and report back each year three examples of how they had integrated technology into their instructional practice.
Tying Technology to Standards
As I describe in my companion article that follows, "Training Information Literacy and Research Skills," I worked with the coaches on information literacy skills and on how to use the online database subscriptions that the district provided. From that work evolved an Information Literacy/ Research Process course that will be available to all teachers in the district. This course will provide teachers with the information and tools to successfully teach these important skills to students, at any grade level. Our librarians are prepared to help teachers teach or reinforce these skills with students. Our T2CI coaching project encourages the coaches, who are experienced in teaching with technology, to work with other teachers so that they, over time, can also learn and apply these skills with students.
Meanwhile, real growth in our coaching program was evident. Teachers enthusiastically shared stories about increases in student engagement and deeper understandings of content, as well as increases in their own skill and comfort with technology. Teachers who were previously very timid with technology developed confidence. They were no longer afraid to try because they knew that they could count on their coaches to provide support, scaffolding, and assistance.
Coaches shared a broad range of skills and confidence: one was equally likely to share a Web page on a given topic with a class as to set up a weather graphing template in Excel so that students could enter the weather data for the day and see the graph change automatically. Teachers could go next door to get help when they needed it. They started talking to other teachers about their coaching experience and successes. When others began asking how they, too, could be coached, it was clear the model was working.
Now, instead of just one person going to classrooms hit or miss, I had 20 coaches who each worked with two or three teachers. My job has evolved so that today I am a support to the coaches as they work to develop teachers' skills.
We started the 2004n2005 school year with funds from a successful technology levy and a cohort of nearly 40 T2CI coaches for 20 schools. With the levy funds, we were able to put a projector, a document camera, and a laptop into each teacheris classroom. When we get to the phase of issuing student computers in the classrooms, the T2CI teachers will have a head start on demonstrating the readiness, willingness, and competency required to warrant receiving this additional equipment.
And, because of the levy money, we are able to use all of our E2T2 funds to provide release time or extra pay for our coaching teams to create quality time to work together. The coaches continue to receive quality training from the Puget Sound Center as well as the time to meet with each other in the district to share, debrief, and discuss their own continuous improvement process.
This is the last year of the grant. The project has been so successful that we are determined to find ways to continue to grow the coaching program in all 34 of our schools. We plan to use existing and new grant funds to sustain and continue the development of coaches, as well as to provide the release time necessary to support teacher professional development through collaboration. We need to continue developing best instructional practices to ensure that all students are effective users of technology and literate users of Internet resources. Our community expects it, our teachers deserve the support, and our students need these skills to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners. z
Kim Mathey is the Manager of Instructional Technology in Edmonds School District in Washington state. She has been working in public education for 19 years, as a teacher, a library media specialist, and an instructional technology coordinator. Kim presented "How to Grow a Coaching Program" at the National Staff Development Conference in Vancouver, B.C., in December 2004.
Northwest Educational Technology Consortium http://www.netc.org