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Standards Spotlight: Relationships, trust matter in coaching

By Clara J. Alaniz
March 28, 2020
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As a district-level specialist in the Plano (Texas) Independent School District, I support 7,000 staff members and 53,000 students. That’s a lot of people – too many, of course, to work with individually! But still I make a point to work with individual educators as much as possible because in my role, relationships matter. 

Coaching is just one part of my daily responsibilities as a digital learning spe­cialist, but it’s an important part, and the refreshed ISTE Coaching Standards help me in this role. The Coaching Standards describe the skills and knowledge coaches need to support educators with effective technology integration. 

The Collaborator standard within the Coaching Standards instructs coaches to “establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes.” I’d like to share how my relationship with one educa­tor addressed two of the indicators of the Coaching Standards.

In 2014, I was leading a professional learning session when I met Rocio, a teacher at a middle school in my school district, who mentioned an interest in digital learning. In the months that followed, I saw her in a few professional learning sessions that focused on digital tools. It was clear to me that she was eager to learn new and innovative prac­tices to use in her Spanish classroom. I asked her to reach out to me with any questions or if she ever wanted to collaborate during a planning period. 

I made it a point to stop by her classroom when I was visiting her campus. Sometimes, I would just say hello and other times we would chat about an upcoming lesson she had planned. These casual chats turned into deeper conversations that focused on the digital tools she was selecting for her lessons and how the tools would improve student learning. I made sure to follow up with her and ask how the lesson went. I wanted to reflect upon the lesson with her so I could better understand how she integrated digital tools. I also wanted to make myself available to her and reassure her that I was her partner. 

ISTE Coaching Standards 3a: “Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new in­structional strategies.”

The key to addressing this indicator is active listening. In our conversations, I dis­covered how Rocio likes to learn and explore new instructional strategies. I learned how she implemented those new strategies. I un­derstood the learning goals she established for her students. 

I worked to provide the kind of learning opportunities that suited her, but also pushed her slightly out of her comfort zone. Rocio has a 1:1 Chromebook classroom and wanted to try giving the students more opportunities to create presentations using digital tools and give feedback to each other. Rocio trusted me to take her out of her com­fort zone because she knew my intention was to support her growth, but more important­ly, she knew that I respected her and listened to her. As the years have gone by, our trustful bond has only grown stronger. 

I guided Rocio through a few digital tools that were completely new to her, and I presented the tools in a way that was respectful of her preferred way of learning. Together, we evaluated the tools to see which one would best support the learning goals for the lesson. 

ISTE Coaching Standards 3b: “Partner with educators to identify digital learning con­tent that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.”

Recently, Rocio asked me to collaborate with her and another middle school Span­ish teacher, Janeth, for an upcoming lesson. The English-speaking students were going to compare a home in the United States to a home in a Spanish-speaking country. Previ­ously, they had students demonstrate their learning by presenting a slideshow of images. In an effort to address ISTE’s Empowered Learner Student Standard 1c, the teachers wanted to explore digital tools the students could use to demonstrate their learning in different ways as well as provide feedback to each other. 

For our first step, we filled out a TPACK (technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge, chart. We clarified the content standards and defined what we wanted the students to learn and understand by the end of the lesson. An established learning target in the lesson was for the students to demonstrate an understand­ing of Spanish vocabulary words related to daily routines of home life. Students would also demonstrate a respectful view of cul­tural differences and perspectives while curating their own cultually relevant resources. Additionally, students would have opportunities to select and evaluate digital resources – which addresses ISTE’s Knowledge Constructor standard indicators 3b and 3c  –  and apply standard methods for citing sources – which addresses Digital Citizen standard indicator 2b. 

For our second step, we reviewed whether a new digital tool would improve student learning. Rocio knew that I view her as the expert of her classroom. She knows the content and the learners in a much deeper way than I do. Together, we used our collective knowledge and expertise to plan meaningful learning experiences for the students. We selected Padlet for this lesson because it has 10 different ways for students to demonstrate their learning, including videos, screencasting, voice recording, digital maps and images. The students were given the opportunity to choose any of the 10 formats, or a combination of them, to create their presentation. Also, we had students use the commenting feature in Padlet to provide feedback to each other. 

During the lesson, the students were to search for their own images, citing sources correctly along the way. The images of the homes would be arranged in an order that explained the similarities and differences of daily life at home. The students could use the integrated features of Padlet to create and deliver their oral presentations. 

The students then had a “gallery walk” within Padlet to listen to the presentations of other students. Because the oral presenta­tion were recorded, the students had an op­portunity to re-play, if necessary. They could also comment below each presentation to provide feedback. This made the lesson more engaging and also allowed the students to practice the ISTE Student Standards of Digital Citizen and Creative Communicator.

The students enjoyed the lesson, and the teachers were very pleased with the results. It was their first time using Padlet, so they helped each other troubleshoot and learn how to make their visual presentations. One student chose to use the map feature in Padlet. On the global map, he pinned where his home is located in the United States and pinned a home in El Salvador. 

When the students clicked on a pin, a text bubble appeared with descriptions of the homes, written entirely in Spanish. He pointed out their differences but found many more similarities. He called his presen­tation, “Mi Casa es tu Casa” which literally translates to “My House is Your House.” But this expression has a much warmer transla­tion, which is “make yourself at home.” 

Throughout the process of designing this lesson, we knew we had the same goal – to improve instructional practices and learning outcomes. It can be somewhat difficult to be this open with a colleague, but because we are true partners, the process was enjoyable and served to make our bond even stronger. An added bonus of this particular collabora­tion was the other Spanish teacher, Janeth. Through this process, Janeth and I began our own journey toward a trusting and respectful relationship. 

When working with any educator, it’s my goal to establish trust so we can build a relationship. When I first met Rocio, she stood out to me because she mentioned an interest in digital learning. However, even if an educator doesn’t mention that, it’s my hope that in all professional collaborations, there’s always a sense of respect and trust as we work toward common goals. It’s my hope that there’s joy in working with each other. It’s also my hope that they’re so comfortable, they’re “making themselves at home” in our collaborations.

Clara J. Alaniz has been an educator since 1999, serving as a classroom teacher and a digital learning specialist. she’s an ISTE certified educator who served on the technical working group to refresh the ISTE Educator Standards in 2017 and the coaching standards in 2019.