Reflections on my 1st Year of Instructional Coaching

A New Role

This time last year, I was nervously excited after accepting a 6-12 science instructional coach position. It was not an easy decision to step away from my role as a biology teacher in an interdisciplinary PBL program; I had been wonderfully challenged more than ever before in my 16 year teaching career as I worked collaboratively with other Innovation Institute teachers to develop and implement the program, and to design interdisciplinary projects. However, instructional coaching seemed like a great opportunity to grow professionally by further developing interpersonal and leadership skills that I had been using as a collaborative team member, PLC facilitator, and Innovation Institute Program Coordinator. The focus on coaching science teachers was also a perfect fit, as I have been so inspired by recent shifts in education required by CCSS and NGSS.

The Importance of Relationships, Trust and Growth Mindset

I was certainly nervous about being hired as an instructional coach with no prior experience (particularly since the coaching model was also new!), but I also felt that the most important aspect of being a good instructional coach was to focus on building relationships and nurturing trust. I also knew that my focus on encouraging a growth mindset in students would also benefit me in my work with teachers. I have learned so much this year reading dozens of books, listening to podcasts, watching videos, attending the NSTA conference in Atlanta and the Marzano Lab in Denver, working with teachers, and collaborating with the rest of the K-12 coaching team at Shanghai American School. I am much more aware of my strengths – and also very aware of how much more I want to learn! However, I still feel very strongly that relationships, trust, and a growth mindset are the most important aspects of both successful coaching and building effective collaborative teams. I am also even more aware that it takes patience and time to build relationships and trust, as well as encourage growth mindsets.

A New Coaching Model

When I started as an instructional coach at the beginning of this school year, instructional coaches had only existed at our school for two years. This year, our school shifted from having three instructional coaches in the MS and only one instructional coach in the HS to having a team of five subject-specific coaches working across both divisions. In this context, I knew that I would have to be patient while teachers, coaches, and administrators worked to build a shared understanding of the roles that coaches can play and the benefits coaches can bring to individual teachers and collaborative teams in our shared desire to improve student learning. Since instructional coaching is still so new at our school, it was really important for me to reinforce repeatedly that:

  • coaches do not evaluate teachers
  • coaches work with ALL teachers
  • coaches do not need to have all of the answers in order to help facilitate professional learning for individual teachers or teams

How to Build Relationships?

A blog post from Insight Education Group emphasizes that instructional coaching programs are more likely to “yield real improvement in teaching and learning” if they are “grounded in a strong, shared understanding of effective coaching.” Attempting to clarify the role of an instructional coach is one strategy mentioned by @MrsRyder58 in a TeachBoost blog post entitled Strategies for Building Relationships as an Instructional Coach. She also mentions classroom visits as another important strategy, which I hope to do in a more intentional and strategic way next year. I really like Megan’s suggestion to create a newsletter for teachers based upon “lessons in the classroom, teacher collaboration, and resources.” This would help teachers to be more aware of what is happening in the school, provide an opportunity to celebrate successes, and ensure teachers know how coaches can help improve student learning and support professional growth.

The Importance of Empathy

While I understood that it would take time for our new coaching model to be fully implemented, I also had to practice patience with respect to waiting for teachers to ask for support. It is not up to the coach to determine what changes or improvements could be made. Another TeachBoost post by @ShastaLooper entitled Bringing Empathy to Coaching reminds me that it is not only patience that is needed, but also empathy. As a new instructional coach, I have been learning the importance of the following aspects of empathy suggested by @ShastaLooper:

  • setting aside assumptions,
  • helping teachers to recognize their own strengths and areas in which they want to grow, and
  • listening to understand and question.

Areas of Growth

Listening to understand is one area in which I still need more practice and reflection, as there have been many times this year when I acted as a consultant or collaborator in order to help build understanding about pedagogy, instruction or assessment – particularly with respect to the shifts required by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While these roles are appropriate at times, I am very aware that much of the power lies in wearing the coaching ‘hat’. As I think ahead to my second year in this role, I am looking forward to creating and taking advantage of opportunities to coach ‘heavy’ much more often than I am coaching ‘light’ (Are You Coaching Heavy or Light? by Joellen Killion, Learning Forward).

Building a Culture of Collaborative Inquiry & Reflective Practice

I am beyond inspired that our K-12 instructional coaching team has been empowered by the leaders at our school to take our commitment to teachers and collaborative teams to the next level by working to build a culture of collaborative inquiry and reflective practice. While I am definitely looking forward to a restful summer and lots of quality time with my family and friends, I am already feeling optimistic and excited about my second year as an instructional coach. I am beyond grateful for this amazing learning opportunity.

 

I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.

I reflect and I learn.

– Carmen Freisen
(Costa & Garmston, 2012)

 

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UbD+NGSS+5E Unit Planning

Have you struggled to find the right process for designing an NGSS Unit? It can feel overwhelming, especially if you are new to NGSS! There are new factors to consider when shifting to three-dimensional instruction and assessment.

Having worked as a science instructional coach this year (first time coach AND in a newly-created role), I have been primarily helping collaborative teams deepen their understanding of the NGSS performance expectations. Another focus has been how to implement the practices and what they look like at MS and HS. (I had some great discussions with teachers about the similarities and differences between constructing explanations and arguing from evidence. If you are interested in this, check out this Stanford Graduate School video & STEM Teaching Tools Practice Brief 1.) We have also had many discussions about how to incorporate crosscutting concepts into instruction and assessment.

Recently, several of my MS and HS science collaborative teams are naturally in a place where they are looking to design or refine NGSS units. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop on Understanding by Design (UbD) at my school earlier this year. This was the perfect refresher for me (and so nice to have it run by Jay McTighe himself!) Ever since that weekend, I have been trying to make sense of how to effectively articulate UbD to teachers who may be only vaguely familiar with the idea, while simultaneously ensuring that important aspects of NGSS are not forgotten. I was fortunate to also attend the NSTA National Conference in Atlanta, where I participated in several sessions related to NGSS unit design. While all of the sessions I attended were great, I knew that I needed to keep the NGSS unit planning process simple and manageable. Ultimately, I tried to take away what all of the processes had in common.

I’ve shared my take-aways about the crucial steps in designing units recently with most of the collaborative teams I work with. The process seems to bring clarity and focus to what needs to be considered when refining or designing NGSS units. The steps below are based upon elements from the following: Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction, Seeing Students Learn Science: Integrating Assessment and Instruction in the Classroom, the 5E Model for NGSS, Paul Andersen’s ‘unit planning protocol’, Quest-LC and, of course, Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design. I have also connect the stages of Unit Design with the 4 questions of PLC at Work, since collaborative teams have been a focus at our school for several years now.

In the steps below, note that DCI = disciplinary core idea (content), SEP = science & engineering practice and CCC = crosscutting concept. Each performance expectation (PE) is essentially a standard made up of a DCI + SEP + CCC. Also, keep in mind that prior to designing or refining a unit, there should be at least a tentative year-long sequence mapped out for the course. It is also helpful if there have already been discussions about how the PEs will be bundled into units.

Stage 1: Identify Desired Results  [“unpacking”; What do we want students to learn?]

  • What do students need to KNOW? (DCIs)
  • Create an ANCHOR CHART of main concepts (DCIs).
    • You might be tempted to skip this step, but don’t! Just as the NGSS emphasizes the importance of modeling, you and your colleagues will also benefit from making your thinking visible and building a clear and shared understanding of what concepts should be included in the unit. The anchor chart suggested by @paulandersen will also help determine what order the concepts could be taught in, and perhaps which concepts are most important. For examples of anchor charts, go to The Wonder of Science site. Click on Teaching, select a topic and then click on a specific performance expectation to see anchor charts that other teachers have made.
  • Create a conceptual storyline using the DCIs.
    • A conceptual storyline means that the concepts are taught in an order or flow that makes sense to students. It allows the teacher or collaborative team to later create a coherent sequence of lessons.
  • What do students need to be able to DO? (SEPs)
    • If you have bundled PEs together, is there one practice that will be focused on more than the others? Will some practices be taught but not assessed?
    • For this step and the next, it helps to have printable practice and concept cards from Paul Andersen’s site. I suggest the ‘4 per page file’ so that the cards are small, manageable and easy to take to meetings!
  • How will students THINK about the concepts? (CCCs)
    • At this point, if you have not already naturally incorporated CCCs into your anchor chart, you may choose to do so now.
  • What ANCHOR PHENOMENON could drive the unit?

Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence [formative and summative assessment; How will we know if students learned it?]

  • What ‘END PRODUCT’ will students produce to demonstrate competency in the primary SEP?
    • It is crucial that one or more PRACTICES drive the assessment.
  • What MAJOR CONCEPT(s) from the “conceptual storyline” will be included in the ‘end product’?
  • What CCC(s) from the “conceptual storyline” will be included in the ‘end product’?
  • Is the assessment ‘three dimensional’ enough?

Stage 3: Learning Plan [“learning performances”; How will we design learning experiences for ALL learners?]

  • What 3D ‘learning performances’ will provide the required evidence of student learning?
    • Focus not on what the teacher is doing, but what the STUDENTS are doing.

Stage 4: Reflection (& Revision?)

This is not an official UbD stage, but I think it is crucial to make time to reflect on the unit. It can be helpful to jot down notes throughout the unit of things that worked well, as well as things you would like to change. At the end of the unit, a reflection with your collaborative team is very helpful. This could also be a time when revisions to the unit and/or assessments are made so that they are ready for the next year. This ensures that revisions are not forgotten.

 

NGSS UbD 5Es Template

The template below is adapted from Jay McTighe’s UbD template to incorporate some elements of NGSS and the 5E model.

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How do YOU plan NGSS units? Is your process different? Feel free to post a comment below or connect with me on twitter @foley_amy 🙂

How can NGSS practices transform science teaching & learning?

Have you ever heard someone unfamiliar with NGSS ask “Don’t good teachers already know how to teach science well?” Yes… and no. Adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) should lead to a transformation in how students learn science, as outlined in Appendix A of A Framework for K-12 Science Education.  It is crucial that students are applying their knowledge of the disciplinary core ideas through the science and engineering practices. But what exactly does this look like in a science class?

3-dimensional learning means that both the crosscutting concepts (CCCs) and the science & engineering practices (SEPs) are as important as the content – also known as disciplinary core ideas (DCIs). I recently wrote a blog post focusing on incorporating CCCs, but it is equally important to consider how students engage in the SEPs. Teachers may think that science class already naturally incorporates the practices, but that is not necessarily true. We should be asking ourselves whether students are acting like SCIENTISTS. Are students doing what scientists would be doing?

Check out this Teaching Channel video about NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (6min). Traditionally, learning science often involved the teacher acting as a knowledge authority to provide content, then students would be given a lab activity in order to confirm results that they are expecting based on what they already know to be true. The shift with NGSS is that STUDENTS should be the ones DOING science – asking questions, designing and conducting investigations, analyzing data, finding relationships, etc. Students should be given more experiences to think deeply, and have more opportunities to think like a scientist. These NGSS parent guides include a table that outlines what there should be ‘less of’ and ‘more of’ in a science classroom. This is a good starting point for thinking about how science classrooms can be transformed.

What are the NGSS science and engineering practices? They are listed below, and are explained in more detail in Appendix F of A Framework for K-12 Science Education:

  1. Asking Questions (science) and Defining Problems (engineering)
  2. Developing and Using Models
  3. Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  5. Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  6. Constructing Explanations (science) and Designing Solutions (engineering)
  7. Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

How can teachers begin to understand what they are already doing well with respect to the SEPs, and where they might improve? The article Assessing Science Practices: Moving Your Class Along a Continuum by Katherine L. McNeill, Rebecca Katsh-Singer and Pam Pelletier is incredibly useful. First, it has a ‘Science Practices Continuum Assessment Tool’ which allows teachers to assess where their students fall for each practice – Not Present, Emergent, Proficient, or Exemplary. This can help teachers to plan instruction that helps students to move along on the continuum. Second, the article also groups the 8 practices into the following categories:

  • Investigating Practices
    • Asking Questions
    • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  • Sense Making Practices
    • Developing and Using Models
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Constructing Explanations
  • Critiquing Practices
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information

This makes it easier to envision how to incorporate the practices when designing a unit. Ideally, a unit should start with introducing students to a phenomenon, so that they begin by asking questions. A few years ago I came across the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the Right Question Institute. However, at NSTA this year a couple of sessions referred to Questioning for the Next Generation (QNG), which is QFT adapted for NGSS. Love it! Using QNG is a great way to get students to help make sense of a phenomenon and perhaps even having students help to craft a driving question. Near the beginning of the unit, students should often develop a model to explain the phenomenon. Ideally, students’ models will be improved throughout the course of a unit as their understanding deepens through engaging with other practices, such as planning and carrying out investigations and analyzing and interpreting data.

For teachers new to NGSS, what are some simple strategies for incorporating the SEPs in a way that honors the intention of the K-12 Framework and NGSS?

  • Posting medium size posters of the SEPs means teachers can easily refer to them during class. (These are from @paulandersen’s amazing site The Wonder of Science.) It is helpful to post cards for the main CCC and SEP (practice) with the content learning target(s) for the day.This helps students to understand the 3D focus of the lesson. Refer to these both at the beginning and throughout the lesson.
  • Teachers can refer to more than one CCC and/or SEP during a lesson, even if they are not all assessed. In fact, at times it can be difficult to refer to a CCC &/or SEP in isolation. (See link for STEM Teaching Tools Practice Brief 3 below.)
  • As you plan a lesson or unit, be sure to plan in advance for incorporating at least one practice each lesson. You can find the continuum mentioned above AND instructional strategies for ALL practices on the Instructional Leadership for Science Practices. Very useful!

 

Here are some other useful resources:

Matrix of Science and Engineering Practices

This translates appendix F from NGSS into teacher friendly language. It breaks down each practice by grade band K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. 

Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices

The intent of this appendix is to describe what each of these eight practices implies about what students can do. Its purpose is to enable readers to better understand the performance expectations.

Appendix I: Engineering Design in NGSS

STEM Teaching Tools Practice Brief 3

Practices should not stand alone: How to sequence practices in a cascade to support student investigations

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs)

I was fortunate to have recently attended the 2018 Atlanta NSTA Conference.  It was so inspiring! I was able to hear from amazing presenters and speak with educators, instructional coaches and district curriculum coordinators who are doing amazing work implementing NGSS. As a 6-12 Science Instructional Coach hoping to support teachers, I focused on attending sessions that would provide tangible tools and strategies for ensuring that instruction and assessment is three dimensional (3D).  I was not disappointed!

Perhaps the simplest and most high leverage takeaway for ensuring instruction and assessment is three dimensional relates to the crosscutting concepts (CCCs). The NGSS crosscutting concepts are:

  1. patterns
  2. cause and effect
  3. scale, proportion and quantity
  4. systems and system models
  5. energy and matter
  6. structure and function
  7. stability and change

In general, the DCIs (content) are what students should KNOW, the SEPs (science and engineering practices) are what students should DO, and the CCCs are how students should THINK.

Why are crosscutting concepts important? Karen Whisler is an NGSS Solutions Leader for Measured Progress. In her #NSTA18 presentation, she said that CCCs:

  • are applicable across all science disciplines
  • facilitate comparison and connections
  • provide an organizational framework and way of thinking
  • support understanding of disciplinary core ideas
  • enrich use of the practices

In multiple sessions, I heard both presenters and participants say that CCCs are often the most difficult of the three dimensions to include in instruction and assessment. It is not necessarily new for teachers to refer to the crosscutting concepts (perhaps previously known as themes or overarching concepts), although traditionally many teachers have not been explicit about teaching &/or assessing CCCs. However, there are some very manageable steps that teachers can take to ensure that the CCCs are being taught and assessed:

  1. Asking at least one question related to a CCC in each lesson helps to ensure 3D lessons. Plan for this in advance of the lesson using these small cards created by @paulandersen.
  2. Posting medium size posters of the CCCs means teachers can easily refer to them during class. It is helpful to post cards for the main CCC and SEP (practice) with the content learning target(s) for the day. This helps students to understand the focus of the lesson. Refer to these both at the beginning and throughout the lesson.
  3. Teachers can refer to more than one CCC and/or SEP during a lesson, even if they are not all assessed. In fact, at times it can be difficult to refer to a CCC &/or SEP in isolation.
  4. Modeling ‘think alouds’ for students helps them to understand how to use the CCCs as lenses for asking questions, making sense of phenomenon, etc.
  5. Aim to have all assessment questions (formative or summative) at least “two dimensional”, and ensure that summative assessments are 3D overall. STEM Teaching Tool 41 has a wealth of prompts related to all 7 CCCs. Ensure that some student responses are required to explicitly refer to CCCs. Some teachers have students highlight work in green if it explicitly refers to CCCs.
  6. Keep posters on the wall that have questions for each of the CCCs. Students should be encouraged to refer to the posters to help them think of questions they can ask during instructional activities, small group and whole class discussions, etc. This will help students to build an awareness of the different ‘ways of thinking’ that they can draw upon when doing science. Students who are more aware of ‘how to think’ can apply this in other disciplines and start to see more connections as well!
  7. It is very important to connect the CCCs to the “sense making practices” which are: developing and using models, constructing explanations, and arguing from evidence.

The following framework by Brett Moulding was mentioned in more than one session, and I find it to be an incredibly useful way to organize the CCCs. Those in blue are used for explaining CAUSES, while those in green are related to SYSTEMS.

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Here are some other useful resources:

Matrix of Crosscutting Concepts in NGSS

This translates appendix G from NGSS into teacher friendly language. It breaks down each crosscutting concept by grade band K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

NSTA Webinar Series: Crosscutting Concepts

Appendix G: Crosscutting Concepts

The purpose of this appendix is to describe the second dimension— crosscutting concepts—and to explain its role in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Crosscutting concepts have value because they provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the differing areas of disciplinary content and can enrich their application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.

— A Framework for K-12 Science Education, Appendix G