Coaching and the Future of Blended Professional Learning

Blended learning is effective—not just for students, but also for teachers in their professional development. That was a core message of a coaching webinar hosted by HMH featuring Weston Kieschnick, a Senior Fellow for ICLE and author of Bold School, on Wednesday, October 3. 

Before a virtual audience of coaches and educators across the country, Kieschnick said, “Coaching is one of those things that is embedded so deeply into my educator DNA that I just can’t give it up.” Kieschnick, who was a high school history teacher for more than a decade, has served as a coach in different academic settings.

The Importance of Coaching

During his webinar, Keischnick emphasized that coaching shouldn’t be something educators think about doing; it should be something they are always doing. Coaching provides a “unique perspective” they otherwise may not obtain, he said.

“Here’s what we know: The future of professional learning must include robust plans for coaching,” Kieschnick said. “Why? Because coaching just flat out works. We know that it works. … Look at anyone who’s involved in any sport, look at anyone who’s involved in any dramatic production, look at anyone who’s involved in learning how to perform musically or play a new instrument. We know for a fact that coaching and mentorship matters.” 

Kieschnick attributed his success as an educator to the great coaches he worked with in the past. But the best coaching, he said, involves more than just describing skills to educators—it’s when teachers are coached through the awkward phase of implementation that they see the best results.

“We have to shift the mentality around coaching to one that authentically resembles an actual coaching process, where every player, every educator at every level … is actively involved in seeking out and receiving coaching,” Kieschnick said.

Coaching should also value rather than fear film study, where teachers record and watch themselves before having others review. And, he said, coaching should be consistent rather than sporadic.

“How do we transition to a place where great coaching can happen anytime, anywhere, even game time?” Kieschnick asked.

Microteaching: An Effective Solution

On his screen, Kieshnick displayed the message: You can’t separate masterful coaching and professional development from masterful teaching. In the same way that a student can master a specific skill by watching then working with a teacher and finally attempting the task himself, Kieschnick said, an educator best learns a new teaching strategy by actually practicing it alongside a coach, rather than just instantly implementing whatever was explained to him or her.

The solution may lie in microteaching, where teachers try and practice a teaching skill with a small group of friends and colleagues before bringing it into the classroom. The purpose is for teachers to present to their peers a piece of what they plan to do with their students, and receive feedback and support, building their confidence.

Ideally, Kieschnick said, these sessions occur before the first day of class, and are videotaped and eventually reviewed by a teaching consultant. To describe the central idea surrounding microteaching, Kieschnick said, “I’m going to teach these five or six teachers as if they were my own students, so that I can get my hands on the pedagogy, on the tools, in such a way that mimics the exact same way that I would in the classroom.”

With microteaching, educators can focus on more than just their mannerisms and voice and really uncover where they can improve their teaching on a grander scale.

Bringing New Coaching Strategies to Your District

Kieschnick warned those attending the webinar not to just return to their district and immediately start incorporating these strategies into their coaching. From the outset, he said, educators must agree that coaching with video elements and consistency matters and is worth the effort.

Then, they should implement these coaching strategies gradually, first familiarizing themselves and others with the concept of small group practice. Eventually, teachers should start recording those sessions and become more comfortable watching themselves on screen individually, ultimately asking a coach or partner to also review. Once these steps are fulfilled, follow up with synchronous, asynchronous, face-to-face, and virtual professional development, Kieschnick said.

“This is where the future of professional learning lives,” Kieschnick said. “It no longer lives in the place where a person shows up, talks to 1,000 people, we all leave really excited, and then only 10 percent replicate the practice. Don’t delete those moments, right? Those are still really important, they have tons of value—but it’s step one in a larger process.”

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For self-assessment, Kieschnick recommends using the Interactive Framework for Strategic Blended Learning.

Hear more from Kieschnick and other thought leaders and speakers at the Leadership Academy 2018 conference in Atlanta from Nov. 2–4, 2018. You can also learn more about HMH’s Professional Services, which includes coaching in the form of blended learning for teachers.

Photo: Kieschnick addresses an audience of educators during his keynote speech at the 2018 Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida.