Connected Coach – an authentic Professional Development Model

From the bottom of my heart and with every single fibre of my body, I thank those leaders and principals and district decision makers for giving teachers an opportunity to learn with other teachers in an authentic, customized and  inquiry driven  environment that focuses on the most current and changing educational pedagogues. Thank you.

There were  many key events that have happened in my   professional life over the last six months. Events that have changed my approach and my understanding of teaching and learning – especially as it relates to teacher Professional Development strategies. One of those events was my experience as a connected coach with the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP).

While I’ve never had the opportunity to be a participant in the Powerful Learning Practice model, I have followed PLP for the couple of years.  It is hard not to pay attention to the many free PLP webinars, articles, and on-going dialogue between educators at all levels across the globe. In fact, right now PLP is offering a free 2 week e-course about Web2.0 in the classroom.

In March 2011, I had a phone discussion and interview with Sheryl Naussam-Beach about what I can offer to the PLP organization as a connected coach. I was a bit skeptical because I wasn’t sure if I had the essential skills needed for this position. In my role as a classroom teacher, I have never been trained formally as a coach. But, in the online world, I have acted as a mentor and coach to many networked teachers and learners across the world. I have spoken and written about this topic passionately. Online methods of learning are reshaping how information is delivered, understood and synthesized.  We are seeing a world of co-everything. We insist on collaborating, on sharing, on co-creating, on co-editing – and yet, we don’t insist on formal online training for our teachers about how to use and implement 21st Century Learning skills both with each other and in a classroom context. I worry about that. I really really worry about that.

For several months, I participated in rigorous on-line  coaching training with Lani Hall and Dean Shareski, our connected coach facilitators and six other connected coaches from across across our globe. This training consisted with a mixture of theory, research and practice. We read and discussed Chapters from, The Reflective Educator’s Guide (Coaching Inquiry-Oriented Learning Communities) and then we spent several weeks practicing a variety of coaching techniques on each other and then providing feedback for improvement.  It was fascinating and exciting to learn this way. It is rare for me as a teacher to get to practice a technique before implementing it. It is rare to get on-going feedback from my colleagues or leaders.

The leaders and other connected coaches in the PLP insisted that even in an online environment, relationships come FIRST. And so, we spent eight weeks getting to know each other through digital story telling, online conferences, skypes, twitter, Facebook conversations and in the Ning network (a private space for us to chat and offer support).  Eventually, we had an opportunity to practice some of the techniques learned with groups of teachers from both ElPaso, Texas and in Australia – both with very different focus. In ElPaso Texas, we engaged teachers in conversations about Digital Story telling and with the Australian cohort, the teachers went through a rigorous action research about Inquiry Based Learning.

As the work with these cohorts comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on  what made this experience so meaningful.  It wasn’t very hard to conclude that the engagement we all felt was a result from the authenticity of the training.  Teachers were empowered to think critically, to work at their own pace, to ask questions and discuss alternative answers. Teachers were given an opportunity to share stories and work at a pace that suites them. Teachers were given choice and freedom to create projects that were open ended and based on a variety of techniques and research methods.

As someone who writes often about the importance of authentic teacher training, I can’t help but feel extremely inspired by the amount of work, effort, and passion that is being put into the PLP process.

From the bottom of my heart and with every single fibre of my body, I thank those leaders and principals and district decision makers for giving the PLP opportunity to teachers. It is these teachers who are become the digital leaders in education.

It is my hope that Ontario takes this kind of Job Embedded learning serious. There are so many possibilities around this model of PD. I urge our program conusltants and system/district leaders to take a serious look at offering this opportunity to your educators.

Brenda Sherry, an Ontario Educator writes about PLP Ontario and offers this opportunity to all Ontario schools for the upcoming school year!