In this episode of #coachbetter spotlight, Kim chats with Annalee Higgenbottom, currently 6-12 Instructional Technology Coach and Tech Coordinator at Shanghai American School, Pudong Campus. Annalee has had a very diverse educational background and this conversation highlights the many ways her experience has influenced her development as a coach.

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Show Notes

Originally from the North of England, currently at SAS Pudong: 6-12 Instructional Tech Coach & Tech Coordinator for campus. Also does Link Crew. 7 Years at Atlanta International School, previously at an international school in Italy, and public schools in the UK and the US.

Building Rapport in your teaching community, what are your routines (walking the hall, eating lunch in the staff room) “The Coaching Bank” – how do you make connections with colleagues on a professional level, not just a personal one

Loves to talk. Naturally introverted, so initial meetings can be awkward. Comes down to finding common ground with people and viewing them as humans. I ask people to do something really difficult, I ask them to let me into their classroom and to look closely at how they teach.  As alert to opportunities as I can, bc if I immediately jump in with a suggestion, it turns people off. In doing that we underestimate our colleagues. 

Office is very centrally located and there are always cupcakes that brings people in to chat. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Be visible as others are leading PD, questions that need to be asked. Being ok with lack of knowledge and ok to ask naive question.

We all have personas. As a coach, that’s part of who I am, I know how to do that. Can “pause” introvert part to at home. In order to balance being an introvert and the coaching role, varies the responsibilities she has at school. This also helps her stay motivated. 

Building a Culture of Coaching: Where/How do you start? Being an advocate for the importance of your role

Previous schools were still on a journey to define what coaching is. Still a work in progress at SAS, but there are a lot of different people who are looking at what is it we’re trying to achieve together. There’s a range of expertise, I can draw on. Feels much more professionally developed at SAS. Learning the language of coaching and process what that looks like in her role. Part of a bigger school environment (multiple campuses).

Small team, instructional coaches, tech coaches, librarians: not an explicit coaching group, but people who’s job it is to influence directly the teaching and learning that goes on in classrooms, to support teachers. Looking at what each member of the team does, and how they support teachers and how they support teachers.

Some actions:

  • Divisions discussed: What is coaching? What do we do? What don’t we do?
  • Coaching menu: something fun, entertaining and engaging. A direct resource for teachers to point at and ask for support
  • Onboarding new faculty: how do we communicate to them what we do? And then have that message go back to returning faculty?
  • The more you can align with curriculum leaders, the more you can focus on the learning and not just the tech.

Staying motivated as a coach when you’re “the only one” who cares about tech-rich learning

There have always been people that I’ve worked with who have been interested in tech-rich learning. Find your allies, and empower them to become great advocates for the type of learning you’re passionate about. Recognize and celebrate their success, empower them to share. This helps you, as the coach, realize that the work you’re doing does matter.

Allies can also be from different areas of the school, like librarians.

Look for the interesting and innovative – and it doesn’t always have to be with tech. Recognize great learning when it’s happening.

Having a personal learning network on Twitter – as well as local regional educator groups. Networking is just another opportunity for learning. To make contact with somebody who you feel like you could learn from, and perhaps share something with.

Pastoral care is an opportunity to diversify, things like Project Zero and Cultures of Thinking.

The challenge of being “understood” as a coach – teachers don’t know what you do / think you just have free time

Still a challenge. Need to make sure everybody is really clear about why this role is really important. What is the value of technology coaches? What is the value a tech coach can bring to the table in terms of student learning and teacher professional development?

Critical to make sure to align with divisional leadership. Connect with annual priorities and how the tech coach can support that. Teachers are very busy so what the coach does must fit with a plate they’re already asked to carry.

Making sure that I understand the priorities of the division and I am communicating where I fit within those priorities.  Why is this type of role important?

As a coach, I want to work myself out of a job, but then work with the school community to identify the next problem we want to solve and make that my job. My goal is to explore and extend and expand the scope of how I can support student and teacher learning.

The many hats of coaching: coach, consultant, co-teacher, etc

As a classroom teacher, partnering with the coach, co-teaching was been one of the most powerful learning experiences of my career. It was such a great learning experience, and so enriching for me. But it takes time to build those relationships.

Initially, as a tech coach, the initial problem that needs to be solved is often at the consultancy level. Coaching becomes more evident as I get to do more unit planning with teachers. Part of establishing who you are and what your job is. Ultimately my job is to help you meet your goals for your classroom. Being clear about what role you’re occupying at that time is really important. Ask teachers what they need at that moment empowers them to uncover that they already have the solution inside themselves.

What does data look like from coaching? What are you using to help motivate teachers to make improvements/changes? Assessing tech & tech integration, how do you give it value (teacher evaluation, teacher growth): “More Than Ticking the Box”

It comes down to reflection and how am I reflecting? When you’ve been in a place for long enough you realize that there are loops that repeat themselves. Starting to look at student data: what are students saying? Potential data point: ask students for feedback and being open to, and actively inviting that feedback.

As coaches we have to look for human anecdotal data and how that maps onto our practice. We have to model and practice reflection on our own craft.

What are ways that you make yourself invaluable as a coach? What are the things that teachers love that you do?

Teachers appreciate my quirkiness. I am calm, genuinely interested in what they’re trying to achieve. Asking for feedback from teachers about how tools at school work (like the LMS). Just as likely to tell people NOT to use tech, as I am to recommend that they do use it.

Where do coaches fail? And what can we do about it?

If we consistently push tech and don’t take time to understand where that person is at, and where they’re coming from we undermine our position and their capabilities. We also fail when there is misalignment, when you don’t understand where the leadership is trying to take the school. Need to work out how you fit into these priorities. 

Sometimes we have to just let things go. You aren’t going to win every battle. Every teacher is not going to be a fan of you, and if you try to force those relationships, you’re going to lose people.

Don’t want to create a “cult of personality”. Want the changes to be sustainable and meaningful and connected to the identity of the school.

Retain humility. Be explicit, that I don’t know all the things yet. You know more than me. Being ok with not knowing everything.

Tips for getting started as a coach in a new school

Be generous with yourself. Not everything is going to be a win. You are going to fail spectacularly and probably publically. Own it and model being OK with it. But make sure to do your homework. Don’t come in completely clueless about the school. Ask lots of questions. Be clear about what you do and what you don’t do. Can’t solve everyone’s problem as soon as they walk through the door. Important to build credibility, but likely you have a team and there are people that know how to do those other things. If you start off being the person who mends the photocopier, you’re always going to be the person who mends the photocopier. Making sure you’re really clear about the priorities of the school and how you fit into that. Understanding institutional memory gives you insight into how you approach people, ideas and concepts.

What’s one resource you would recommend and why was it impactful for your practice?

Project Zero: Creating Cultures of Thinking, Ron Richart. Helped me understand schools and change. Helped me contextualize why some changes were so hard.

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