Hello coaches! Welcome back to another episode of #coachbetter! Today, Clint and I are chatting with Stéphane Vermeulin, Lower School Digital Learning Coach at International School Luxembourg. Stéphane has had a wide variety of experiences, including teaching at the university level and extensive work with Cultures of Thinking with Ron Richard, and he brings them all together in his approach to coaching. Our conversation highlights the critical importance of building a trusting environment through the actions you take and the language you use. We move back and forth between Stéphane’s role as Activator for Thinking and Learning and his Digital Coaching role to highlight how each one supports the other. This conversation is a deep look at how, even the very small actions we take as coaches have a big impact on the coaching culture. Check out the listening guide available at coachbetter.tv

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Show Notes

Please tell us a little about your experience as an educator

Lower school ISL Digital Learning Coach. Social Sciences teacher in China. Lecturer in the University in France and South Africa. Also, additional role at ISL of Activator of Thinking & Learning. Started to work with Ron Richart a few years ago, created part-time coaching positions to develop a culture of thinking.

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

Coaches are part of every team meeting. Sees everyone over 2 weeks. Swaps with colleague, Tanya (also in the lower school), swapping meetings back and forth. Going to these meetings means he has conversations in the hallway or before and after meetings.

Coaches are a bookable resource. Teachers can book coaches in calendar for 1:1 coaching.

Office has big windows, is in a central location, near stairs. People often stop by for a chat – more informal way to connect. Teachers know that almost always someone is there.

Try to attend events and field trips to build relationships.

If no one has time to meet, meet them digitally. Make videos, have an online learning space where they can find resources they need. 99 sec speed geeking: short video, when we know a teacher is excited about something we record them talking about it and student learning. Stored on LMS Schoology. New one every Tuesday morning. Never really an “easy sell” to record teachers – instead they do screen recordings with voice over.

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

In the middle of building a coaching culture, still an ongoing process. Job description just changed, previously called IT Facilitators until just now. Only officially changed this year. Plan is to try to choose a common coaching cycle model that all coaches will use (upper and lower school). Next year will communicate and explain that change. Went to Brussels to visit a school following Jim Knight’s model.

Leadership is very supportive. Understanding / perception of teachers is not there yet. John Mikton, Director of EdTech, is very supportive, John Adams, Curriculum Coordinator is very supportive. Team has a book club, currently reading Elena Aguilar’s book.

Culture of Thinking is an awareness of influences on teaching and learning. Be aware of language, time, interactions. Many teachers have a good understanding of the fact that it’s important to consider how we interact, and listening skills. This will help build a culture of coaching because there is a common understanding from the culture of thinking.

What distinguishes what you were (facilitator) to what you are (coach)? How has your job changed (in your mind)?

Still do the same job. More a question of perception, and having a structure in place – a model people can identify. Communicating clearly with the staff and what it means. Some of the work I do is coaching, but sometimes I am a technician. It’s a challenge to change perceptions. You don’t know what is invisible to you. Teachers compare the coaching job to their own job experience. By modeling how we make our own thinking visible, how we use technology, we are helping them to understand what we mean by coaching.

May do a staff meeting at the beginning of the year with a follow the coach for a day video.

Now that they are a Cultures of Thinking school, the focus is always on student learning.

Started this year, all coaches working together. Wed afternoon meetings are now on cycles, teachers can choose from 6 or 7 different workshops they can attend for 3 weeks. Coaches are working together to develop these workshops. First cycle was just the coaches preparing workshops which they tried to co-teach, second cycle the co-teacher will lead that workshop, and coaches can build new workshops.

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

You become a coach because you’re self-motivated, but you do have ups and downs. I’m never alone, I’m part of many teams, I never feel isolated, so I can tap into their energy. I’m never sad or disappointed when I see a teacher struggle, it’s more a negative attitude. Struggles are find, we can always take someone from where they are to where they want to be. When someone has a negative attitude, that’s more difficult.

When I’m struggling, I use my PLN as a source of inspiration. The same message can be more impactful when heard from a different person. Hearing the same message from an outside source has a bigger impact.

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

No magic secret, but tries to make his own thinking visible in a very zen, clear, attractive way. No matter what communication, he always includes a visual of some kind. Even internal presentations are designed as if it were for an international conference. Tries to craft the message carefully every time.

People who think we just have “free time” are in the minority. It can be a very vocal minority. I try to make sure I don’t make promises I can’t honor and do what I say I will do. To build trustful relationships. If they know my actions and mindset align with the values we have as part of the school culture, hopefully they will trust me and know that I’m doing what I say I’m doing.

Try not to oversell tech, because then you break that trust. When I try to force teachers to learn, it’s a disaster. I’m not a cheerleader, if there’s a resistance, that usually means there’s something behind that. There might be some obstacles that you need to remove. In the past, I tried to force things more. Now I try to reflect more on why there might be resistance.

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

As a coach, I would prefer that teachers see me as a co-learner. Everyone here is a learner, we are all learning together. I’m not an expert. We will all make mistakes together, and learn together.

You’re just one person as a coach, all the experiences you have are just improving your skills as a coach.

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”

Evaluation is a sensitive subject. We don’t collect data now. We could check the number of posts on schoolagy, or the number of times people log in to Google Drive. Need to be careful of quantity vs quality. Hard to tell if teachers improve student learning with tech with quantitative data.

Take surveys each year to see if teachers are feeling confident. We can identify learning gaps for teachers (to plan PD) and areas of growth for coaches.

Shifting to a more e-portfolio approach for teachers. Concern about linking coaching with appraisal can cause teachers to lose trust in you. Would prefer if teachers could document themselves in their learning journey. E-portfolios are not started with teachers yet, came from student e-portfolios.

Organize workshops for parents. Next year planning to have an online course for parents to go deeper into the idea that we are all learning.

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

Listening. Trying to create a safe environment. I hope they feel safe to have me ask questions and push their thinking. We have a common goal to improve student learning. No matter what your role is, it’s always good to know your strengths and your areas of growth.

One thing I could do better is to intentionally go to people I never see, to the people who are less enthusiastic. Sometimes I have a tendency to stay with the people I know, in my comfort zone.

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

I still have some teachers book me every year for the same unit. I failed because I didn’t empower them. They are still booking me for the same unit. I need to have a debrief with them and explicitly state, “we’re going to empower you to be able to do more of this on your own next year”. Finding time to debrief is challenging, and something I can do better.

This has the bonus of being able to open up time to work with this teacher on another project.

We organize snapshots so teachers can observe other teachers in the classroom. It’s very interesting to see how one word can change the learning is happening.  When a teacher uses the word “exploring” and the conditional tense, it sends the message that there is not just one path, there are many ways to explore. Language is very important, the words we choose have a big impact. Language is very quick, sometimes it’s hard to choose different words, this is why it’s useful to have someone in the room observing and give feedback like “I wonder how it would be if…” to help you identify opportunities to adjust language.

Tips for getting started as a coach in a new school

Build relationships. Even if it looks awkward at the beginning, it’s still valuable. Even quick chats are valuable. 

Take the learner where they are and try to further their learning. Don’t try to impose your own thinking. Ask questions and allow them to do the learning. Always more powerful if it comes from them.

Remind teachers that we all have a common goal: to improve student learning. We are on the same boat, heading in the same direction together.

It’s important to have enough staff become trained in something like Cultures of Thinking. Because of one weekend workshop with Ron, things changed straight away on the Monday morning.

Interesting to combine his two roles: how can you have a culture of thinking in the digital world?

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

COETAIL. Real impact on his own learning. Do it with some colleagues together.

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