Teaching Beyond Technology

Coaching, Content, and Choice Fuel Effective Professional Learning for Teachers

GOA has expertise in designing online spaces, but our professional learning work is not solely about technology. GOA has perfected the development of online learning for students in its courses, but how do you teach other teachers to do that work? This is the role GOA’s professional learning team plays in our work coaching educators.

How GOA Fosters Human Connection for Meaningful Learning

We just concluded working with our second cohort of teachers at Garnet Valley School District in Pennsylvania. Beginning in September, we kicked off our Learning Design Studio cohort with 25 middle and high school teachers and two GOA learning design coaches, Adam Lavallee from Episcopal Academy and Jennifer Carlson-Pietraszek from Noble and Greenough School.

Adam, Jenny, Associate Director of Professional Learning Sara Tahir, and I traveled to Garnet Valley for an in-person kick-off workshop to meet participants in person. The in-person events at the start and conclusion of the Studio allow GOA to establish important personal connections. After meeting the GOA team and their coaches in person, participants work in an online space that is focused on interaction and sharing rather than content delivery. The online work gives teachers the flexibility to work at their own pace and reflect meaningfully.

There Are Four Learning Design Studio Themes:

  • Defining synchronous/asynchronous learning environments
  • Designing for student-led learning environments
  • Collaborative learning
  • Presenting content.

Through the four Learning Design Studio themes, participants design lessons and units during the Studio experience.

In each theme, participants:

  • Explore a playlist of resources
  • Reflect and apply new learning
  • Collaborate with their onsite team
  • Delve into a new tech tool

The cohort of 25 educators was divided into four teams, so not only did participants have access to either Adam or Jenny as their coach, but they also had access to their colleagues, who were sounding boards, asked questions, and provided feedback on each other’s work.

We spoke with Dr. Marc Bertrando, Superintendent of the Garnet Valley School District, to ask him how the partnership is going with GOA: “Our partnership with GOA represents an extension of the strategic vision for our professional learning. Their model, which utilizes expert coaches, collaboration, and collegial accountability, fostered a mindset within the cohort where our teachers were willing to take risks, think about their content and teaching differently, and implement new strategies.”

In December, each teacher in the cohort presented their work at presentation of learning.
Here’s what we heard and saw:

Professional Learning for Teachers Team

1) Coaching Supports Educator Growth

If the goal of professional learning is to shift educators (and it is!), then we believe coaching is a significant part of any professional learning program. GVSD educators said both the coaching and team meetings were a huge value-add. Dr. Bertrando said, “GOA employs a coaching model with curriculum over a 12 week course of learning. For our teachers, the GOA model epitomized exemplary professional learning in that participants brought their own content area and specific professional needs so that their new learning was job embedded, timely, and practically applied. Perhaps the best testimony to the power of the professional learning was that teachers felt that although the focus was on online delivery systems, the learning also dramatically improved their overall teaching regardless of the environment.”

2) Educators Want to Try New Ideas in Trusted, Safe Environments

“GOA delivers its professional learning to cohorts of teachers in a manner that generates safety, trust, and support. This environment is then carried by the cohort into their discussions in school as they try new techniques and strategies. In Garnet Valley this collaborative culture is enhanced by the fact that there are now other cohorts of ‘graduates’ who act as supplemental mentors and coaches,” said Dr. Bertrando.

3) Educators Recognize the Role of Students & Teachers is Shifting

Teachers report it’s hard to let go of controlling everything in the classroom, but students will be fine and actually flourish if you do so. “GOA has reengaged our teachers to think about their content and instruction through the perspective of the student. Choice, ownership, authenticity, creativity, differentiation, and higher order thinking are just few of the concepts that GOA modeled for our teachers. For Garnet Valley, these concepts are the cornerstone of classroom instruction that meets the individual needs of students, and it is why GOA was the perfect fit us,” said Dr. Bertrando.

Do you utilize coaching and collaboration within your professional learning community? We want to hear from you. Tweet us @GOALearning. Want to know more about our approach to professional learning? Check out our professional learning homepage.

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