Coaches Plan Units, Too

Yesterday I attended a training that previewed the learning teachers will do at the start of the year. I was fortunate that my principal attended with me and we were able to begin to make some sense of the year. I will admit that, at first, I found it difficult to project possibilities for teacher learning this year, as I will be the coach in a new school which means a new staff.

Then I realize: That is exactly what teachers do every year.

So, in the spirit of parallel practice, I commit to trying this on, to “test drive” unit planning with the template* that teachers will be expected to use to drive their PLC processes at the start of the year and sharing my experience. (Note: Click on any of the photos embedded below for a full-size image).

Step 1: Set Our Intention

Matt Glover and Holly Slaughter first introduced me to the concept of unit planning which they call projecting possibilities and anticipating problems and possibilities, respectively. I can outline the essential learnings and anticipate the course and trajectory through backward design of learning targets as a way of getting my feet under me ahead of the school year.

My goal in posting this plan is to make transparent a parallel process for planning teacher learning as well as to engage in collaborative conversations with school leaders that better prepare me to start the school year. It is not to insist that this is the way learning will unfold. So as you read, let me know: What did I get right? Where did I go wrong?

Step 2: Gist

The gist for teacher learning is often made apparent in our district’s kick-off. This year was no exception: In order to build “systemness” across over 90 elementary schools in varying degrees of implementation of a “approved” research-based resource, we will focus on practices, strategies, things, “literacy leverage points” that allow our conversations and support through professional development in the coming year to live “above” the level of our resources. Of the five leverage points, my school’s leaders prioritized the district’s list of five down to three, (though we all agreed that still feels like a lot).

Other sources for the gist come from likely places, including leader learning (like our principals’ upcoming book study on MTSS), state- and federal-level mandates, resource implementations, and district- and school-based data.

At first, these “big ideas” were my targets, but as I moved toward the rubric for standards of practice, I realized that these would need to be broken down into smaller pieces. Essentially, these become the “so that” in our learning targets, eg. “I can model strategies…so that I am creating the conditions for student-engaged assessment.

Step 3: Essential Questions

Teachers in our district have a bank of essential questions from which to draw from for each unit. As coach, I am puzzling over where these might already exist for professional topics such as those listed above. In this article from Scholastic, Jeffrey Wilhelm describes an essential question as one that “frames a unit of study as a problem to be solved.” Though I might brainstorm a list like the one below, I am actually curious what questions teachers might have as they begin to engage in this work. This could be a great jumping-off point for shared inquiry.

A quick brainstorm of questions I have and/or might anticipate.

Step 4: Standards

As coach, I am careful not to betray my role as coach by crossing over into evaluation. However, the rubrics used for teacher evaluation can be a source for learning standards. Another source you’ll notice below is annotated with the letters “CP.” These come from EL Education’s Core Practices. This open-source resource is what gave me the language to outline the “appropriate and varied research-based techniques” referred to in the description for teacher effectiveness in differentiation.

In this step, the process of “nick-naming” standards, a practice also introduced to me by my colleagues at EL Education, was very helpful as I dove into the “effective” descriptors from our own teacher rubric.

These also, at one point, were listed at learning targets, but when I realized their complexity, it helped me to better align them to their student counterpart, that is the standards are written as targets, but teachers break them down into their component parts for daily instruction, asking what is the piece of this puzzle we are learning to tackle today?

Step 5: Assessment

The creation of look-fors (and the addition of a column for “school or leadership”look-fors) was part of our learning during yesterday’s training. As it was then, this can be a collaborative effort, as leaders work to research the topics for teacher learning and articulate their understanding in the categories below. In my case, after another round of workshops today, those generated will be synthesized, released, and added here.

However, this is also a place where collaborating with teachers can lead to co-constructed success criteria. That’s what we would do with kids, right? We’d study something and then generate the list of criteria for demonstration of learning together.

Learning Targets

This is the most “work-in-progress” part of the document. I am still learning the structures and systems within my building for whole-group, small-group, and one-on-one professional learning.

The targets below might last for a single sitting, might recur over multiple meetings, and may very well lead to a series of other targets as I meet with my principal and leadership team. One step further would work to generate student targets as a results of the teacher targets. In this way, we can circle back to the look-for documents (either those generated by leaders or those co-constructed in the first days together).

In order to ensure that our professional learning is grounded in the development of our growing community, I modified the template in this space to use Elena Aguilar’s “Dimensions of a Great Team” from The Art of Coaching Teams. This is similar to the work teachers do at the start of the year to attend to the creation of their classroom communities, as they work to create products that help students get to know each other and establish expectations for learning, engage in processes that contribute to the success of their community, and learn how to learn together.

Whole-and Small-Group (PLCs):

One-On-One Classroom Visits (targets for my learning):

Overall, planning a unit for teacher learning was not so different from planning one for students. I look forward to reflecting on this process as I work alongside teachers to unpack their units using this framework. (*The template above was adapted from the one developed by Jeffco’s Elementary Literacy Team.)

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