Connected Coaching: Learning to Lead











Many months ago, I saw a Facebook post by Powerful Learning Practice about becoming a “Connected Coach.” This is an opportunity to work virtually with Year 1 PLP teams as they wrap up the year by supporting their efforts to create an action research project for their schools. I remembered my experience the previous year with PLP, and wondered if I could possibly be of help to others. I completed the application, but honestly doubted I would hear anything. I was not any kind of an expert in action research, and PLP probably wanted someone who had completed more than the Year 1 experience to help guide these teams. I wasn’t surprised when months went by and I didn’t hear anything.

Then suddenly, in late January, an email appeared, asking if I was still interested in this opportunity! Although my schedule should have led me to decline, I was honored to be considered, and was very interested in learning about connected coaching. Our e-course began the next week, and before I knew it, I was up to my eyeballs in new terminology like “appreciative inquiry,” “wayfinding,” and even “wonderings.” What on earth was a wondering?!? I was looking at models, protocols, and thinking I was definitely in over my head…

Before I knew it, I had “met” my lead coach, Gene, and had the list of the nine teams we were to support. Nine?!? For some reason I thought three… maybe four? I couldn’t imagine keeping straight the names of people on nine different teams, and their conversations on the PLP Community Hub in addition to completing the online activities for the e-course!

The more we talked about the qualities of a connected coach in our e-course webinars, the more I wondered why PLP thought I would make a good connected coach. I’m talkative, loud, opinionated, and a “jump in with both feet” kind of person. On a good day, I remember to make sure there’s water in the pool! Connected coaching was all about starting slowly, developing trust, listening, asking questions (mostly in the form of “wonderings”), reflecting, and patiently working with teams. Hmmm…

Fortunately, this was modeled beautifully for me from day one by our fearless leader Lani and my lead coach Gene. This was invaluable, as we were thrust right into our jobs and began posting our introductory videos on our teams’ sites immediately. We began to exchange hellos, talk about ourselves personally, and then eventually discuss some details about project ideas. I found myself remembering what I had heard and seen Lani do in our activities for the course, and without thinking, actually started a reply post with, “I’m wondering if…” It felt good! I also started seeing the benefits of using this questioning technique with my students. Suddenly, the challenge to help a team discover their own answers was so exciting!

At the same time, we were practicing trust building activities, co-creating content, and using video and images to connect with our community of coaches in the e-course. I was amazed at how quickly our diverse group bonded, encouraging and supporting each other through challenges and victories! Our weekly webinars are inspirational. There’s something about spending time learning with and from such a committed group of professionals that is a real “high” for us. It revitalizes us and gives us ideas and a fresh perspective to carry into our coaching.

I’m pleased with our progress thus far. I recently attended a webinar for the community, where I listened to our teams present their action research ideas. Since then I’ve helped them to focus their essential questions and wondered aloud how they would plan different aspects of their research and project.

As I reflect, I’m wondering if becoming a good coach will also help me become a better teacher, a better parent, a better friend…   🙂


Image: Ohmega1982 /



Powerful Learning (put into) Practice

Wordle: PLP-ARP

In many of my previous posts you’ve heard me mention my experiences with PLP (Powerful Learning Practice), and the journey our Digital Learning Team has traveled this year as part of this transformative professional development program.

Most recently, our team has created and begun implementing our action research project, the culminating project for the year. It took an enormous amount of brainstorming, patience, and determination to create a project that would work for our entire Pre-K to 12 faculty. The project had to be completed in the last 2 months of the school year, when we guessed faculty might be most resistant to having yet more work heaped upon them…

Our first idea was entirely too broad – When we presented it during an Elluminate session with our cohort, we got shot down – hard. We were angry, frustrated, and went back to our corners sulking and fuming… for a day. Then we took a deep breath, pulled together, and got down to business. What emerged from that point was an incredibly successful effort I would love to share.

Our team decided to choose one area where the faculty most needed to grow – collaboration. We have three separate divisions that hardly see each other! We wanted to find a way we could bond as a faculty with the assistance of some new technologies that we hoped would excite our staff. We would share ideas and resources, and demonstrate the power of collaboration.

We felt strongly about these things:
• The faculty is overworked, and seldom receives positive reinforcement for their efforts. Salaries have been at a standstill for years. We felt it was important to give something back to the faculty – to provide positive feedback and incentives.
• We needed to make sure the faculty felt supported by our team, and knew they weren’t alone.
• We wanted to show the faculty how their learning was going to be useful and relevant for them.
• Although the tasks were required, we chose to make it fun.

We decided on two tasks each faculty member would complete.
1. Each faculty member would contribute to a discussion on our school Ning, and post a discussion or article. Here they could have a voice, and contribute to discussions about school policy and practice.
2. Each faculty member would create a Diigo account, bookmark a site, and follow a member of the Digital Learning Team. Here they could understand the benefits of online bookmarking, and find and share new resources with colleagues.

We introduced the project in 15 minutes at an all-school faculty meeting this month. We started off with a funny Xtranormal movie (a creative way to introduce the project AND show off a fun tool). Then explained the project and encouraged folks to ask us or one another for help. (Did you watch the movie? Go back right now and watch the movie.)

THE GAME: To make it fun and supportive, we divided the staff among the 7 of us, so that everyone would have a team member for support. We created a game called Ningo Bingo. Everyone received a bingo card with 9 activities. It was not required to play the game. You could just do the 2 required assignments and be finished. But… if you did just one more, you could earn a Bingo! Those who earned a Bingo could take their card to their Digital Learning Team support member and receive a small prize. We gave out bags of candy with positive affirmations – i.e., a bag of Tootsie Rolls with a note that said, “You’re on a ROLL – Keep learning!”

Those who really wanted to have some fun had the option of completing all 9 tasks on the card for a “blackout”. These tasks took the development of a personal learning network a step further and included things like commenting on a blog, creating an RSS reader, etc. Those who earned a blackout could choose a $10 gift card to a local business AND have their name put in the drawing for an IPAD 2!!! Names of those who have earned a blackout are posted on the Ning for all to see.

The response has been nothing short of incredible. Folks who swore they would NEVER use technology are all over the Ning… They’re posting articles, asking questions, and exploring well beyond what we’ve asked of them. Administrative support staff (that we did not require to participate) are emailing us, asking if they can “play”… Wow.

As I reflected on the experience, I thought about these things: What motivated our faculty learners? What were the optimum conditions for learning? How did we create a project that worked for all levels of ability? Why did so many learners go “above and beyond” the requirements? How many of them will continue learning on their own?

George Couros posted a blog entitled “Don’t Fear the Teacher; Creating the Optimal Learning Environment” – I came across it today and realized how many of these conditions we met with our project. The question is… Am I meeting these conditions in my classroom as well? Are you?

21st Century Revelation – It’s Not About Me…


The other day I was thinking about what an incredibly different year this has been for me. I didn’t make a career change, a school change, a grade level change, or even a room change. So why on earth has this year been unlike any other? For the first time, my job isn’t only about MY students, MY lesson plans, or MY goals. Friends, I know it’s shocking (you can only imagine how hard it was to swallow), but it’s not all about ME!

All joking aside… I feel like I’ve had a 21st century revelation. My participation in Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) has shown me the power of collaboration. This has been an intoxicating experience! I’ll admit it – I started out a “lurker” as Will Richardson would say… I developed my PLN, and started reading blogs, tweets, and ning posts. But I remember Will wagging his index finger at us at the PLP Kick-Off in Dallas way back in September, telling us it wasn’t fair just to lurk – We had to contribute. What did I have to contribute??

Well here we are, six months later, and I feel like maybe I’m finally getting it. I’m getting a ton of good resources and ideas from teachers all over the globe – but I’m not sitting on them! I think we’re called upon to be channels for this information. I’m always on the lookout for things my colleagues can use. My boss was looking for information on a Digital Citizenship curriculum, so I’ve been sending things her way when I find them. Today she put out a request to our team to find instructional materials for the recent events in Japan. My division head has encouraged us to learn more about reading and writing workshops. Our PLP team is looking for web 2.0 tools to share that will help teachers integrate technology and really make a difference in instruction… The list goes on.

So what does this mean? It means I’m spending a pretty serious chunk of time each day cruising my Twitter feed and reading blogs!


But it also means that I’m not only learning and hopefully improving my impact in the classroom… Hopefully I’m serving a greater good, and giving back to those in my PLN that have given so much to me. I’m more likely to ask a teacher if I can observe a lesson, pick someone’s brain on a new idea, or ask advice on a student situation. I’m not afraid to admit I don’t know it all and consider myself fortunate to work with incredibly talented colleagues from whom there is much I can learn. Together we are so much stronger than we are alone!

Manage, Analyze and Synthesize Multiple Streams of Simultaneous Information?

I have a high school daughter.  She and my husband constantly argue about how long it takes her to complete assignments, and how her texting, facebooking, music, and other “multi-tasking” activities are distractions that are not productive.  I’ve been listening to other educators talk about how this is the future, and that our kids are already good at this – that we shouldn’t shut them down!  Our old and addled brains just can’t understand…  I did some research and found this recent article about Facebook use during studying:

At my recent PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) Kick-Off in Dallas, Will Richardson whipped off the title phrase above (you’d be impressed by how quickly he can say it!).  My question is this… Is this the SAME as what we know to be multi-tasking?  During the kick-off, I was watching Will’s PowerPoint presentation, listening to him speak, participating in a TodaysMeet (, and taking notes in a Google Document.  I had my TweetDeck ( open, as well as my Facebook to entertain me when someone was asking a question I already knew the answer to and I got bored.  Even now as I type, I have 12 tabs open in my browser (including Skype in case my college daughter wants to call and talk) and I’m struggling to listen to my husband behind me…  Yes, I’m struggling.  Although I LIKE having all this going on, I will admit that I’m not terribly good at it.  I’ll also admit that I missed chunks of what Will was saying while I was “backchanneling”. 

Here’s what TodaysMeet says about the backchannel:  “The backchannel is everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter.  The backchannel is where people ask each other questions, pass notes, get distracted, and give you the most immediate feedback you’ll ever get.  Instead of ignoring the backchannel, TodaysMeet helps you leverage its power.  Tapping into the backchannel lets you tailor and direct your presentation to the audience in front of you, and unifying the backchannel means the audience can share insights, questions and answers like never before.

Lots to think about…  Is it ok to be partially tuned in to six different things, or are we cheating ourselves?  Many of the studies I’ve read say that we CAN’T actually multi-task – but that our brains can switch from one thing to an other with amazing speed.  This I believe.  I also believe that to “Manage, Analyze and Synthesize Multiple Streams of Simultaneous Information” may not really be multi-tasking.  It might just be the way we learn to organize and prioritize the vast amount of information that comes at us at once in this wonderfully digital age as we truly become 21st century learners.

My daughter is not likely to give up her ways.  Thanks to the way the world is, she gets restless when “single-tasking” and has difficulty focusing (is this why we are labeling more kids ADD each year?).  My job as a parent, and our job as educators, is to guide and teach our children how to Manage, Analyze and Synthesize Multiple Streams of Simultaneous Information (and sometimes that might mean knowing when to turn off a few things to effectively study for that big exam tomorrow, or reducing distractions when grades are dropping).  But to do this, we must learn ourselves – We must stop dragging our feet and become 21st century learners.

Feeling Connected – Developing a PLN

overload2It’s only been a week since I learned I would be participating in the PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) program this year, spending an exciting year immersed in digital learning theory and practice.   Yet in these brief few days, I fear I may have already caused undue stress to the keyboard on my home computer…  Wow.  If I could sum this week up in two words, they might be INFORMATION OVERLOAD!! 

The biggest part of the PLP Pregame Activities is developing a PLN – A Personal Learning Network.  Just keeping up with my PLN appears to be the true challenge!  Each day I have people to follow on Twitter, blogs to follow and read, sites I subscribe to that post updates in my Google Reader, fellow members of Ning groups that post interesting sites or information, a Wikispace for the PLP Cohort…  After finally getting all “caught up” this morning, I was amused to find I had neglected to check my email!!  Being connected clearly has its price. 

I spent hours looking at blogs of other educators I might want to follow (and the blogs THEY follow), and sites I would like to add to my RSS feeds – and I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface.  There is so much out there – great resources, great ideas…  and only so much time!  Hopefully in the coming weeks I’ll learn to be more efficient.  In the meantime, I’m glad I spent the holiday weekend learning and exploring – it’s a wonderful way to get excited about teaching all over again.

Social Bookmarking




An easy-to-use resource that will help me use my “favorites” at home and school, as well as get great resources from colleagues. Easiest to install the “tag” button so I can easily send the site bookmark to delicious. Good stuff!

RSS Mania (aka “Thing 7a”)

rss-syndicateSo Labor Day Weekend 2010 may forever become known as the weekend I became addicted to RSS feeds…  As I work my way throught the PLP Pregame Activities, I have learned to create a Google Reader and add subscriptions to various RSS feeds.  This was not entirely new to me.  My iGoogle and My Yahoo pages are “readers” and I have posted fun feeds there such as a daily crossword, literary quote of the day, weather, and news.  Is it ridiculous to admit that I never thought about seeking feeds that kept me abreast of developments in my field???  I always just chose fun stuff from the options google or yahoo provided, and never really thought about subscribing to a professional feed.

I’ve found that the way to develop the “reading habit”, is to make your Google Reader your home page.  When I get online, the first thing that pops up are any new posts on the feeds I am following.  Being a new blogger, one that appealed to me was one on the Tech Savvy Educator about Edublog Awards (  Looking at award winning blogs was a great way to discover ones I wanted to follow.

Even more exciting?  When I moved ahead to the “stretch task” and checked out Google News, I found wonderful articles about technology developments such as “BrainPOP and Promethean Announce Integrated Assessments for Learning” ( and “Former Governors Advance Digital Learning Agenda”  (  As if my family wasn’t already feeling abandoned while I spent hours on Facebook or Twitter, now they have to deal with me browsing through my Google Reader for new and exciting information!  My boss may have issues here too — These integrated assessments using Brain Pop and Promethean are going to strengthen my argument for subscribing to Promethean Planet’s interactive whiteboard community (  🙂

PLP – An Exciting Year Ahead!

header_left_menuI am a third grade teacher at an independent school in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  I’m excited to be a part of a dynamic faculty, and a fantastic Pre-K to 12th grade college preparatory school that is embracing change and helping us to stay on the cutting edge of our field.

At our in-service this year, our Associate Head/Dean of Faculty gave a presentation on Digital Learning.  It was a fast-paced, exciting preview of what she had learned at a PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) boot camp.  (  Her enthusiasm and the information presented got my mind racing.  There were so many possibilities!  At the end of the presentation, we found that there was grant money for 6 of our faculty to be part of a Digital Learning Team that would spend the year doing professional development with PLP.  I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of the team.  Before the day was out, I had emailed my request!

I’m jumping in with both feet, spending this holiday weekend working my way through the PLP Pregame Activities in anticipation of our kickoff in Dallas on the 13th of this month.  One of my assignments is this blog, where I’ll track my experience.  I’m already creating my PLN (Personal Learning Network) with things like Web 2.0 (, google documents, online bookmarks, Ning, wikis, RSS feeds, blogs, Twitter, and more!

Our Dallas kickoff is sure to get me even more fired up!  Our team is strong, and I look forward to working with these colleagues through the year on a project we will present in May.  I anticipate that my way of teaching will undergo some pretty major transformations this year, and I’m excited about what that means for my students — stay tuned! 🙂