During the past school year, we've been sharing stories about the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot Program, initiated by the Alabama State Department of Education with professional development support from the Alabama Best Practices Center. The essential goal of the project, which is expanding this fall, is to prepare teacher leaders, including reading coaches, for roles as school-based "instructional partners" who facilitate transformative professional learning among their peers.
We've invited participants in the first-year pilot to write about how the experience impacted their own professional growth. Our latest reflection is written by Angela Hosey, a reading coach turned instructional partner at B.B. Comer Elementary in Talladega County.
by Angela Hosey
In August of 2011, I learned from our superintendent that I'd be participating in a new state supported project -- the Instructional Partner Pilot -- and that there might be changes in my job description. I was eager to uncover exactly what changes were coming and how those changes would impact my work and my school.
In September, I arrived at Children's Harbor for our first retreat, to a room full of new faces and with the uncertainty of what our three days of training would entail. I knew only one other person in the room. As the first day unfolded, I felt an overwhelming fear that my superintendent did not choose the right person for this endeavor. The other Instructional Partners and state department consultants (the folks from the Alabama Best Practices Center) were extremely articulate and fearless in expressing their ideas and questions about the project. I am a listener and careful thinker. I am definitely not a big talker and certainly not a techie.
The first night of our retreat we met Beth Sanders, a young and enthusiastic teacher from Tarrant. She introduced the group to the Ning (a private website for our group to talk about the work, blog and share resources). Technology! Oh my.
I was shaking in my shoes. Blogging once a week and sharing resources via this online site? I was WAY out of my comfort zone. That night, Alisa (the only other person from my district) and I contemplated how and why we were chosen for this new undertaking. And I was silently wondering how would I survive.
On our last day of the retreat we were joined by our principals, several superintendents, some state department representatives, and many district central office personnel. The Instructional Partners were to form a Fish Bowl and have a conversation about our learning from the previous two days. I remember Cathy Gassenheimer from ABPC asking for a fist to five about how comfortable or uncomfortable we were about this protocol. I smile when I remember holding up four fingers to show my trepidation. (I wanted to hold up FIVE.)
Talking in front of a room full of principals and central office staff -- that is nightmare material for me. J However, I mustered up as much courage as I possessed and was the first in the group to speak. Later Cathy complimented me on speaking up and articulating my learning. That single moment truly began my personal and professional transformation.
Unwrapping My New Job Description
Once back at school, I found it very difficult to shift from ARI reading coach to Instructional Partner. Each afternoon, I would reflect on my day and find that I just kept reverting back to everything I had always done. At our first Instructional Partner training in Tarrant, we were involved in an Open Spaces protocol where we chose a discussion group whose members shared our own personal concerns. I picked the group contemplating ways to express to the school staff the changes in our jobs.
From those conversations, I created a menu that showcased a variety of things I could do to assist teachers -- instructionally, professionally, or even personally. With that menu in hand, I really began the process of shifting from reading coach to instructional partner at my school. The Instructional Partners in my training group -- both face-to-face and in our online community -- had provided all the ideas and resources I needed to help me and my school fully embrace the partnership idea and make the shift.
The Work of an IP
When I provided teachers with a menu of support options, my professional world changed immediately. Upper grade teachers were asking for help with writing, or asking to observe other experts in our school. I was a first grade teacher before becoming a reading coach. In the past, I'd avoided sixth grade teachers and classrooms like the plague. Yet some of my best partnering in my first IP year was in sixth grade. I worked alongside the reading teacher and the writing teacher. As a sixth grade group, we collaborated with our special education teachers on how to develop lessons that were truly differentiated.
In fact, with my 24/7 access to our Pilot IP collaborative group (through our Ning community), I was able to provide ideas and resources to upper grade teachers more frequently than ever before. I even worked with upper grade math teachers!! Imagine my surprise (and the teachers as well) as I partnered to model or observe math lessons in third, fourth, and fifth grade. Talk about stepping out of my comfort zone!
As this past year progressed, I took on new responsibilities in my school. Earlier I alluded to my hesitancy with anything techie; however, I agreed to partner with the technology showcase committee. Each year, our district showcases students' and teachers' work with technology and project based learning. I accepted responsibility for supporting our technology showcase competition team.
This team of sixth graders developed a PowerPoint highlighting our school as the best school in Talladega County. The team presented to a panel of judges at the showcase and won second place! As a special treat, I prepped the team to present to the ABPC Powerful Conversations schools visiting B.B. Comer Elementary for Instructional Rounds -- about 60 people in all. The competition team was also invited by our superintendent to present to a group of business owners from our community. I was a technophobe no more!
The Online IP Community Helped Me Grow
In my opinion, reflection is key to professional and personal growth. As a reading coach, I knew the power of teachers' reflection on their practice. However, in that role, it was my job to guide their professional learning and arrive at a set answer.
I was not skilled yet in thinking deeply and collaboratively, as instructional partners are expected to do. During our IP Pilot year, we were asked to reflect on our work each week, via the Ning private online space. Through this experience, I found myself developing my ability to routinely reflect on my thinking processes, my daily work with teachers, and the happenings at Comer Elementary. I even began to develop confidence in expressing my thinking and ideas.
I found myself asking teachers, "Well, what do you think?"
Before the IP Pilot experience and all we learned there, I would have simply provided my answers to their questions. What I have learned through truly partnering with teachers this past school year is that it isn't about my answers, but the answers that we develop together.