As schools and districts implement reopening plans for the new school year, a hierarchy of needs has emerged. First is the basic health and safety of adults and students in schools. Next, and related to the health and safety issue is scheduling. Keeping students six feet apart at all times forces some creative solutions. Then we get to instruction. While it’s third on the list, it is as important as the other two.
The question that seems to sit central to every COVID-related conversation about instruction is: How can we ensure standardization and scalability of grade-level instruction across the organization in a virtual and/or hybrid model? Given the complexity of the reopening process and the sheer amount of change that educators are dealing with, we have designed a simple process that helps schools and districts stay focused on delivering grade-level instruction (at a minimum) to every student in the organization. Ensuring this happens could never be more important given the implications for long-term effects on students’ lives.
Focus on quality of task.
In his groundbreaking work on instructional rounds, Richard Elmore talks about the instructional core which is comprised of the student, teacher and their interaction with content. At the center of the core is quality of task. Focusing on quality of task requires attention to all three elements of the core (student, teacher, content) but also provides a narrow enough focus to attend to grade-level instruction at scale in a school or district. Why?
- It’s observable. We can see quality of task in a lesson plan by measuring the connection to grade-level standards. We can also observe quality of task in virtual, in-person or hybrid instructional delivery by focusing on the questions the teacher is asking, the work the students are doing and the cognitive load students are carrying in the lesson.
- It’s focused. Teachers and coaches are often overwhelmed with the amount of feedback that is given and received. Focusing on quality of task allows teachers and coaches to narrow their reflection and feedback to a manageable quantity to actually make change. Yet, it also honors the complexity of teaching and coaching thus not dumbing down the coaching process.
- It’s scalable. One of the biggest challenges with improving entire schools or districts is the ability to scale instructional improvement. We often see pockets of great instruction but consistency and standardization of grade level instruction is something nearly every school has struggled to address. Scaling improvement is even harder when adjusting to a new educational paradigm forced by COVID-19. Thus, it’s important to pick something to focus on that doesn’t over-tax teachers, coaches, and central office staff trying to create improvement across an entire organization. Quality of task seems to be a sweet spot given the balance of observability and complexity of what comprises great instruction.
So how do we make all of this happen?
We aren’t interested in a hypothetical solution that sounds good but is impossible to implement. So once a focus is selected (even if the focus is not quality of task, just pick one), we suggest outlining what teachers, coaches and central office staff actually do to ensure standardization and consistency of grade-level instruction occurs. Every actor in the school improvement drama needs to be able to relate to the script and see themselves playing their part. Outlining the process also allows the director (principal or central office administrator) to modify the script based on local context and audience. Here’s what it looks like.
STEP 1: Teacher uploads video of in-person or remote instruction, lesson plan and collateral (PowerPoint, handouts, links) to ADVANCEfeedback, a video-based observation and coaching platform. Utilization of the platform is critical as it simplifies the entire feedback process. The platform allows teachers, coaches and central office to all interact in one place so each user doesn’t have to go to different places to review the lesson plan, then watch video of the lesson somewhere else and then meet in a completely different platform to discuss. And feedback can happen synchronously or asynchronously to provide maximum flexibility to users.
STEP 2: Teacher self-reflects on quality of task in the lesson. This happens right in the ADVANCEfeedback platform.
STEP 3: Teacher sends self-reflection to coach. Again, this happens right in the platform. No need to go to email, find multiple attachments, send them to the coach with a lengthy description of the lesson. All of that is already done by the platform. The teacher simply clicks a button and the lesson plan and actual delivery along with any necessary context is sent to the coach.
STEP 4: Coach reviews lesson plan, collateral and teacher’s self-reflection and watches video while providing feedback. Remember, all of this happens in one platform which is key to the user in order to actually get people to do it.
STEP 5: Teacher receives feedback asynchronously from coach which mitigates the challenge of scheduling feedback conversations. If live feedback conversations are preferred, ADVANCE includes a feature for scheduling and holding that conversation all in the same system.
STEP 6: Coaches meet and calibrate on high-, middle- and low-level examples of lessons. Reaching common understanding of what constitutes a high, middle and low-level lesson all happens in the ADVANCE platform.
STEP 7: Coaches create a resource library of exemplars by grade-level and content area to be used throughout the school/district.
STEP 8: Teachers access the video resource library to accelerate their own planning of grade-level lessons and see what delivery looks like.
In eight steps you have an improvement process that is manageable for each user and provides for the flexibility required by COVID-19 (if the ADVANCE platform is used), while providing a scalable solution for the entire district so every student is receiving consistently great, grade-level instruction. As a parent, former teacher and school and district administrator this is a goldmine and never more important than now. So much so that school districts such as Marion County, SC and entire states such as Ohio and Delaware are adopting ADVANCE as their go-to platform for instructional improvement. While districts and states are realizing tremendous efficiencies in their improvement process by using ADVANCE, they also report that the implementation is supported by a team that understands the day-to-day complexity of teaching and supporting teachers—which I believe is a key reason we are seeing more and more districts and entire states adopt ADVANCE as their coaching platform.