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Pushing Performance Coaching to Transform Professional Development

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Lets just get it out there. Most teachers abhor lecture-based professional development. There are better ways to improve teacher quality that are more effective than the normal "sage on the stage" experience. Educator Ross Hunefeld describes the feeling many teachers have in professional development sessions by saying, "I won't miss staring at the clock with my politely disengaged colleagues."

I started my venture, EdConnective, to introduce and provide a technology-based, high-impact method of  performance coaching for teachers. I certainly did not enter my collegiate and professional career with a burning desire to provide professional development, though. I spent much of my undergraduate career engaging in service, advocating for social justice, and ruffling feathers of people like the former governor of Virginia. While at the College of William and Mary I began studying education reform and its potential to dramatically improve the lives of historically marginalized Americans.

I hadn't really thought of starting my own organization. But after visiting a good friend and mentor working for Ashoka, the global organization committed to disrupting social problems through innovation, and learning about their model for change, the seed was planted. I wanted to create something that would transform education.

After graduating, I spent a year at Chicago's Urban Prep Charter School in a unique fellowship position that allowed me to teach a humanities-based character education class while simultaneously serving as a life coach and professional big brother for a cohort of freshmen students. I learned about the inner workings of charter schools and the resiliency of students who attend them. I also learned a great deal about teachers. One of my tasks as a fellow was to enter the classes of my students to help motivate them, redirect them, and assist them with their work. In that capacity, I witnessed a myriad of teaching styles, personalities, successes, and challenges. I also attended the weekly teacher professional development workshops gaining a first-hand perspective on what that looks and feels like.

Then I enrolled in a five-day social entrepreneurship institute called Starting Bloc. Immediately, I was surrounded by 100 other young changemakers. The people there were everywhere on the social impact spectrum, from passion about an issue (like me at the time) to full-fledged ventures. The Starting Bloc fellows were tackling pressing social problems like hunger and poverty and many of them were already making epic moves. I met Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-trained engineer concerned by the statistic that globally only 13 percent of women are engineers. Her hypothesis was that boys get the engineering toys (Legos, K'Nex, building blocks), while girls have the option to play with dolls. Her solution: Goldie Blox, the engineering toy for girls. Not too long after I met Debbie, Goldie Blox spread through toy stores nationwide and was featured in a cool Superbowl commercial that went viral.

By the time I left Chicago I knew I wanted to be a social entrepreneur and I was determined to use innovation to tackle student success. Months after leaving Urban Prep, I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education where I began putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Tapping into my lessons from Ashoka, I began searching for a systems-level variable that I could work on disrupting. It didn't take me long to land on teacher quality. There is plenty of research to suggest that teacher quality is the most powerful school level variable that impacts student achievement, so I dove head first into literature.

I soon learned a few important things. For one, teaching is largely a behavior-driven craft in which success or failure relies on more than 1500 decisions a day. These decisions are made in real time while performing in front of 30 adolescents whose engagement can skyrocket or tank in response to the execution of the smallest teaching technique. Effective teachers know exactly when to use each strategy in their toolbox and how to enact those strategies with near perfect form. Also, the quickest and most effective way to rapidly improve the form and quality of critical teacher actions is through performance coaching. Teachers improve quickly when a master educator watches them teaching and gives tailored feedback. That's what EdConnective provides.

EdConnective provides a seven-week, video-coaching service for K-12 teachers. Teachers record themselves in action and share that recording with one of our master educators who provides coaching and feedback over Skype. It's like having a personal trainer for classroom instruction who watches your game tape. Teachers share recordings of their instruction twice a week and receive live feedback twice a week. Our master educators are trained to implement high-impact coaching methods that bring an uncommon discipline to professional development which gets results.

If you are a basketball player, the quickest way to improve your jump shot is by having a coach watch you on the court and provide specific feedback. If schools want to fully leverage the massive potential for growth in teacher quality within a school, we have to stop wasting our time and money investing in locker room speeches. We have to move professional development to the court, where student success can rise or fall with each teacher's action and each pedagogy successfully deployed.

Currently, I am in the process of bringing on a partner to help expand my bandwidth. I'll share more on why that is a critical milestone in future posts. EdConnective is just beginning participation in a world class education startup incubator run through the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, and we are gearing up for pilot programs in Virginia, New York City, and Chicago that launch in a matter of weeks. I have much more to share about moving from participation-driven professional development to results-driven professional development, how coaching methodologies can determine results, how evaluation and coaching are very different animals, and plenty about the struggles and triumphs of the ed-tech startup life. Until next time.

For more information follow Will Morris on Twitter @edconnective.



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