How Coaches Can Support Powerful Learning with Technology Blog Series: Four key aspects of coaching that support powerful technology use

The Office of Educational Technology (OET), with the support of Digital Promise, held a virtual convening of experts and leaders from the fields of teacher coaching and technology-enabled instruction. During the convening, participants discussed how we can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and leverage technology to build a more equitable and resilient education system. From that convening, three key themes emerged regarding what is needed to build these systems:

  1. Instruction that effectively and consistently leverages technology;
  2. Coaching that equips and empowers teachers with the professional learning needed to support powerful digital learning for their students; and,
  3. Systems that foster coaching for meaningful technology use in instruction.

This blog series aims to elevate key aspects of the above themes for the system leaders who oversee coaching programs for their consideration in the development or redesign of instructional coaching programs that powerfully, effectively, and consistently leverage technology. The following is the second blog in the series and explores systems that foster coaching for meaningful technology use.

Four Key Aspects of Coaching that Support Powerful Technology Use

Kevin Johnstun and Michael Ham

COVID-19 has universally necessitated the rapid development of new skills. Since March 2020, teachers have been striving to develop ways to translate their deep pedagogical and content knowledge into virtual settings, and in the process, are being called upon to learn new skills. Coaches, tasked with responding to teachers’ learning needs, will play a central role in supporting teachers with the tools, mindsets, and knowledge needed to not only navigate this moment but also to emerge from this pandemic as stronger, more adaptive educators.

In our last blog post, we discussed five principles of powerful technology-enabled learning, and strategies to bring it to life in the classroom. In this blog, we reflect on four principles that span across several coaching models and highlight the considerations that need to be made to leverage technology to transform teaching and learning. For additional information on established coaching models, you could look to Impact Cycle, Cognitive Coaching, and Student-Centered Coaching. In addition, the Department-funded State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidence-based Practices Technical Assistance Center (SISEP) has put together a Coaching Practice Profile, which synthesizes research on coaching best practices to guide the development of coaching services.

We understand that coaches have various levels of involvement with instructional technology and many have only focused on it in the context of managing this crisis. Our insights and suggestions are designed to clarify the kinds of approaches and skills that coaches who didn’t focus on instructional technology prior to the pandemic will need moving forward.

  1. Prioritize shoulder-to-shoulder supports for equity

As we know from the existing body of work on coaching best practices, conversations during coaching cycles should focus on the needs of the teacher.¹ This is as true as ever. However, in the context of technology, this can lead some to believe that the coach’s job is only to build fluency with digital tools. While there should be ample appreciation shown to those who performed this role during the rapid transition to online learning, our convening participants also emphasized that the coach’s role must move beyond providing support with specific tools, to making inroads on the digital use divide.

All too often a digital use divide exists where more affluent students are afforded learning opportunities that involve creative engagement with technology, while students from low-income backgrounds and students of color are provided instruction delivered through digitized workbooks that prize rote memorization.² Coaches should be prepared to support teachers as they critically assess not only the types of tools they use in instruction but also the way these tools are used. For example, tools like digital quizzes and flashcards can be good for supporting learning, but coaches and teachers alike must remain vigilant that they don’t become digital learning’s centerpiece and that all students have access to rich and engaging content.

It is imperative that technology integration is considered in an equitable way that centers on the unique needs and experiences of its users. Coaching must take into account the unique abilities and needs of students. Coaches must work with teachers to implement instructional models that make use of students’ skills and abilities, as well as recognize and address the needs from the start. One area in particular where this aspect of technology applies is accessibility. Used well, technologies like text-to-speech tools can help those who prefer listening to materials as well as students with a wide range of disabilities, such as blindness, low-vision, and dyslexia. Likewise, audio-described and captioned videos may benefit a similar range of students, including students who are deaf or hard of hearing and students who are English learners. In contrast, certain inaccessible tools or formats can deny students access to content³. Coaches can be an important first line of support in helping teachers design and implement universally designed instruction, including the implementation of assistive technologies and the use of accessible educational materials⁴. Students are best supported when teachers design digital content with accessibility and consider issues of equity from the beginning.

Strategies for success:

  • Encourage the most transformative use of technology: active use. Providing teachers with support in scaffolding students toward different active uses of technology, in which students apply their knowledge to create digital content, is especially important as we seek to help students recover from disrupted learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Focus on strategies like co-teaching and modeling. These approaches allow for teachers to see a particular tool used in context and receive scaffolding and supports tied directly to instruction.

Leverage frameworks and standards for technology integration

Technology integration frameworks help teachers to think through the various roles that technology can play during instruction and support teachers in reflecting on the appropriate role for each assignment, as well as supporting the use of high-leverage and creative uses of technology. With last spring’s rapid transition online, many teachers were limited to the tools with which they and their students were already familiar. Moving beyond crisis management, coaches will play a critical role in adopting and promoting technology integration frameworks that build teachers’ ability to set a vision for instruction and navigate myriad digital tools to best promote engagement.

Educators should work collaboratively to set a vision for instruction and utilize a variety of activities designed to support their students’ learning in unique ways. The pedagogical and practical knowledge that goes into the selection and planning of these activities is a craft that many teachers continue to hone throughout their careers. Just as traditional in-person activities are each suited to specific kinds of learning, technology offers countless new ways to engage students, and different tools can be better suited for specific kinds of learning opportunities.

Strategies for success:

  • Support the use of a framework(s) for instructional technology integration. Examples of frameworks include:

SAMR Model

Technology Integration Matrix

TPACK Model

PICRAT Model

Impactful Technology Use Rubric

ISTE Standards for Educators

  • Promote teacher fluency with technology integration frameworks, and provide time for teachers to spend more of the coaching conversation on the ways technology can support their vision for instruction, rather than on “button clicking” and navigating specific tools.
  • Collaboratively develop a clearinghouse of the technology-enabled instructional strategies that coaches and teachers use (e.g., by creating an “Instructional Playbook”). These can be used to translate strategies and activities into explicit, actionable knowledge that teachers need to implement technology-enabled instruction.

Organize collaborative, inquiry-driven cycles

During the convening, one point was consistently made: The rapid transition to online learning in many schools highlighted the need for teachers and coaches to be more “adaptive” and “agile.” This can be accomplished through cycles of inquiry like those described by the Institute of Education Sciences where teachers 1) select an instructional strategy, 2) implement the strategy, 3) collect data, and then 4) analyze the results and reflect. This can be repeated with a revised or entirely new strategy.

Coaches can use their interactions with teachers to develop the mindsets and orientations teachers need to be resilient, continuously improving learners, who continue to drive their development forward long after the end of the coaching cycle. Coaches can do this by embedding the inquiry process into their coaching models, and building inquiry mindsets among their teachers. Coaches can also support their teachers as they source, navigate, and interpret the unprecedented amount of data being created by the increased use of instructional technology. Finally, coaches can promote teachers’ continued use of these practices by initiating or supporting collaborative professional learning networks among their teachers that function without direct oversight or prompting from the coach.

Strategies for success:

  • Adopt an inquiry-driven coaching practice that builds teachers’ abilities to diagnose needs, create and execute development plans, and analyze data to determine the efficacy of their intervention.
  • Build teachers’ comfort and capacity around data and other evidence of student learning to ensure they can choose, collect, and analyze objective, frequent, valid, and reliable data to drive the coaching conversation. Consider technology’s ability to gather unprecedented amounts of data on individual student learning, and elevate patterns across students, classrooms, and schools. This data must be gathered intentionally, analyzed with fidelity, and translated into decisions on how to support student learning (see standard six of the ISTE coaching standards). Additionally, all data must be treated with appropriate care to ensure student privacy in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). For more information on student data privacy see the resources on the U.S. Department of Education Student Privacy Policy Office website.
  • Leverage new models to encourage teachers to address challenges and solve problems together, and use technology to increase both teachers’ capacity and access to professional learning. Because technology has a unique ability to make collaboration possible in ways that traditional face-to-face settings may not, coaches will need to be able to learn how technology can enable important factors like connection and personalization.

Support asset-based changes

Technology can be a double-edged sword for both teachers and students. Used well, it can enhance existing opportunities, and even create new ones that aren’t possible without it. Used poorly, it can limit access, hinder progress, and lead to frustration and burnout. With an asset-based approach, coaches look first to build on the skills and abilities the teachers have rather than focusing on the skills and abilities that they have not yet developed. In essence, coaching honors the differences in experience between teachers, and provides scaffolds and supports to address each teacher’s specific needs.

This has implications specifically for teachers who are likely to have varying levels of fluency with using technology for instruction, and whose approach and knowledge should always be valued. Whether a teacher was a technical novice or a highly skilled blended learning facilitator prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, every teacher has had to rethink and, to some extent, redesign their craft to work in remote or hybrid models.

As noted above, it is vital that the vision for instruction informs decisions regarding technology and not the other way around. This is especially important in a fully online or remote environment. Trying to deliver the same lesson through a video conferencing platform is liable to be confusing and frustrating for students; some element of instructional re-design is needed to garner success. Thus it is crucial that coaches be able to support teachers in selecting and navigating the best tools that align to the delivery method and collaborative vision for learning.

Strategies for success:

  • Identify and leverage technology-based skills that teachers may have developed from a blended learning pedagogy, which can sometimes directly translate into a fully digital or remote pedagogy, and draw on those skills as they support teachers in gaining new skills. Using this asset-based approach may help teachers develop these skills without contributing to the significant burnout that was observed by our convening participants.
  • Acknowledge and honor teachers’ negative experiences with using technology for instruction, especially those that were brought on by emergency remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Support opportunities for teachers to develop skills like instructional and visual design, as well as understanding basic principles of learner experience and wayfinding.
  • Create opportunities for teachers to check in with students about their experiences as learners, and seek to understand the usability of resources and teacher-designed materials.

Conclusion

Teachers and coaches are on the frontlines of addressing the disparities exacerbated by COVID-19. There is a collective obligation to provide technology-enabled instruction that promotes equity. To do this effectively, many teachers need professional learning opportunities on how to appropriately and powerfully leverage technology. Many coaches are called upon to reconsider the role of technology in their coaching practices. And yet teachers and coaches do not act in a vacuum and need the right support from their districts and states to be able to implement powerful learning. In the next blog, we will explore what those supports look like.

This blog contains examples of resources that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

¹ Connor, C. M. (2017). Commentary on the special issue on instructional coaching models: Common elements of effective coaching models. Theory into Practice, 56(1), 78–83.

² Reich, J. & Ito, M. (2017). From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub

³ For example, when a website is not compatible with screen reader software, students who are blind may not be able to access the content on that page, or when a video contains inaccurate captions, a student who is hard of hearing may miss important information that classmates were able to hear.

⁴ Assistive technology and accessible materials may also form part of some students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), which are designed to provide supportive services to meet the needs of students with a range of abilities. The procedures for developing an IEP are provided in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and are further described in the IDEA regulations at 34 C.F.R. §§ 300. Technology requirements found in an individual student’s IEP may go beyond what is required for students who are not eligible for IDEA. Students with disabilities are also protected from disability-based discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under this law, students with disabilities must be provided equally effective access to content that is conveyed digitally, including when needed to provide a free appropriate public education to public elementary and secondary students, 34 C.F.R. §§ 104.4, 104.33. To learn more about the IDEA and the IEP process, go to the OSERS Office of Special Education Programs URL, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/index.html, and select “More Resources”. To learn more about Section 504, go to the Department’s Office for Civil Rights, www.ed.gov/ocr.

The Office of Educational Technology (OET) provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education at all levels.