Souderton Area School District, Souderton, Pennsylvania
The vast and evolving power of educational technology—and its unpredictability in the classroom—inspired the Souderton Area School District to do more than simply offer PD. Its administrators created a whole new team of homegrown instructional coaches to provide real-time, year-round training that enhances the tech skills of the district’s teachers.
“Building the coaches from within allows us to support and develop them in a way that’s aligned with our mission,” says Geri Wilkocz, supervisor of curriculum for the district that’s an hour north of Philadelphia.
That mission focuses on developing the “whole child” with a vision for integrating technology into teaching and learning. To that end, the “SASD Next” initiative began in 2015-16 during the rollout of a 1-to-1 program. The district chose new coaches from its faculty, identifying teacher leaders and those with an in-depth understanding of the curriculum, Wilkocz says.
PD for the coaches starts at the beginning of the school year with a meeting introducing a theme to be discussed and reflected upon all year.
It continues with book study, a variety of team-building activities, reflection and internal PD designed specifically for the role of coach. The coaches also have a degree of flexibility in choosing which skills they want to develop.
Souderton administrators take “coaching walks” throughout the year to observe coaches while they are working with teachers. The coaches have also received PD from the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, which provides support services to local school districts.
A key to the program is that coaches get plenty of time to collaborate and participate in their own PD together. “Instructional coaches feel they often live in a gray area between administrators and teachers,” Wilkocz says. “They need time with each other so they can talk about their experiences and work through issues.”
Coaching and PD take place year-round, including at summer workshops. Yet, the coaches don’t have a rigid scope or sequence to follow when working with teachers. This allows the coaches to focus and build on each teacher’s level of technical proficiency. Coaches also structure PD sessions to mimic the type of instruction that the district wants teachers to deliver to students. “We’ve created PD modules that flip the learning of our teachers,” Wilkocz says. “They can do a hybrid-style module and demonstrate their learning similar to how students do it—by uploading video clips or reflections. And sometimes it’s frontloading PD that’s going to happen in the future with tasks teachers have to do on their own.”
A critical element of the coaching is encouraging teachers to test new techniques and technology. “Our kids are so savvy using technology outside of school—we want to pull some of those things into school,” she says. “It’s very engaging to collaborate online with a peer, showcase work in a portfolio or make videos.”
In a district survey, 74 percent of students reported they had collaborated online with classmates at least monthly. As for teachers, 60 percent said coaching had made them more comfortable with technology, and nearly 80 percent believe the technology enhanced instruction. And nearly 80 percent of teachers said they spend about three hours per month teaching digital citizenship.
“The coaching and support of building principals allows teachers to take risks in doing things they wouldn’t have done a year ago or two years ago—or, maybe even a month ago,” Wilkocz says. “They have the support to try, and if it doesn’t work they try a different way and they learn from it.”