Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Complexity in Coaching

 Complexity in Coaching: Jed Stefanowicz, February 2023

After teaching third grade for twenty years, I shifted roles to become a Digital Learning Coach six years ago. Since then, my work has continued to evolve toward integrated job-embedded professional development with instructional coaching to support innovative teaching and learning. It’s my belief that technology transforms teachers more than teaching, and that the process is developmental, personal, and incremental. A digital learning coach can be an invaluable partner in that process.

My personal coaching mantra is to work in partnership with educators to turn ideas to action. One of my primary objectives in that partnership is to clear the runway and to identify and eliminate (where possible) obstacles that challenge that transition from idea to action. It was very early (and transformational) in my new role that I realized that instead of delivering my ideas, I had to shift my mindset to supporting teachers in discovering theirs. I’ll admit there are still times when my ideas became the obstacles, where I find myself instinctually doing some of the thinking, problem solving, or creative thinking that a coach is meant to draw from the educator they partner with.

Coaching success depends on a culture’s need, the climate’s desire, and leadership’s perceived and expressed value. When any of these elements is absent or unclear, the task of building relationships and advancing innovative instruction is significantly inhibited. It isn’t impossible, but removing and improving these obstacles will greatly improve the professional learning and growth opportunity for all parties- the coach, the partner-teacher, and the school and district as a whole.

Comfort Zones

A primary goal of an instructional coach is to encourage educators to reach outside their comfort zones. The fact of the matter, however, is that most educators are only beginning to rediscover or reclaim their comfort zones after having been thrust outside them throughout and beyond the pandemic. Instructional coaching before, during, and after Covid has presented wildly varied landscapes for the need, the impact, and delivery of professional learning. 

Besides the obvious detriments of pandemic-era instruction, I do think Covid presented a unique dynamic in schools. Covid disempowered us all, but it also empowered personalized professional learning in a way that made some traditional pd or coaching protocols almost irrelevant or antiquated, primarily in selecting what, when, and how teachers engage with their own professional learning. It forced the delineation of some of the vagaries that exist between professional development and professional learning. 

Coaching Tech, Tools, or Teachers?

When your instructional, innovation, or digital learning coaches are also your front-line tech support, there will be ambiguity, take my word for it. You can’t call someone a coach when some team members regard them (and honestly need them) as their equipment manager. This speaks to the blurred lines present in most roles in schools that intersect technology with teaching. 

Whether the titles are tech-integration specialists, innovation leads, or digital learning coaches, the job descriptions often share common elements, and the elements often fail to articulate the difference between the role of supporting the operation of equipment and the integration of that equipment to advance instruction and student learning. It’s worth asking the following question: Is our focus operational or instructional

Academic technology should be embedded into instruction, and should elevate learning. If its integration looks like accessorizing, then it’s meaningless or worse. That’s where we run into one-off activities that don’t lead to sustained implementation or evolved learning practices. 

Even when we feel more like trainers than coaches, are we prioritizing that operational capacity toward a pedagogical shift? These questions frame every coaching conversation for me and help keep my attention focused on practices over products. When we keep that focus clear, we remain tethered to our pedagogical mission and mindset, regardless of the degree to which we’ve had to “innovate.” Sometimes innovation is just allowing yourself the flexibility to find a way to give specific kids just the right thing at just the right time. 

One of the things that keeps me focused is remaining true to my instincts as an educator. I find myself thinking about what I believe about teaching, what I know to be true about learning, and what I value as an experienced educator in order to decide what I can bring to a situation, a lesson, or a coaching conversation. 

Discovering (not just identifying) Goals

A key component of any coaching cycle or framework is goal-setting, and now more than ever, it’s critical that educators drive this process. This can be a make or break moment, as it’s the tangible tag we attach to the process, and if both parties aren’t aligned with their articulated goals, then they aren’t aligned with their motivations or strategies to achieve them. Identifying a goal carries weight when there’s meaning, attachment, or motivation behind it. In other words, a goal needs to authentically matter if we expect to spend our time and resources meaningfully.

Goals should be easy to articulate, even if they may seem complicated to accomplish. There may very well be increased complexity over time and span of a particular objective but it’s important that the complexity doesn’t interfere with accomplishing the goal. 

Goals should be hopeful, but simple. They should be easy to envision in action, easy to describe in delivery, and easy to articulate in terms of educational impact for learners. That doesn’t mean that they should include complexity, or else they would not require a goal or focus to turn to action. Jim Knight reminds us that “any powerful goal to be met in a classroom is going to involve challenges” (Instructional Coaching 2022). Those challenges are where the work of coaching lives.

Identifying a focus and goal is where the partnership stretches to incorporate and evaluate instructional strategies to activate engagement and creation that demonstrates student learning. Focus is everything. Through varied models, the most successful coaching frameworks all center on the intentional focus toward a truly desired and achievable outcome, whether it’s a project design, a product integration, or a professional goal that both educators can articulate and share a common vision for meeting.


Calibrated Partnership


Calibration is critical. In order to have the types of conversations build impact beyond the immediate lesson, I find that it requires me to be attuned to the needs, the mindset, and the brain space of the teacher I’m working with. That means I have to provide the space and let go of my specific ideas in order to respect the process of developing an idea or pursuing a process in partnership. When I intentionally pay attention to this practice, I find that the lesson is inevitably improved, and the groundwork is in place to build upon that partner-process for subsequent conversations. 

It can be easy (and even important at times) to spill out frustrations and constraints, but how do we spell out the needs (specific and focused) that are pressing or in need of addressing? Both parties need to remain reflective in order to build a partnership that is beneficial to both.

One factor that can maintain a balanced partnership is keeping a perspective of experience vs.expertise when it comes to discussions, coaching conversations, or even modeled lessons. As soon as either party feels like one is an expert attempting to impart their wisdom or will upon the other, an imbalanced dynamic is created where the partnership connection snaps. Even when providing demo/model strategy or lesson, the dynamic is worth stating that the model is in service of the educator over the lesson and students. This maintains the reflective partnership committed to the shared goal of pedagogical shift. 

Final thought:

Coaching is a craft, just like any other that requires attunement and progress to evolve. My own definition of this craft, beyond any of our ambiguous job-titles, will always remain rooted in collaboration: Working in partnership with highly-skilled educators to increase instructional capacity and meet pedagogical goals through innovative technologies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Minute 61: What Happens After the Hour of Code?

 Minute 61: What Happens After the Hour of Code?

Jed Stefanowicz

Free Abstract Geometric illustration and picture

The Hour of Code and CSEd Week have come and gone. Now what? 

Part of the danger of such a spotlight is the shadow it casts on the rest of the year. Teachers have tweeted, students have coded, and certificates have been printed, but how can we foster sustained interest and engagement in computer science after the Hour of Code?

First, we need to remember that computer science is much more than coding. While the activities within Hour of Code offer a taste, educators can use that momentum and interest to create expanded hands-on opportunities for students to explore hardware and computing systems, algorithms, data structures, and web development. Students can explore new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence.

While CSEd week and Hour of Code can highlight or initiate foundational skill-building, educators can explore software that extends the learning launched in Hour of Code, and the projects highlighted in CSEd Week resources.

Here are 12 ideas for continued CS learning and exploration:

•Embed the components of computer science and computational thinking in real-life situations, and across content areas. Student engagement increases when there are authentic applications of computer science skills to solve real world problems, design apps, create websites, or analyze data. 

•Facilitate student-designed websites to demonstrate learning and present/promote student-created content, and reframe veteran projects (tri-folds, research posters) as opportunities to design websites to curate content. 

•Design instruction with a focus toward content creation vs content consumption, where students apply a learning cycle to design, iterate, and create products. 

•Provide games, challenges, and puzzles across content areas to  develop patterns, require models, or employ algorithms as part of the instructional practice. 

•Create space and time for students to collect, compare, and connect problem-solving strategies.  

•Promote and showcase student-created apps that transfer computational thinking strategies into products that capture creativity. 

•Students design/record/produce public service announcements for peers (and teachers) to explore and integrate the resources and activities of CSEd Week across the rest of the school year and the rest of the curriculum. 

•Find courses, games, webinars, or programs to extend learning and apply computer achievement and computational thinking skills. 

•Direct students toward opportunities, coursework, or peers to explore next-level programming platforms, languages, or systems. 

•Model and design both structures and  open-ended instruction with physical computing components like Makey Makey, Raspberry pi, MicroBit, or Circuit Playground to build fluency with computing systems and hardware. 

•Design content-area learning objectives that include data sorting, classification, and opportunities to collect and interact with authentic data in meaningful and engaging ways. 

•Connect students with professionals, resources, and communities beyond the classroom walls to provide additional opportunities to develop, apply, and transfer CS skills, while highlighting learning pathways and career opportunities.

Let’s look beyond one hour and one week to frame computer science as a required fluency and competency for our students’ future. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Power in Student-Podcasting

Podcast - Free multimedia icons
Power in Student-Podcasting

Recording student thinking is nothing new, but the platforms for sharing and showcasing creativity are easier than ever to access and integrate into classroom instruction. 
Podcasting is a powerful tool to engage learners with content-creation in a medium that instantly connects the classroom with families, community, and the world. 
There are many free platforms that allow educators to record and distribute audio (or video) content online with minimal setup or expertise. Anchor happens to be my favorite, and is linked to Spotify for instant posting for parents and families. 

Here are 5 key factors to consider for podcasting with your class:

It’s about the projects, not the products. Regardless of the technical platform or microphone, the educator's focus should always be promoting student voices and capturing thinking. This mindset maintains a focus on the learning objective and performance practice, not the product.

Link to learning. Advice for classroom teachers thinking about trying a podcast: start with existing activities or units that could benefit from publication "beyond the bulletin board." Consider how reading, reciting, reflecting could add context to student work. For coaches and technology integrators: podcasting succeeds when building partnership with classroom teachers connected to curriculum and student learning. 

Podcasting creates a new window into the classroom and reflection of the curriculum. Linking to newsletters, social media, and directly to Spotify expands the zone of student content-creation by providing an authentic and engaged audience. If educators already integrate social media to provide a glimpse into their classrooms, a podcast provides a glimpse into their thinking.

Every voice matters. Varied prompts, topics, and conversations allow for all voices to be heard and valued. Whether it’s debates, reviews,  or interviews, authenticity is the name of the game to capture thinking. From a DEI perspective, podcasting can be a powerful method to invite and amplify all voices, perspectives, and ideas

Keep it real, and keep it quick. Stick to student interest-areas, creative conversations, and conversational language to promote clear communication. Consider breaking longer uploads into several episodes (vol.1-2, etc). Start with standalone episodes, but consider developing recurring conversations, series, or topics that can evolve to reflect increased student-creativity.

The goal of every classroom teacher should be not only to hear, but to promote every student’s voice. Every learner needs to know that their voice, their opinion, and their understanding matters- and that it matters to more than just their classroom teacher. 

We have the luckiest job in the work. We get to make that happen, and student podcasting is a powerful tool to capture that magic to celebrate successes and showcase student learning and creativity. 

Here's this post in graphic form:

Friday, January 27, 2023

Computational Thinking: Critical Classroom Competency

Computational thinking (CT) is a critical classroom competency. 
Competency refers to the ability to apply skills, knowledge, or understanding to perform a task or accomplish a goal. As the tasks and goals of our students’ (and our own) daily lives continue to become more complex, developing computational thinking skills will be essential to applying those skills, knowledge, and understandings. Competency is demonstrated when contextual comprehension is transferred from understanding to action. 

In its simplest form, CT is a problem-solving process. Complex tasks are broken down, patterns are constructed, algorithms may be applied, and innovation is encouraged. Often computer science is integrated into the problem-solving process. To equip our students for their future, computational thinking is as essential as collaborationcommunicationcritical thinking and creativity (the traditional 4 Cs). If you ask me, computational thinking is the next C. 

Kubo Classroom Robot

Computational thinking is often strongly linked to computing, but makerspace creations or STEM challenges like paper clip chains or index card towers also require the analytical and creative design thinking and engineering mojo that CT represents to me. CT does not land fully under the traditional view of computer science, programming, or even devices at all. There’s a reason coding clubs and platforms balance their courses with awesome “unplugged” activities, in which (for example) students pace out a room to “code” their movement to make a physical connection with computational thinking—analog style!

Computational thinking is a critical classroom competency, and all students deserve a basic fluency in coding as a new literacy to connect with their world.

When students program and code their own robots, games, dances, or stories, educators see a tangible application of ideas, critical thinking, and self-expression. They practice authentic and immediate understanding of cause and effect, resiliency, and iterative practice in order to complete their projects, not our assignments. Watching students create with CT provides an immediate glimpse into their understanding, creativity, and computational thinking as they simultaneously program and problem-solve. Accessibility is always key, and even our youngest learners can code through block and visually-based platforms.

Where digital learning can broadly encompass pedagogy and practice, computational thinking attempts to label cognitive processes and thinking skills. With or without tech, we can begin to build CT awareness and connections to even our youngest students’ lives by identifying patterns and routines, as well as applying problem-solving strategies to complete tasks. Educators can create and identify algorithms across content areas to problem-solve, sequence thinking, and simply create. 

It’s  impactful to have explicit conversations with students (even early elementary students) about the distinction and relationship between computational thinking and coding. Creating classroom activities that clearly exercise both skills provides the opportunity to pause and identify each. 

Even the classic acts of solving puzzles or sorting and stacking blocks systematically builds CT skills and agency in solving problems with independence. Classic board games that require sequence, strategy, logical reasoning, or algorithmic thinking add context for students’ understanding of computational thinking beyond coding tasks. Exploring and identifying how parts of a system, game, program, or product relate, connect, and combine builds foundational concepts for later computational thinking construction. 

Where does computational thinking fit into the general education classroom? Tech coaches and specialists are often asked, “How/where does this fit into the curriculum?” My reply? It is the curriculum. Whether or not a district has articulated or adopted learning standards such as the ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies, CT is a scaffolded process of learning that is a whole lot more than something extra, tech-time, or the one-off robot visit. It’s the bridge that connects students’ understanding of the tool they are using now to how they will use tools going forward. 

It’s something different, and it’s for everyone.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Power-Up Publishing


Educators and administrators talk a lot about student voice, but are we using the tools within our reach to redesign what student-publishing looks like in classrooms in order to empower every voice? One of my biggest goals as a Digital Learning Coach is to shift thinking away from printing as a primary method of publishing student work, particularly in the elementary setting. Considering a more comprehensive shared-definition of publishing as the process of making content public through distribution, it’s about time we expand the ways we encourage our students to show what they know in more engaging and meaningful ways.

Get free from the fridge and beyond the bulletin boards to capture a schoolwide, townwide, or worldwide audience. Creators at every level are expanding their audiences and amplifying their voices to showcase creativity. Let’s rethink our productivity that is limited to classroom-bound books, one-off worksheets, and even the prettiest printed posters.

We have the capacity to create and distribute content like never before. Even better, students become empowered to make their thinking visible, and we can assess understanding while capturing creativity. The audience is no longer limited to the parent who receives the product, or the teacher who corrects it. Innovative tools in the hands of talented teachers and motivated learners upgrade traditional publishing tasks from transactional to transformational.

While it’s critical to capture and celebrate every voice, empowerment includes ensuring that those voices are heard, and that their ideas matter. When classroom teachers find ways to showcase their students’ learning and creativity “beyond the bulletin board,” new voices emerge, and learners rise to meet their audience. Every learner needs to know that their voice, their opinion, and their understanding matter- and that it matters to more than just their classroom teacher. 

The sample ideas below can be modified or adapted across content areas and grade levels. What they have in common is their purpose as digital learning ideas that are designed to capture and model process, showcase and archive products, share and spotlight performance, and explain and demonstrate practices.

These 15 lesson upgrades represent a shift in instructional design as much as they represent a shift in lesson objectives. Their success lies in the hands of skilled educators who can blend clear content objectives with innovative approaches to promote student content-creation and tools to showcase and share their products!

Capture Creativity

•Create a podcast or class blog to provide an audience for students. They create a space to share thoughts, opinions, and actual voices beyond the printed page. 

•Upgrade the traditional imagined interviews with historical characters with a modern twist. Ask students to design instagram or twitter posts from the characters, or create text-conversations to bring the voices, choices, and historical timeline elements to life in a new way.

•Promote digital storytelling for students. From a Scratchjr story frame with first-graders to a middle school graphic novel template, or all the way up to epub novels for high school, students can choose new tools to discover and amplify their written voice further than ever before.

Publish with Purpose

•Post/share QR codes to student-created book reviews, book-talks, or author studies in classrooms, libraries, or hallways displays.

•Solicit movie, book, restaurant recommendations through video (Flip/Clips), audio (podcasts/posts) or digital compilations (Slides, Book Creator) to apply persuasive writing to an authentic audience. 

•Create a year-end  “I survived” assignment for students to create content as a guide for next-year’s/semester’s class 

•Promote student-created commercials or public service announcements (PSA) to promote digital citizenship to lower grade as a school culture initiative or priority.

Beyond the Bulletin Board

•QR codes bring content to life through videos or attached content that demonstrates the creation of the items on the bulletin board, or extends learning by providing addition resources, instructions, or related information.

•Utilize building displays, hallway monitors, or even a laptop station to create publish/distribute student content in the forms of Slides, Infographics, digital billboards, or PSAs.

•Extend printed poetry to a virtual poets’ podcast or interactive Book Creator product that captures writing with accompanying audio or video performance.

•Amplify student art within a virtual gallery, with student-created tutorials and guided tours.

Promote Voice and Choice

•Design logos and infographics to integrate design thinking with content area response.

•Provide menus or choice boards to empower student choice and differentiate options.

•Host a blog/vlog/podcast to publish and promote student voice that is published and promoted across school channels or social media.

•Refresh traditional tri-fold assignments to integrate digital design, augment with recorded audio/video, and publish to families and communities in authentic real-life production tools like Adobe, Google Slides/Sites, PPT, BookCreator, even Seesaw.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Unpacking RISK

 Unpacking RISK

As a digital learning coach, my goal is to encourage educators to reach outside their comfort zone and innovate their instruction through the use of educational technology. it sounds good, but it’s a very tall order, particularly in our post-pandemic learning landscapes where “back to normal” has become a priority among families and administrators.

Let’s reframe the notion of risk vs. reward to instead consider risk creating reward. This shift requires a special set of circumstances if we are serious about asking teachers to reach beyond their current capacity, interest, or understanding.

Let’s unpack RISK as the intersection of Readiness, Intrinsic Motivation, Safety, and Knowledge.


Just like anyone else, teachers require a particular comfort-level in order to reach beyond their comfort zone. A current challenge is that most educators have been well outside of their comfort zone for the past fews years, reporting that last year was the most challenging yet. Risk taking only works when educators feel prepared, motivated, supported, and ready to try something new. They can be made to deploy new approaches, or cover new curriculum, but that separates risk-taking from rule-following.

Intrinsic Motivation

When it matters to a teacher, the most amazing things can happen. Risk-taking increases when the goals, topics, or initiatives carry personal meaning or interest for a teacher. A teacher’s passion or personal motivation raises the stakes for instructional success, and carries emotional investment.


Educators will not take risks, make themselves vulnerable, or challenge the status quo if there isn’t a psychological safety net to support them, or if they feel as though it will jeopardize their job. The culture of the teaching and learning environment, and the support of leadership, set the tone that either encourages or discourages risk-taking. It’s not that complex, and it shouldn’t be surprising, and yet culture-driven initiatives or innovative messaging are often overshadowed by curriculum demands, ongoing assessment, and instructional time-constraints.  


Educators are used to being the experts, content-masters, and the disseminators of knowledge, but taking risks requires flexibility and adaptability if things don’t go as planned. Teachers need to rely upon their knowledge and craft as educators to maintain instructional objectives and keep their focus on student-learning without getting distracted by the application of innovative tools or products.

Now let’s unpack the Reward of RISK as Resilience, Investment, Support, and Know-how


Educators who find success through risk-taking increase their likelihood of continued risk taking and innovation, while modeling a pathway to inspire colleagues. Even those who may not achieve all of their objectives strengthen their resilience through reflection and evaluation of their process.


Risk-taking yields personal investment when interest or passion projects turn from ideas to action. Where the intrinsic motivation helps teachers take the plunge with zeal, the payoff is in the developing product that carries emotional attachment. 


Success yields repetition, and a district that recognizes instructional innovation or success automatically builds a support system that will encourage further risk-taking. 


Aspiring teachers aren’t necessarily trained to take risks, embark on innovation, or “think outside the box.” When an educator takes a successful risk, and their efforts are recognized, they create a pathway for others to follow, clearing a runway for increased risk-taking as a priority within their instructional culture. 


Teachers can get caught in some deep ruts, but we need to acknowledge that while these ruts may sometimes work well, they can also reinforce inefficiency or even bad habits. Integrating new initiatives or innovation can threaten carefully crafted structures or long-standing traditions, and feel isolating enough that many choose not to drift outside the lines. There can be a vulnerability when straying from a prescribed lesson plan or unit of study to extend thinking, capitalize on an unexpected opportunity, or just try an innovative strategy discovered on Twitter, but successful risk-takers don't let that risk outweigh the reward.

When teachers combine readiness, intrinsic motivation, safety, and knowledge to embark upon meaningful risk, they build (in themselves and in their buildings) resilience, investment, support, and know-how.

Risk Creates Reward!