This is a guest post from Rhona Mackenzie of West Dunbartonshire Council
West Dunbartonshire has had an involvement in the Microsoft Innovative Teacher initiative since 2006.
Initially this project was concerned with fostering a community of practice which involved all our Glow mentors but a year ago the focus was moved, by Microsoft, to peer coaching. This involved a week long facilitators’ course near London which I attended in November 2008. As the week progressed, it became obvious that this was a methodology which would fit well with the Glow rollout in our authority.
The rollout of Glow within West Dunbarton had stalled for over a year due to technical problems with our firewalls. While we had made a gentle start in our rollout in the summer term of 2009, we were looking for a way to jump start the process at the start of the new academic session. The peer coaching strategy seemed to fit the bill and we sent out an invitation to all our education staff to take part. It was decided that the only viable way of running the course was to offer two days during term time with paid cover: one in the summer term of 2008/9 and one in the autumn term of 2009/10. The rest of the course would take place over four days during the summer holidays. Two identical four day courses were held, one during the second week of the holidays and the other during the second last week of the holidays. All the staff met for the initial day at the end of June and will come together again in the autumn term. The first course in July had 12 staff attending whilst the August course had 8. Both courses had a mix of Glow mentors and enthusiastic practitioners.
Because the main part of the course took place during the summer holidays, there was a very relaxed atmosphere. No one was worried about what was happening in their classroom while they were attending the course and the fact that everyone felt they were in their “own time” added to the lack of pressure. Each day started with an icebreaker activity which helped set the stress-free atmosphere for the rest of the day.
All staff were asked to bring an idea for a lesson which they could use in the new school session. The plan for this lesson became the basis for the peer coaching protocols and also for the creation of a Glow group designed to enhance the lesson. The pattern for each day consisted of an icebreaker activity, a Glow activity, such as resizing images for Glow, Glow Chat, Glow Meet, Glow Learn (taster session only) and a number of peer coaching protocols and other strategies. As well as the new experiences and outcomes from the Curriculum for Excellence we also looked at other initiatives such as “Beyond Engagement” from Becta and spent some time in discussion over these. This gave staff a chance to explore Glow and current pedagogical thinking in a meaningful way, to interact with and learn from each other and to investigate practices which impact on using Glow effectively. We also had a session looking at freeware such as Xmind and AutoCollage among others.
Towards the end of the course, all participants were asked to create a coaching plan showing how they planned to take the peer coaching approach to Glow forward in their own establishments. It became obvious very quickly that the SMT in the school would have to buy into this method of introducing Glow.
The feedback at the end of the two four day courses was that everyone was leaving with a clear understanding of how Glow could enhance the learning and teaching in their class, a greater knowledge of other establishments and sectors within the authority as well as some new found friends.
We now have a dynamic peer coaching Glow group at authority level which will be our main method of communication and collaboration. We do, however, have two dates in our diaries for face to face meeting. The first will be a twilight in September just to get together and discuss how everyone is using Glow within their own practice. We will also be examining roadblocks and reminding ourselves of strategies to overcome them. The second day will be towards the end of November when we will have a full day examining the impact that the peer coaching is having on each establishment.
The evaluations from each of the two four day courses show that the course was greatly enjoyed by all who attended it. The proof of the success of the course, however, will be the uptake of Glow in the peer coaches’ establishments. Microsoft is having the peer coaching programme independently evaluated and West Dunbarton is one of only three local authorities that are taking part in this evaluation.