In the weeks leading up to our annual conference, Teaching, Learning, Coaching, we’ll be posting interviews with experts who have presented at the conference or those who will be presenting this year. The interviews will surface many different ways of looking at coaching, and like the conference itself, we hope they inspire, educate, and provoke new thinking. We don’t always agree with everything we hear in the interviews, but we are grateful for others’ thinking. We move forward by challenging our beliefs, and we hope you feel challenged too. You can keep up with the interviews by subscribing to this blog.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad is a speaker, author, and professional learning facilitator who has served as a teacher, assistant principal, university adjunct professor, consultant, and education strategist throughout his career. He has worked for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and he is currently the Chief Education Officer at WeVideo. On Twitter, he cofounded #LeadUpChat, an educational leadership professional learning network, and #divergED, a chat focused on divergent thinking and innovations in education. He also serves on the board of the Student Voice Foundation and on the International Literacy Association Task Force. In these roles and more, Nathan has led tremendous innovations and presented countless contributions to the field of education, and we are thrilled that he will be speaking at our Teaching, Learning, Coaching Conference this year.
Jim: Tell us a bit about your story leading up to your book, Everyday Instructional Coaching, and about what you’re doing now.
Nathan: I wanted to be a weatherman growing up, and the University I went to – to get my Bachelor’s – didn’t have a broadcast meteorology degree, so my plan was that I would just choose a degree that was most similar to meteorology – something science-oriented – and I would just use that to get a Master’s in meteorology and use that as my jumping off point. So, I chose chemistry education. At the time, if I were to follow that path, I would have become a high school chemistry teacher, but again I didn’t think I was going to use it. As I got into the program, I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching and I really loved science, and I thought, “You know what? Even though weather is fascinating to me, I think I’ll put a hold on my dreams of being a weather channel host, and I’ll go into to teaching.”
My first job was in Houston, Texas. I was a high school science teacher, and I had a lot of fun. I taught Chemistry, and Physics, and Environmental Science in a small school, so basically any upper level science course they could give me, they did. But I had a great opportunity after a few years in the classroom to work at NASA. I worked in their education office, and it was when STEM was coming on to the national scene. It was a big federal initiative, and part of its goal was to create a STEM education pipeline track for students. So, my role was to teach STEM lessons from the NASA TV studios, which was kind of full-circle because my dreams of being in front of the green screen were finally realized. This was before Skype and Google Hangouts so we basically taught lessons virtually from NASA TV studios to students using the technology of the day. Back then it was cutting edge. It was interactive, it was virtual, and it was exciting.
After working at NASA – I was an education supervisor there – I really wanted to jump back into the K-12 setting. I discovered I had a passion for teaching and learning and really wanted to be in the public school system, so I got a Master’s in Administration. There was a school outside of Nashville, Tennessee that was starting a STEM Magnet school, and they hired me to be their vice principal and to help jump start STEM at the school. That was my move from Houston to Tennessee to begin my K-12 leadership journey, and I learned a lot there. After a couple years as an elementary administrator I wanted to expand my leadership opportunities in the high school arena, so I took on a high school administrator role. It was a lot of fun, and I Iearned a lot.
Then I got my doctorate at Lipscomb University in Nashville. After receiving my doctorate, Metro Nashville Public Schools invited me to be their Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction,and that’s really where the instructional coaching role really started to become interesting and exciting and honestly still kind of new.
This was back in 2012 or 2013, and the common core was brand new, and Tennessee was a “First to the Top” state. Everything became brand new – the assessment for students, the evaluation for teachers, and new common core standards meant a new curriculum. I was responsible for ensuring that the 80 or so elementary schools in the district had a brand new scope and sequence which aligned to the new standards and updated resources. The only way I could accomplish that was to surround myself with colleagues in the curriculum office and the talented instructional coaches in the district. They really led and drove the work, and we were able to implement all kinds of change during those couple of years with all the new standards and the state assessments. Because of all the work that happened and the quality products that we were able to create with that instructional coaching team, people were encouraging me to write about my experiences. They would say, “You should write a book about how you all were able to do so much in such a short amount of time.” And of course, it was all because of the intellectual capacity and the leadership capacity of our instructional coaches at the time. You had around 130 instructional coaches in Nashville at the time. That is the evolution of Everyday Instructional Coaching, and the book itself really focuses on the daily dispositions that coaches display when they are working with teachers, and I call them daily drivers.
Jim: Could you give us a quick summary of the daily drivers?
Nathan: Daily drivers are an area that drives behavior. So, it’s a belief that a coach would instill, and that belief would kind of transform the behavior of the coach as they are working with their teacher and their principal. So, I looked at my experiences with coaches, and I determined there were seven areas – or drivers or beliefs – that coaches could instill that would make them more effective with teachers.
Jim: It’s kind of like the Partnership Principles.
Jim: But a driver is a little bit synonymous with a belief?
Nathan: Yes, absolutely.
Jim: It drives your actions?
Jim: Could you tell us more about the seven daily drivers and some of the core ideas in your approach to coaching?
Nathan: One of the drivers is called Reverberation, which is similar to feedback or what people might call a feedback loop. It is typically when coaches give feedback to teachers because they are the masters of pedagogy and instruction, but in this model, I go through ways in which the teacher and the coach can both give feedback to each other. So, the teacher could actually give feedback to the teacher on how the coach is coaching.
There is also Inquiry. We do inquiry-based teaching and classrooms and instruction. This is essentially how coaches approach their daily work and all about informing how they are asking questions. But also helping teachers to ask better questions, so I give some tools. I took the Question Formulation Technique andessentially created a hybrid version of that, but one where coaches could help teachers create better questions in their PLCs.
There is Collaboration. The pendulum for collaboration has kind of swung far on ‘let’s be together all the time, we have to create everything together,’ and so some teachers get really frustrated as they don’t feel like – especially if the teacher is more introverted – they have the opportunity to let their best self shine because they are in an group setting. So, they want to be able to give input but in a way that makes sense for them.
I talk about a Balance, especially with multiple types of personalities. How do you have effective collaboration with focus on a balance between individual reflection time and teamwork time?
I talk about Transparency, and with that I go into how a coach is working with their teachers in getting feedback on how they are doing. Developing weekly check-ins or using the 360 tool, you get anonymous feedback, but then taking it a step further, I am proposing that they display all of the data that teachers are sharing about the coaching that’s happening in the building. I also suggest that principals do the same thing with feedback being visible, getting weekly pulse checks. Every week you get feedback on how the culture is supporting a collaboration in coaching.
Jim: Correct me if I am wrong, but boundaries are really important for collaboration. You have to be an autonomous person in order to collaborate effectively.
Nathan: You are exactly right, yes. Just like with students. We have them in small group time, and then we also give them opportunities to work by themselves. Especially when they reflect on when they’ve learned something new. If we believe that is best practice, then we should make sure that we are providing that time for teachers when they are in the midst of learning.
Discourse is really focused on the demeanor of coaches when they are communicating with a teacher. Many times, a coach or a principal may talk to teachers in a way that they sound as though they are directing a teacher to do something. They say, “This is the way something will be done,” or, “I need you to bring your lesson plan to the conference,” or, “I need you to bring your data.” It is more about how they incorporate empowering language so that teachers feel like they own the process, and they view the coach, really, as a support system to help them be better. It’s framing sentences, framing visions, framing initiatives in ways that are more of a shared value system as opposed to, “This is what we are doing, and we are going to roll this out.” I give some examples of some sentence stems and some openers. For instance, Adam Grant had done some research on using powerless communication, and it is centered around an authoritative approach to communication as opposed to always having some top-down directives.
Another is Influence. It is about how we can get teachers to adopt change because it is human nature. If you look at a bell-curve, you will always have about 50% of people who will either passively disagree or actively work against the direction of the school because this is just how the humanpopulation breaks down, and we all have different ideas about how a school system should work, and so really focus ideas about how to get everyone in the same direction. Coaches have a unique role in that, and they are truly a partner in the professional learning relationship.
And the last one is Sincerity. I was going to use “authentic,” but there were two reasons I didn’t use “authentic” in the book. One was because people have written about authenticity a lot. It is also used a lot of times to talk about objects and things and food and not about people or states of being. It is close to authenticity, and I give ways in which coaches can truly build meaningful relationships with their colleagues – teachers and principals.
Jim: I did wonder about authenticity versus sincerity, so I’m glad you mentioned it.
Nathan: Yes, I think I make reference to it in a chapter, because even when I first wrote about it, some of the reviewers and editors were asking me, “Why sincerity?” and then after I wrote about it people said, “Ok, I get it.”
Beyond the daily drivers I’ve mentioned, I think there has to be a very explicit illumination of what the role of the coach is. One of the things that I was a part of in my role as a District Director of Curriculum Instruction is that we created a framework. We called it a coaching framework. The principal, the teacher, and the coach knew exactly what their role was every day. As they developed their caseloads, they had an action and goal that they were working towards, but everyone had a consistent definition of how the role of the coach would be defined. The reason why this was important – as I’m sure you have seen this too – is as you go from school to school and district to district, coaches are used in so many different varieties of roles. Some are working with students, and my belief is that they should be working with teachers and adults only so they have a bigger impact of change when they are working with teachers and they are focused on that. Not to go down a rabbit hole, but that’s the only other thing I would add. Ensuring that the role of the coach is explicit and understood and known by the coach, the teacher, and the principal.
Jim: Can you tell us about your other publications? The Marzano book and the work that is not out yet – WeVideo?
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right. And there are a couple more books on the horizon too. As you know, once you start writing it is hard to stop! The New Art and Science of Teaching Mathematicswith Robert Marzano which was a compilation of years of research and creating 43 elements to help increase student achievement. It’s a really robust list of strategies on how to implement those, so I wrote the follow-up book to that with him, making it more math specific. I have been working with math teams for a few years so – along with instructional coaching – math PLCs and supporting math teachers is another passion of mine.
The third book is 40 Ways to Deepen Learning with WeVideo, and I am the Chief Education Officer ofWeVideo. We focus on the daily uses of video, and WeVideo is a creativity platform so students can create videos. That is why the book was created – trying to get students to exercise their voice and creativity in the classroom, and transforming book reports and lab reports and things like that, which are more traditional, into engaging videos because students love videos so it is inherently motivating. That is coming out in June.
Jim: Could you explain a bit more about WeVideo as an organization?
Nathan: Yes, absolutely. It began as a video editing tool, so that students – or anybody, even in business – could create, say, a trailer for a product or if students wanted to create a morning news show and an editor where they could use a green screen and Chroma key and they could use sub-titles and so forth. That’s how it originated, and now we are a full creativity app so students can be assigned projects, they can collaborate inside this platform, and they can build their stories or reflect on their thinking through video creation. Our focus is on illuminating student voice and student creativity.
Jim: That’s great. Years ago, I was in a lab school in New York City, and it was amazing. The kids all created videos that were life-histories of people. And living in New York, the stories of the people they were able to get were amazing – including people who were in Auschwitz. Many of them invited the people that they featured in the video to an event, so it was pretty cool. They used other software, but they likely could have done even more with your material.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, the great thing about WeVideo is it is FERPA and COPPAcompliant, and student privacy is a big deal. It’s easy to use, especially with green screen. It can be tricky when you start using Chroma key, and the platform makes it really easy and fun. And documentaries are so much fun. I know if I was a student instead of reading about Abraham Lincoln and writing a paper on him, if I could have enacted some historical event and brought in different of media, just how much fun that would have been instead of the same old term paper.
Jim: That is something we heard from a group in Maryland. A group of teachers would record their lessons, and then they would edit the movie and get together and show different elements of it. They found that the editing process was really powerful – that looking at their class over and over again, sorting through it was a powerful tool. Just watching the video once or twice wasn’t the same as editing it. I suppose like teaching a novel versus reading the novel.
Nathan: Yes, absolutely. I think you are creating new neuro pathways when you are going through the editing process, and you also really have a sense of pride and ownership in the video so you really want to make it perfect. It is like a kid who plays hours of video games. They want to beat level 40, and they are going to keep going until they get it. I think it’s the same with video editing, especially when you are sharing something with the world, you are always hyper-aware of how it is going to be perceived. Even if it is something I am doing just for fun, I am always having to go back and forth, like “is this the right music?” or “am I creating the right mood here?” “Am I showcasing the right elements?” It really is deeply engaging.
Jim: There are other things you’re working on as well, right?
Nathan: Yes, my husband and I just got a contract from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc to publish a book with them! Yes, lots of writing,presenting, and speaking happening which is an honor and joy to be sharing my passion with others.
Jim: What would you say distinguishes your approach to coaching from other approaches to coaching?
Nathan: What I wanted to do was to focus on the beliefs of coaching. “What do you believe about coaching, and how do your beliefs effect your daily actions?” Especially as we continue to progress with technology in the classroom. That’s going to continue to evolve so our beliefs about learning are evolving as well. Continuing to hone and craft those new tools and strategies based on where we want the classroom to go. I think a focus on those daily dispositions, and the manner in which coaches relate to those teachers.
Jim: What I am thinking about your drivers is that they apply across the board. It could be a literacy coach, it could be an instructional coach, it could be a more directive kind of coach, it could even be what I call a more facilitative coach.
Nathan: Yes, exactly.
Jim: They are generic enough that any kind of coach could pick up the ideas and benefit from looking at them.
Nathan: Yes, that is definitely the hope so thanks for choosing that out.
Jim: What have been your key learnings over the past few years?
Nathan: In regards to coaching, I think the most successful coaches are not those who necessarily have taught for years and years and years, or master teachers, or national board certified – although many coaches are and they are fantastic – but I don’t think those are the key factors that made them a great coach. I think the most successful coaches are those who are truly human and open and honest about who they are as a person, but also, they truly do partner with the teacher – so taking your verbiage as a partnership. They truly are not there to tell the teacher what they are doing wrong. It goes back to the whole meaning of a coach. What does a coach do? In athletics, they help grow your performance. They help you get better. Typically, athletes go to a coach and say, “Hey I want to get better in this area of my respective sport.” So, in a successful teacher-coaching relationship, I see that being the primary driver. Approaching the coach and saying, “I want to be a better question asker. Can you be another set of eyes and ears in my classroom, see what I am currently doing, and then along with me, help me develop ways to be a better question asker?” So, developing alongside a coach is really important. I think that’s been the most important thing about being a strong, effective instructional coach.
Jim: What would you say would be a good metaphor for what coaches do?
Nathan: Being a coach reminds me of the character of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. He was wise, brave, a leader, and helped illuminate the strengths in others.
Jim: The conference theme is “Keep Learning.” How do you see that theme applying to coaching?
Nathan: I think that coaches have to be – and all educators have to be – life-long learners. What does that really mean? Most people would say, “Oh, you’re going to conferences and reading more books.” But I mean it in a very literal sense because I do this daily. Being open to the world around you. You are being very keenly aware of what’s happening in education right now, what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in the classroom, and you’re constantly reflecting on your own path. You are constantly reflecting on how you are being perceived as a coach, and you’re adjusting based on feedback that you’re getting. I think that being a life-long learner can mean all those things. Reading and learning from one another. But I think it is a constant kind of introspection and reflection practice on how you are being perceived and the change that you are bringing daily.
Jim: Can you say a bit on what you are going to present at TLC?
Nathan: It is going to be the seven daily drivers and how those manifest inside the instructional coaching model.
Here is a list of some people you can expect to see at the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference 2019! Click on each name below to review some of their work.
We hope to see you in Kansas City!
Professor of Teacher Education,
Distinguished Writer in Residence,
Equity Leadership Coach,
TED Talk Presenter, Principal,
Founder and CEO,
Executive Director, Associate Director
The Joy of Coaching
Instructional Coaching Group
Instructional Coaching Group
CEO and Co-founder,
The Disruptive Equity Education Project
The Coach Approach to School Leadership
Growth Coaching International
Executive Educator, Coach
Instructional Coaching Group
Chief Education Officer,
Research for Better Teaching
Author, School Consultant
Safe and Civil Schools
University of NC School of Kenan-Flagler Business School
Instructional Coaching Group
Growth Coaching International
Innovative Curriculum Facilitator,
Lawrence Public Schools
Bowling Green City Schools