Why did you create the HOW2s? What is their purpose?
Here’s the short answer.
The HOW2 app has a dual purpose — to develop expertise in pedagogy and build professional learning communities.
The app gives every educator, whether adjunct or sessional or full time, immediate access to two things 1. the expertise of an instructional coach and access to 2. a suite of tools to help them ask for or offer support from or to their colleagues.
The app also gives coaches and faculty developers (or anyone in a supporting role) the means to support more faculty, more efficiently.
Up-skilling the dual professional (a slightly longer answer)
An instructional coach’s job, in fact, the purpose of all CPD in so far as it relates to pedagogy, is to make it easier and quicker for educators to meet the needs of their learners. We think this means ensuring every educator has access to the know-how required to ensure that every learner can access the content taught and remember it in the long term to access future life, learning, and work opportunities.
We wanted to make it easier for every educator, whether faculty, teacher, trainer, assessor, lecturer, or instructor, to develop their teaching skills. Our experience is that, more often than not, the educators we work with are experts in WHATthey are teaching but may not have the same level of expertise in HOW best to teach it. For example, an Instructor in the UK Ministry of Defence will typically have over eight years of experience developing their subject knowledge and expertise. If selected to be a trainer, the MoD’s Defence-Train-the-Trainer Programme lasts two weeks.
“What if”, we asked, “we put the expertise of an instructional coach online”?
There are a few things we can say about this. First, it all revolved around our instinct that was yelling out that educators were entitled to something more modern and better than what was available.
In the late 2000s, we noticed that a lot of attention was on what worked best in teaching students, but comparatively, little attention was on what worked best when it came to CPD or teaching faculty or anyone else in a teaching role. In 2007 the internationally acclaimed McKinsey report concluded an organisation is only as good as its teachers, or if we want to remove the person from this equation, it’s teaching.
After ten years on the road, we’d become increasingly aware of the limitations of live training. By 2009 we’d led 000s of live training events and worked directly coaching 00s of educators— all very well received, I might add, but as we got into the 000s, the limitations were starting to scream at us. For example, it’s impossible to personalise learning for 3/400+ teachers in one go. Also, engaging an audience of several hundred people and making sure they leave highly motivated is one thing. But engagement does not equate to learning. We knew, through cognitively load theory and our own experience, that much is forgotten.
Two problems that come up with all live training are speed and volume of content. We noticed that when we worked with huge groups, there would be a % of people who said we had delivered the material too fast. But a similar % would say it was too slow. A % might also argue that we should have spent more time on less content and vice versa. The adage ‘you can’t please all the people all of the time’ came to mind. But we asked ourselves the question ‘Or can you..?’
Emerging research was pointing to a move away from one-off events and the need for educators to ongoingly engage in reflection on their teaching practice to meet the learning needs of their students. So live trainers, ourselves included, started to adjust their live training programmes to include a ‘what now’ section or offer 2 or 3 – 5 day programmes spread out over time. In the late 2000s, we were charging around £2000 a day plus expenses, so a five-day programme was >£10K. We charged the same when bought in to do instructional coaching. Maybe working with 2 – 4 faculty directly or with 20 or so if doing demonstration lessons. So there has to be a better (less expensive) way — we thought — to give faculty and their organisations access to instructional expertise.
We’d also noticed that some appraisals and lesson observations seemed to fall short of practical value and were not helpful. For example, at the end of lesson observations, there were often discussions around ‘what’ needed to happen next. But, if the teacher asked, ‘So how do I do that..?’, they were referred elsewhere. Perhaps to a coach. And here, it gets fascinating. Some coaching models work in a way that sees the coach support the teacher in finding their solutions, and A LOT of teachers were telling us, “If we knew how to do it, we’d be doing it already. Why can’t they just tell us?”. The good news is that instructional coaching models = put forward ‘how-to’ solutions. But the problem here is getting access to the coach. Instructional coaches don’t come cheap. And there’s a limit to how many teachers a single coach or even a team can support. So, we asked, “What if we put the knowledge of an instructional coach online…?”
One more thing.
We also wanted to, and this might sound a little strange, ‘democratise cleverness’. By this, we mean we decided to put all the expertise that we’d researched and had in ‘our heads’, ‘out there so to speak, on the app, where teachers could access the bits that they deemed relevant to them, whenever they needed it. And do it in a way, through the combined use of still visuals and words, another field of research into work-based learning, showed was most effective in communicating procedures.
We also noticed that a lot of CPD was still around developing subject knowledge and skills. And there was, in our opinion, insufficient attention given to how best to communicate or teach or get across this expertise to learners. Thirty years of research by Jim Knight in Texas on Instructional Coaching further highlighted this for us — Instructional Coaches are brilliant. However, they are also, as we mentioned earlier, costly. Why? Because all their expertise is locked away in their heads. What if, we thought, we put the instructional knowledge online “as if” it were a virtual instructional coach?