Training “2.0”: Incorporating Story and Listening into Professional Development

The term “Web 2.0” has been used in “techie” conversations so much that it approaches being a cliche. Despite its overuse, the affordances of “2.0” (sharing, connecting and collaborating) are powerful and should be applied more in professional development environments.

Currently,  “2.0” professional development is centered around personal learning networks. Teachers using Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and assorted other social networks create groups around shared interests. You can learn much more about PLNs from people more knowledgeable than I . Click here for more information.

I’d like to contemplate two tools for creating a “2.0” environment around technology training and professional development: learning contracts and teacher storyboards.  Some of what follows comes from my experience with these tools, but much of it is “what if?”.

Learning Contracts

I first encountered learning contracts while taking courses from the Powerful Learning Practice network. I was skeptical. The idea of a student declaring what he or she intended to learn from a course was way outside of my experience and comfort zone. But over time, I began to see how empowering Learning Contracts can be. If learning contracts are an unfamiliar concept, I’d suggest reading this article by Roger Hiemstra.

In brief, learning contracts provide a bridge between the needs of self-directed adult learners and the objectives of a course – or training session.  Contracts can take many forms. A typical contract might be a table with columns labeled as objectives, resources and strategies, completion date, evidence of learning, verification of learning.


As an English Language Arts teacher, I employed a variety of graphic organizers to assist student learning. Storyboards were a favorite. Student immediately grasped their narrative structure, probably due to their prior knowledge with comics, graphic novels, and video.

So how might a storyboard impact professional development? In an earlier post, Starting with Stories, I described two types of trainees: conscripts and volunteers. Volunteers are willing to invest much more of themselves into the task, are more comfortable taking risks and solving problems and will think of unique ways to apply what they are learning to their classroom. Perhaps more teachers will move from conscripts to volunteers if trainers intentionally integrate story into their sessions? By their nature storyboards afford the visualizing of a story, focusing the story on key frames or episodes, and allow for textual descriptions of details. Unlike a learning contract, storyboards also enable teachers to bring to the surface any obstacles or conflicts that block them from growth and possible actions they have taken or might take to overcome these conflicts.

So let’s imagine how technology training might change with the addition of learning contracts and storyboards.

  • Training begins with participants assessing their competencies in the training objective areas and creating a learning contract to guide their experience.
  • Training begins with a storyboard that “plots” the teachers training journey complete with any obstacles they anticipate.
  • Training session objectives become “menu items” that teachers choose from to create their learning contract.
  • Training session objectives become actions that can be incorporated into a teacher’s narrative – perhaps as problem-solving steps that address conflicts or obstacles.
  • The training space is segmented  into trainer-directed and teacher-directed areas. Teachers freely move between the two spaces when necessary.
  • Training ends with teachers assessing their learning contracts and contemplating their next steps.
  • Training ends with teachers plotting the next episode of their learning story.

I’d love for you to become a co-author. How might you use learning contracts and storyboards to empower technology training and professional development?

Tweet your idea to …

Incorporating Story.  How would you use learning contracts and storyboards in PD? #beyondtools


Digital Tools for Purposeful Listening

The great irony of Evocative Coaching is that rather than controlling the development narrative with his or her own story, the coach evokes the teacher’s story and by listening openly, enables teachers to reveal key details that will be crucial to their own development.

In the previous post I outlined the three types of listening described by the Tschannen-Morans: mindful, reflective, and imaginative. In this post I’ll explore these three types of listening in more detail and inquire into ways technology might enable purposeful listening.

Mindful (Quiet) Listening

Mindful listening requires a peaceful environment and a receptive and attentive coach.

Two mindful listening behaviors are …

  • open-mindedness – suppress the natural urge to judge and opinionate and filter information into dualistic categories such as: good/bad or right/wrong.
  • attentiveness – attempt to get an intuitive sense of what lies behind the teacher’s experience. Put yourself in the teacher’s shoes and ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What do I want?”

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is successful when a coach is able to preserve the content of the teacher’s story along with the emotions (energy, commitments, and desires) that lie underneath the story.

Three reflective listening strategies are …

  • checking in – summarizing and paraphrasing what we heard
  • reflecting back – restating the most helpful topics or themes from a conversation
  • inviting – encouraging teachers to search through their stories for greater understanding

Imaginative Listening

The Tschannen-Morans talk about stories as “may-be so” constructions rather than unchangeable reality. Stories are “propositions, to be explored with anticipation, imagination, and curiosity”. Once a teacher tells their story, their growth journey has just begun.

Three reflective listening strategies are …

  • Vantage points – Ask teachers to imagine what the experience might have been like for one or more of the characters in the story. The more teachers learn to see things from the vantage point of other characters, the more open teachers become to considering alternatives.
  • Pivot points – Ask teachers to imagine how an experience might have turned out if the situation was handled differently (action, perspective). What if? How might?
  • Lesson points – Ask teachers to generate new conclusions. What new outcomes might be possible as a result of their new perspective? What else?

Purposeful Listening and Technology

The short amount of time available and the numerous interruptions that occur before, during and after the school day can impede mindful listening. In a well-intentioned effort to make the time valuable, the coach may end up doing most of the talking. And if the teacher isn’t given the space to tell their story the coach cannot be receptive or focused on that experience which is the essential factor for growth.

The Flipped Classroom and various derivatives of “flipped” learning and instruction have led teachers to experiment with a number of unique ways of teaching. One affordance of flipping is reordering and reorganizing time. In classrooms that might mean watching a video outside of the class time that explains a concept, and using class time to dig deeper into the concept.  In a similar vein, the coaching process can be flipped so that teachers have the time to find a peaceful environment to tell their story and coaches have the space to listen receptively and attentively.

Video Conferencing

Video conference tools such as Google Hangouts or Skype allow coaches and teachers to find time independent of space to have a conversation. The video component, although not necessary, allows both the coach and teacher the opportunity to read the nonverbal cues that are such an important part of communication.


Blogs might be the best tool for storytelling and purposeful listening since writing allows more time for thought and reflection. Coaches could create public/private blogs or documents using Google Sites or Documents shared between the coach and the teacher.  The commenting feature in Google Documents provides a mechanism for reflective and imaginative listening. I’ve attached two examples of coaching conversations from 21st Century Classroom Assessment, an online class offered by the Osseo Area School’s C4 Model of Learning professional development program.  This document contains an excerpt from an Edmodo discussion between the course facilitator (me) and a teacher. This document illustrates reflective and imaginative listening using the Google Documents commenting feature.

A Cautionary Note

By their very design, these digital tools create shared, public documents. Clear digital protocols regarding ownership, sharing, and eventual deletion need to be established to maintain a healthy relationship between coach and teacher.

I’d love to hear how others are using digital tools to foster and maintain professional growth. How do you employ technology to empower listening? Tweet your answer to …

Digital Tools for Purposeful Listening.
(your input) #beyondtools


Purposeful Listening

Our coaching begins when teachers share their stories and reveal the sense they are making of their experiences.

Great trainers always tell great stories. I can still see a particular presenter’s face. I can recall another’s clothing. And I remember the funny or poignant stories they told. Just don’t ask me to demonstrate anything I learned from them. That’s the power of story. Its affect lingers long after any specific knowledge or skills have faded away.

Good coaches evoke coachable stories. To evoke is to “bring to existence” or “to call into action”. So the purpose of evoking stories from teachers is to bring to the surface the feelings, factors, limits, and possibilities that exist for that teacher at that time.  Allowing and enabling the teacher’s story to become public is the first crucial step in growth because the more a teacher understands their experience as a story rather than as settled facts over which they have no control, the more they are nurturing their capacity for growth.

So evoking story is about enabling teachers to recognize their experience as a story and figure out how they can call into action the necessary skills, knowledge, and passion to improve their practice. The coach facilitates this process through purposeful listening. The great irony of Evocative Coaching is that rather than controlling the narrative through the imposition of their own experience (story), the coach evokes the teacher’s story and by listening openly, enables teachers to reveal key details that will be crucial to their own development.

The Tschannen-Morans describe three types of listening: Mindful, Reflective, and Imaginative. Brief outlines of these types are below. Subsequent posts will examine each type in more detail.

Mindful (Quiet) Listening
The Tschannen-Morans put it bluntly; If we don’t have time to listen mindfully, we don’t have time to coach.  We listen mindfully in order to understand the experience of the other person, not as a precursor to establishing our own agenda and training purposes. Mindful listening is not a polite courtesy, it is the foundation of our relationship to the teacher.

Reflective Listening
Reflective listening stands in contrast to “deflective” listening.  Deflective listening is driven by an agenda and is used to evaluate, educate, and explain. When we listen reflectively, we take time to think about what we heard and express our best guess about what the teacher feels, needs and wants.

Imaginative Listening
As teachers tell their stories, coaches attempt to understand how they might be told differently. This imaginative listening considers stories as “maybe so” assemblies; structures that can be torn down and reassembled in different configurations. Reworking and retelling stories from different perspectives can reveal new and novel possibilities.

Which type of listening do you value most? Tweet your answer to …

Purposeful listening (your reply) #beyondtools


Evoking Coachable Stories: Uncovering What Lies Within

“Stories illuminate our efforts to reclaim, retain, reframe our personal narrative. Who are we now and who do we want to be in the future.” David Drake

In my district, we have been taught to begin meetings in a very intentional way. First there is the presentation of protocols: no sidebar conversations, take care of yourself, etc. Then there is the agenda that spells out what will be discussed or decided during the meeting time.  Such structure is necessary in order for a meeting to be productive.

Coaching begins in a very intentional way as well. It begins with a story; the story a teacher needs to tell.  To encourage teachers to tell their stories, coaches must create a safe environment. The key to this creation is asking questions that trigger stories related to the teachers previous learning and growth. These stories enable teachers to discover the focus, power, and engagement that lies within themselves.

Our coaching begins when teachers share these stories and reveal the sense they are making of their experiences. Evocative Coaching describes two strategies for evoking coachable stories.

The Check-In

  • What color might capture how you feel right now?
  • What object that you can see reflects how you are right now?
  • What song could be the theme song for your day?

The teacher’s mood and feeling at the moment will dictate the success of the coaching session, so it’s important to acknowledge and accept these feelings. These three questions all have a physical component to them. They require that teachers attach their feelings to some object that can be sensed. Also, they encourage descriptions rather than explanations.

Tell Me a Story …

  • about what is working well for you.
  • that illustrates what you love about your work.
  • about an experience in the classroom that taught you a valuable lesson.
  • about when you tried something new.

These story starters invite teachers to tell stories about times when they felt engaged, excited, and challenged by teaching.  They encourage a “How did you grow?” story wherein teachers uncover their own capacity for learning.

What techniques do you know of for evoking a coachable story? Tweet your answer to …

Evoking Coachable Stories (your answer) #beyondtools

Starting with Stories

The How of professional development needs to consider the Who. Methods of delivery will fail if there isn’t a companion framework that addresses the important factors of consciousness, connectedness, and competence.

In my technology integration professional development experience, there have been two types of teachers: conscripts and volunteers. Conscripts have been “drafted” into the training, but would rather not be there. They are hesitant to invest too much of themselves into the task and might express their lack of self-efficacy with comments like, “I’m just not a techie” or challenge the value of the training with comments like, “When will I ever use this in the classroom.” In the very same sessions, there will be volunteers. Volunteers are willing to invest much more of themselves into the task, are more comfortable taking risks and solving problems and will think of unique ways to apply the technology with students.  What’s interesting is that a teacher can be a conscript one day and a volunteer another. What is necessary in order to make teachers into volunteers? The answer is story.

We know what stories are, but do we fully appreciate the role they play in determining how we see the world and our place in it?  David Drake puts it this way, “Stories illuminate our efforts to reclaim, retain, reframe our personal narrative. Who are we now and who do we want to be in the future.”

Can story explain why some teachers are conscripts and others volunteers? Beneath the surface elements of teacher stories lie important clues.

  • Intent – What does the teacher want? What goals are important to them and why?
  • Conflict – What are perceived dangers? What risks and obstacles are blocking the way?
  • Actions – What have teachers done in the past to overcome these obstacles and dangers?

How have you intentionally integrated teachers’ stories into digital learning professional development?  Tweet your answer to …

Starting with Story (your answer) #beyondtools