Balloons Lifting Learning: Collaborative Coaching Lessons

Collaborative Blog Post by Melanie White and Robin Small
Melanie White is the English Instructional Coach and Robin Small is an ELL Coach in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.

Last week, we walked down the hallways of John McCrae Secondary School with 8 colourful helium balloons and students couldn’t help but engage with us. They asked if we were having a party, if it was someone’s birthday, and they smiled as we passed. We observed that balloons attract student attention.

Bring a bunch of helium filled balloons into a classroom and watch students engage with trigonometry to solve a mystery.
We recently had the fortune of observing students in a lesson study, who read an article and used math concepts to solve a mystery related to a helium balloon accident on a farm.

We wanted to collaborate on this blog post to include the voice of the math teacher, Brad Pinhey.

Having now been through a lesson study for the first time with my grade 10 applied math class, my understanding of the meaning of a lesson study has changed and I have learned. How did this understanding come about?  

When Melanie and Robin met with my colleagues at John McCrae Secondary School for the first time in February to introduce the collaborative lesson study, I was simultaneously eager and nervous. As a young teacher, a new opportunity to extend your learning is exciting, but the revelation of missing classes and having others come into your classroom are sources of anxiety. I had never heard of the idea of reciprocal teaching – a high yield strategy we learned about – but I realized that parts of it were already part of my teaching practice. I left the meeting with a strong feeling of curiosity – Where was this going? What would it look like in practice? 

I had to laugh at myself during the lesson delivery when I realized that the students I was observing were feeling the same emotions: excitement, anxiety and curiosity. Why are all these extra teachers here? What are we going to do? What’s that for? Within minutes, as the lesson started, those questions melted away and the students worked diligently on the task at hand. 

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, the nerves returned – it was my turn. Even after being reassured (and reassuring students) that the goal of the study was not to evaluate or even observe the teacher, there was a sudden worry. What if it did not go as planned? What if my lesson was not as exciting as others’ lessons had been? What if my students showed no improvement? Once the planning started, the worry evaporated. 

When the day of the activity dawned, only excitement remained. The balloons at the front of the room sparked the curiosity of my students as they walked in. My small class was augmented by six adults – a twinge of apprehension entered the back of my mind. Would that overwhelm them, or me? Neither occurred. The announcements finished, and I got the ball rolling. The lesson ran smoothly and I accomplished almost everything I wanted to do. With only minutes to go before the bell, I stepped back, took a breath and smiled. But what did I learn?

About twenty minutes passed before debriefing began, and I used the chance to start reflecting. As the debrief progressed, I was pleased to hear that my colleagues saw many of the same things that I saw – and many things I did not. Those new ideas gave me a fresh set of eyes through which I could view my class anew and began a process of synthesizing and analyzing. How could I use this information to help my students? No longer was I thinking about the lesson in the lesson study – my focus was turned, as it should have been the whole time, towards my students. I noticed that they made connections to the lesson from the previous day, and they made connections to the Literacy Test and bought into the process.

To anyone on the cusp of entering a lesson study, I would advise you to prepare for excitement, anxiety, and curiosity, but most importantly, lasting learning about your students. It was a fantastic opportunity for a young teacher, like myself, to work collaboratively with administration, department heads, instructional coaches and colleagues alike. It was a great learning experience for me, and has whet my appetite to seek similar opportunities in the future. 

The curiosity lingers – where will this go next?    

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