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Sketch to Lead

I have a thing for notebooks. And colorful markers. And sticky notes. I use them in all aspects of my literacy teaching and coaching, especially when planning and designing professional learning for teachers. I sketchnote my way through the planning process and design learning sessions that set teachers’ hearts and minds on fire. In short, I sketch to lead.

Originally created by Michael Rohde and made popular with educators by Sylvia Duckworth and Tanny McGregor, sketchnoting is a creative, individualized method of note-taking that uses a mix of words and pictures together to represent meaning. Sketchnoters use images, font, color and artistic elements to document their thinking in personally meaningful ways. Typically, sketchnotes are used to represent thinking on a topic, take personalized notes on a live event, such as a presentation, or demonstrate understanding of a text. This personalized thinking supports increased memory and focus and even promotes relaxation and creativity.

Sketchnoting can support instructional coaching in multiple ways. Coaches can create sketchnotes based on coaching content and share with teachers to spark thinking and reflection. Sketchnoting can be used in professional learning sessions to encourage collaboration around shared topics and viewed videos. Coaches might even invite teachers to reflect on their reading in book studies by sketchnoting their own thinking.  Each of these methods invite educators to think deeply about content and their thinking around that content.

I’d like to introduce you to a new form of sketchnoting that specifically invites instructional coaches to sketch coaching pedagogy, not just knowledge of content: sketchtivities. Sketchtivities are living representations of learning design that illustrate coaching pedagogy to empower teacher learning. So, why begin by sketching practices to lead teacher learning rather than simply creating a working agenda or presentation? By sketching an idea for professional learning, rather than simply listing it, we imagine the design in action: the set-up of the room, the materials we need, the ways teachers will interact with each other and the learning that could result in the process. This kind of thinking is almost impossible to do unless we sketch our intended pedagogical practices and develop a deeper understanding of them in the process.

Here's how it works: Begin by gathering pieces of blank paper, colorful sticky notes and markers and an idea that you want to try in your upcoming coaching. This might be an opening activity, a method to promote small group discussions or a reflective activity in a professional learning session. Spend a moment visualizing what the activity might look like in practice: How will teachers be grouped together? What materials should be available? How will teachers interact with each other? What evidence of learning do you expect the activity to produce? After reflecting, start sketching. Don’t worry about how the sketchtivity looks as perfect is not the point. Sketchnotes are meant to be representations of process and learning, something that is messy, complicated and real.

Your sketchtivities do not have to stop with one bounded coaching activity. Try sketchnoting your entire agenda for an upcoming learning session. Divide each segment of your session into a separate area of your paper. You might create this in list form or in a circular shape that implies a flowing sequence. Sketch each activity planned and once complete, reflect on the design your learning session as a whole: How will teachers meaningfully interact with your content? Do you provide multiple options for participation and engagement? Do teachers have varied opportunities to interact with their colleagues? Are you honoring teachers’ time with activities that support their learning and immediately connect to the classroom? This kind of reflection is essential to designing professional learning best reflects teachers’ expertise and models intentional practice for the classroom. And the resulting sketchtivities are clear representations of your design for learning that not only supports your coaching, but deepens your coaching pedagogy as well. Wondering what my digital notebook looks like? You can find out more here!

To truly live as learners, to continuously reflect on our work as coaches and to better re-imagine teaching and learning for teachers, we must live the learning process ourselves. Sketching our coaching practices immerses us in the learning process, prompting us to imagine our work from multiple perspectives: our unique contexts for coaching, the teachers and students we work with, the skills and dispositions we hope to cultivate and the instructional pedagogy we hope to model. By living the learning process through sketchnoting, we can better plan for, design and lead learning experiences that best supports teacher learning and resulting student performance.

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