Knikole Taylor is a teacher leader who is passionate about all things teaching and learning. She uses her experience as a classroom teacher and her love of technology to empower teachers and students to find innovative ways to bring a fresh breath to learning through the seamless integration of technology. You can follow Knikole on Twitter @knikole and visit her website at http://www.knikoletaylor.com/.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Hey, welcome to the podcast. It’s your host Nathan here. And I had such a wonderful time talking with Knikole Taylor, and we talked about everything from how to choose the right tech tools, to how to best support teachers as an instructional coach. I had such a blast. I know you’re going to enjoy your time with Knikole. A little bit about Knikole. Knikole Taylor is a teacher leader who is passionate about all things teaching and learning. She uses her experience as a classroom teacher and her love of technology to empower teachers and students to find innovative ways to bring a fresh breath to learning through the seamless integration of technology. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Okay, I am super excited to have my friend on and co-edu Twitter collaborator, Knikole Taylor. Knikole, thanks for being on the show today.
Knikole Taylor: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here with you today. I appreciate the invitation.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely, the pleasure is all mine. And before we started the podcast I found out that you and I will be at the same event. We’re doing a virtual region 10 event, and the focus is instructional coaching. So I’m really excited about that event coming on. And I know that it’s just such an interesting time right now, because we are supporting our fellow educators and our colleagues in this virtual environment. And I know you have just such a rich expertise around ed tech and tech tools. So just like, I’m thinking, what is your latest… Because I know you have so many ways that you’re supporting educators, but what is your latest project you’re working on that’s helping teachers to engage their students right now?
Knikole Taylor: Yeah, I’m glad that you led in with talking about this event. I told you I’ll be there, I’ll be fangirling right in front of my computer. I’m excited to learn. Because after teaching in the classroom, I moved into instructional coaching. And so I just really love to support teachers. So anything that I do, it’s coming from the lens of, how can I make a teacher’s job easier or lighten the load, or give them some tools to just help their workflow? Because I know that’s the hardest job in the district. Right? For sure. So even from my ed tech lens, I’m an instructional technology coordinator now, but I always see myself as a coach. I feel like once a coach, always a coach. And so now I just get to use ed tech tools and the things that I learn to, again, help teachers try to lighten the load, try to help them just do things a little better. Whether it’s something that’s going to self-grade or differentiate, or just help them.
Knikole Taylor: So the one thing I would say that right now that I am most passionate about is the work that we’re doing in our district. We started a innovative technology cohort last year. We started with 10 teachers who were different levels of technology integration, some of them could help me, and they actually did co-facilitate and do some of the training alongside me. And then we had some who were like, I don’t know where to start, but I know I need to start. And they were eager to learn. And so this year we have added more teachers to that program. And so we have about 39, 40-ish teachers this year who are excited about growing in, one, their craft. But also learning how to take technology and pair it with what we need students to be able to learn and do. So they’re really excited.
Knikole Taylor: We were meeting face to face last year, we meet face to face four times. We got three of those meetings in, and I’m so glad that we did because they really helped me to lead the charge and to support the district for the rest of the school year. We’ve already had our first meeting Via Zoom. We’re just Zoom zooming our year this year. And I’m excited to continue that work with them. Just the work that I see. And I know right now it’s so hard. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot we can do just because it’s so hard for teachers right now with so many things that they have to do. But I’m really excited about partnering with educators to just learn how technology can help them do their jobs better.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Knikole, I love this cohort model that you describe. Because I feel like it’s taking the coaching cycle that we might be accustomed to, but it’s more intimate and it’s definitely a focus on our practice. And we have lots of maybe, layers of collaboration. But I’m interpreting that based on what you’ve shared with me. How is this cohort model that you’re describing different than maybe a traditional coaching teacher model?
Knikole Taylor: And that’s a really good question. I would think, when I was a traditional coach, it was really one-on-one, me working with a teacher and going through a coaching model. It’s kind like, I almost want to say like a hybrid approach in that we still have goals, we still have things that we are working on every grading cycle, but I feel like a co-facilitator of the learning. I’m also a big… I guess I should just preface, I’m just a big nerd girl. I love learning. I’m a big supporter and a fan of ed camps. And so I take that same spirit in with me when I am leading those meetings. The smartest person in the room or the Zoom, is the Zoom. And so what started as me wanting to support teachers has really turned into teachers supporting each other, and teachers supporting me, and teachers learning. And it’s just a place where we can all learn and share and troubleshoot together.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That’s phenomenal. I love this co-facilitator model, because so many times as coaches, I’m sure you can attest to this Knikole, we are viewed as this expert. That we have all the solutions, we have all the answers. And I like your, and the things that I write about, they’re always about this partnership approach where you’re really collaborating alongside of teachers. That it’s not necessarily about having all the answers, but being a springboard, being a cheerleader, being someone who affirms the teacher. And helping the teachers to find their own strengths. Am I categorizing this right?
Knikole Taylor: You are categorizing it right. And actually, [crosstalk 00:07:14] yeah, I think it should be a partnership. I’ll say that when I started coaching and supporting teachers, the lens was a lot different than how I ended as a campus coach, and how I see my role now. Because it’s hard to shift from the support and the things that you got in the classroom. But I can say that my first couple of years it just felt really hard to try to be the expert at everything. You will never be the expert at everything. I don’t care how much you know about the content. I don’t care how much you know about pedagogy. You’ll just get so much further if you acknowledge that teacher is on their way to being the most knowledgeable person as far as what they need professionally and what their students need, because they’re in that classroom more.
Knikole Taylor: I actually read, there’s a great book that really helped me to shift my mindset. And that book was Personalized PD, believe it’s by Jason Bretzmann. And after sitting all the teachers down and looking at data, which data is important, you need data to make decisions and to decide how you’re going to support teachers. But in addition to test scores and observations, you just need to have conversations. And so after I read that book, I spent the fall semester setting coaching plans and meetings with teachers. And then I read that book and I said, “Oh my goodness, I did this all wrong.” I never ask teachers, what do you want to know? What do you want me to do to help you? And so now I take that lens and I take that approach with teachers. And so we have the data, we look at the data together. But at the end of the day, my goal is whatever goal they need. Right? That’s where I can be most beneficial.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I think that approach really strengthens the coach-teacher relationship. And the most common question I got from a coach is, how do we cultivate this genuine and sincere relationship? And that’s definitely a process. But I think one of the things that we can do is always flip the narrative from it being not about a coach, what can a coach provide, or what answers can a coach give, or what strategy can I coach model? Although those might be some things that might happen organically along the way. But it really is about, how as a coach, how can I help a teacher tap into their own strengths? How can I get them to go on their own self-discovery? And how can I really meet them where they are? Which is exactly the work that sounds like you’re doing.
Knikole Taylor: Yeah. Like I said, it’s a mind shift in how you see yourself. And for me, the people who… I’ve had some amazing coaches. I can’t say that many of them sat me down and asked me, what are you most passionate about? At the end of the year, what will make it a successful year for you? When your students know what? When your students can do what? Outside of test scores. Because we have a lot of conversations around scores all year long, but at the end of the day, when you leave the school year, what do you want to put in the world? What do you want your students to walk away with knowing? And then I just feel like my job is to help them get there, to just walk alongside them to get there for sure.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. So in the spirit of walking alongside of them and helping them in this current challenging time that we’re in, and very unprecedented time. And I know you said earlier you got some three face-to-face meetings before the pandemic hit, now we’re doing Zoom. What would you say is the top need right now for… I was going to ask you what the top priority was, but I think the top priority is going to be based on what the top need is. But how can you best support teachers right now? What are the teachers asking for the most right now from a coach?
Knikole Taylor: Were you on the phone? Because I just had a conversation with somebody about this earlier today. So this is spooky. And oddly enough, the conversation that we had, which I think teachers are at varying places when it comes to technology, I think that’s always going to be a need. But I will also say that I was having a conversation today about, also as leaders we talk about SEL and being trauma informed. But teachers need leaders who are also focused on SEL and can recognize and support the trauma that teachers are going through as well. We were having a conversation around self-care and how teachers are teaching online and in-person at the same time, and working long hours.
Knikole Taylor: So I think first and foremost, they need us to be understanding and supportive. And then the next, I think with all the tools floating around, teachers need to … they need help and support wading through what works best for their content. There’s so many different tools. And so I try to walk teachers through looking at what it is that your curriculum says that students should know and be able to do. And then, using that approach and that lens to go and find a tool that will best help kids to get there.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That approach, I feel, really helps the focus to be re-centered on pedagogy and teaching practice and learning. Because I think a lot of times it’s, we jump on this can affect that, or bandwagon on a certain tool. Which, it’s good to get excited about a tool. But I think when we get excited about the tool, then we lose sight of why in the world are we using this tool and in this way? And what is it exactly that we want to accomplish with the tool? Are we asking students to make an impact with their voice? Or is this tool helping them to be their most creative selves? And so I’m curious if that’s a conversation or a question that you’re having to revisit for yourself as a coach, and also with your teachers is really re-evaluating, why are we even using a certain tool?
Knikole Taylor: Yeah, I think everyone in March was like … because everyone was like, not only do you have access to all the tools, but all the tools are free. So I think if there was anything you wanted to use, you could use it. We were all in crisis mode and so we just simply used everything. But I know in our district we are trying to take a systematic approach of evaluating the tool and ensuring that it aligns with the curriculum so that teachers are not peppered. I just don’t want teachers to be peppered with so many different options, and I don’t want them to have to wade through and figure out what works best.
Knikole Taylor: Now, does that mean that I have all the answers? Nope. And we’ve had many times, even just this school year alone, where a teacher has said, “Hey, we don’t have this. This is what we need. This is why. And this is how it’s going to help me meet the needs of our students.” So I think it’s just a matter of looking at it through that lens, because there’s so many tools and they do so many things. But at the end of the day, we just want to make sure that it’s the best thing to get the job done. For sure, for our kiddos.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: This approach of structuring this list for your teachers. I’m not sure if it’s a list or maybe a website or a platform that you’re directing them to. But it’s an interesting approach. I feel like it’s a really balanced and effective approach. Because on one side we could say here, just, here are the 100 tools that are available for you, and you do what’s right for your classroom. And I like the spirit of that, but also, you have to recognize that there are so many things vying for teachers’ time right now. There are so many things that can be a distraction and get our attention. So I think it’s actually really helpful for teachers.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And as a school leader, I did this as well, with ensuring that there is a structure for the way that we communicate, or a structure for a way a tool was implemented in the classroom, or a structure to get feedback on if the tool’s working or not. I think if that’s provided, or we agree as a teacher team, for third grade we are going to use, I’ll say WeVideo, because I’m a bit biased here. But WeVideo for video creation, and then we’re going to use-
Knikole Taylor: Just a little bit, huh?
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Just a little bit. Or we’ll say, Google Classroom for the learning management system. And we’re going to use Flipgrid for assessing student thinking. And, here are the tools that we have found are effective and we can really help with implementation. But providing some structure, fewer choices. Because I feel like then you’re taking some of the cognitive energy that could be wasted on just trying to figure out which tool works best. I’m curious how that resonates with you.
Knikole Taylor: So as you were talking, I was actually thinking about something that we’ve implemented, because I think there’s also a thin line between keeping those things in mind. Which, those are the things that we’re tasked to do, and those are the things that come under our job duties, as far as looking through those tools and ensuring that they’re best for teaching and learning. But we also don’t want to strip away, I love the idea of how you said teachers come together, right? And they can decide, hey, this is what works for me. So we also don’t want to strip away the teacher’s voice to choose and select things that are best for them. So really just looking at it from the lens of being a supporter and not necessarily… Because I’ve seen that before, not where I am now, but I have seen it before in other places where. Where teachers, they don’t have a voice, right?
Knikole Taylor: They’re just told what to do, and that brings on another set of problems. But this year we also, we implemented a badging program. Because there’s one of me and we have nine campuses, so many teachers that needed to learn so much. And so many teachers that, not just needed to learn, but wanted to learn more when we were all virtual. And so it gives us an approach to if teachers wanted to go and learn it on their own, the tools that we were using in district, and those of us on the curriculum department had identified as tools that would be great for online learning. And now for blended learning, because we have some kids that are face-to-face, and some kids that are home full-time. But we have some things there, but we also have a badge where teachers can just tell us, “Hey, I don’t know anything about this thing, but if you’ll create a badge for me, I want to learn how to use it so I can use it with my students.”
Knikole Taylor: And that also helps us to keep up with, what are teachers actually interested in using? And so if I see lots of requests for a certain tool, or lots of requests for a certain platform, then I can go and speak to that specific coordinator or those specific content coordinators and say, “Hey, we have a lot of interest in this. This may be something that we want to look into.” So coming from a lens of help, just wading through and giving teachers lots of choices that we’ve already vetted. But I also want to make sure that I point out here that we still also want teachers to speak into what works for them also, and what works for their students.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. This balanced approach, I think, can be really empowering. It can be motivating. I hear that you’re providing structure, but you’re also aligned for input. And I think this equilibrium between input and structure can make for a really productive model. You also mentioned badging, which is interesting. I’m curious, Knikole, what do you think it is about a badge? Because, same thing with me, oh, this is a cool badge, I want to get that bad. Is it just a pride, but in a good way? Is it a problem to say, “Hey, I went through this certification or this training and got a badge.” What is it about the badging frenzy right now that you think excites teachers?
Knikole Taylor: Well, I’m a chronic learner. I think for me, it’s just the idea that I can set a goal and then you get… It’s not even just a badge. You can set a goal and then you can arrive at this goal. And I think also just the freedom and flexibility to decide what I want to learn. That’s what does it for me. And so we have some teachers who just went through and picked various themes based on just their needs. But then we also have lots of teachers who are like, I want all the badges, and we have about 50 badges now. Who are just like, I want it all because they want to see the badge. I guess it just depends on the individual person. For me, I’m a big learner. So if I can go on and I can figure out, you give me the option to go on and self-pace my own learning and earn a badge for it, that’s a win-win, for sure.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I’m the same. I identify as an education nerd. I nerd out, not only education, but just in learning itself. I like to listen to podcasts and I like to just think about things in new ways. And I like the badges too, because it shows, here are the things that I am… Like, if I were to see your backpack of badges, I’m like, oh yeah, Knikole’s into this right now. And it allows me the opportunity to ask you about some cool things that you gleaned from something. So I like it from that aspect too. It allows me to get some insight into, what are some things that you’re learning about? It reminds me of the question of, what is a book you’re reading right now? And you’re sharing the book you’re reading. I feel like the badges help with showcasing some of the things that you’re currently thinking about or learning about.
Knikole Taylor: I agree. And on our badging platform, teachers can also, they can see, who do you know or who’s in your circle who already knows this thing? Or who already has this badge. So for sure. And I’m thinking about even some of the big badges on some of the big ed tech companies. And so when you see those badges, you know, hey, if I have a question about this thing, I can go to that person. And what we noticed, which is the same thing for all of these other places that have this badging program, is that it just creates this culture of learning. And also, I think it allows teachers to see that you value their time and you value them as professionals, and you trust that they’re going to get what they need and figure out what works best for their students as well.
Knikole Taylor: We gave out probably 300 badges in the first two days. I was dreaming about badges. I dream I gave my husband a badge, I woke up and told him. I don’t know what you did, but you got a badge. It’s like, I was just eating and sleeping badges for several weeks. Because once teachers were given that option of choice and the freedom to just learn and have things that they could apply, it just took off.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I love it. Yeah. Yeah. To be dreaming about badges, you were definitely quite immersed in that world. That’s fantastic. Last question, and this is kind of… It sounds a bit existential, but not meant to be. I mean, I want to be simple in the way that we’re thinking about changing what we’re doing. And as you think about where we’ve been… And I know that our listeners right now, maybe they’re listening as the show was released, maybe they’re listening a year from now. But with the pandemic, with different schools, some are completely remote right now, and online. Some are trying in-person, but that may go into hybrid. And so we’re really in different places right now. But we all learned a lot during the pandemic, and doing distance learning. I’m curious, what do you believe is one of the biggest lessons learned, and whenever we jumped back into wherever we end up going, if it’s blended or if it’s back in person eventually, what one lesson learned or one big change that you’d like to implement based on where we’ve been?
Knikole Taylor: Oh, that’s a great question. That’s a big one to end on. You’re going out with a bada boom, bada bang.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I’m trying. And I don’t have a badge for you, but I can definitely work on one.
Knikole Taylor: I deserve a badge. [crosstalk 00:25:54] I’m actually answering this, not only from an educator, but also a parent. I have fourth grade twins and a 16 year old junior. And I’ll say, I really believe what has happened, whatever the new normal is, it’s going to be different than what it was this time last year. I will say, going forward, the thing… And I’ve tried to extract as many of the good things as possible. Just looking for joy daily, both with the teachers that I support, along with the little people in my home, that I’m supporting their learning, because they’re learning from home every day. And I will say, what I’ve seen, we’re listening more to teachers where I am in my district. I feel like we’re listening more to teachers. We’re also listening more and connecting more with students and parents.
Knikole Taylor: My kids are fourth grade, they can set up time to meet with their teacher. Or they’re using their LMS more productively to reach out to their teacher to ask for what they need, and their teachers are being extremely responsive. And so going forward, that is something that we definitely need to just embrace. And meeting teachers and students and parents where they are, and being a support, seeing what we could do to partner with them. That’s the one thing that I’ve seen most in my district and in my learning community with the kids that I support, the kids that I birthed who are right in my home. I hope that does not go away. I hope we just find ways to do that even better.
Knikole Taylor: I just think when this is over, parents understand now the power of choice. I think parents and students are going to really value being able to speak up and speak into how they learn and what they learn. And teachers also being able to speak up in how they meet the needs of their students. So going forward, that’s something I pray is here to stay and will only get better with time.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Agreed. I don’t know what happened we got to a place where as leaders we just make decisions and then try to get buy-in later on, as opposed to getting all of that upfront, asking for input, asking questions, ask what you need. And that’s a theme that I’ve noticed from this conversation with you, is having the parents and teachers alongside of you from the very beginning, not just at the end, when we’re ready to implement.
Knikole Taylor: I agree. And I feel like there’s so much that comes with teaching and learning, right? I can understand how just moving and the hustle and the bustle of the school year, how it’s important, but not necessarily at the forefront. But now when you have some kids, some teachers are doing… They have some kids that are at home, some kids that are in the classroom. So you have to be intentional on partnering with the parent, because they’re like your co-teacher, right? They’re like your copilot. And that’s always been the case though, Nathan. Right? That’s not necessarily a new concept, it’s just now you can’t ignore it.
Knikole Taylor: It’s so important both to your success as an educator, and definitely when kids are learning at home, it’s definitely important. I just hope that we carve out time. And I think you made a great point, not just putting that on the teacher, but as the leaders, as those who support teachers. Carve out time to help teachers make those connections, and carve out time to ensure that is a priority for your campus or for your district or for your department, for sure.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Agreed. And I think our listeners will definitely be more empowered to help make that happen now, after listening to you. And Knikole, thank you so much for your insights, for sharing your expertise. It has been such a joy to have this conversation with you. What is your social media handle, your website? How can educators who are listening to this right now connect with you?
Knikole Taylor: Well, thanks so much, Nathan. I love talking about coaching. So it was a joy to sit in and talk teacher support with you. You can find me on Twitter @Knikole that’s K-N-I-K-O-L-E. You can also find me at Knikole Taylor. That’s K-N-I-K-O-L-E, Taylor, T-A-Y-L-O-R.com.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Fantastic. Well again, thank you so much, Knikole, for being on the show. This has been fantastic.
Knikole Taylor: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity.