Recently, we have been working on a new set of resources for a team of 8 coaches who are examining the use of discussion protocols in their work with middle and high schools in their district. We were drawn back to the fantastic work of Jacy Ippolito and his Continuum of Discussion Based Protocols. This work might have first appeared on a book that Jacy and Josh edited years ago called Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core: From Research into Practice, and like many of Jacy's contributions it has stood the test of time.
The Essence of Protocols in Professional Collaboration
For educators, particularly those involved in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), discussion-based protocols are indispensable tools. Defined by Dr. Ippolito, these protocols are an "agreed-upon set of discussion or observation rules that guide coach/teacher interactions." They serve as structured guidelines, aiding educators in steering through challenging conversations about instructional methodologies. Without such protocols, PLC meetings risk going off-topic, overlooking input from all participants, or falling short of the group's objectives. Ultimately, these protocols foster a collective understanding within the group.
The Continuum of Discussion-Based Protocols: A Gradual Approach
The document introduces the "continuum of protocols," a sequenced designed especially for coaches, teacher leaders, and PLC facilitators. This continuum aids those educators in progressively enhancing their skills for meaningful collaborative discussions, depending on the level of trust and familiarity within the group.
- Low-Intensity Protocols: Ideal for situations where the coach is new to the group or just beginning their coaching journey. Designed to cultivate initial trust, these protocols create a welcoming atmosphere and lay the groundwork for basic, yet meaningful, discussions. For instance, when a coach is unfamiliar with the group's dynamics, a simple protocol that encourages the sharing of experiences or reflections can be employed.
- Medium-Intensity Protocols: Once a group has laid the foundation of professional trust, it's time to elevate the conversation. Medium-intensity protocols offer a deeper dive, facilitating more comprehensive discussions and constructive feedback. For example, when a group has had a few successful collaborative sessions, a protocol focusing on analyzing specific teaching strategies or curriculum planning can be introduced.
- High-Intensity Protocols: Set aside for scenarios where the facilitator has garnered significant trust and rapport within the group, these protocols are designed for those ready to tackle the most challenging topics. The group is ready for honest, vulnerable, and critical dialogues that delve into intricate topics like equity, social justice, or in-depth pedagogical analysis.
Protocols, as highlighted here and elsewhere, are invaluable navigational tools that guide educators through well-organized discussions, adding layers of clarity, consistency, and depth. By referencing the continuum, coaches can make informed decisions, tailoring their approach to align with the group's comfort zone and specific needs.
Understanding and adeptly implementing these protocols is paramount for middle and high school coaches. As they navigate the challenges and rewards of coaching, the structured guidance of protocols, as championed by Dr. Ippolito and his contemporaries, remains a beacon of effective collaboration and professional growth.