Maternity Leave, Teachers and Students

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What does maternity leave teach you about teaching and learning?

After 11 weeks at home with a baby I adore, but that was difficult to take care of, I am reflecting on the process.  Looking at my thoughts, words and actions during this time, I am reminded of the importance of honoring the work you accomplish.

I’ve always been a coach at heart. I coached softball as a late teen and young adult and now as a literacy coach, I work with teachers.  It is my nature to always facilitate improvement, in myself and others.

But, I found myself during maternity leave being frustrated with everything that I wasn’t doing “successful” enough…not getting my little one to take the bottle, not being able to calm her during long periods of crying, not getting everything done I wanted to get done while on maternity leave.  Honestly speaking, I rarely honored the work I was accomplishing whether it be experimenting with bottles, maintaining my commitment to nurse her, or drinking enough water (yes, we even need to celebrate something as simple as hydrating ourselves).

There were times I got extremely frustrated, angry, and so very tried.  Luckily, my husband was there to remind me of the small things we were accomplishing with her.  I allowed my natural inner coaching voice to be silenced at times.  (Imagine that, I am human!) 🙂

This made me think: I hope we always honor the “small” things we get accomplished, the work we do everyday that becomes so natural for teachers.  Let us always remember that, yes, we want to improve, but we are without a doubt bringing so much value in the work we are currently doing. I hope the teachers I work with and the students they work with celebrate their strengths and know that even on the days they are worn out, stressed and maybe not as positive as they normally are, they are doing great things.  They are changing lives.

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Reflections on Week 1 of Jennifer Serravallo’s Summer Writing Camp

When I heard Jennifer Serravallo was facilitating a free Summer Writing Camp, I knew I had to participate.  As the district’s literacy coach, I ended the year by encouraging teachers to write over the summer.  It was time to model the very thing I was asking teachers to do.  And, I am glad I did. It has been powerful!

I just finished week 1 of the Writing Camp, which focused on fiction writing. The week featured strategies from The Writing Strategies Book. I have dove deep into The Reading Strategies Book and found it be life-changing for a teacher (no joke!) I have not dove as deep into the writing book so I was excited to begin that process with the author herself!

As we went through the week, I was put in the shoes of our students as we were asked to apply strategies that we might ask our kids to apply.  I knew this experience would be a great way to learn more of the strategies by applying them myself, but I didn’t consider the other learning that took place as a result of committing 10 minutes a day to this process.  Below are some of my reflections about the strategies and the process of writing itself.

1) This is the book I wish I had as a writing teacher six years ago! (As a literacy coach for the past five years, I have grown much in my understanding of the teaching of writing). I never felt like I was a good writing teacher when I was in the classroom, but I went through the motions, taught the standards, went through the writing process and posted student writing in the hallway.  But, I knew something was missing in my craft as a writing teacher.  It was because I lacked the strategy knowledge to teach kids how intentional a writer’s craft should be. This week showed me the “how” of writing fiction, way beyond story elements and the plot line.  Writing became even more fun and the anticipation of teaching these strategies is high! So many of these strategies are about communicating a message, a personal and powerful message through your writing. It takes students beyond the standard and gives them a reason to write.

2) I’ve always enjoyed writing, though, I’ve leaned more towards the blogging world as opposed to the fictional world of writing.  Writing for 10 minutes a day took commitment because of that. Our students experience the same thing.  We have students that have a love of non-fiction (my son for example, eats up non-fiction reading and writing).  We have other students that love narrative. This makes me think about the role of choice.  Many times, a district’s writing curriculum is set up by quarters–narrative first quarter, non-fiction second, etc.  That is a LONG time for a student who doesn’t have an intrinsic motivation for that type of writing.   But, by allowing choice and not telling them what they have to write about, engagement could still be there.  That’s where these strategies are also helpful.  Fiction is not my favorite writing type, but I loved the creativity that was involved in applying our fiction strategies from The Writing Strategies Book. It caused me to focus on my message or theme more than the same ‘ol beginning, middle and end mantra.

3) The reading and writing connection is powerful! The mentor text read by Serravallo during the Writing Camp was so helpful and showed me the “success criteria” (think John Hattie here!) for what I was being asked to do.  It made the strategy come alive and make sense to me.

4) Writing is a slow process and our students have to know that.  In an age where they are used to instant gratification, we have to teach kids the delayed gratification that comes with a well-crafted piece of writing.  (And, then celebrate it like crazy!)

5) One of the things I love the most about The Writing Strategies Book is that it makes the writing process come alive.  There are so many different strategies for teach step of the writing process.  It takes the mundane out o the age-old writing process and gives students specific strategies, tailored to each genre, so that they care about the process and it becomes intentional and strategic.

6) Do the work you ask your students to do.  By asking myself to do the writing and to apply the strategies from this week, I have a much deeper understanding of the teaching and learning that takes place.  It’s way deeper than if I just read the strategy and taught it without having to apply it myself.  I was in the shoes of the students, struggled as they would and found success as they would.  There’s little more powerful than doing the work first.

I cannot say how fortunate we are today to be able to learn through digital means from gurus and other teachers across the world.  If you haven’t joined in the Summer Writing Camp, it’s not too late. (Find more information here). We’re doing poetry next week.  Come join the writing, the learning, and the reflective experience.  You will benefit from it and I guarantee you, your students will, too.

 

 

 

Celebrating Approximations

Celebrating Approximations

My current read is Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. A concept discussed in this book is the power of celebrating approximations. As a coach, a leader and a believer in grace and growth, I whole-heartedly believe in this concept.

The idea is that we’re not looking for perfection, but rather growth towards a goal–a teacher that is reflective, has a growth mindset, asks questions and continually grows so that his/her students may grow.  We celebrate small steps towards that.

As a coach, I’ve learned teachers are so hard on themselves. I appreciate and value the high standards, but I hope that I am proactive in sharing that the “small,” but powerful steps they take towards improving is worth huge celebrations.

Examples I’ve witnessed this year includes the following:

  1. When a teacher did less talking than the student in a reading conference and the student began to take ownership of their learning
  2. When a teacher allows choice in reading and student engagement sky rockets
  3. When a teacher uses her anecdotal notes as the guiding force for instruction.
  4. When a teacher builds relationships with kids over books
  5. When a student says to a teacher, “I now love reading!”

In none of these situations were the teachers delivering the “perfect” workshop model experience.  That’s because it doesn’t exist.  But, the small, but powerful steps teachers make towards improving their craft are beyond powerful in the lives of their students.

Let us celebrate those approximations and always honor the growth and craft teachers bring every day.

To Know Your Writers, Be a Writer

Reading By Example

To Know Your Writers, Be a Writer.pngWhat does it mean to be a writer?

It means the words that come flowing out of your pen are driven by your heart.

It means that you have a message, a story that matters.

It means that you value communication and though it may be seemingly a one-way street when you publish, you yearn for that communication as a result of your writing.

You value ideas, because isn’t all writing about ideas?

You struggle.

You think.

You pause.

You write.

You question.

You revise.

You push that publish button and your heart beats a little faster as you’ve given a little of your heart to the world.

You hope that they understand and value your message, your story.

How do I know this?  Because I write.

In chapter three of Jennifer Allen’s book, Becoming a Literacy Leader, she talks about that moment that all literacy leaders worry they…

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PD of a Different Sort: Try Something You Struggle With

PD of a Different Sort- Try Something You Struggle With

I’m guessing if you’re like most educators, you’ve found some way to professionally develop yourself this summer: a professional read, a workshop, Twitter connections, etc. These are all commendable steps that will benefit kids.

However, let’s talk about PD of a different sort–putting yourself in the shoes of a student who struggles.

Try something you’ve never done before.  Try to learn something you’re not good at.

I’ve ran since I was an eighth grader. I am now 37 and it’s been necessary for me to pursue others forms of exercise.  Swimming was what I chose for multiple reasons.  One of those reasons was because I wasn’t good at it.  I knew I wouldn’t pick it up right away.  I wanted the challenge.

I began swim lessons about three weeks ago.  And, here is what I’ve learned about effective teaching with a student who struggles (me, in this instance!)

  1. It takes a level of courage to do something you’re not good at in front of someone who is.  My coach is a very accomplished swimmer. Every time I show her what I can do, I know I am doing something wrong (and hopefully something right!)  I wish I were good and we could just fine tune, but that is not the case.
  2. I need one piece of feedback at a time. Something specific and something that I can visibly tell that I am doing correctly.  (Hopefully, you hear John Hattie whispering in your ear right there).
  3. My coach has told me the steps of where I am going..the end result (yep, success criteria).  I don’t think about all of those (see #2 above), but I do know the path. (Hattie, again).
  4. I know the struggle in not picking something up quickly.  I’ve been an athlete all my life. I will pick up the physical movements easily, but dang if I can’t get the breathing tempo down–that controlled breathing where you exhale under the water and inhale above the water…it is a challenge.  I have struggled for three weeks with this and I still struggle. There’s a lot of positive self talk in not letting this get me down.
  5. I see people who are doing it successfully as I pull myself out of the pool, wondering what I looked like swimming (not good!) only to see the next person, ten years older than me jump in and swim like it’s nothing.  There’s self talk of “this is okay, everyone has a starting point.”

Our kids have the same emotions, the same struggles, and need the same courage when learning in our classrooms.  I have more empathy for them now because I have “lived in their shoes.”  I have struggled, been frustrated, and wished I were better. I am not good at something, but it is necessary that I continue to try.

So, yes, pick up that professional read and get on Twitter.  But, also challenge yourself with something new, something you may struggle with.  It’s a learning experience I would not have found in any book or Twitter conversation.

The Power of an Engaged Teacher Reader

The Power of an Engaged Teacher Reader

I felt the pressure to read my two professional reads for the summer.

There’s so much to be done this summer in preparation for the fall, it would have really helped to use the two free hours I had tonight to get some of the reading done.

But, the book that called my name at the library today was calling my pulling me towards it,  The Summer of 1787 by David Stewart.  I am a history nerd. I have natural and immense love and curiosity for the stories of our country’s beginning.

Despite a bit of guilt for indulging in my “free read” for the summer, I dove in.

The guilt soon dissipated as I was reminded of the feeling of an engaged reader.

Just two pages in, I had stopped numerous times, using my meta-cognitive strategies (you know, those strategies research says we should be explicitly teaching, not just embedding).

The opening scene was at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.  He and his dear friend George Mason was contemplating a decision over dinner, one that would cause them to either make great progress or cause complex problems.

My first question thinking was this: “George Washington is an obvious and well-known figure in our history.  George Mason is lesser known. I wonder what made certain men stand above the rest.  Why do we know men like Washington, Jefferson and Adams, but not as much about George Mason?  What caused some to be remembered while others to be forgotten?  What other men impacted our country that I don’t know about?”

This question was particularly relevant as I learned Thomas Jefferson modeled much of the Declaration after the works of George Mason.

This caused me to question myself.  Thomas Jefferson is among my top three most admired men of our country. The Declaration is an admired piece of intellect, thought, reason and foundational of who we are. Those words though, were modeled after Mason. I need to know more about Mason.

Just in that one line of thinking, I questioned. I synthesized. I made personal connections. I considered rethinking my previous beliefs.

And, the feeling I had when I did this was that of an engaged reader. It was motivating. It was exciting.  It made me want to read on, ask more questions, find out more and build on my thinking and beliefs. Call me nerdy, but I think my heart began to beat a little faster.

And, then I thought, “This is exactly what I need to be doing right now because the more I read, the more I feel the power of an engaged reader. ”

I am a literacy coach. What this means, is that the more I read (and write) the more I know the thinking, the complexities, the fun, the path to engagement for our kids. The more I can walk beside my teachers in this journey.

And, the same is for every teacher and coach out there. The more you read, the more likely you are to reach your kids as readers.

So, yes, read your professional books. (I certainly will). But, also pick up that free read and allow yourself to be an engaged reader.  That will benefit you and your kids.

 

What Do You Believe, Coach?

What Do You Believe, Coach-

With the lazy days of summer coming to a close and the excitement of a new school year upon us, what does one do as an instructional coach?  There’s no classroom to prepare.  There’s no open house to  get ready for.  There’s no planning team building for your class during those first few days of building relationships with kids (which I will forever miss!).

So, what does one do as an instructional prior to the start of the year?  Before we hit the road running with meetings, professional development and building relationships with staff, one of the most powerful things you can do is to pause, quietly, and reflect on what you believe about teachers and coaching.   This is important because coaching is not for the faint of heart.  It is rewarding and it is tough.  It is mid-level leadership where you are pulled many ways.  Before you encounter the struggles, develop what you believe and let that guide your thoughts, discussions and actions.

What I believe about teachers: 

  1. I believe every single teacher has a heart for kids.  They have a yearning to do what’s best for kids and they care deeply about their success, happiness and growth.
  2. I believe every single teacher has something to offer, a talent, an approach, an attitude, a perspective that is needed.
  3. I believe that teachers want to grow professionally in some way.   But, being a teacher for 10 years myself,  I know that teachers are pulled a million different directions (at both school and at home).  I vow to always gain perspective when there is resistance to professional opportunities.
  4. I believe I have something to learn from teachers.  As a coach, I bring a unique opportunity to the table for growth, but I am always learning, everyday, from every interaction.

What I believe about coaching: 

  1. Coaching is among the most effective ways to grow professionally. Not only does the research show this in the chart below, I have seen it happen in my partnerships with teachers. (And, more importantly, teachers have told me a student-centered coaching cycle is the best professional development they have received).   Students make the most gains and there is the most transfer when the teacher and coach are working side by side in the classroom and at the planning table (as opposed to stand and deliver PD, and yes, even any PD you can get in the digital sphere).

Coaching Research

2. Coaches are there to support teachers.  Sometimes that support is through professional growth, but it’s also by lending a listening ear, because if you’ve ever taught, particularly in the last few years, teaching is tough and incredibly demanding. Teachers are asked to do so much and offering the validation that they’re doing great things is something I always want to bring to the table.

In your coaching ventures this year, you will encounter success.  And, you will encounter great challenges and have to put on your leadership hat to decide how you’re going to handle a situation.  Know what you believe and make those situations easier to handle.

Best wishes on a year of impacting teachers and kids!