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 Parenting Teaches You About Learning

what-parenting-teaches-you-about-learning

The curly-haired, bright-eyed little four-year-old bypassed the Maker Station.  He bypassed the wooden blocks station.  He bypassed the hands-on STEM activities. Instead, we spent hours at the tug of war contraption that demonstrated force, the tubes that allowed kids to get lost in the twists and turns of a maze, and built seven foot towers out of huge blocks only to knock them down.

In essence, anything that caused him to slow down, my son was not interested in doing at Science City.  I had to smile and appreciate the lesson in learning.

Let them play.  Learning is not always on a time table.  Are those activities everyone says they “should” be doing, really what they should be doing if there is no interest?

It reminded me of my immense excitement in teaching my own child how to read. I had always looked forward to that.  Jonas, my son, loves to be read to.  We read every night, with very few exceptions. He soaks up knowledge quickly and knows more about sea creatures than I ever have. But, he will not let me teach him how to blend cvc words.  He will not practice any sight words.  There’s no “let’s sit down and learn this.”

Though I’m partly bummed about his unwillingness to let me teach him, I am also amazed at the results of not pushing learning on him.  We have facilitated learning, but not pushed it. (ie, I never make him sit and blend cvc words).

But, his vocabulary is massive, using words like perseverance, hypothesis and consideration.  His ability to pull up facts (that he has an authentic interest in) is amazing. He always reminds me to raise my voice when I read a sentence with an exclamation point.  He carries on a conversation in an adult-like give-and-take manner.  He knows every letter and every sound, with very little teaching from me, but rather through the songs and games on different media he interacts with.

He is learning in authentic ways. Not on my time table.  Not even the skills I would “like” him to know.  But he is soaking up every piece of knowledge he wants to.

I will never know everything about teaching, coaching, or education. But, parenting has taught me a lot. Yes, we have a curriculum.  Yes, there are benchmarks to hit.  But, let us not totally take away authentic learning, play and interest.  The results of those things are immeasurable!  I see it every day in my son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Creativity: What We Can Learn from a Snow Day & Toddler Life

My three-year-old son and I are “stuck” inside today with nothing but time on our hands.  A welcome opportunity.  I allowed him to take the lead in activities and this is what he chose:

A caboodle turned car wash for his Hot Wheel cars

A dive down the stairs by his Hot Wheels into the Caboodle pool

A puzzle made of his magnetic building set

A dinosaur adventure through our man-made tent/home

A hunt for treasure in the snow

It was simply a day of imagination and creativity.

This got me thinking.  What allowed this?

It was two things:

  1. He had time where he had nothing on his schedule (like mom’s errands, for example).
  2. He was given the freedom to think on his own and take the lead.

Then, this got me to thinking, am I creative in my work life? Well, let’s examine those two  factors that facilitated my son’s creativity.

  1. Do I allow time on my schedule for creativity or am I always “doing.”  That would be an easy question to answer as I fell prey to the “doing cycle” much of the last several months, leaving little time in my schedule to use my creative capacities.  Did I got a lot done?  Sure, I did.  I checked things off my to-do list daily.  But, is this really success?  Did I really make the most impact?  Could I have made a deeper impact if time was built into my schedule to facilitate creative ways for deeper relationships, more effectively coach and building capacity with others?  Are you a leader that can build that time into your team’s schedule?
  2. Am I given the freedom to think on my own and take the lead?  I am fortunate to be in a position where this is often the case.  My role is an instructional coach in two elementary buildings.  I’m the only one in these two buildings with this position.  This, in itself, allows for individual initiative and ideas.  However, without that time mentioned in #1 above, this freedom goes unutilized.

So, let’s stop “doing” so much.  Stop the go, go, go lifestyle.  Stop the to-do lists.  And, instead, unleash the power of creativity in our world.  We will all benefit.

“I Know My Students Better Than I Ever Have”

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“I know my students better than I ever have.”

As this teacher’s coach, those words made me smile. They warmed my heart because I knew the impact this teacher was going to have on her kids because of the truth in that statement.

It’s been my pleasure to partner with a couple of teachers this school year as we (teachers and coach) have navigated the waters of small-group instruction in reading, incorporating the five components of reading into their instruction.

Teaching students to read is an astoundingly complex cognitive process.  When we sit down to read, we are using phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds), phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  The goal in elementary school is to get our kids proficient so that these components are used simultaneously to create an enriched reading experience.

We could compare this to teaching the game of basketball.  A coach would not just teach a player to dribble and think they could hit the court and play the game.  That coach would have to teach multiple skills so the player could integrate them all on the court and create the magical moment when it all comes together to play the game.

There are times when that coach teaches skills in isolation, shooting a lay-up, for example. But, ultimately, the real measure of the player’s ability is if they can apply that ability to shoot a lay-up in a game.

The same is true for reading.  Best practice in reading instruction says that when we sit down to teach kids how to read, the most gains in student achievement come when we’re incorporating all five components in small group reading instruction in a text that is at the child’s instructional reading level.

That is the adventure I’ve had the pleasure of being part of as two of my teachers and myself have partnered in building our knowledge on how to do this.

Admittedly, this adventure was frontloaded with a lot of information and time in knowing the components and knowing how to incorporate them all in a small group lesson.

What gave me great joy was to see how easily these two teachers picked up the this ability.  Within a couple of weeks, they were planning their own lessons, incorporating the five components, and in their words, the planning was not nearly as hard as they thought it would be.

Within just a couple of weeks, my teachers were telling me how intimately they knew their students’ reading abilities…better than they ever had.

Each time I would I sit down with these teachers to partner with them as coach and teacher, I planned to ask them how their anecdotal notes on the five components guided their instruction for the next week.  Before I could utter that question, they were telling me which kids needing phrasing work (fluency), which kids didn’t know how to break apart words using the vccv pattern (phonics), which kids needed to be pulled for an invitational group on open and closed syllables (phonics),  which kids had a deficit in vocabulary,  etc.

They knew their kids abilities in reading…their strengths and their targeted need.  They knew this because the witnessed the kids either succeed or struggle with these skills right before their eyes.

This was just after a few weeks of going through a coaching cycle.  So powerful.

And, we’ve only been in school for a little over a month. Just think the progress these kids are going to make in reading after an entire year of targeted instruction.

Are you interested in knowing your kids’ reading abilities to this extent?  Here’s where you can start:

  1. Keep your whole group lessons down to mini-lessons. Just because you’re teaching during that whole group time, doesn’t mean your kids are engaged and learning. And, it’s impossible to glean the knowledge you need on your kids’ abilities in the five components if the majority of your time is spent in whole group instruction.
  2. Make small groups a priority.  Every day.
  3. Begin building  your knowledge on the five components of reading.
  4. Talk to your coach or colleagues who can guide you in incorporating this into your instruction.

Take these steps, and it could be you saying you know your kids better than you ever have before.