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.

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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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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!

 

 

 

 

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.

A Reflection: Student-Centered Coaching

With one day left of school, educators are embracing that bittersweet time of closing a door on a year that was full of growth and opportunity.  As a coach who attempts to be proactive at having a growth mindset, and also one that has a huge desire to constantly learn how to facilitate and nurture growth within a school, I too am reflecting.

I was blessed today with a book that honestly touched my heart and represents the power of student-centered coaching, a model of coaching championed by Diane Sweeney.  In this model, we are not about fixing teachers. But, rather a partner who can sit side-by-side with teachers and navigate through the often murky waters of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student learning.  A teacher I worked along side of this year presented her gratitude through the book What Do you Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. In this book, a child has an idea that was “strange and fragile.” The child kept this idea to himself, because he wasn’t sure what the world would think of it. But, the idea followed him and the child began to embrace it. The child finally shared it and some people laughed at it and he contemplated whether he should abandon the idea.  But, the child re-embraced it, because after all, nobody understood the idea like he did. He fostered it. He fed it. His love for the idea grew and grew.  And, then, one day, the child built the idea a new house, one with an “open roof where it could look up at the stars–a place where it could be safe to dream.” The child said the idea made him feel more alive and  gave him the ability to think bigger.  And one day, his idea changed.  It spread its wings.  It changed the world. It wasn’t just part of him. It was part of the world.

The teacher said she felt like this book represented our work together.

Amazing.

After reading this thought, I had thoughts of gratitude.  For that teacher and her willingness to try ideas, to embrace the chance of failure, the chance of imperfection for the pursuit of growth.  Growth that would profoundly impact kids. And, boy, did she ever impact kids! I saw it on a daily basis. And, just as important, I saw her kids embrace their own ideas and become comfortable with failing forward.

I also had gratitude for the student-centered model of coaching.  Because this model is not about fixing teachers.  It’s about facilitating beside them and growing as a team, because that growth impacts kids.  And, that’s why we’re here.  We learned together.  We shared ideas together. We analyzed the impact of instruction together. And she modeled learning and the willingness to take a risk for her kids.

I felt lucky to have experienced this. Inspiring. Motivating. Change. Growth.  That’s what it was.

Instructional Strategies: A Direction for Learning

With the demands on teaching and learning in an age of 21st century learning, what do all teachers want?  How about instructional strategies that not only make teaching more effective, but learning? Not a silver bullet, but something close? Good news: that very thing exists.

The innovation and learning coaches have immersed ourselves in instructional strategies this year, based on the work of John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam,Steven Zemelman, and Anne R. Reeves.  I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve seen anything impact teaching and learning as much as some of the instructional strategies from these gurus have.   The ground breaking part is that the use of learning targets and success criteria make designing lessons much more productive, and more important, have led to deeper student learning.   Let’s first take a look at learning targets and success criteria.  Subsequent post will address other instructional strategies.

Let’s walk through an example.  First, take a look at this video about unpacking learning targets with students.

My favorite teacher line from this video is “Tell me what you know about this target, and what you’re wondering about.”   How powerful is that?  How many times do we just post or say the learning target and think “that’s it?” Unfortunately, just posting or reciting the target doesn’t mean the students really understand and internalize it.  They are the ones who REALLY need to internalize it as they are the ones doing the learning. They are the ones that need to have the learning targets at the forefront of their learning.  Let us not assume our kids just “get” the learning target?  Have you asked your kids whether they understand what’s being asked of them?  The assumption that they do can be a detriment to their learning.

After breaking down the learning target, we want to address the success criteria.  Here’s a way to explain the importance of success criteria to your kids.   Let’s say that a group of kiddos have never seen the game of basketball.  I teach them how to do lay-ups, how to shoot  free throws, how to play defense, and how to do a full-court press.  Could I then just throw them on a court and have them successfully play the game of basketball?  It would be quite interesting as you would likely have lay-ups occurring at the same time as free-throws, defense and a full-court press.  Most kids have seen the game of basketball played before, so they do, in fact, have an idea of the success criteria, and have a better understanding of what is expected of them in the end.  Our kids in our classes, need to know the same.

Take a look at this video, where they discuss success criteria.

The big lesson from these videos and instructional strategies: don’t just dive into content.  First, be sure STUDENTS have a clear idea of where they’re going and what the success looks like.  This knowledge helps lead them to owning the learning and creates an atmosphere where they are better able to regulate their own learning.