Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Put Me In, Coach!

The beginning of the school year is still a little strange since I left the classroom to be an instructional coach. I do have an office I get to decorate, but there is still a small twinge of sadness when I see teachers getting their classrooms ready for a new group of kiddos. Ultimately, I think that's a good thing- it means that I still care deeply about children, relationships, and learning. As I begin my third school year as an IC, I have a better understanding of how these feelings affect me and I thought it may be helpful to offer a quick-start guide for new coaches.
Since acrostics are the only unflinching truth in education, I offer one for those of us that will be supporting teachers, encouraging growth in children and adults, and maybe even feeling a little overwhelmed at the task that lies ahead.

C: Cultivate contacts and connections
I wasn't prepared for how lonely I would be my first year as an instructional coach. I was a classroom teacher for 17 years and was always surrounded by my grade-level team. I did life with these people. They knew my students, my own personal children, struggles that I was having, and essentially became my group therapy for nine months out of the year. Often, ICs are the only one on a campus with their particular job description, and it can feel weird at first. Who do I sit with at faculty meetings? When do I eat lunch? It may seem petty, but don't underestimate the need educators have to connect with others and build solid, professional relationships. Connect with other coaches in your district or online to ensure you have a solid support system. You will need it!

O: Own your position
Ha! If only this was an easy one...As coaching becomes more prevalent in our public school systems, so do the ideas, models, and assumptions about what coaching truly is. The thing is, only you know what your position really looks like. Districts, systems, and campuses may provide fantastic training and ongoing support, but even then, there are many misconceptions about what exactly coaches do.  Work with your administration to articulate a focus for your work and make sure that you continue to communicate your goal of supporting teachers throughout the year. I had to continually remind myself that my entire job description was to improve student outcomes by empowering teachers to do what THEY want in the classroom. Reflect every few weeks and see if you need to adjust your sails. You will.
A: Accept ambiguity
Most coaches used to be teachers and are accustomed to the sense of security that surrounds effective systems and procedures. Coaching can feel like a roller coaster that has jumped the tracks because every day is completely different.  Keep your calendar in a convenient place, because things change all the time! Google Calendar is great because you can set up your appointments and even sync it with other scheduling apps like Book Me or Google Keep. The digital version is also helpful when you are reflecting on how you spend your time. When I applied to be an instructional coach, there were 23 bullets on the job description, and the ever-popular Performs other duties as assigned...YIKES!? You will be asked to do things that may interfere with what you think you are supposed to do, but as long as you are spending the majority of time in classrooms supporting teachers, you are impacting learning.
C: Champion Teachers
This may be the dirty little secret of instructional coaching, but you will be viewed differently. If you are coaching in the building where you previously taught, it can be even stranger because teachers you once vented with at Happy Hour are now coming to you to be heard. I thought I was a pretty positive person in the classroom but found it difficult to not feel discouraged when I was supporting educators who were frustrated, overwhelmed, or even angry. Teaching is such a personal profession, and anytime something doesn't go right, educators need to process. As a new coach, I tried to create a welcoming space for teachers to pop in, grab a piece of candy, make a cup of coffee, and talk shop. Often, however, I ended up feeling discouraged as I grappled with the reality that I couldn't fix things for these professionals I cared about so much. Find ways to listen, understand, and support, but try to communicate that you believe in people, in education, and solutions instead of going negative. Leave specific notes for teachers any chance you get. All I wanted when I was in the classroom was for SOMEONE over the age of 7 to recognize how hard I was working. Stand up for teachers any chance you can. It's one of the job's greatest privileges.

H: Harness the talent 
My favorite part of coaching is getting to spend my days learning from so many teachers. I have grown exponentially as an educator since I have been able to be in so many classrooms. Often, the teachers I serve don't need to see ME model something, they need me to be in their classroom so they can observe a colleague or mentor a peer. I am constantly on the lookout for connections I can help create between teachers that will spark learning networks. Sometimes this match-up is with teachers in our building, across the district, and I've even matched up teachers with members of my online PLN. If there is one thing I have learned from 19 years in education, it's that our relationships are paramount to our activities. If I can encourage teachers to build stronger relationships with each other and our students, then I believe the learning takes care of itself.

I am excited to have connected with other instructional coaches as I continue this learning journey. Happy new school year!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Teacher Celebrity Survey

I posted earlier about a survey I am using with our staff this year and received lots of questions about the specifics. Instead of replying to each person, I decided to add a quick post with the details! I would love to help you create something similar to get greater insight into the teachers you serve.


As an Instructional Coach, I try to build relationships with staff even before school starts. I hope that the underlying message implied in the survey lets staff members know how important they are and helps create an atmosphere of fun and family. I used Google Forms to create the survey. It took (maybe) ten minutes. I love Forms because it's super-easy, you can embed pictures and videos, and you can vary the response-types. It also exports the answers to a Google Sheet so you have all that info in an easy-to-read format.

Here are the questions I asked. I encourage you to include anything that will help you understand your people better. I'm working on a campus where I already know most teachers really well, so I wanted to keep it brief and fun.

1.  What's your favorite school-appropriate drink?

2.  How do you like to be acknowledged for a job well-done? 
I specifically asked #2 because I've learned that some adults love verbal acknowledgment, but it makes certain teachers uncomfortable. Written notes are important to some people, others like badges, small tokens of appreciation, or an e-mail. Coaches differentiate just as much for teachers as we once did for our students.

3.  What's your favorite candy?

4.  If you had a walk-up song like a Major League Baseball player, what would it be?
I'm going to compile the walk-up songs into a playlist and use it at staff meetings and other school events.

In Forms, you can add images and YouTube videos to your questions. I uploaded a picture of a vending machine for the drink question, and a video of MLB walk-up songs for question #4. 

In Lead Like a Pirate, Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf ask the following questions. I love the way it creates a fun twist on getting to know the teachers' goals. Teaching really is magic, and my job as a coach is to help make that magic happen for each educator I support. 

5.  What magic do you want to create in your classroom this year? How can I help?

When you're finished, you can send the link to your people, or copy the link and forward it out that way.

Happy Coaching!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wonder Woman and What it Means for Educators

Today, as our time at the Central Texas Writing Project drew to a close, we chose to go see Wonder Woman in San Marcos. I'm typically not a super-hero-movie kind of girl, but this group of teacher-writers has come to mean so much to me this summer, that I jumped at the opportunity to extend our time together.

Please keep in mind- I know ZERO about Wonder Woman. I think she was in comic books, I know I used to have Wonder Woman Underoos as a small child because I can remember the gold cardboard tiara and arm cuffs. I believe she fits in with a larger picture of super heroes because there was a preview of the Justice League before the movie started and I think she was in it. I don't really know, and it's frankly not relevant to my reflections, but I wanted to make it crystal clear that I am not an authority on Wonder Woman. I looked on Wikipedia for some background on her and my eyes glazed over by paragraph two of 1, 465, 373. It's fine.  Image credit
I kept wishing I could get out my phone and take notes about ideas and quotes that were special to me during the movie. The Writing Project and #BookSnaps have me in such a journaling, annotating mindset that I feel sure I will have to see this movie 100 more times before I feel satisfied that I have expressed all the connections that are in my mind. So, what exactly, does Wonder Woman mean for educators?

1. Wonder Woman had a rag-tag team that had her back. 
Diana and Steve assembled a crew that had unique qualities and varied skill-sets. Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief had special reasons that Steve asked them to join their crusade. This is how the best teachers operate. They find a tribe. They find other educators who will support, challenge, build-up, and do life together. The most effective teachers do not feel like they are in competition with their colleagues, but view these most important people as a community of learners. They joke with each other at lunch, they hold each other's babies, and they talk about standards, students, and finding a better way. They know they can count on each other, just as Wonder Woman knew that her supporters were there for her.
2. Wonder Woman had a small arsenal of highly-effective tools.
She did not need one thousand different weapons; she needed a few that she knew how to use well. She wielded a sword, a shield, powerful bracelets, a tiara, and that interesting light up rope thing. She used them flexibly, confidently brandishing the tool she needed when she knew it would be the most effective. Teachers are bombarded with tools, books, strategies, and images of darling classrooms with near-perfect lighting and precious decorations. It can feel dangerous to walk through the fire, shrapnel, and noise of best practice, innovative ideas, and do not get me started on Pinterest. The most effective teachers do not try to do it all. They may try out the latest thing, but if it does not fit their need and their kids, they will go back to what does. They will brandish what kids need when they need it, and move skillfully back and forth between innovation, reality, and common sense.

3. Wonder Woman saw people.
She saw the people she loved and she saw strangers. She saw babies and children and poor villagers and wounded war veterans. She gave her attention to the people who could help her and the people who could not. She was a voice for the voiceless, a power for the powerless. She felt deeply, was not afraid of her emotions, and channeled brief feelings of fear and uncertainty into a fire that fueled her fight. Instead of needing a hero like Bonnie Tyler, she became the hero, bringing hope and peace to a fallen world. One of my favorite scenes is when she eats ice cream for the first time. Steve is trying to hurry her up, and she looks at the vendor closely and says, "It's wonderful. You should be very proud." The most effective teachers see people. They see students and colleagues and parents and children in the world. They see the power in the role they have chosen. They can turn feelings of sadness and worry into a fire that fuels the work they do with children and young adults. They listen to the WHY that is behind the words, behind the behavior, behind the silence. They notice if a kid is not himself, if a parent needs an explanation, or if a colleague needs a friend.
As an Instructional Coach, my lens of education has broadened a bit. My mind was exactly where it needed to be when I was in the classroom, but coaching brings a new job description, a new focus, and a new clientele. My job as a classroom teacher was to be focused on my students, but my job as a coach requires me to focus on teachers...so they can focus on students. My ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes, whether those are academic, relational, emotional, or physical.

Wonder Woman has challenged me: I have assembled an eclectic group of educators who are cheering me on. If I need help, I can ask my people: those I know in person and those I know online. I have some highly effective tools that enhance the work I do each day. I write to reflect, I talk to understand, and I utilize technology to enhance and proclaim the messages I want to put out in the world. I try to see people. I see children in the building where I work, I see my family letting me be who I am, I see teachers working themselves to exhaustion to find better ways to reach children.

Steve tells Wonder Woman, 

'My father told me once, he said, "If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something". And I already tried nothing.'




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fear

This summer, I am working with the Central Texas Writing Project, a program at Texas State University that is focused on the premise that teachers are better teachers of writing when they are writers themselves.

We focus on strategies and reflection, on pedagogy and educational theory. We work with teachers to strengthen their craft by connecting them with research, writing, and a network of other teacher writers. We work with teachers that are working desperately to reconcile what they know is true about children with what is true about teaching public school. How writing with passion can coexist with writing to a prompt. How informed writing for authentic audiences can accompany writing for a state accountability system.

Something I find over and over as I work with teachers is the unspoken, ever-present idea of FEAR. The fear of not doing enough for our students. The fear of doing so much for our students that we neglect our own families. The fear that high-stakes testing beats the joy out of school, for us and for the students we love. We fear litigation and not being able to provide for our families. We fear what happens to our students when they are not in our care. We fear what might happen to our jobs if we speak up for our kids, for our profession, for each other. We are scared. 



Well said, Lee S. Shulman. Teaching is so technical that it is way more than a profession. It is as much art as it is dance as it is theory and surely adding countless young humans (and their parents) into that equation is terrifying. But, dear friends, identifying the fear is not enough. We are frightened, but as every brilliant teacher knows, it is not enough to sit paralyzed by that monster under the bed. We have to be BRAVE.

B: Be informed. Brave teachers are learners. They know what the issues are, and they know where to find answers. They have studies and articles and professors and other teachers to pull from, count on, and lean-in to. This community is in person and online, it is found in PLNs and podcasts, in classrooms and Voxer groups. This community gives teachers a collective voice to call upon when they need back-up from an educational posse of committed professionals who all want what is best for kids.

R: Reflect: Brave teachers are highly reflective. They are constantly asking themselves what could be improved. They are quick to identify when something does not work and they are committed to finding a better way. They know when a lesson goes haywire. They do not continually search out people to blame: kids, parents, administrators, a flawed system, but instead think about causes and practical solutions. Brave teachers open themselves up for reflection by talking to others: colleagues, coaches, and administrators. They are humbled by the enormity of their power as a teacher, and are continually looking for ways to empower others.

A: Accept reality: Brave teachers understand that there are certain things that cannot be changed. Initiatives, mandates, state curriculum guidelines, your class list- lots of things are just reality and time is wasted when we fret over them. Jim Knight, a research associate in the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project, talks about the, "current classroom reality." When teachers are open and honest about what the realities are, they are better equipped to take targeted action towards strengthening instructional practices and ultimately, improving learning environments for our students.

V: Voraciously read: Brave teachers are readers. They read blog posts, journals, and Twitter feeds. They read e-mails from parents, administrators, and colleagues. They read children's books and YA books and Bluebonnet books and graphic novels to share with reluctant readers. They continually sift through a never-ending feed of words and phrases and information and research and opinions and must be cognizant of what is worth paying attention to, and what needs to be dismissed. Education is a rollercoaster of a profession, with jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords that are gone as quickly as a teacher's lunch break. Brave teachers consider this reading work necessary to their effectiveness as educators, and it has always been one of my favorite parts of the job!

E: Engage: Brave teachers are engaged. They engage with their students, their colleagues, and the families they affect. They are engaged in the process of teaching and learning. They are engaged in local policy, in weekend soccer games, and in the communities where they teach. They do not get to disengage at the grocery store on the weekend. They do not get to disengage when they do not feel well. They engage in relationships and hard work, in problem solving and celebrations. They stay engaged because they love what they do.

I'm so humbled to work alongside such brave teachers each day. Teachers who believe Haim Ginott's quote and live out the implications of such beautiful and powerful words:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” 

Be brave, teacher friends. We are all standing behind you.

Brave teacher books...


                        

Friday, June 9, 2017

Fusion Take-Aways

The Hays CISD Fusion conference is always a highlight of my summer. Educators across the district gather to explore technology integration and how we can better meet the needs of the 21st century students we serve. George Couros delivered a keynote that inspired educators to innovate, celebrate, and participate in learning with their students.
                                         
Photo credit: Ashley Flores

Below are my top take-aways from Fusion 2017:
BookSnaps: Power of Sharing

Tara Martin has created a powerful, relevant way to get kiddos posting their thoughts about reading. I presented on this technique, and likened it to the sticky note teaching I first implemented after reading Strategies that Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.
Reflective readers are highly metacognitive while reading: questioning, connecting, and talking back to the text. #BookSnaps takes this work and provides a digital way to not only reflect on reading, but to share those reflections with a global audience. Read more about #BookSnaps here.




Twitter: Power of a Hashtag
  I have been on Twitter professionally for about three years, and I am excited that more educators in my district are jumping on board!

Image Credit: Sylvia Duckworth

I recently got to present at Tobias Elementary and talk to their teachers about the power of developing a PLN and how to celebrate their school and their students by using Twitter. These teachers have blown up the internet with their positive celebrations! They were out in full force at Fusion and it was great to see!
                                       
Image credit: Jim Cullen
                     
                   
Growth Mindset: Power of Resiliency
About a year ago, I read an article by Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that brought to light an issue with the current Growth Mindset movement. She feared that people had misinterpreted the meaning of her research and that we are all running around celebrating failure! George Couros, who keynoted the Fusion event, added weight with the idea that it's not failure we should celebrate, but resiliency after the failed attempt.

                                    
Image Credit: Sylvia Duckworth

Laughter: Power of Humor
What is it about laughter? Maybe it's because education is the most fantastically ridiculous arena of hope, learning, growth, and failure and if you don't laugh about it, you may cry. The power of the keynote was that George Couros shared sentiments and challenges that were infused with humor and humanity. Stories of education gone wrong were juxtaposed with hopeful anecdotes of students, parents, and educators that got it right. One of my favorite things he said was, "Teachers don't wake up, go to work and think...I really hope I suck today." It is our job as educators to consistently reflect, constantly learn, and consciously try every single day to innovate for our students and build relationships that will empower life-long learning. I'll leave you with one of my favorite videos of a kiddo that demonstrates the highlights of my Fusion experience: He tries, he's resilient, he celebrates, he laughs, and he connects with a broad audience.

Until next year, Fusion!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Joy Write

Lucky me! I am back working at the Central Texas Writing Project. CTWP is a month-long institute that is dedicated to developing Teacher Consultants through research, writing, and demonstrations. Each summer, teachers from central Texas gather at Texas State University to learn from each other and develop a confidence for teaching writing that can only come from writing themselves.


Each participant gets to choose a book that will help him/her on the path to developing a demonstration. I had the opportunity to share about the book Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has lost that lovin' feeling about teaching writing.
As I read through this book, I was immediately drawn to the motivation aspect of its message. This is not a book about programs, curriculum, or standards, although those certainly can help us reach goals for our students. The premise of this book is to help students and teachers understand the joy that can be found in writing and the idea of play that surrounds the writing process. 

                                      
What can we do as educators to ensure our kids discover the joy in writing? How can we capitalize on the enthusiasm and tools of our students to increase motivation, engagement, and creation? How might we infuse our writing instruction with wonder, quirkiness, and passion?
                                      

Please read this book, and share success stories below!

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Day in the Life of the Writing Project...

It's almost time for the Central Texas Writing Project! Last weekend, a group of teachers, professors, and authors gathered at Texas State University for our first pre-institute meeting. We gathered to share food, make introductions, and learn a bit about how the Writing Project works.
                                                "my mom holds her accent like a shotgun, 
                                                 with two good hands. 
                                                 her tongue, all brass knuckle 
                                                 slipping in between her lips
                                                 her hips, all laughter and wind clap."


The day began with a poem by Denice Frohman. Her poem, "Accents," set the stage for our journal writing time. After we had several minutes to write, we opened up the floor and got to hear from several brave teachers. Participants used Denice's poem as a springboard that turned into stories about their mothers, words they remember from childhood, stories of pain and strength, and the love of a family. Author's chair is one of the most special parts of any writer's workshop, and especially of the Writing Project.


Next, I got the opportunity to model a demonstration based on the book A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen. I've blogged previously about this gem of a book. We focused on kindergarten writing goals, invented spelling, and how important student ownership is in the writing process. The teachers put themselves in the place of 5 & 6 year old writers and practiced writing from a student point of view.




During lunchtime, the teachers met with their coaches to work on preparing the demonstration lessons that will be presented during the Writing Project. This time allows the future teacher consultants to match their classroom practice with behavior and education theory. They get an alternative viewpoint, a new mentor, and the encouragement of someone who has been through the Writing Project experience before.

We ended the day much the way it began. We watched a brief video on the What's Your Sentence project by Dan Pink.
After the video, we all reflected on the day, the video, and wrote our sentence. We shared our sentences around a circle, with bold statements about the teachers, men, women, and people we wanted to be. We wrote of how we want to be remembered, who we want to influence, and the children we hope to affect.

If you ever want to be a part of a professional development experience that will change your life, please look into a local Writing Project site. I cannot wait to get started!