Category Archives: Coaching

Coaching and the Next Generation

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Our district considers itself a “destination” district-a magnet for teachers and training and forward thinking.  Looking through that lens, the district prefers to hire experienced teachers when a job or position opens. Although I agree that experience is invaluable, I believe that investing in new teachers is important, too.

 

In my role as Literacy Coaching in an elementary building, I have had the privilege of working with several teachers who have filled open positions.  Given my druthers, I prefer to coach brand new teachers instead of veteran teachers. This might seem odd to you, but I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that they bring.  These right-out-of-college teachers who are wet behind the ears, so to speak, enhance our school in numerous ways.

 

First, these fresh-from-university teachers usually know and accept that they don’t know everything.  With this in mind, they actively seek help and support and have a desire to improve their practice. They are open to new ideas and to reflecting on their practices.  They don’t seem worried or angry or offended when the coach (me) let’s them know she will be in the room observing the “teaching and the learning.” These educators are glad! These educators fling open the doors!  These educators put out the welcome sign. In contrast to some veteran teachers, seeking answers or help with confusions is normal. Never have I heard one Initial educator say, “I’ve done that. The pendulum is going to swing back to…” or “I’ve done it this way for years so….”    New teachers bring an open mind and a willingness to to learn and grow.

 

In addition to this culture of reflection that new teachers bring, I respect these budding educators.  They come to the classroom with skills and expertise that far outweighs with what I entered the field. The classroom management skills are awesome.  They have a toolbox of ideas to support respectful discipline. They come to the classroom with excellent communication skills. They handle most meetings with parents, teachers, students, and other educators with poise and grace.  They come to the classroom with the “native language” of technology. They eat, drink, and speak it. What I struggled to learn seems natural to them. This expertise opens learning to students in fun and innovative ways. Yes, I respect these young teachers.

 

Finally, the last and most important reason is that working with new teachers is such a pleasure.   Their dreams are still shiny and sparkling. “What do you mean?” you may be wondering. Well, in my opinion, most people who enter the teaching profession are motivated by a genuine and intense desire to help children, to make a difference in their lives, and by working with a caring spirit to ensure it becomes a reality.  I have never met one teacher who said that he or she entered the profession because they wanted the summers off or because the benefits or pay lured them here. No, most enter because of a hope to change lives. Theses new educators still tuck these beliefs near and dear to their hearts. And, as I work alongside these young men and women, I hope, in some small way, to encourage that spark of a dream to burst into a flame that will continue to burn brighter year after year.  
Investing in these teachers, supporting their success, and helping them refine their craft during their first years is exciting and rewarding to me.  Far be it from me to withhold support when discouragements come; when unreasonable parents assail; or when a principal’s expectations are unrealistic, wanting them to be a 30 year veteran in a 22 year old body.  No, these young women and men are the future of education, the future, really, of America. They will inherit the profession. They will be the educators that continue to make a difference in the lives of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the next generation of children long after I lock my office door for the last time.  These teachers are the future. We would do well to help them.

Finding Balance

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Today while walking, a retired teacher and I discussed the changes in education that have come to area schools in recent years.  Like all things, there are positives and negatives surrounding these changes. We took out and examined both, the upsides and the downsides.  

The school from which my walking buddy retired is an extremely high-performing school that embraced the workshop model and “best practice” instruction with rigorous and time-intensive language arts curriculum guides.  The principal embraced change and led by edict, “We are going to implement this new curriculum this year.  We will ensure fidelity by asking you to input your lesson plans, enduring understandings, essential questions, and learning targets every day on the shared drive.  The literacy coach and I will read and comment on these as well as stop by your rooms with checklists to give you feedback.” And so it went. A two-hour reading block and an hour long writing/word study block, complete with carpet time, minilessons, anchor charts, and share outs, ruled the day.  Students moved from one lesson to another like clockwork. Literacy performance increased. The school earned a 97% on the State School Report Card. The principal was selected as a Kohl’s fellow. The results are impressive and awe-inspiring. These were the pros, but as in all things, there were resulting cons.

As the new normal with its accompanying test scores and accolades came to stay, there were consequential changes, consequential losses, and consequential shifts.  “What are these?” you may be asking. As literacy instruction became king, its preeminent curriculum began to squeeze out other activities during the day. Things such as teacher planning time.  Meetings encroached on this sacred time so that teachers had only three 35 minute prep times per week. Not so bad, except that conscientious teachers began staying late and working after dinner until 10 or 11 o’clock.  Teacher teams met in summers to work on lesson plans with the required understandings, questions, and targets. Most of the staff sought help in the form of anti-anxiety medication, retirement, or job changes.  Science, so interesting to students, also was compacted into two 30 minute lessons a week, and Social Studies became a 20 minute lesson three times per week. Gone were the projects and plays and recesses. Choice, the hallmark of workshop models, became almost non-existent as “the curricular guides” asked students to read certain books that aligned with lessons.  Sadly, to me, one of the greatest losses were the projects. To me, projects made a difference. In all my years of education, one of the things I remember the most was a third-grade Native American (Indians, in the old days) project. I remember it still-the Iroquois. I remember the designed and painted forests; handmade longhouses; and the little Indian figures.  All were so impressive to my 8-year-old self. Sad to think what our 5- or 7- or 10-year- old children are missing, this joyous part of education! All these pressures were the “last straw” for my friend who decided to retire.

 
I want to be fair.  I’m a literacy coach with training from a prominent university.  I believe in the workshop model, constructivist and collaborative learning, rigor and high-standards. I believe students need choice and enjoyment in learning.  I believe in student growth.  (Our school received a 89.9%.) And, I believe in best practices!  All this being said, and while believing best practices should be considered for instructional decisions and to help all children reach their full potential, it also is important to find balance.  How can we find balance in the joys and curiosities of learning (with its routines and regiments and accurate planning) with the joy of being a child? How can needs of the child’s academic and social/emotional life find balance in a high-performing school that demands rigor and results?  These are questions educators need to answer. These are questions that need pondering. These are questions that demand actions. We need to remember the child-the whole child-in the curriculum. We need to find balance!

Inroads in Coaching

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Coaching can be a lonely road to walk. It wasn’t anything like I first imagined in my naivety when I accepted the newly created role of Literacy Coach in our district.  The path looked bright before me, sunshiny and light, a brilliant walkway in a world where teachers were excited to collaborate and learn and welcomed me in.

The path has not been, in the least bit what I imagined.  It is not wide or easy with friends along the way. The tail has been steep and rocky and dark.  Suspicions and resentment and fear clouded the thinking of those with whom I had hoped would walk and talk with me about best practices and  improved instruction and higher student achievement. Although the door to my office has been perpetually open, rarely did one enter who was questioning or seeking or wondering.   I tried different approaches; I changed up professional development; I persevered in my coaching role. Still, it seemed, very few shifts had occurred. At least as many as I wanted.  I just am too stubborn, however, and I refused to give up.

Trudging along, trial and error became my friends.  Trial and error. Trial and error. Trial and error. It is beginning to pay off.  The way, lately, has become brighter. The look of coaching became less of an in-and-out, 3 meeting approach to a more I’m-here-to-stay-for-awhile approach.  The result…relationships! These resulting relationships have been the “abra-kadabra” to the door of powerful coaching. These resulting relationships have given opportunities for some magical moments in coaching.

Let me highlight just one of those moments.  After reading this, you may say, “Aw, this is nothing!  What is the big deal about that?” Well, to me, even this little inroad is a big deal.  Let me explain.

Yesterday, I opened an email from a teacher who asked me to meet with her and her colleague to discuss 2 students who are not growing in reading.  Replying right away, I suggested 3 possible meeting times. The teachers chose the earliest opportunity which was this morning before school began.  I met with them to discuss theses 2 students for whom they are doing everything they know how to do (even some ideas we brainstormed earlier in the year), but who haven’t grown one reading level all year!!!  That is a concerning. They are concerned. I am concerned. The teachers had running records in hand, ready to show me. We analyzed them together. We brainstormed. We created a plan of action. While nothing about the children really changed with this one meeting, the path is open before us.  We were a team. We are thinking together about students. We are making inroads into coaching. I was celebrating in my heart! I still am.

Today, the sun is shining brightly on the way before me.  There is hope for me, for them, and for our children.

Practicing What I Preach…as a Coach

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Today, I had fun.  I had the opportunity to model a Writer’s Workshop minilesson in a second grade classroom.  The teacher asked me to teach a minilesson on how to add dialogue to writing. It was exciting.  One of the only downfalls of coaching, in my opinion, is the missed opportunities to work with students on a daily basis.  So, here was my chance.

First, I had to plan the lesson.  The class is revisiting narrative writing, personal narrative writing.  I knew I wanted to demonstrate how to come up with an idea, how to get my ideas down quickly, how to illustrate, and, finally, how to add dialogue.  

My lesson started with the minilesson statement, Writers add dialogue to their writing to make it more interesting for the reader.  Then, I added, “I’m so happy I get to write with you today because I’ll be writing in my favorite genre–narrative.  I get to write stories, stories about me, stories about my life!”  Of course, as you know, kids love it when we tell our stories.  It reels them right in. On I went, “I have to think of an idea.  What do I like to write about?” Yep, you guessed it. I whipped out my heart map of my writing territories and listed a few. “I love to write about my dog, but I know some of you heard those stories last year.  I like to write about beaches…and my family…and my grandma and Papa. Hmm… I just saw a photograph of my Papa the another day where he was husking corn, and it reminded me of that time he taught me to husk corn on his back porch.  That’s what I’ll write about.”  And on I go with my story idea. “I have to think about what was happening and what I saw and what we said.”  Next, mentioning the kind of paper, the kind with a place for an illustration at the top and lines at the bottom, I begin to quickly write my story.  I scribble about 4 sentences. Rereading, I add onamonapia, Bang! the sound of the back door slamming behind me…always nice to model revision.

Then, the fun really began.  I start talking about about all the details on the back porch:  the nylon-webbed, folding chairs; the cellar door which required pantomiming and descriptions; the clothes Papa and I wore, colors and all; the large, grocery bag of unhusked corn on the bench, etc., etc., etc.  I was drawing the whole time I was talking. Instant student engagement.

As I finished my rough sketch, I thought out loud, “What did Papa say to me?  Hmmm… Do you think he just pointed to the bag? No. He said, ‘I’m going to husk some corn,’” and I wrote that in a talking bubble.  “Do you want to help me?” I added to the talking bubble. Continuing my think-aloud, I began “I was a little nervous because I didn’t really know how to husk corn, but do you know what I answered?” looking straight into the sparkling eyes of my audience waiting in rapt attention.

Hands flew up, smiles breaking out on different faces.  One student, unable to contain his excitement, shouted, “Sure!”

“Yea, yea,” chorused others.

“Yes, that is exactly what I said!”  I added the word to a talking bubble by the little girl drawing of myself.  I went on about how I wanted the reader to be able to read that in my writing, how to mark the beginning and end of the exact talking–the exact words in the speech bubble–with quotation marks.  The lesson finished up with, “Who has an idea they are going to write about from your life?” and “Turn and tell a neighbor what you are going to write about.”  Reminded them to add dialogue, I continued, “Off you go, Writers!” My little writers scampered happily to their desks.

Pencils scratched across papers.  The time flew. Two students added dialogue, shared out at the end.  I felt the thrill of teaching! ____________________________________________________________________________________________

Today, for once, I thought to bring the video camera.  I wanted to reflect on my practice, even though I knew I wouldn’t like my outfit with my green head scarf, in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day.  Later, watching myself, I noticed my timing was pretty great, just a smidge long. Time and I continually battle for supremacy. Time usually wins. Reflecting, I mentally plan for next time: write part of the story ahead of time, stand facing the clock, skip the revision on day 1, change this,  change that. I have some good ideas for next time.

Mostly, today reminded me that it is important to continually practice what I preach. What is it I ask teachers to do? That I, too, need to do. Teach, reflect, respond, reflect, change, reflect…

 

Helping Hands

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Looking up from my bus duty line, an unexpected sight caught my eye.  A little boy, toddling along, suddenly fell. There, on all fours like a little puppy, he froze.  No tears trickled down his face; not yells of pain; no shouts for help. Frozen like a sculpture he remained until the two hands of Mom, following closely behind, reached down and grasped both sides of his coat-covered waist.  Gently, those hand lifted him back on his two feet. Secure again and without a look behind, or even a casual, “Thank you, Mommy,” he started on his merry way again.  On he toddled, seeming to forget those helping hands.

This scene has stayed in my thoughts as I puzzle over it.  What a beautiful scene it was! So much love and tenderness from Mom.  So much caring and protecting. So much helping and guiding. We all need helping hands, I thought.     

Life is like that, I continued my musings.  Sometimes we fall, and for some inexplicable reason, we seem frozen, unable to ask for help and, yet, unable to move forward.  That is when we need helping hands. Sometimes those hands lift; sometimes those hands guide; sometimes those hands steady us; sometimes those hands comfort.  Whatever the case, those helping hands give us what we need to move on again.   

                                                  
Coaching is like that.  Sometimes we come alongside a colleague when they seem frozen–discouraged, uninformed, questioning–in their journey.  Then, Coach, following closely beside, gives a helping hand–a lift, a listening ear, a suggestion, an idea–just a bit.  Then, that colleague is able to move happly forward again, confident and secure, scarcely remembering the helper. So is life, so is the role of Coach.