Category Archives: Teaching

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!

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…

 

Sharpening Pencils

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Grrrr…grrrr…grrrr.   I love sharpening pencils, sharpening pencils at the end of the day.  I love the sound. I love the satisfaction of its routine. When day is done, as I am preparing to head home, I straighten my desk, putting in order all the papers and books.  I put the Post-its into the drawer; slide opened books back into their homes in the bookcase; clink the stray paper clips into my clay bowl, a clay bowl created by my long-grown, then, first grade daughter.  Its hand rolled coils, green and turquoise, snake around into the shape of a leaning cone. Push the shutdown button, click the laptop shut. Push the chair, with its black polyester cushion, neatly under the golden oak desk.  I grab my black leather purse and lunchbox, orange and empty, and place them on the upholstered blue chair. There they tarry, ready to be clutched as I saunter out the door. Then, last of all, my hand gathers all the used pencils, in various states of dullness and grrrr…grrrr…grrrr.  Sharpening pencils. Each, pointy and new, waiting to be used, are slipped into the top drawer and tucked in bed on the curved, wooden pencil tray.  They, like I, are ready for repose, ready to start a new day, sharpened and refreshed. I love sharpening pencils.

Pencil

 

I Discovered a Book!

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Have you ever suddenly and unexpectedly come across something that at first seems common, but upon investigation, is a treasure?  Have you ever walked drearily along in late winter seeing only snow, but there, right in front of you, like a flash in the darkness, is a purple crocus pushing up through the winter’s white mantle?  This discovery brings the warmth of hope that thaws the frozen void within.

In the same manner, I discovered a new book!  Always on the look-out for children’s picture books for interactive read-alouds, I intently listened to a wonderful Lover of Books share her most glorious finds from the last publishing year.  Taking copious amounts of notes on this one or that one, I considered which might be the best choices for our students. Then, this Lover of Books held up a mostly maroon-colored book. It had, on the cover, a book with a key hole on it and a bluish girl sitting upon the book. It was entitled, A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and illustrated by Sam Winston.  A bit of it was read aloud, and it didn’t catch my attention.  I decided to pass on this book. “Too plain,” I thought to myself

Later, at another session at this conference, the same Lover of Books, share this identical maroon-covered book again!  “Wow!” I thought to myself, “She must really like this book.”

At about the same moment, a very literary friend of mine and fellow literacy coach, leaned over and whispered, “I have that book in my office.”  Sitting up a bit straighter, I paid closer attention to this second reading of the book.

“Isn’t this cool?  All the illustrations are made up of words.  Words from different books,” the Lover of Books enthused.  My eyes narrowed, squinting, as I tried to see the illustrations better.  Then, exploding like a bomb, “I have this book sitting out in my office,” exclaimed the presenter.

“You better pay attention,” I thought to myself,  “maybe this book is worth purchasing.”  I only had a few moments after the presentation to glance at the book.  “Still a little sparse looking…I’ll order it.” With a click of a few buttons on my computer, my decision was final.  “It’ll be fun to get a package on my doorstep when I get home. Amazon Prime, I love you!”

After opening the package that indeed was waiting for me when I got home and having time,  I really read and studied the book. Each page, starting with the end pages, have wonderful quotes from books,classics, like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Rubinson Crusoe and A Christmas Carol and… the list goes on and on.  There are other wonderful quotes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, ones we all know like “Hush-a-Bye Baby” or “Brahms’ Lullaby” or “Snow White and Red Rose”  and “Rapunzel” and…. A smile spread across my face as I read on and on,examining “…Sam Winston’s fascinating typographical landscapes…” (from book jacket). Here is a book that lifts up the worlds that can be imagined on the sea of stories.  

And, the best, to me, was the illustration on the last page:
Imaginatin is Free

Isn’t this what we want for all people everywhere?  To have the key to read and travel through the worlds of books, of stories?

This book will be on display in my office, too.  

A Child of Books

 

Let’s Party: Celebrating Our Writers

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The idea for this post was inspired by Anna Gratz Cockerille’s article,“Ending a Year of Writing With a Group Reflection”, from twowritingteachers.org, June 18, 2014.

person thinking

 

The whirlwind of teaching for the 2016-2017 school year is quickly coming to an end.  Teachers, on the whole, are a reflective lot, but in the midst of the busyness of daily teaching, it may seem hard to pause and reflect.  As the time to bid au revoir to our students approaches, what better time is there to spend a few minutes reflecting together on our past year of teaching writing within the Literacy Collaborative framework? Reflection is the key to becoming a reflective practitioner, and it is at the heart of a growth mindset.

MontgomerySchoolbus

 So…

Let’s party!  I am excited about all the growth I saw in my first graders this year…students who are able to write and write and write…students who consistently write 25-30 minutes daily…students who are plain excited about writing.  My biggest celebration is the ability of students to draw on a repertoire of strategies when writing.  Where I notice this most often is when students have choice writing time or when they are in the Writing MIL (managed independent learning centers). Students create something, such as a paper airplane, and then write a “how-to” paper to teach their friends how to make it.  During Share Out, they want to read what they wrote, they want to display their item with the accompanying paper.  That is authentic writing!  These students were drawing upon their understanding of procedural texts and how they work, especially the form of “how-to” writing.  Another students write and illustrate stories about an animal they know a lot about, using their understanding of informational writing.  Other students write stories with a strong lead; students add dialogue and descriptive words and sound words!  I’m celebrating because these students are using a repertoire of strategies when writing.  I’m celebrating because they are much farther in their writing practice than I thought they could be by the end of the year.  I’m celebrating because they are a community of writers.

While reflecting, the area I believe that needs shored up is an area in which I still struggle.  I struggle with having the writing not feel “perfect” at the end of the story.  All the theory about lifting the writer is in my head, and I really believe it in my heart, but–I will own this to teacher pride–it just doesn’t necessarily look like something that I think parents will look at and say, “Wow!”  I haven’t worked out how to balance the lifting of the writer and the final project.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we have “published” projects like the Franklin stories and the Awesome Author books (animal research writing), and the final projects are amazing, but the stories I’m excited about may not look like much to the “outside world.”  These everyday stories are the ones that show the fledgling writers trying out new strategies, taking risks, and being, oh, so excited.  Oh, well, this is definitely an area to shore up…at least in my own way of thinking.
As I reflect on next year, my goal is to integrate mentor texts more fully into my instruction.  I want to be like Carl Anderson and have a little stash of books ready to go in conferences.  Like him, I want to develop my go-to books, complete with sticky notes to mark the pages, pages with clear examples of powerful writer’s craft and elaboration.  My goal is to use those mentor texts to help lift my writers.  I’ll let you know how well I meet my goal next year.

I hope you’ll join me in a moment of reflection.

Clock Watching

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7:30 A.M.

Clicking on the gmail envelope, my email opened. There was a notification reminding me of the get-together after school. Yes, I’m glad I’ll be going. It’s Friday, and I’m glad.

4:45 P.M.

I lifted my eyes to the clock on the wall. Quarter till five. Hoping my splitting headache would go away, I lifted my fingers and firmly massaged my temples. That book order took forever. Why was it so difficult the get that quote? It had been over an hour, and the clerk on the other end of the phone line had wanted me to give her every ISBN number. Aren’t they supposed to just be able to click on a title to order it? I wondered. Well, that was the last of the money that had to be spent by Monday anyway. Well, except for $4.24. The students will LOVE these books! A satisfied smirk broke out on my face. I can’t wait for the orders to come in. I guess, in spite of the frustration, it really was fun. Picking out books that my students loved when I was a Reading Recovery teacher was fun! Thinking about how wonderful it will be when these books are in the hands of guided reading group readers, my smile broadened.

Then, the lightbulb went on in my mind. Four forty-five! I’m supposed to be at that get-together. Is still there? Already 45 minutes late. Ugh! Why didn’t anyone stop in to remind me? Oh, yea…I was on the phone. I had been planning to leave right when the bell rang, but I got so distracted by that order that took so much longer than expected. I quickly gathered up my things, mentally noting that I’d be coming back the next day, and pushed the lock button on my office door.

Cl-click! Cl-click! Cl-click!  The car turned right into the restaurant’s parking lot. What luck! A parking space close to the door. I pulled in, jumped out of the car, and ran inside. There they are! They’re still here. I hurried over to where the teacher group was standing around chatting and watching the big screens. Fifty-eight to 58, our high school was tied in overtime in the first game of the state basketball tournament since 1999. Small talk mingled with the cheers and gasps of teachers as we watched our team finish overtime. Then, double overtime. Oh, to be young and have their enthusiasm. Claps and cheers! A three-point shot and then a blocked shot. We win!
Little conversations, some about work, some not, fill the air. I feel a little lighter connecting with colleagues.

6:05 P.M.

“I can’t believe how the time flew,” I said as I glanced at my wristwatch and reached out to grab my coat.  I need to make more time for this….

Barbara in the Bookstore

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Last night, a friend and I decided to go to a bookstore to look for picture books for our Interactive Read Alouds. This always is a dangerous proposition for bibliophiles, even at a store that only charges half price and gives a teacher discount! Like Alice in Wonderland, it is easy to fall down the proverbial “rabbit hole” of buying books…

“How far did I fall?” you ask.

Happily, I set a one hour limit for our excursion, and, because, in a bookstore, I tend to feel like I’m shopping at a jumbled garage sale, I only left with two carefully selected books. I was well under budget, too. (Alas, my friend fell further than me…her wallet was emptied more than mine.)

“And…tell me what you bought,” you add.

Books for IRA

I bought one brilliant twist on a fable, Hare and Tortoise, by Alison Murray. I think my first grade students will enjoy the humorous rendition of this classic. Such playful word choices such as “…she trundles…she tootles…she tiptoes…” and clever scientific references like “The Tortoise-Slow and steadicus” and “The Hare-Leapus swifticus” make this book delightful. The colorful illustrations will charm the reader as well. I can’t wait to read it to my students to see their reaction. I’m expecting lots of laughter!

The second book I bought is Lost in the Woods, by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick, a fantasy book (where animals talk) that teaches how newborn fawns, who are born without scent, spend the first 2 weeks of life without their mothers. The animals of the woods try to help the fawn because they think she is lost. The exquisite photographs enhance the story by showing the beautiful woods in which the fawn lives. Hopefully, this gorgeous book will engage the listeners and teach about the life of a fawn and other forest creatures. My plan is to incorporate this book to support our informational writing unit.

P.S. I have $35 more dollars to spend on Amazon! More book information to follow.

I Will Be the Agent of Change

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Trust is something that seems to be universally valued. Research suggests that increased trust correlates with increased student performance. Research reports that low-performing schools with significant gains have a perception of trust between students and staff. Even though trust is not the only contributor to student growth, it is there when there is growth.

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Trust is something that seems to be universally valued. Research suggests that increased trust correlates with increased student performance. Research reports that low-performing schools with significant gains have a perception of trust between students and staff. Even though trust is not the only contributor to student growth, it is there when there is growth.

The questions for me, a literacy coach, become: How can I become part of the solution to growing trust in my building and with our staff? Over what do I have control? What can I do?

I believe trust can start with one. The Golden Rule (not in vogue so much these day, but it is foundational to my philosophy) could be a starting place. How do I want to be treated? How could I treat others the way I want to be treated?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Believe every teacher wants to do his/her best. Believe every teacher wants his/her students to succeed.
  2. Remember that we are all learners. It is OK not to know everything right now. It is OK to make mistakes and take risks. (Remember that I make lots of mistakes, too.) Give people space to grow and not be perfect RIGHT NOW! Let people take risks. Honor the process. Where is that teacher on the continuum of learning? Are they trying, even if not perfect, to learn…try out new things…be innovative…?
  3. Have the best interest of others at heart. Do everything I can to protect those interests.
  4. Do what I say I will do.
  5. Learn, learn, learn. Be competent in my job. Do my job with excellence.
  6. Be a person of integrity. Always strive to be honest.
  7. Be as open with others as I possibly can.
  8. Care about others. Ask about their lives, children, successes, difficulties...just care!
  9. Communicate effectively and openly.
  10. Be available.
  11. Invite others into the decision-making process, especially when the decision has an affect on them. Collaborate in problem solving.
  12. Be open to another’s ideas, even if it is the opposite of mine.

Trust is important to me. I remember times I felt that I wasn’t included or invited or cared about. I want to treat others differently so they don’t have to feel like I did.

I will be the agent of change!