The Last Post: Walk


Lately many people seem to be trading New Year resolutions for their one word. This one word becomes an affirmation for the year ahead. My word for 2015 is walk. Not only do I want to team with my son to help him walk again if that’s possible, but I want to walk through the challenges ahead for our family with as much grace as I can offer the world.

When I’m sleep deprived and worried it’s easy to be frustrated and a little snappy (or snippy). It’s harder to stay quiet and set up a bath with chamomile bubbles. It’s easy to let my mind hop on a gerbil wheel of “What ifs” and harder to stop my catastrophic thinking avalanche and sit for ten minutes in silence. I hope to walk toward things this year that will bring me back into balance and toward my Better Heather.

Walk. My husband and I walk on Sunday mornings. We started by walking seven miles when we had some major life decisions to talk through. We needed those hours to really process the complexity of what was going on for us. I loved Seth Godin’s Blog about walking.

When I lived in the hospital for weeks, I got accustomed to taking my life five minutes at a time. I’d say to myself, “Heather, we don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour, but can you do the next five minutes? Yes, you can.” Now that we are home, we’ve transitioned to be able to do an hour or even a day at a time. I still know that when life calls on me to do so, I can walk through it five minutes at a time.

So Happy New Year to you. May you walk your path this coming year in the way only you can. You probably noticed that a bunch of posts came out at once today. I sorted through my draft files and wrapped up pieces that had been waiting there for you. I had many questions about whether I should keep the Coach to Coach blog as “wait and see” or finish my project that was just going to last a year. I’ve got enough “wait and see” in my life right now. We all like closure. The truth is my creative energy and advocacy is flowing in a different way right now. I’m honored to get the opportunity to support my son and my family through our healing process and that’s the true path I’m walking right now.

Thank you for all you’ve gifted me as readers. I’ve met new friends, traveled to places I only knew by map and received ideas and resources galore. Please enjoy and share the Coach to Coach archives. Ultimately, I’m grateful for your company–maybe we’ll walk again sometime.


Invitations Matter: Right Shari? Jen? Mary? Kim? Deborah?


I dabble on Twitter. I log in every once in awhile. I post, favorite and retweet infrequently. Months ago I finally accepted that the 140-character tweets just weren’t quite my size, though I admire the folks who tweet artfully. So I’d never been part of a Twitter chat–at least until this fall. Why? Because someone reached out and specifically invited me.

It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have to skim their email to keep up with it all. A few years ago I needed to send out information to a zone of three schools. I experimented with sending a message to the first staff as a whole-group email, small-group emails to grade-level teams to the second school and individual emails to the third school that began with their first names.

What did I discover? My hypothesis was correct. I heard back from the majority of the staff at the third school, half the teams at the second school and three individuals who had received the group email. So it takes more time, but as often as possible if I want folks to respond to a survey I created or give me feedback on dates or see an update, I try to send emails to individuals vs. larger groups. As we skim, we want to know that emails are meant for us in particular. Anything that starts, “Hi Heather,” is going to get my attention more than “You are receiving this email because…” That individual touch as invitation matters.



Ps’ and T’s of Coaching: Plan to Forget Toolbox


This may seem like another paradoxical statement: plan so you can forget, but it’s so true. There are so many things we juggle as educators that our brain can’t (or shouldn’t) try to keep track of it all. So I have to “plan to forget” toolbox so I can turn my work brain off in the evenings, sleep at night and have balance in my weekend.

Calendar Reminders

When I’m putting in the electronic appointment for the school board presentation, I take a moment to put another appointment in the week before to remind me that it’s coming up and carve out time to prepare. That allows me to forget that the presentation is coming up and rely on my tools to tell me when it’s time to start the preparation work.

To-Do Lists

Sitting down to start my day, I prioritize three things I need to get done that day. Then below that I add one or two other bonus things I could get done. When I finish that list I say “well done” and start another one. If I don’t get them done I add them to my list the next day. For me, knowing I just need to accomplish three things keeps me from feeling too overwhelmed with my days.

Walking Around with Sticky Notes

When I leave my office to walk down the hallway, I’ll often combine tasks like “OK, I’ll run these copies, stop and ask this coach for a resource and then pick up the envelope I need from the office professional.” As I walk out the door, someone catches me and asks me a question and we make a plan to talk more tomorrow. Then I get down to the workroom, run my copies and return to my office. Oops. I didn’t visit with the coach or pick up the envelope. Now I just travel with a sticky note that reminds me of the things I planned to do while out and about. It seemed a little silly when I started doing it, but it’s helped me use my time more efficiently and if I do forget my next task–I have a tool to back me up.

We all have ways that we plan to forget. Instead of getting frustrated with our full brains, we can build our own supports to have in place.




P’s and T’s of Coaching: Pronouns


A couple weeks ago I was at a meeting and a teacher asked me in front of a group of about 60 educators, “How do they–the district–define a curriculum?”

I paused and then said, “I want to address your pronoun because they–the district–is us. We are going to determine what is meant by curriculum through our work this year.”

In my work I’ve discovered just how much pronouns can include or exclude, invite or discourage, tell or teach. Pronouns are one of our big clues to consider the stances we are taking in coaching. Stances are ever-changing for me. One conversation starts in a coaching stance, moves into consulting for new curriculum territory, shifts to collaborating stance when we decide how to do the instructional work together and then closes back in heart of coaching.


“In my experience I…” and “If it were me I would…” are likely used in a consulting stance. In this stance the consultant’s experiences and ideas are the focus. Some coaches will shift to a consulting stance with beginning career teachers and educators who are brand new to a skill or strategy being taught.


“When we get ready to plan…” and “let’s reflect on how we approached…” are likely used in a collaborative stance. This is the coach-as-colleague position where a coach might be carrying an equal load of the planning, teaching or reflecting work. I used this a lot when I had a role as part of the professional learning community team.


“I heard you say…” and “what other ways are you already achieving this?” are likely used in a coaching stance. This is the place I want to start every coaching conversation. I want the person to know I believe they have the knowledge and skills within themselves to navigate whatever is in front of us. It’s also the place I want to end every conversation with that vote of confidence in my colleague that they already have–or know how to build–what they need to grow as a professional learner.

Who is I?

In my job shift, I’ve been struggling with my pronouns this year. I hear myself starting sentences like “As a teacher, I…” and then I think, but I’m not a teacher currently as I have no class to call my own; I’m an administrator now. Or “As coaches, we…” and then I wonder, is that fair to call myself a coach even though I’m not coaching like I have been in the past seven years? I picture myself as a collection of nesting dolls. Right now I have the administrator doll as my outside role, but right inside that are nested shells of coaching, teaching and at the very heart of it all–a learner. I realized it’s true to call myself a student, coach, teacher or administrator depending on the work before me.

And I never want to use the disingenuous “we.” I caught and corrected myself recently using “we” to describe a planning process when really I needed to say “you” because I wouldn’t be part of the work. I’ve seen people in leadership use that word loosely and it’s been an irritant for me. If I say “we” it means I’m contributing more than a budgetary nod. I’m advocating, I’m researching, I’m gathering support, I’m presenting. I’m rolling up my sleeves in some significant way–not a wee one– if I’m going to offer myself as part of the we.


Some New Perspective


Three weeks ago my son collapsed at home while we were getting ready for bed and said, “Mom, I can’t feel my legs.” We’ve been in the hospital for 22 days as of today, first in acute care and now in rehab. He’s currently paralyzed and diagnosed with a condition known as Transverse Myelitis. Transverse Myelitis is rare and the onset with a healthy young man of eighteen is even more strange. I’ve always thought my children were “one in a million,” but this isn’t exactly what I meant. There are a lot of things I thought I knew or believed pre-Tranverse Myelitis that I have a whole different perspective about now. There are other beliefs that have only been strengthened through this experience.

My first major shifts have come in understanding what kind of support I want to offer in the future for families in crises. I used to think that if I stopped by the hospital I’d only be “in the way.” I now understand that if I can bring positive energy into a hospital room for even five minutes, that’s a gift. I will trust people to tell me to come back another time if needed. I won’t stay away next time. I also thought I had to know people really well to show up for them. Where did that idea even come from? People who haven’t seen us in years or barely know us are materializing from everywhere–and helping. It was hard to receive the help at first, but several people have told me these wise things:

*Receive with grace and just say “thank you.”
*Don’t do things other people can do for you right now.
*Tell people what they can do.
*People want to feel a part of things. Allow it.
*Know that you will be able to pay it forward in the future.
*Sometimes ask for needs, but wants are OK too.

I have been making connections between the medical world and the educational world constantly. Here was what an occupational therapist said to Jamin during her first visit. “Our job is to meet you wherever you are at. If you wake up with pain one day, we’ll do less. If you are having a strong day, I’m going to push you hard. Each day, we’ll just build on what you can do based on where you are at.” Does that sound like a great coach? It does to me. While we aren’t dealing with physical paralysis in the classroom, there is some emotional paralysis that has to do with change. Meeting people where they are at each day and building on strengths is the way everyone gets better.

Another therapist explained, “I’m going to teach you one way to transfer to your wheelchair. I never use a slide board with patients as young and athletic as you. But my colleagues will teach you other ways and you’ll experiment with your own and you are going to figure out what works for you. No one else can tell you that.” I wanted to hug her and tell her that’s what great coaches do. Now that I think about it, a lot of those early days are a blur, so I may have hugged her. I probably did.

Finally, the opening image for the post has me doing some thinking about RTI. Almost as soon as we reached the rehab floor we started hearing this buzz about the discharge date. The OTs, PTs, nursing staff and doctors got together to determine goals that my son needed to reach with independence before he could leave the hospital. Then they estimated how long it would take him to meet those goals. That date was published on the white board for us all to see. Each individual and team refers to it as they work with him. It is the day he transitions back to his “core” life. I wonder what that would be like for young readers who are getting an intervention with a different program or approach. If the intervention teachers, counselor, classroom teachers and the administrator all focused on a date, say February 2nd, and their goal was to get that student to independence and back into the core by the time, what would that mean for our reader and the collaborative support he receives?

I don’t know what this latest life event means for the blog and the cool thing is–I don’t have to. I like this quote by Gilda Radner:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”


P’s and T’s of Coaching: Paradox


Full moon, post-Halloween hangovers and the time change seemed to increase the feelings of being overwhelmed this week. It wasn’t the kids so much as us educators. Between frustrated emails, heads-up phone calls and professional development blow-outs, I felt spent when I left work on Friday. Luckily my day had started off with a leadership meeting that put me in a good headspace.

We opened with a quote from Palmer Parker:

“The contradictions of life are not accidental. Nor do they result from inept living. They are inherent in human nature and in the circumstances which surround lives.” 

As we went on to read an excerpt from Leading Every Day I was struck by this reminder. “Paradoxes stem from conflicting polarities: the existence of two opposing attributes, tendencies, or principles that are interdependent…Successful leaders recognize and work through both sides of paradoxes…Your role as a leader is to balance both sides of the polarity and not allow one side to dominate to the exclusion of the other.”

These were some of the paradoxes we face:

Think abstractly                    Act Concretely

Have direction                      Retain flexibility

Initiate change                      Maintain continuity

Achieve goals                       Endure Criticism

This was the frame that helped me understand the complexity of the work in front of me and why I was feeling so tired. In literacy, we are working through all of these paradoxes. We are working to figure out what to do about “curriculum” so we need to think abstractly and out of the box, but we need to act concretely as we go through the process. My job is to offer direction and firm guidance while being soft and flexible as we encounter obstacles. Because there is a timeline, I have to prioritize and keep us moving forward with transparency while enduring criticism and questioning of the process.

When words like “messy” and “muddy” come to mind related to my work and I hunger for the weekend to rejuvenate, I recognize the tug of contradictions and the delicate balancing of those paradoxes. This is the work.


P’s and T’s of Coaching: Plurals and Proximity

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“Pass the breadsticks,” said my youngest to her brother. He tossed a breadstick on her plate from the basket.

“I said, breadsticksssssss,” she emphasized.

Yes, the difference between singulars and plurals are important when it comes to food– and coaching. Consider these pairs of questions.

What’s the one way you encourage independence in your classroom? What are the ways you encourage independence in your classroom?

Which strategy will you use to solve the problem? Which strategies could be used to solve the problem?

What’s the answer? What are the answers?

Singulars used in questioning can narrow and impede our thinking while plurals can open it up. It brings to mind a young reader I was working with as a beginning career teacher when I asked him to tell me about his favorite book. He was quiet for a long time with his brow furrowed. “That’s such a very hard question,” he told me finally. Of course it was. I was asking him to make a decision to pick one. Was that the most important thing? Really I would’ve gotten so much more out of the question if I’d simply asked, “What books do you enjoy reading?”

What moments keep you coming back to teaching? Which obstacles get in your way sometimes? What strategies do you use to hook students in a lesson? When you think of formative assessments, which ones are most useful to you? How do you use plurals in your coaching and teaching?

For a doubleheader, I’ll also toss in my thoughts about proximity in coaching with a repost of a favorite on the site. Click on the link:

Promise of Proximity

Enjoy the end of your week and happy weekend.


P’s and T’s of Coaching: Positive Presupposition












Great Wolf Lodge, a family water park destination, has a list of rules posted before you enter the wet wonderland. In the middle of all these rules are big, red, bold words:


This statement is not–I repeat–not a positive presupposition. But it still makes me laugh.

Positive presuppositions are statements, questions and a way of thinking that suggest we trust others to have the right knowledge and/or the best intentions. DO NOT PEE OR POOP suggests that we might not know to keep our number ones and twos to ourselves or that we would intentionally pollute the pool. A positive presupposition could sound like, “Thank you for keeping your waste products to yourself.”

Positive presuppositions are subtle when it comes to coaching. It can be the difference between asking, “When did the students become less engaged?” and “At what point were there shifts in student engagement?” The first one suggests that the students weren’t engaged whereas the second one inquires about any shifts. Another example would be, “He didn’t finish his homework” and “He hasn’t finished his homework yet.” The word ‘yet’ being the subtle add-on that suggests an optimistic outcome.

While we can communicate positive presuppositions with what we say, there is also worthy internal work to do in this area. I recently heard a coach I work with say, “I’m focusing on positive presuppositions about why that meeting went the way it did.” Instead of assuming someone was trying to be difficult or hurtful, there are 99 other possibilities that could be just as true. When we focus on the positive possibilities, it shifts our energy. We can move from feeling angry, tired, sapped, embarrassed or anxious to feeling light, free and hopeful.

Here are examples of one way to see things as well as the positive presupposition way. I left two for you to fill in yourself. I find positive presuppositions take a lot of practice for me.


PP Table





P’s and T’s of Coaching: Poise



The past two months I’ve had the opportunity to work with coaches in Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont. When we talk about our coaching toolbox, I begin with an anticipation brainstorming exercise by saying, “If there were things that needed to be in our toolbox as coaches that started with the letters P and T, what would they be?

Every time I do this, the list of wonderful words increases. Recently in Indiana, one of the coaches called out “Tompassion.” There was some laughter at the back of the group when another came forward with “tequila.” Today I’ll begin a series of some of those words so we can add to our toolboxes.

Poise is a catch-all term that by definition means grace, elegance and balance as both a noun and  verb. Leaders are poised when they make eye contact with others and lean toward them. Poise is shown by nodding, smiling and verbal tracking of conversations with sounds like “uh-huh,” “oh,” and “hmmm.” It’s also shown with our body language. When I walk into a teacher’s classroom I put my binder or notebook down so my hands are free and open. I try to layer my clothing so in a cold room I don’t look like this:

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I also try to refrain from stances like hands on hips. I know that without meaning to I can be conveying an aggressive pose.

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The research about body language is fascinating. Mirroring is one way that humans (women in particularly) build trust and acceptance quickly. It’s great to work on what we say as leaders, but it’s so important to work on how we say it with our bodies as well. Here’s a link to an article on mirroring if it interests you.

Mirroring in Body Language

I often take a deep breath before I walk into a meeting, classroom or presentation and envision what I want my eyes, smile, hands and wrinkles to say.

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“I’m open to you.

I’m curious about you.

I want to work together.”





That’s my goal for poise.


Mother Sauce: Teams Unifying Professional Development

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My youngest daughter is a fashionista. As a preschooler she was already coaching me about what I could do to dress up my go-to black dress and black tights so I could have a little “pop” of color. Now that she’s ten I take her whenever I go shopping because inevitably if I get a compliment on my outfit, it’s something Ahna picked out for me (lead image–Ahna talked me into it). She’s very good. A few weeks ago we ordered the first DVD season of Project Runway (2005) which is a competition between fashion designers who are judged “in” or “out” based on what they show on the runway.

As expected, each designer has his or her own special style. Austin goes for couture while Kara Saun dresses her models with a classic look. This is true of coaches too. My colleagues and I have read many of the same books, attended the same trainings and spent many 90-minute sessions on Friday learning from each other, but each one has their own special style.

About halfway through the season of Project Runway, there was a challenge for each designer to create an outfit for the year 2025 and have it fit with the other designers as part of a collection. While there were some unique individual futuristic pieces, they failed as a whole. There was no unifying look—no collection. The literacy coaches face a similar challenge when they offer professional development. How can the third- and sixth-grade writing classes look similar enough to be part of the collection, yet be different to fit the coach and the audience?

My colleague Janeal uses a cooking metaphor that I love. She says together we create a “mother sauce” of professional development and then each person tosses in their own special ingredients. Here are a few ways that we unify our professional development without losing our individuality.

We plan together. At least a week before a class we plan a brainstorming session. We start with the end in mind and ask, “What do we want participants to walk away with at the end of our time?” Sean throws out an article idea, Paula pulls up a video we might use and Samantha brings out the notes from something similar we’ve taught before.

We use a common template. When we share a class or co-present, our pacing guides are always the same. The predictability makes it easy for us to read and deliver.

We have a table with these four headings:


We are each responsible. Often our planning sessions are short or happen over lunch. Before we part, everyone takes on a piece of the work. Samantha is going to type up the pacing guide and send it out to everyone; Paula is going to design a graphic organizer; Sean and I are going to capture some video in a classroom. We also agree on when we will be done with our parts.

We build our bins. In our district we teach classes after school 1-2 times a week. For the one of the writing courses we offer, there is a class for each grade level. Paula, Sean and Sam each teach two different grade levels. A couple days before each class, the clear bins come out. They are filled with the pacing guides, copies, mentor texts, charts and supplies.

We debrief. After we all teach, we come back together. It’s not unusual for one of us to share that we spent a lot more time with one activity while someone else shortened it. A couple of us are known for last-minute text changes or different protocols. We talk about what worked and what didn’t; we try to replicate the successes and minimize the fails.

The result of the “mother sauce” approach is that we use the best ideas of everyone, divide the work and improve continuously.