Bring In the Kids


The past weeks have been a whirlwind of professional development for educators. Even though the students won’t arrive until next Wednesday we’ve incorporated them into our adult learning in multiple ways.

Live running records

When we were asked to present to a staff on running records in August, we pulled out Peter Johnston’s classic Running Records: A Self-Tutoring Guide to make sure we weren’t too rusty with our record taking and then asked my fifth-grade daughter–pretty please–if she’d come be a live model for the staff. You can take a running record at any time with any child with any text and the most compelling way to make that point is to have a student and teacher demonstrate. Ahna brought How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating and worked with my colleague Sean Moore to do a running record fishbowl style. The adults listened in and took notes as Sean transitioned from a challenging running record (she’s a speedy reader) to conferring with her about the book. Sean had never read the book before and they didn’t rehearse a thing beforehand. The demonstration married the “why” and “how” of running records right there in front of our eyes.

Capturing on-demand assessment

Teachers in our district are going to be giving a pre-assessment before our writing units and a post-assessment toward the end. We knew the on-demand assessments would bring many questions so last June before school let out we captured video in a first- and fourth-grade classroom. I gave the assessment while a colleague ran the camera. With some simple editing tools we created a short video for teachers to watch this week as they prepare to give their own pre-assessments. They heard my language as I outlined the expectations, watched as the students brainstormed and then observed the writers at work.

Conferring practice as students

I hear “I want to get better at conferring” from so many of my colleagues. At six different elementary school writing presentations, we sent our colleagues off to write and gave them choice. “You can write as yourself or as the age children you work with.” Then we walked around with our conferring sheets and spent just a few minutes with several writers. We encouraged the surrounding teachers to stop writing and listen in if they wanted to. I worked with one writer as herself who expressed appreciation of the power of noticing what she was doing well and naming it. Another writer pretended to be a first grader who wrote, “The summer in Kentucky was so hot on my feet. It was really hot. It was super hot.” As I conferred I nudged the writer to think of another time he’d felt heat like that. He mentioned a stove and I encouraged him to try one of the writing moves we’d studied during the minilesson that involved making comparisons. In his reflection he said, “It helped me see how the thread of the lesson can weave through conferring too.”

Soon the hallways will be noisy and those empty bulletin boards will be covered with student work. There will be many running records to take, writing pre-assessments to give and conferring to do. After a long holiday weekend, we’ll be ready for them.


Tech Tips for Presentations








When you are presenting, something will likely go wrong. I know that doesn’t sound like me, but this is one place it pays to be pessimistic. If you think about the number of details that go into a presentation, there is a high possibility that something won’t work, something will be forgotten or something won’t connect. We can’t control what happens, but we can control how we react. Breathing and shrugging help me. When my wifi goes down in the middle of streaming a video I say, “Well, we weren’t meant to see the rest of that right now, may be we can come back to it after the break.” I have to accept it and let it go. That’s what is. But the good news is you can prepare for many mishaps. Here are some tips I’ve discovered and learned from other presenters:

*Have a backup.

Whether it’s a laptop, charging cord or projector, having a backup on site is important.

*Don’t forget your dongle.

Often when I go present outside my district I’m hooking my MacBook Air to other projectors. There are two main types of connectors with projectors: VGA and DVI. I carry dongles for both.

*Think twins or triplets.

If my presentation is only saved on a flash drive, that flash drive could be corrupted or lost. If my presentation is only saved on my desktop and I have something happen to my computer, I’m out of luck. If my presentation is only on my Google drive or saved in the cloud and I lose internet access, I can’t get to it. So I make sure to duplicate my presentation in at least two different spots. When I present with a team, we make sure two of us have the presentation. I’ve also printed off my presentation slides and kept the copies. Worse case scenario, I could show the copies of the slides under a document camera.

*Doublecheck handouts.

If someone else is going to be running handouts for me, I keep things as simple as possible. I’ve found “as is” masters are the best approach. That way I can say, “When you make the copies you can look back at this and make sure they are the same.” Still, it’s so important to spot check those copies to make sure they are right before it’s go time. It’s tough to be in the middle of a presentation and have people say, “I don’t have that page.” Also someone running copies isn’t going to notice that they cut off the last sentence on page 6, but I will.

*Wifi waffles.

While connections are constantly improving, I’ve still had many occasions where the wifi was not dependable. Do you need to play a video? See if you can download it. Do you want to show a website? Take some screen shots. Anticipate a problem and see if you can create an alternative.

*Make sure your sound is sound.

A presentation with poor sound will not do. Make sure your microphone or speaker system is adequate for your needs. A portable system will work fine for an audience of about 60 people or less, beyond that you need to be sure that you have enough volume. You can always turn it down so plan for your largest possible audience.

*Dress for your tech

If you are going to need to use a lavalier microphone (a hands-free or lapel mic), think of your attire. Do you have a collar to attach the clip? You may have a power unit that goes with it so you’ll want a waistband, pocket or belt to attach it to. If you happen to be wearing a form-fitting, one-piece dress, it is possible to attach it to a cuff or strap or even tape it to your back, but be aware, wherever you attach it, make sure you (or someone you know) can reach the mute button! Whatever your situation, plan how your clothing can accommodate your needs.

What other tech tips help you navigate presentations?



A New Job


I’ve spent the last few days moving into my new office. Loved ones have shown up (thank you Kurt, Sean and Denise) to help. Each file folder, shelf, book and cupboard has been full of decisions. Did I use it? Is it still relevant? Is there someone who needs it more than me? Will I need it in my new position?

Director of English Language Arts, Social Studies and Library Programs K-12 is my new title for the coming school year. It’s a big job and it was a hard choice to make a move because I love my job as an instructional coach. But someone challenged me, “What if you love your work as an administrator just as much? And what if you are able to put legs on your vision of literacy and coaching for the district you care about?”

What if?

So what does that mean for the blog? I’m not entirely sure. A year ago I quietly launched this project and hoped I’d have a handful of people who would read and comment.

Why I Started the Coach to Coach Blog

My goal of at least 100 followers within the year was achieved in the first four months. From there I was blown away by the interest, the sincere emails, collaboration and opportunities to meet new coaches and teams. It seems like with every post I became more grounded in my beliefs and 254 comments later I’ve learned so much from all of you. Thank you.

I know I’ll probably post less in the coming year because I have a steep learning curve ahead of me and I want to give it my all. My commitment to posting an average of twice a week last year will likely change to once a week this year. I will also bring a new perspective on coaching. I’ll be mentoring the person taking my position and others in coaching. Along with the coaching team, we’ll be figuring out how directors will be participating and collaborating in the Friday Coaches’ meeting. I’ve always been an advocate for coaching and this position provides me with more opportunities to celebrate the good work that is happening across our progressive district.

I’m excited. And scared. One moment I think, “I can so do this” and the next moment I think, “I am so lost.” Which is funny because that’s how I felt when I transitioned from teaching to coaching. That’s how change is.

Happy Independence Day to all!


Skill and Will


There are people who are challenging to collaborate with and others who make everything effortless. Most coaching relationships are somewhere along the continuum between difficult and dreamy. Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about why that is.

In Marzano’s book, Coaching Classroom Instruction, he includes a matrix that is an interesting way to look at skill and will. Many fields look at these relationships. There are those who have low skills, but high will. These teachers may be new to the profession, but what they lack in experience they make up for with their growth mindset. Then there are those that have low skills, but low will. Teachers in this situation don’t have tools or the energy to try. Others have high skills and high will. I recognize these folks as our “go-to” teachers, the ones that are often piloting and giving valuable feedback. The last subset would be educators with high skills, but low will. They may have tools, but an attitude that gets in the way. My coaching has to be differentiated for where individuals are at on the skill and will axises.

High Skill, High Will

For me, these are the easiest teachers to coach. These teachers often coach themselves and then gush about how much they’ve learned through the process. In my experience many of these teachers seek positions in leadership over time. Often when I coach these teachers I look for opportunities for them.

Low Skill, High Will

These can be the most rewarding teachers to coach. Often they have a beginning sense of what they don’t know and are highly motivated to learn. A behavior management tip or instructional strategy is often put in place by the next day. Coaching evidence is easy to find in their classrooms. While coaching these teachers I frequently point out how they are growing and changing and the impact that’s having on their students’ learning.

Low Skill, Low Will

Sometimes I ask teachers during our initial meeting why they went into teaching. I’m surprised when I hear answers like, “I’m not really sure, I just ended up here” or “I didn’t have the math scores to do accounting so I chose teaching” or “Summers and off before five.” These responses come from teachers who struggle with instruction, management, assessment or communication AND place blame on “those” kids and parents or “the” district. It’s tough to find a way in to these classrooms. Often teachers feel defensive and don’t even think it’s possible to get better because it’s not them. That’s a hard place to coach from. I start with as much strengths-based coaching as possible and check on accountability to goals frequently.

High Skill, Low Will

I’d have to say these teachers perplex me most. They have experience, tools and strategies and no drive to continually get better or enhance the profession. One said to me, “Sure I’m the best teacher on the team, but no way am I going to mentor the new teacher. She’s going to have to figure it out on her own.” With the low skill/low will folks I can understand feeling deflated because of the learning curve, but it’s confounding when professionals have the skills and choose not to reflect and continuously improve. I feel very drained after these coaching sessions and remind myself to remain positive and keep working on behalf of the students. Sometimes our collaboration centers around rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) the thrill of learning and a passion for teaching that comes with doing the good, hard work.

Now with any typology thinking, I have to be very careful. I don’t want to go around making judgments about people before I really understand their stories. Still, thinking about skill and will helps me consider enrolling strategies and coaching moves that have worked in the past with similar teachers. Also when I feel off balance as a coach, I look at how many teachers who express low will are on my calendar and understand how that affects me.




Are you in total reflection mode too? Are you looking back at the past year as you plan for the next one? What worked? What didn’t? How do we know? What should we change?

For today’s post I thought I would reflect on the top six posts for this quarter of the blog. Since starting the blog I’ve published 75 posts. WordPress has these handy-dandy stats that tell me which posts were working for you and make me think about future topics too. If you missed any of them, please enjoy.

Top Post: How Are You Coaching the Coaches?

Using Video Clips While Presenting

When People Are Talking While You Are Presenting

Better Observations

Green Eggs and Ham Coaching

The Days I Quit

Have a great start to your week.

What topics would you like to see tackled in the coming weeks?




Two working parents plus three active kids equals five people in need of healthy dinners every evening at our house. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking meals, but I don’t love getting home at 5:45 after facilitating a workshop and trying to get a nutritious, timely dinner on the table. A couple weeks ago I realized how much dinners were getting me down and I was starting to sound like a nag.

“I’ve asked you twice now to set the table.”

“Can’t you just chop up some carrots? Is that really too much to ask?”


I thought about what I really wanted from my family. When I got clear, it was simple. I wanted them to stop what they were doing and offer to help even for a few minutes during the dinner rush. If one person chops the salad veggies while another sautés the onions and garlic, we can take the many-hands-light-work approach to dinner. So I posted a sign, which I’m famous for doing (my kids still remind me of the wipe-til-it’s-clean sign in the bathroom when they were young).

The sign is the lead image you see on my kitchen cabinet: Between the hours of 5:30 and 7:00, you are welcome to ask, ‘How can I help?’ These four words have been known to increase happiness for all.

So far it’s working. It’s explicit about the time of day, has a gambit for what to say and ends with a purpose statement (if mama happy, everyone happy). My family walks in the kitchen, sees the sign and remembers to offer, How can I help?

I connect my home leadership experiments to work often and vice versa. I learned the word ‘gambit’ when I did my cooperative learning training with Kagan. It means something done or said to get a desired result. While I have many examples of success with gambits in the classroom, it also applies to leadership work. When I was working with an elementary PLC, I noticed they had parallel talk about instructional strategies but rarely interacted and questioned each other. In our second meeting together, I brought an 8 1/2 x 11 paper that read, “What do you mean by that?”

I said, “We throw around many terms in education like direct instruction, guided reading, shared writing, formative assessment, but if we don’t take the time to understand what another person means, it’s more difficult to collaborate. At some point in today’s meeting I want us to try saying, ‘What do you mean by that?’ to a colleague. It may feel a little awkward and stilted this time, but let’s give it a go.”

Terry was the first to try it after Kara said, “Let’s tie in the social skills” when he asked, “What do you mean by that?” Kara paused and then articulated how she teaches her students to thank each other after sharing their ideas to build community. After the meeting, the team agreed it had been a very productive hour.

While you may not be in a position to request gambits of others, you certainly can build your own gambit list. These are statements and questions I find myself repeating:

*Say more about that.

*What do you mean by that?

*What can I do to make your life more wonderful? (I learned this one from the father of Compassionate Communication, Marshall Rosenberg.)

*What if…

*And of course, How can I help?




In every initial meeting with a teacher new to coaching, I tell them that our conversations are confidential. I explain that I don’t share anecdotes from their classroom or how they are doing with their supervisor–it’s not my role. I encourage them to invite their principals into the work in a way that fits best for them.

Rereading Marzano and Simm’s Research and Theory chapter from their book, Coaching Classsroom Instruction, I was struck again by the truth in this passage.

“Nancy Adler (2006) confirmed the importance of a nonevaluative coaching relationship in which both parties agree to keep the content of coaching sessions confidential. She explained, ‘The privacy of coaching sessions makes it easier…to say, I’m not certain…I just don’t know…Privacy and supportive advocacy legitimize moments of not knowing. Premature certainty and commitment extinguish innovative possibilities.’ (p.243). Finally, Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston (2002) suggest that ‘should an employer have performance concerns about a staff member, these concerns are best communicated directly outside the coaching process. Coaching should never be about ‘fixing’ another person.’ (p.97).”–Research and Theory Chapter, page 9.

Legitimizing moments of not knowing is so important to this work. I worked with a teacher I’ll call Callie. Callie was a mid-career teacher who had that class. You know that class, right? The class that challenges every fiber of your being and empties out your teaching bag of tricks by week three of the school year. We began working together on reading, but it quickly became apparent that we needed to address the management because the students weren’t independent for more than five minutes at a time. By our third meeting Callie admitted she was feeling like her behavior management was ineffective and that she wasn’t reaching her ELL students. “Some days,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what to do.”

That was a turning point in our work. Because she felt safe being vulnerable we were able to make some significant changes. I introduced her to two vocabulary strategies for her learners that were new to English. We ordered a few bilingual books that supported the students during independent reading time. And we reminded ourselves of Behavior Management 101: How often was she positively noticing the students as compared to redirects? Was she using a brain break before the minilesson to get wiggles out? Was she keeping her minilesson short to match their attention spans? Were her directions clear? Was she varying the pacing of her teaching and even the tone of her voice to keep kids engaged?

It’s not that administrators can’t evaluate and coach educators, some do it quite masterfully, but having those two roles separate leads to effective coaching relationships. As Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Working in a district that values opportunities to be vulnerable is such a gift.


Starbucks Bears Give Evaluations Perspective


Seven years ago a colleague and I got this feedback from a participant in our writing scoring workshop:

Suggestions For Improvement
I now understand why there are funding cuts in our district. The fact that our taxpayers’ money is spent on Starbucks bears for your decorations is infuriating. I was distracted the entire time thinking about your selfish and pointless spending. I will not recommend this class or these presenters to anyone!

Yes, once upon a time my coaching colleague had a large collection of Starbucks bears that her family and friends gifted her each time a new one came out. The day before our presentation she said, “I’ll bring my bears tomorrow and we can set one at each table. Teachers work so hard, maybe it’ll bring a smile after our long days.” Those bears did bring some smiles, but they also brought an out-of-nowhere slam. When participants don’t come with positive presuppositions or willingness to ask questions, sometimes it results in toxic evaluation comments.

I often share my Starbucks bear story with coaches who are reading their course evaluations for the first times. Some of them are like me. I can read 99 positive comments, but the one disgruntled one leaves me stewing, “What could I have done to make it better?” While I’m glad that I constantly seek improvement, I also need to make sure I’m not too hard on myself.

Here are some things to consider with class evaluations:

1. What did most people think?

In this case it really is important to focus on the majority. Did they walk away with inspiration? New ideas?

2. Is the critical feedback within your control?

I’ve had people complain about the temperature of the room, the parking, my outfit (I’m not kidding), the other participants, the time of the day, month, and year…the list goes on. If those things are within my control, I need to consider it, if not, I need to breathe and let it go.

3. Is the feedback reliable or just plain mean?

While the anonymous nature of our web-based educator evaluation can give me honest feedback, it can also be destructive and demotivating. Not everyone lives by the T.H.I.N.K. acronym (Is it True, Helpful, Important, Necessary and Kind?). A couple years ago I was reading harsh words about new things I was trying in professional development. For awhile I felt anxious about experimenting and trying different approaches. Then I realized maybe I needed a break from reading those less-than-accepting evaluations. Asking for exit slips from teachers at the end of the professional development was giving me far better information than the anonymous circuit where some people–not all, but some–sought power by being critical and sometimes cruel.

4. Is it funny? Or will it be funny like Starbucks Bears in seven years?

I look back on things I thought were going to be debilitating when I was 16, 21 or 32. And now? A lot of them are pretty funny stories (and GREAT writing fodder). If I can remind myself that whatever is hard in the moment will probably become a good, and possibly funny story, I gain a healthy perspective and don’t take myself or my circumstances too seriously.

5. Who will listen?

I have an amazing team. Coaches in my district listen and have empathy for each other. I have several people I can go to if I get slammed in evaluations. They help me determine if it’s important to consider or if it’s important to release. Find that person or colleague that you can debrief your feedback with. Find someone who really knows how to listen (not make it about them with statements like “I know just what you mean, one time I…”) and not minimize (“That’s nothing, I…”). What a gift to be able to ask someone, “Can I have a moment? Will you listen?”

6. Are you willing to change?

There are a couple classes that my colleagues and I have down. Our content is necessary, our delivery is appropriately inquiry-based for adults and our pacing is succinct. I rarely even download comments from those classes. It’s like over-revising a piece of writing, there comes a time when it’s OK to say, “This is right and good as is.” If I’m not willing to change parts of my class or course, there’s really no need for me to read the feedback.

We did end up using those Starbucks bears again and began with this disclaimer, “Please know that these bears are the personal property of our colleague. They do not represent mishandling of professional development funds. They are simply here to remind us to smile.” One woman laughed out loud and said, “Why would anyone ever think you’d buy those for a class?” And we chuckled and said, “You’d be surprised.”

*The image is not an official Starbucks Bear, but this teddy’s expression was so perfect I had to capture it.


Why Conferring Notes?

Recently a teacher told me she wanted to focus our coaching work on conferring and in particular on improving her writing conferring notes.

“Why?” I asked.

She paused, “Well, I mean if I have better records then I’m conferring better.”

“How do you see notes helping you do that?”

“I’ll be able to remember what I talked about with students for one and I’ll be able to see trends. Plus I’ll have evidence for reporting to parents and anecdotal notes.”

In the past I might’ve quickly agreed to the professional goal of improving conferring notes because it’s something I believe can enhance conferring. Having a better appreciation for what it takes to change professional habits, I want to make sure teachers have reasons why they want to do it. Sometimes teachers who don’t really have a purpose will take conferring notes while I’m coaching them and then drop it when we wrap up the coaching cycle. Here’s a list of reasons teachers tell me makes investing time on improving conferring notes worthwhile.

1. “Writing it down helps me remember.”

2. “I am more accountable to the students.” This is so true. If I tell a student I’m going to check back with them tomorrow. I need a note reminding me to do it.

3. “I can document what students said even if they didn’t get it down in writing yet.” Speaking and listening is a huge part of writing. When I capture students’ storytelling, I’m validating this work.

4. “I notice trends of the students I’m meeting with more and less often.”

5. “Conferring notes are extremely handy for a note home to families about progress and narratives on report cards.”

6. “In my evaluation, I used my conferring notes as another piece of evidence of student growth.”

7. “I plan instruction based on my notes.”

8. “I quote my kids accurately so I can share their thoughts with peers.”

As a coach, reasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 are a fit for me. In addition I’d add:

9. Conferring notes give me a way to talk specifically about students with the teachers. Especially for teachers who have difficulty taking a strengths-based approach with writers.

10. They are my own record of the types of conferences I’m having so I can see patterns emerge and make sure I’m modeling a variety when I co-confer.

11. They provide another way to model best practices for teachers.

Here is the form I use from the Cafe menu and a sample conferring note from a classroom where I work as a coach:

2 Sisters Writing Conferring Form

Grade One
5/6/14 Kai
Ben (Character) Ben falls off his skateboard (Trouble) Detailed pictures, incl labels. Touch/tell. “Ben is an adventure boy. After school he gets on his skateboard.” Asked for spell help: adventure and skateboard. Using word wall.

Next steps: Encourage Kai to stretch sounds on his own, add some words to personal dictionary?

Kai was writing a realistic fiction series about his character, Ben. In a few minutes I noted many of his first-grade strengths (touch/tell, labeled drawings, independence with word wall) as well as possible next steps to work on. When teachers read over my notes they are often surprised by how little I write. I jot, shorten and quote what students tell me. It provides me with exactly what I need the next time I connect with Kai and his teacher.

How do your writing conferring notes benefit your practice?




Two weeks ago I started doing the SAT Question of the Day with my iPhone app. My son Jamin, a junior in high school, has been in AP and SAT testing mode and I wanted to connect with what he’s experiencing. Most days I get them correct (Yesss!), but some days I need to use the “hint” button to help me. Just knowing the hint button exists makes me feels better. In many classrooms, coaches play the role of the hint or tip button. Many of us have the opportunity to see teaching and learning in multiple grades and classrooms within the same day so we amass tips as we learn from the best.

Here are three I learned and shared this week:

*Trying to increase your positive noticing? Here’s a tip. When monitoring your ratio of positive comments to redirects, it can be helpful to place pennies in the lefthand pocket and move them to the righthand pocket as you positively notice a particular student. It’s not something you would use very often, but can work in the beginning to establish a new habit.

*Looking to shorten minilessons? Here’s a tip. If teachers pose a question such as, “What might be a good name for our cranky character?” and call on a few students, that eats up precious minilesson time for a fairly insignificant detail. Instead, try a chorus response where students respond at the same time in a regular speaking voice. A teacher catches 2-3 responses, the students all had a chance to share and the minilesson moves on. If you missed this April post from the Two Writing Teachers blog regarding mini lessons, it was a good one:

Top Ten Ways to Minilessons

Another classic is Shari Frost’s Choice Literacy, “Putting the Mini Back in Minilessons.”

Put the Mini Back in

*Working to help a writer find a topic? Here’s a tip. When I approach a student who is searching for a topic by sharpening his pencil, using the restroom and peeling crayons, I find this is a good starter question.

Me: Are you more an outside kid or an inside kid?
Kid: Inside kid.
Me: What do you like to do right when you get home?
Kid: Play XBox.
Me: Besides playing XBox, because those can be harder experiences to write about, what do you do?
Kid: Shrugs.
Me: If I could see you at your house, what would I see you doing?
Kid: Shrugs. Playing legos.
Me: Seriously? I love legos. Have you ever thought about writing about that?

Another good one is, “If you could be somewhere else right now, where would you be?”

*And completely unrelated to coaching, did you know that if you cover guacamole with about a half inch of water it will provide a barrier to the air and keep it from turning brown? I love great tips!

What tips have you been learning and sharing this week?