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.


Because It Makes Me Smile

photo copy














Years ago I was at a toy shop downtown and saw a seven-foot giraffe and said, “I have to have that in our house.” Little did I know when said giraffe was being auctioned off for a good cause that my husband would outbid everyone else so he could get it for me. “Savannah” as I’ve named her has made our living room her home ever since. In the lead image, you can see what she looked like as we moved her to our new home in the back of the pick-up. I was recently telling the story to someone who asked if she matched the decor of our house.

“Not at all,” I replied.

I’ve loved and collected giraffes for many years. Maybe it’s because they are very tall animals and I am a very small animal. Or maybe it’s because they have the largest heart of any land animal, but those gentle (except when they are neck fighting) giants make me smile.

Physically when we smile, we tell our brain to feel good and in return our feel-good brain tells us to smile. That’s a cycle I like to tap into. As Mother Teresa said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” I’m comfortable answering questions about why I bought a certain outfit or why I gave a certain gift or why I have a kitsch seven-foot giraffe in my home, “Because it makes me smile.”


Trust and Laughter, Laughter and Trust


If you are going through a change at work, this book by William Bridges Managing Transitions belongs on your shelves. I was rereading the section today on trustworthiness. He has 11 reminders about trust and a few of them really jumped out at me. Maybe they’ll resonate for you too.

Do what you say you will do. Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep. Most people’s mistrust has come from the untrustworthy actions of others in the past.

Listen to people carefully and tell them what you think they are saying. If you have it wrong, accept the correction and revise what you say. People trust most the people whom they believe understand them.

Share yourself honestly. A lot of mistrust begins when people are unable to read you. And remember: while hiding your shortcomings may polish your image, it ultimately undermines people’s trust in you. Admitting an untrustworthy action is itself a trustworthy action.

Ask for feedback and acknowledge unasked-for feedback on the subject of your own trustworthiness whenever it is given. Regard it as valuable information and reflect on it. Feedback may be biased, and you don’t have to swallow it whole. But check it for important half-truths.

Try extending your trust of others a little further than you normally would. Being trusted makes a person more trustworthy, and trustworthy people are more trusting.

If all of this is too complicated to remember and you want a single key to the building of trust, just remind yourself, “Tell the truth.”

And now for the laughter…

Many of you have already seen Weird Al’s viral Word Crimes to the tune of Blurred Lines, but if you haven’t, watch this. I bet you’ll find yourself smiling in recognition of both word crimes you’ve been guilty of and the word crimes that get on your nerves.

Word Crimes

Finally, my daughter showed me this video of an interaction between Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster. Kermit’s voice has been slowed down and the effect had me doubled over in hysterics. You must watch it. It’s 59 seconds of funny. I’m pretty sure I felt this same left of frustration toward Cookie Monster at some point.

Kermit and Cookie Monster Slow Mo



Why I’m Attempting #bookaday


I’ve heard about Book-a-Day for a couple of years. Every summer it seemed out of reach. Really read a book a day? Really?! Higher volumes of reading for me are easier in the summer, but not a book every single day. Then a couple weeks ago I saw a tweet from Donalyn Miller and I thought: Well, the least I can do is check out the rules.

In summary the rules are:

1. Read an AVERAGE of one book a day. Yes, picture books count. Even wordless books count. I can get five books ahead on my camping trip if I choose and then skip days when I need to.
2. You decide when you start and end.
3. Keep a list of your titles and share via social media with the #bookaday hashtag if you like.

Donalyn’s blog is a great place to read more about the challenge and get ideas for what to read.

Yesterday I committed to starting Book-a-Day on Wednesday, June 18th and finishing on September 1st on Labor Day. That’s 76 books! I will need to up my trips to the library and make sure I’m trading plenty of books with friends. I’ll probably post a few reviews on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads.

Here are a few books that are arriving to help me start out successfully:

I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!

Hooray for Hat!

Okay for Now

How To Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

Counting by 7s

This summer is no less busy than past summers, but I decided to jump in with both feet because:

1. If I don’t rise to the challenge, I can try again next year. There’s nothing to lose.
2. The more books I read, the better teacher and leader I can be.
3. My children notice how I spend my summer. I’m showing them what a lifelong learner looks like.
4. I just wanna. It sounds fun and I can’t wait to start! Isn’t that what summer is about?

What books are on your next-to-read stack? Are you up for a reading challenge?


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.


How Are You Coaching the Coaches?


Get some popcorn. It’s coaching movie day. If you were at my house we’d top our popcorn with real butter and nutritional yeast and spike it with Hot Pepper Sesame Oil. Delicious.

This week I got two “contact me” emails through the blog asking me about how we continue to stretch our own personal coaching professional development in our district. So I thought I’d zoom in and share what we did today.

Our meeting started and 8:30 and when I looked around, several people were taking audible deep breaths. We’re one week from conferences, two weeks from spring break and just a few from spring testing. Teachers are having a tough time so it’s a tough time to be a coach.

I opened with two different videos that were gifted to me this week. The first one is on the power of cooperation.

The Coca Cola Friendship Machine Video

The second one is about imagination. Coaches constantly think about the “what ifs” as does this video when they consider, What if Animals Were Round? My favorite is the inflated cheetah and antelope interaction.

What If Animals Were Round? Video

According to a medical article I read recently, laughter relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins and protects the heart. So I like to start every Friday meeting with laughter if at all possible. I want our team of 17 coaches to look around the room and think, T.G.I.F!

If you are interested in past blog posts about videos to use with educators, here are a couple:

Using Video Clips Part One

Using Video Clips Part Two

We transitioned and started talking about using video with teachers. Corwin has put together a nice menu of short–very short–videos of teacher practice and reflection. We watched the cooperative learning one and “freedom within form” selection.

Corwin’s High Impact Instruction Videos

Finally it was time to watch our peers. We watched a coach working in a 9th grade English class.

Secondary Instructional Coaching

Then we moved down to the other end and watched a coach working with a kindergarten teacher.

Elementary Instructional Coaching (Kindergarten)

We informally debriefed and coaches talked about:

* what coaching moves they noticed
* how it validated their work
* what they wondered
* how they could use it in their practice

Wrapping up, I wished everyone a great weekend and we were off to classrooms, emails, planning, meeting and more. This is just one way we collaborate to make sure that we coaches are getting coaching too!


Naive Shirts


Working with children brings many f-words to mind: fulfilling, sometimes frustrating and of course, funny. I so enjoy reading children’s writing and I’m reminded of the difference just one little letter makes.

A student wrote, “My mom has a naive language. She mostly speaks her naive language at home though.”

Naive language? It took me a second read to understand she’d dropped the ‘t’ in native. I was thinking about children’s perspectives on their parents’ naive language.

Along those same lines, a few years ago I modeled a lesson on procedural writing with kindergartners in front of several colleagues. We were working on telling about events that happened one step at a time and putting them in order. I’d created my own book about the true story of my daughter spilling mustard on her horse shirt. One of the steps read, “She took off her dirty horse shirt and put on a clean shirt.” The students loved the story and asked me to read it again. They had funny anecdotes of things that had ended up on their shirts too. There was much communing around the act of spilling.

After the lesson as the teachers and I debriefed surrounded by the students’ writing, we discovered a handful of kids writing about their shirts dropped the letter ‘r.’

I know, right?

One wrote, “Dirte shi*ts are terebl. Ons the shi*t gets dirte its hard to clean.”
(The asterisks are mine.)

I feel fortunate to be the recipient of approximations of words. What’s ‘f’ for funny in your world of working with children lately? And happy Friday!