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.


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.


Believe and Prepare

I wrote about paradoxes in coaching a few weeks ago and now we’re living an extreme one. As we get ready to go home after close to six weeks in the hospital, I put all my energy into believing that my son will regain feeling and function again. I also prepare for the possibility that he may not. It’s the oxymoron of optimistic realists. So I encourage him in his visualization exercises to experience what it will feel like to move a toe again or lift a knee and with the help of our amazing community we’ve remodeled the house to make it wheelchair accessible. We simultaneously believe he’ll recover sensation entirely and we prepare his environment for what is. And what is is not a negative reality, it’s just our current challenge.

Quality educators I work with do this too. They sit alongside a child, listen to them read and discuss the text. Noticing all the things the child is doing well, they find one thing to nudge them forward. They believe the child will become a stronger reader and will grow an academic year or more. Or they sit by a writer who can barely crank out a few words and say, “Look at how much you already know how to do, now I’m going to teach you…” They believe the children will grow and they prepare for them right where they are at. There’s a sense of patient urgency in you wonderful people.

It’s not a simple paradox to live though. It requires courage. People will tempt us with quick fixes. We’ve already been offered nutritional milkshakes to help our son regenerate nerves–the first one is free. While that may work for some, we’ll stay the path with our team’s approach. In teaching we’ll be offered computer programs that will engage and boost our students’ learning. And while that can work for specific interventions, we know what a child needs most is time and attention with the best teacher possible.

Underneath quality improvement plans (not the compliant ones) we write for individual students, schools and districts, I see this “believe and prepare” paradox present. When we believe, we have far-reaching vision for what can be. When we prepare, we ground ourselves with what is. The space between “what is” and “what can be” is the work.

Enjoy your winter breaks. Home for the holidays has never meant quite so much for our family.


Double Take


We’ve all done it. We are walking down the street and we think we see something and then we snap back to attention to get a better look. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Like a vegetable that reminds us of something else…




Other times it’s disbelief. Is he really wearing what I think he’s wearing? Sometimes it’s just plain surprising. We are compelled to look back and look longer so that our brain can make sense of what we are seeing.

This is what we do when we reread something closely. We read it the first time and then we go back again and again for deeper reads. We do it for many of the same reasons we double take. It’s funny, incredulous, unusual, brilliant, poignant or moving.

So there are a couple of things we need to think about when we take this into the realm of instruction. What are we reading closely? Not every text we read is a contender for close reading. Think Garth and Wayne’s refrain “We’re not worthy!” True dat. I see some colleagues in their quest to fulfill new standards choosing a text–any text–to have the students read multiple times. We must stop to ask ourselves if it’s worthy.

Here are a few literary and informational texts I’ve found worthy because of students’ responses:

Frog and Toad’s “Cookies” story by Arnold Lobel. First and second graders reread this text to gain a better understanding of will power and to make a claim regarding who had stronger will power, Frog or Toad.

Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks. Fourth graders reread this text to track one of the character’s words and actions over time in the story. We also had a great debate about tone. Was it hopeful or soul-crushing? Students rushed to the text to support their perspective.

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty. Fourth and fifth graders reread this text to figure out what salt represented in the 1930s in India. They supported their answers like “freedom” and “survival” and “power” with evidence from the text.

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson. Seventh graders reread this text to study a nonviolent approach to conflict. They were hooked from the opening third grader’s quote, “I want to go to jail.” Who would ever want to go to jail? It took several looks back to begin to understand this complex idea.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Young Readers Edition): The Secrets Behind What You Eat by Michael Pollan. I’ve used this with fifth graders up through adults to look at the role our food choices play in our lives. This is an well-written, book-length, argumentative essay. We have to reread to unpack Pollan’s meaning.

The other thing we should consider is how we are reading closely. Recently after I finished a close reading demonstration lesson during professional development, a teacher’s first reaction was, “OK, so we just have kids read something three times. I can have them do that.” No, no, no, no, no. “Purpose,” I said to him. “What was the purpose in each of those readings?” After experiencing it as learners, we reflected back as teachers. It’s not about the number of times or giving kids different prompts or questions to frame up each read. It’s about taking steps as readers to make the meaning more clear the deeper we go.

I loved this quote from Reading Today’s “What’s Hot” issue (September/October 2014) and it has me thinking about how I can increase respect for close reading in my practice:

If the current focus (some of us would call it a mania for) close reading leads to a greater respect for the role text can play as an evidentiary base to support literal, inferential and critical comprehension tasks, then I am all for it. If, on the other hand, close reading gets operationalized as low-level, literal, factual comprehension, it will set back comprehension instruction at least a decade, maybe more.–P. David Pearson

What is worthy of rereading? How do you bring greater respect to comprehension?


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.


Where Are My Sleeves?
















At the Herb Farm in Woodinville, Washington, owners Carrie Van Dyk and Ron Zimmerman work alongside their servers, sous-chefs and sommelier. They dress in the traditional manner of fine dining restaurants: black on bottom, crisp white on top. For one course they might be topping off water goblets while another they are describing their dishes with mouth-watering adjectives. What they are not doing is standing back and surveying the work–they are right in the mix with their sleeves rolled up.

August brings many professional development opportunities. Depending on our roles, sometimes we lead them, sometimes we attend them. I often observe what top decision makers in districts do when they attend workshops and conferences. Some administrators come in and sit way in the back. They’ll wave off my offer of handouts and say, “I’m just here to see how things are going.” Without knowing it, they can send the message, “I’m not here to learn.” Others sit with teams, take notes, ask questions and participate fully. I hear them say, “How can I support you? What can I be doing?” Like Carrie and Ron, their sleeves are rolled up and they are fully engaged in the work.

I believe leaders are doers. I don’t want to ask my team to do things I’m not willing to do. How will I participate in upcoming professional development? Will my sleeves be rolled up or buttoned down? Where will your sleeves be?


Read This

Since I made the commitment to read a book a day, there’s been no regret. Oh, there’s been catching up and wondering if I can possibly keep this up until Labor Day, but no regret. Pushing myself to read means I’m watching less media, going to the library more, taking my book in my car to read at any little moment and talking to more people about books. Those are all wonderful things.

At this point I’ve read 34 books. Two books have emerged as favorites.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

One of my friends on Goodreads had written in her review, “I love everything about this book” and I completely agree. I love the characters, tension, dialogue, description and even the fact that it made me cry. My ten-year-old loved it as much as I did. It’s one of those books that I clasped to my chest upon finishing and said, “Thank you.”

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

Wow. OK Wow. There is a song from Sesame Street called “Just One Person” that begins,

If just one person believes in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you…
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
“If he can do it, I can do it.”

Making it: two whole people, who believe in you
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you.
Hard enough and long enough
There’s bound to be some other person who
Believes in making it a threesome…

This is that book.

Here are the other books I’ve read and the order I read them in:

Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Neilson
Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig
Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe
Something Big by Sylvie Neeman
The Cheese Belongs to You by Alexis Deacon
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
How to Get a Job by Me, the Boss by Sally Lloyd
The Pocket Mommy by Rachel Eugster
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale
A Good Trade by Alma Fullerton
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Plastic, Ahoy! by Patricia Newman
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Odd Duck by Cecil Casteelluci and Sara Varon
Fairytale Comics Edited by Chris Duffy
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Doreen Rappaport
Puss Jekyll Cat Hyde by Joyce Dunbar
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
The Silver Button by Bob Graham
Bugs in my Hair! by David Shannon
A Dance like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey
My Teacher Is a Monster by Peter Brown
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
Flight School by Lita Judge
The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier
The Grudge Keeper by Mora Rockliff
Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Seas by Matthias Picard

I believe if we teach literacy, we need to be up on current books. Educators often ask me how I know about so many books. I say simply: I stay in touch. My children talk to me about what they are reading and I read those books. But you don’t have to have kids. Talk to anyone. Ask, “What should I have on my to-read stack?” and they’ll tell you. Happily.

Or look at a website like

Publishers Weekly Best Books of Summer

Or go to Twitter and type in the hashtag #bookaday

Or get an account at Goodreads and follow what your friends are reading. Friend me if you like. I don’t post often but I check in every couple of weeks.

Or go to Amazon and type in the books you like. Scroll down and see what other people are buying who like what you like.

Or find the “new books” shelf at the library and sign-up for the e-newsletter from your local library. There are new books and suggestions from librarians.

Or go spend twenty minutes in a bookstore. Walk in, find the area that interests you, sit down and begin touching. If you have the funds, buy the books. If you don’t have the funds, write down the titles and put them on hold at your library.

Or follow blogs like mine or this one Nonfiction Detectives or this one Teach Mentor Texts.

There’s plenty of summer left. Keep reading. Find good stuff and share it.


Why Pre-assess

In the process of moving my office this June, I’m unearthing memorabilia from my past and enjoying revisiting the artifacts of my teaching history, especially the samples of student work. That’s how I found myself paging through pre-assessments written by me and the team and filled out by fifth graders. I’d saved them all. Our unit was called Causes of Conflict with an emphasis on the American Revolution. Our opening statement was designed to set the students at ease:

The purpose of a pre-assessment is to find out what you know before we start our unit. This will not be graded. Your honest effort is greatly appreciated as it helps us provide better instruction.

We started off with some of our big ideas in the unit and asked students to write everything they could:

*What is conflict?
*What leads to conflict?
*Why do participants take sides?
*How are conflicts resolved?

Many of the students had great examples of conflicts in their own lives and much wisdom about taking sides. For example one student wrote, “Participants take sides because everybody has their own beliefs and they take the side of people who have the same beliefs as them.” Another student explained, “People take sides because they want to get others’ backs. They usually take the side of their friends.”

Then we had some stems for them to complete with a short response:

*History is…
*Geography is…
*Civics is…
*Economics is…
*The American Revolution was…

Because we were going to look at the American Revolution with all of these aspects of Social Studies in mind, we wondered what students already knew. Most students had solid definitions for history, geography and economics. I chuckled to read one’s attempt, “Geography is…plain, hard work.” The majority of students weren’t sure about civics. Was it a person like a citizen? Was it a type of animal? (A civet, I realized). Or another answer that got me chuckling, “I used to know what civics was, but I’ve forgotten so you’ll have to remind me.” Looking at the trends, almost every student knew the American Revolution was a war, yet only a couple were certain who it was between.

Our unit was going to be guided with an around-the-classroom timeline that we’d build together so we asked the students to create a timeline with any four events in history on their pre-assessment. Many students chose personal events like, “I was born, my sister was born, I started school, I started fifth grade.” Almost all the students put September 11, 2001 on their timeline. Three students had accurate dates for the American Revolution, The Civil War, World War I, and World War II. The teachers remarked that they were surprised by some of the students who emerged as timeline savvy, two of them were students that were below grade level in other aspects of literacy.

The final question is one we used to judge students’ preconceptions and engagement for an upcoming unit. We worded it like this:

When you heard you would be starting a new Social Studies unit, place an X on the line below about how you feel.

Excited ——————————————Not Very Excited Yet

Then we also asked them to explain why they felt that way. “I’m not that excited because I don’t know that much about it” and “I’m just not that into history” contrasted with “I read about the American Revolution all the time. I love studying battles!”

As a coach, one of the best ways to measure my work with a teacher or a team is with a pre-assessment and a post-assessment with very specific learning goals in mind. But I’ve been met with resistance to doing pre-assessments. Teachers have told me:

*”It’s a waste of instructional time.”
*”We already know they don’t know it.”
*”Students get upset if they don’t know the answers. I don’t want to stress them out.”

I understand questioning adding something else to the plate. Let’s start with the last concern. When I approach students this way, “Listen, we’re going to ask you to spend the next 20 minutes doing an assessment to see what you already know about this topic we are starting. We want you to try to answer everything. It’s not graded. We are going to use this to make our teaching fit you better and be more interesting,” they are open to doing their best. Some have even told me they thought it was fun to think about things they didn’t know they were going to think about. I believe it’s all in the way you approach it.

In response to “We already know they don’t know it” and “It’s a waste of time,” let’s consider these assessments I’ve described. We didn’t know there were three boys in one classroom that rocked timelines. We were able to identify them as experts early on and for two of them it buoyed their confidence and made this their favorite unit. We were able to teach terms like history, geography and economics quickly and spend more time understanding civics and its role with this important conflict. Finally, we took the engagement we’d discovered in the question: Why do participants take sides? and we used their experience and interests to open the unit that way. Without the pre-assessment, we wouldn’t have had any of this information.

In the post-assessments most of the students who had selected “Not Very Excited Yet” in the pre-assessment had moved much closer to “Excited.” One student said it best, “I think I wasn’t excited because I didn’t know what we were going to learn, but then once I learned it I realized how important the American Revolution was to me today. It made me think about how there is a time to fight for what you believe in.”


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?