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?




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.


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?


Do You Consider Yourself a Reader?

There is no such thing as a child who hates to read, there are only children who have not found the right book. -Frank Serafini

On spring break we broke up the long stretches of highway with different car activities. Coming out of Bakerfield, California we cranked the clear reception of KUZZ country radio and started sorting songs. We came up with four categories of country music: hookin’ up, breakin’ up, makin’ up and gettin’ messed up.

Take for example, Jake Owen’s Blue Jean Night

Blue eyes and auburn hair
Sittin’ lookin’ pretty by the fire in a lawn chair
New to town, new to me
Her ruby red lips was sipping’ on sweet tea…

Blue Jean Night definitely fits the “hookin’ up” category. While Blake Shelton’s Drink On It goes in the “gettin’ messed up.”

I could use another whiskey
And your Cosmo’s gettin’ low
While we’re trying to figure out
The next place we should go…

So what does this have to do with readers? Well, just like there are some trends in country music, so there are patterns with independent readers who answer a particular question in a particular way. The question is, “Do you consider yourself a reader?” And if the answer is no, they may fit into one of these categories.

Bored Readers

Let’s start with the bored readers. Depending on the variety of books in their classroom or their access to the library, they may not have many books that fit their obscure tastes. Knowing your readers pays off big time here. Here are two students, the texts that got them unbored and how I sold them on these books.

Me: I read this book over my vacation. The False Prince It’s a murder mystery of sorts and has a bit of violence, but every last sentence of every chapter leaves you hanging.
Dre (Grade 5): What do you mean?
Me: Reads last line of chapter. “And that was my first clue about why Conner had taken us. We were all in terrible danger.”
Dre: That’s weird.
Me: Totally. And listen to this from the cover, “Choose to Lie..or Choose to Die.”
Dre: That’s intense.

And another,

Me: I read this book Flora and Ulysses with my daughter. The character Flora reminded me of you.
Thea (Grade 4): Why?
Me: Because you see things in extraordinary ways. Like this girl watches a squirrel get vacuumed up and that’s where the adventures really start. It’s definitely for a mature reader with a quirky sense of humor like you.

Chore Readers

Then there are the chore readers. Often these students have experiences with Accelerated Reader or other reading reward programs. They look at me strangely when I ask, “What do you read for fun?” For fun? Reading? For these students reading is homework. Reading is what you document on a chart and have your mom sign. Reading is a big have-to for kids like Noah.

Me: I have this huge book called The Lego Ideas Book
Noah (Grade 2): About legos? Just stuff about legos?
Me: Yeah. I know how much you create and build so I thought you might enjoy reading this and tell me whether the author really knows what he’s talking about.

Scarred Readers

I hate to use the word scarred, but it’s fitting here. These are kids who know they are in the low group or have been told they struggle with reading. As one teacher put it, “He’s not the brightest crayon in the box, bless his heart.” They may be embarrassed to read at their appropriate level or have little practice with independent reading because their interventions don’t include it.

Me: I’ve noticed you haven’t really gotten into any series yet.
Dayton (Grade 3): Nope
Me: Some kids think these Elephant and Piggie books are for young kids, but I read this one to my teenage boy and he loved it. We Are In a Book!
Dayton: Why?
Me: Because there’s so much humor in these books, if you read them right. Not everyone can read them right. But you do your funny voices and joke so I think you could really get into these books.
Dayton: What do you mean?
Me: Like read this page, not too loud so we don’t disrupt everyone, but do your voices and see how hilarious they are. Elephant is more like me, a rule follower, but Piggie is fun and imaginative. She reminds me more of you.
Dayton reads aloud.

Me: Do you know about these books? Guys Read: Funny Business
Trent (Grade 7): Shrugs.
Me: Well, there’s some language and inappropriate situations in here, so you’ll have to decide if that’s right for you. But there’s also some funny, funny stories.
Trent: Like Family Guy funny?
Me: Maybe. You’ll have to tell me. But the cool part of this book is that each chapter is a different story so you don’t have to read it front to back, you can just jump to the thing you like.
Trent: Like a magazine.
Me: Yeah, kind like that. I have only read three of them, but maybe you could mark some of the really funny ones and we could share them with other kids. I really liked My Parents Give My Bedroom to a Biker by Paul Feig if you want to start there.

Disconnected Readers

The final category are disconnected readers. They often read aloud just fine, but they have no relationship with the text they are reading. They aren’t visualizing or stopping to ask questions. They’ve never gasped or laughed out loud during reading time.

Me: I found a book that is full of feels that I think will really get you playing a movie in your head. The One and Only Ivan
Skyla (Grade 4): Okay…
Me: Plus I know you love animals.
Skyla: It’s about a gorilla (looking at cover).
Me: It’s not just any gorilla, but it’s based on a gorilla that was caged for over twenty years at a shopping mall not far from here. Can you imagine?

When students tell me they don’t consider themselves readers, I’m intrigued to find out if they are bored, scarred or see books as laborious and unplugged from what’s alive in them. Of course whenever you have categories, you have exceptions like we didn’t know what to do with Billy Currington’s “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy,” but I queue up my stack of books with the intent of giving students a new experience of reading, to meet that book that might make the difference.


Easy Openers


In celebration of National Library Week, we used one of our favorite professional development icebreakers this morning. Here are the easy steps to a successful opener to any meeting. Begin by setting out picture books and novels on tables for colleagues to pass by as they walk in.

1. Ask participants to choose a book that calls to them as they come in to the meeting.
2. Invite them to “date” their book for two minutes looking at the title/cover, reading a passage, skimming or any approach to previewing.
3. Pair participants and give them four minutes to share their book with their partner.
4. If you have more time you can repeat steps two and three for another round.
5. Call everyone back together and ask volunteers to reflect on how they chose their book, what they learned or how they might use it.

One of our coaches chose Perfect Square by Michael Hall. Do you know this book? It’s great for adults and kids. Perfect Square Link Perfect Square called to her because the shapes are “just so” and she appreciated the message of the book that perfect squares can become anything. Another coach chose Zombie Makers by Rebecca Johnson Zombie Maker Link because he felt a little “undead” at the end of his work week. Sharing out about Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal Duck! Rabbit! Link, the coach said, “It called to me because the duck-rabbit illusion is so much like coaching. We can be looking at the exact same thing–like standards for example–and see something completely different.”

Here are titles of the assortment I chose to put out on the tables:

17 Things I’m Not Allowed To Do Anymore (and) 11 Experiments That Failed-Jenny Offill
Exclamation Mark-Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Dead End in Norvelt-Jack Gantos
Food-Ifeoma Onyerulu
Holes-Louis Sachar
How to Survive Anything-Rachel Buchholz
How to Teach a Slug to Read-Susan Pearson
The Invisible Boy-Trudy Ludwig
If…-Sarah Perry
If You’re Riding a Horse and It Dies, Get Off-Jim Grant and Char Forsten
Ish-Peter Reynolds
Pictures of Hollis Woods-Patricia Reilly Giff
Ralph Tells a Story-Abby Hanlon
The Story of The Little Piggy Who Couldn’t Say No-Sabine Ludwig
Thank You Notes-Jimmy Fallon

What are some easy openers that you enjoy using?


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!


What’s New On March’s Mentor Texts Shelf?


I can’t believe it’s our last class! Our six-class course that started in October ended today. Sean, Linda and all our guests have increased our go-to shelves for professional development and teaching with fantastic informational and literary texts that might have passed us by.

Here’s the link to our summary sheet:


I’ll just say one thing about each of our picks this month:

In a lifetime a spider has one egg sac while a kangaroo has 50 joeys and a giraffe gains 200 inches and has 200 spots. I was intrigued by the author’s purpose of sharing averages for animals’ lifetimes. It’s a multi-faceted book not to be overlooked.

Handle With Care
Students learn to identify, comprehend and use nonfiction text features, but Sean pointed out to me that looking at how features on a page are all related is a new level of complexity.

On a Beam of Light
The author uses red text for some statements and black for most. Why? As we looked closely, we realized that the red text captures big ideas and the black text elaborated on those. Any teacher looking for another way to bring elaboration to life will love this book.

Lots of awards, similes, metaphors, rule of three, onomatopoeias, rhyme, fluency, strong verbs, interesting conventions choices…need I say more?

Terrific was an “ahhh…” book at the end. We love those books that remind us that people do change and that having someone who believes in us can make all the difference.

Lunchtime can be a difficult time for kids. If you bring lunch from home, is your food “normal” or not? If you bring kim chi or okra or sushi, how is that accepted? Exposing students to the variety of foods that are eaten is incredibly important. This simple informational book for the very young is quite a treat.


Archie Meets Glee and Text Complexity


Knowing Ahna’s affection for all things “I Love Lucy” from the 1950s, it didn’t surprise me when she squealed about the Archie Meets Glee comic book. It’s not because she’s a Gleek; she’s never seen the show. No, the appeal is that the mash-up of Archie/Finn, Veronica/Rachel and Reggie/Puck connects the new to the known.

I take a similar approach to my study and teaching around text complexity. Last month Amanda Adrian and I taught the text complexity class in our ELA Common Core Shifts course. We opened up with a chapter from Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp titled, “Text Complexity Is the New Black.”

One of our favorite lines is, “Unlike a pendulum, which is often how reading instruction is described, we see this continual research process as a drill, with each subsequent return to a topic resulting in deeper knowledge.” Since college I’ve known that text complexity is more than a number spit out by a computer analyzing word counts, types of words, mean sentence length etc. Through continued professional development I understand more that, “Text complexity is (also) more than an analysis of the current skills of readers.” But as we grapple with the current three-part model, teachers want to know, “How is this different from what I’ve been doing?”


Great question.

To encourage discourse, we shifted to a Teaching Channel Let’s Chat Core segment and watched the first five minutes with time to talk with colleagues.

Teaching Channel Text Complexity

Then I talked about the book Holes by Louis Sachar that Ahna started and had difficulty comprehending. The quantitative (computer) assessment of the book is a 5.2 grade level equivalent, which is close to appropriate for her. But looking at the variety of qualitative attributes that only a human reader can identify, we begin to see that the structure of the text is quite complex. There are frequent manipulations of time and sequence–it’s unconventional. Further when we consider the reader and task we ask:

Is she reading for pleasure?
Or is she reading to track the changes of the main character, Stanley Yelnats?
Or perhaps analyzing the theme?

All of these components play a role when we decide what to put in front of kids.

From stacks of literary and informational texts Amanda and I brought, we had teachers choose a text and a text complexity rubric to analyze the books.

One Literary Text Complexity Rubric

One Informational Text Complexity Rubric

Upon completion, one teacher said it best, “This is really hard, but I’m glad we are thinking about the texts we are putting in front of students. I don’t want to see them stagnate in my room, I want them to keep growing. But I also don’t want to put text in front of them just because it’s difficult. I want to be intentional.”

While some people may see this work with text complexity as the pendulum swinging again, I see it as an opportunity to drill deeper and use what we’ve learned over the past decades to teach smarter. Like when Archie Meets Glee, we can appreciate the new and connect it to the known. We can feel curious about the unfamiliar within the familiar. And we can ask ourselves this crucial question, “How can knowing more about my students as readers and the texts I put in front of them help them grow?”

If you are thinking deeply about text complexity too, here are some other blogs on the topic that have stimulated my thinking:

Burkins & Yaris: Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy Four Types of Text Complexity

Vicki Vinton’s To Make a Prairie Looking at Complex Texts

How are you thinking about text complexity as a coach?




When a company sets out to make unique eyeshadow colors with names like “Girl on Fire” from the Hunger Games collection, there are bound to be some flops. Some sixes when the goal was tens. My daughter informed me that these are called derps–foolish mistakes. Instead of tossing the derps, one company, Shiro Cosmetics, offers them up to the public.Shiro Cosmetics Flirtatious Failures

Derps are incredibly valuable. When working with adult learners I find our conversations focused on “what it is not” are just as thought provoking as “what it is.” For example, independent reading time during workshop is not SSR (sustained silent reading) and guided reading is not popcorn reading in a small group. These distinctions are important to building a common language among colleagues.

Some time has passed since I did this podcast with Katherine Casey but it’s got me thinking again about how I can share derps more often with teachers to deepen our learning. Katherine facilitated my first training as a coach and I read her book, Literacy Coaching: The Essentials every year that I work with a new coach. She’s got smart advice about using derps to our advantage.

Heather’s Podcast With Katherine Casey


How do you use derps in your work?