Roll Not Wring












You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.- Pat Schroeder

On my way to a PBIS conference on Monday, someone asked me what I like about my job as a coach that’s different than my work as a teacher. I thought back eight years ago when I was teaching fifth grade and offering professional development to my peers in a series of before-school sessions. Samples of my students’ work, a videotape of my students in action (yes, an actual videotape) and anecdotes from my classroom were well-received and at times followed by “yeah, but…”

“Yeah but I don’t have the classroom library you have.”
“Yeah but I’m not as into writing as you are.”
“Yeah but I haven’t taught as long as you have.”
“Yeah but I’m not as patient as you are.”
“Yeah but this won’t work for my class.”

I was tempted to “yeah but” in return.

“Yeah but if you start now your library will grow. There are so many ways to get books.”
“Yeah but you can start simple with what you already know.”
“Yeah but everyone has to begin somewhere.”
“Yeah but patience is a learned skill.”
“Yeah but what if it could?”

Instead I often found myself wringing my hands wondering how to make instruction and management strategies more possible, more do-able.

When I began learning about the coaching work I realized it would grant me access to my colleagues’ classrooms. No one would have to take my word for it anymore or watch a videotape of my students. I could show it instead of tell it. Now when they worried about classroom libraries, not enough time, lack of experience and a hard class, I could listen, nod and roll up my sleeves. We could experience the changes LIVE in the classroom. While I could impact 27 students in my personal classroom, the impact of coaching could be exponential. Couldn’t it?

So I love the opening quote and I keep it in the forefront of my mind. I don’t ask teachers to try something if I’m not willing to try it. While we may fail at something together, they don’t trip up because I’m unwilling to support them with what they need. Sleeve-rolling is always in progress. I also can’t wring my hands about reactions to new standards or data collection expectations or teachers who like coaching more in theory than reality. If I wring, I can’t roll. In this work, rolling is required.


The Paper Test

During our coach-to-coach time, my colleague Sean was discussing a teacher who had invited him to coach in her classroom. They’d been working together for weeks and were making good progress. Still there was something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“She really appreciates the planning time. Especially when we anticipate how things will go and what might pop up as obstacles during the lesson. When we are co-conferring she’s always so grateful when I take the lead and she talks about what she’s learning. It seems like we have such good conversations, but then when I’m away for a day or two she doesn’t always take action on the things she says she wants to change. I’ll go back to my notes from the previous week and say, ‘How did it go when you met with the three students we spotted doing fake reading?’and she’ll admit that she didn’t get to it. Or I’ll look at the word wall we talked about making more student-friendly and it won’t have changed.”

I studied Sean’s neat, copious notes.

“How often does she take notes?” I asked.

He lifted his eyebrows, “She doesn’t really take notes. Sometimes she even asks for copies of mine, but I don’t know what she does with them.”

I thought back to a conversation I’d had with Clare Landrigan. She’d explained how she uses the “paper test” to see what colleagues find most powerful in the collaborative process. It was a professor at Tufts, Donald Wertlieb, who first explained the paper test to her.

Since that conversation I’ve been more attuned to teachers’ notes. Just last week I was reflecting on a writing share session with a colleague. I agreed with her thoughts and said, “Right. It’s not about applause, it’s about feedback.” She wrote down “FEEDBACK–NOT APPLAUSE” and underlined it. I knew that had hit home. The next hour I was debriefing with a fifth-grade teacher and asked him what he was taking away from our meeting. He glanced at his notes and read back three ah-has he hadn’t considered before. It was helpful to my work to know what was resonating with him.

When a teacher (like the one in Sean’s example) takes no notes I consider these questions:

*Did they come prepared to take notes?

If I don’t see teachers with something to write on and something to write with, I now take a moment at the beginning of our work to invite them to prepare by asking, “Did you want to get paper and pen so you can take notes too?” Often teachers will say, “Thank you, yes!” or ask to borrow paper from me (I keep an abundance of lined paper in my notebook).

*Do they have a purpose for taking notes?

Not everyone feels comfortable writing and talking at the same time. “I’m going to get down the points of what you just said so we can come back to it later,” can be an invitation that reminds them that if we note it now, we will remember it later. At the end I’ll write very specific actionable statements based on the teacher’s goals. “This way we’ll be able to look back and see the change.” Sometimes teachers, especially beginning-career teachers, will ask if they can copy my notes.

*Or are they really-really not into note taking?

I have a colleague who doesn’t ever take notes. That’s worked for her for years and she has always relied on her memory–that’s her preference. I don’t worry about the paper test with her because I know it’s not something that works for her learning style.

But the paper test is an effective measure for most.

Sean reflected on his work with that particular teacher. “When she comes up with a bunch of goals, but she doesn’t write any of them down, she can’t possibly remember them all. It’s like the one taking the notes is the one doing the accountability work. It’s important for me to take notes as a coach, but it’s most important for her to take notes.”

We talked about two strategies he could use at their next meeting. He liked the idea of simply pausing and thinking aloud saying something like, “I’m going to write that down about changing the word wall so the words are accessible to kids.” Studying his own notes, he recognized that he often used two columns. On the left he recorded discussion and on the right he left room for upcoming changes or actions. He commented that it would be easy to make an additional form to offer for her use.

“I’m going to start paying closer attention to what teachers are noting during our sessions. I think that will tell me a lot.”

What do you notice teachers taking notes about? What do you do that invites effectively taking notes? How does the ‘paper test’ serve you in your coaching work?

And thank you to Sean and Clare!


Using Video Clips While Presenting: Part Two

Encouraged by the response to Part One of this series, I have more favorites clips to share. If you didn’t get a chance to explore Part One, here you go.

Clips Part One

6. Brain Rules

Time: Varies

Brain Rules Videos

Brain Rules by John Medina is a wonderful book with a bonus of short informative videos. I’ve used Exercise, Attention, Stress and Vision to enhance my presentations.

Some poignant points these videos make:
*Exercise boosts brain power.
*We don’t pay attention to boring things.
*Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.

7. Teamwork Clip

Time: 30 seconds

Teamwork Clip

Having a common goal is an important element of all great teams. This clip reminds us that all of us are mightier than any one of us.

Some poignant points this video makes:
*It’s best to stick together.
*It’s important to be on the same side of the iceberg.

8. Leadership TED Talk

Time: 6:15

Everyday Leadership Clip

I try to watch a TED talk each week. Not only do I get incredible speaking pointers, but I’m always filled with new ideas, research and questions to ponder. This short talk has me thinking a lot about leadership in all parts of my life.

Some poignant points this video makes:

*We need to call ourselves leaders.
*We all have people who have changed our lives to thank.
*We can all matter “that much” to other people.

9. Let People Surprise You Clip

Time: 6:15

Britain’s Got Talent Clip

Many people have seen the famous Susan Boyle clip where the 47-year-old singer rocks the judges and the audience. I still get chills when I watch it.

Some poignant points this video makes:

*All people–big and small–have special talents.
*Don’t be quick with judgments.
*People surprise us when we let them.

10. What I Am

Time: 1:52

Sesame Street and Wil.i.am Clip

I love it when favorite artists get together with the folks on Sesame Street. This is a catchy, positive song for any transition, but it could also be an introduction to “What I Am” poems or songs with adjectives of many kinds.

Some poignant points this video makes:

*Keep reaching.
*There is nothing you can’t achieve.
*What I am is…helpful, thoughtful, special, magical, proud…

Have a wonderful Wednesday!


What I Thought



A young woman, new to teaching, sat in the back of the training. If she had a smile, I never saw it. Her look said, “Bored. Bored. Bored.” A loud yawn escaped her mouth after lunch. A few teachers turned at the sound. She texted under the lip of the table.

At the end of the day, the training was well-received. Educators wrote actionable goals for themselves. They said they were inspired. The young woman moved up toward me and left a note by my computer.

After packing up, I read it.

“Thank you for this day. I’ve felt so lost teaching writing. Nobody really tells you how to do it, they just think you should know. So I’ve been doing a prompt a day on worksheets. Now I’m putting that crap away. You’ve given me hope of doing it differently.”

I was stunned. Stunned. How could this be the same person? Could it have been that her bored demeanor was actually discomfort? Could the yawn have been acceptance that now that she knew better, she’d do better?

Have. Positive. Presuppositions.

I believe I learned this first from Art Costa. What the phrase means to me in coaching is that I must believe that everyone is bringing their best selves to the table. That their intentions are for good. That there is always more to their story than meets the eyes and ears.

But she’d really stumped me. I was sure she hadn’t learned anything, that she was disappointed and that her evaluation would be the one that read, “waste of time.”

And I was wrong. Why? Because I hadn’t had positive presuppositions. If I had I would’ve seen the bored expression and considered, maybe she’s thinking deeply. I would’ve heard the yawn and thought, she must need more sleep because she’s a hardworking new teacher. Her texts might have been notes to herself about what she wanted to remember to do when she got back to the classroom.

Have positive presuppositions is the first norm for our coaching team. It’s the destination we strive to go. “Positive Presuppositionland” is a place where I don’t take things personally. I trust myself and others. Everywhere I look I see glasses half full. It’s a fine place to visit and an even better place to live.


Using Video Clips While Presenting: Part One


A well-chosen, well-placed video clip is every presenter’s secret weapon. The benefits of using movie clips are many. They add humor, visuals, inspiration and feeling into presentations. Clips can be used in introductions, conclusions and any place in between. The best clips, in my opinion, are short and well-connected to your content; an intentional clip deepens thinking and conversation.

When I play a clip I take a moment to place it in context. To set the purpose, often I’ll say something like, “We are watching this clip because…” In addition, I may set a specific watch-for like, “In the next clip be sure to notice __________.”

To start us off with part one, here five video clips that my audience and I have appreciated:

1. It’s Not About the Nail
Time: 1:41

It’s Not About the Nail Movie Clip

I love this hyperbolic clip. It gets right at the challenges of communication. Right after lunch or a break this provides laughter, but if your topic of presentation happens to be active listening, male report talk vs. female rapport talk or communication, it will fit right in.

Some poignant points this video makes:
*Men and women communicate differently.
*People just like to be heard.
*There is listening and then there is fixing.

2. Herding Cats
Time 1:01

Herding Cats Commercial

Herding Cats is a classic. It’s a great reminder of how difficult working with groups of children can be. By way of introduction you can say, “We all know that teaching is one of the toughest jobs out there. See if you can identify with these cowboys.”

Some poignant points this video makes:
*Cooperation is key.
*Herding is challenging.
*”Don’t let anybody tell you it’s easy.”

3. Attention Test
Time: 1:22

Selective Attention Test

This clip has been widely used for years, but some newer teachers haven’t seen it and even those of us who have seen it, enjoy watching it again. Ask anyone who has seen the video to please not say anything until it’s over. And don’t make the mistake I did calling it ‘The Gorilla Video.’ Say, “This video is a test of your attention. Follow the instructions on the video.”

Some poignant points this video makes:
*We choose what to pay attention to.
*Selective attention also means selective ignoring.
*The more people paying attention, the better.

4. Lifted
Time: 4:50


Pixar has many short clips that remind us all of our humanity or our ‘alien’ity in this case.

Some poignant points this video makes:
*Learning something new is difficult.
*Feeling like we are being judged can affect our performance.
*We ALL approximate as we learn.

5. Kid President
Time: 3:55

Kid President Teacher Pep Talk

Soul Pancake puts out some great pep talks. Say, “This video makes us think about what we want to teach the world?”

Some poignant points this video makes:
*Be more awesome.
*Ordinary people like you and me make a difference. Everybody is a teacher.
*Life is school and you’ve got to show up.

I have many more clips to share so I’ll blog this in parts. In the meantime, please share. What are your favorite clips to use in presentations?


Lose One Pound

This January I’ve parked my bum in spin class since committing to a long-distance bike race tandeming with my husband and riding next to my father-in-law. Our spin instructor is in his 60s and in great shape. Right after the New Year, fellow riders were talking about resolutions.

“I’ve got a resolution for you; lose one pound this year,” he said.

No one seemed very impressed.

“I’m serious. Lose one pound this year. Most Americans gain at least a pound a year from midlife on. So if all you do is lose one pound this year through the ups and downs of the seasons, you’ll set a wonderful trend for the years to come.”

At the end of class I went in and weighed myself on the scale and set a calendar appointment for January 1st 2015 with a goal of one pound less.

It feels totally do-able.
It’s accepting of exactly where I am right now.
And it’s very clear. Lose JUST ONE POUND this year.


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


Every month to get ready for our “What’s New In Mentor Texts?” class I have tough decisions to make deciding on my top two picks for the month. Among the six books that we choose, we try to balance primary and intermediate appeal as well as literary and informational. This month I fell in love with recommendations from bloggers. I learned about The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig from Stacey Shubitz (blogger on the wonderful Two Writing Teachers) when she commented on the blog in November. Then I was introduced to Why Do We Fight? by Niki Walker from The Nonfiction Detectives blog. Best Nonfiction Books of 2013

We had a guest reader this month, our friend and colleague Samantha Munnecke, who brought her love of writing and storytelling to the party.

Click below for a PDF of our handout with a brief summary and ideas of how to the use the text as a writing and reading mentor. Happy reading!


If you missed December’s or November’s, stop by:

December Posting

November Posting


Yes: Poems that Speak to Other Poems


A few weeks ago I read a poem by Jill Cooper that she posted on Facebook. This is an excerpt from “Yes.”

Yes to this day.
Yes to your body.
Yes to what your body
Yes, to the insides
of flowers.
Yes to opera. Yes to trees.
Yes, to being late.
Yes to driving
the kids back and
forth back and
forth and back.
Yes to home.
Yes to your lover.
Yes to being
Yes to your dreams.
Yes to your best stories.
Yes to feeling
everything you feel.
Yes to feeling,
anything you feel.
Yes, yes. yes.
Yes to avocado skins
in the sun on
the counter of your
ideas. Yes
to vacations with
people you like.
Yes to the talking person
on the plane.
Yes to the crying babies.
Yes to your best work.
Yes to your effortless
work. Yes to your watch.
Yes to tea and chocolate.
Yes to waiting. Yes
to finding out the
truth. Yes, to trying and
not trying. Yes to saying
no. Yes, to beets. Yes
to soft towels and knowing
how to say yes to your life.

The day after I read “Yes” was our Teachers as Writers Saturday class. As part of our ritual after we settle in, I always offer a short warm-up to get our creative juices flowing. On this particular Saturday I read “Yes” to everyone and then said, “Write your own Yes poem if you are inspired. Or maybe yours is a No poem. Or even a Maybe poem. Perhaps it’s not a poem at all, but a small moment triggered by what you heard. Whatever it is write for ten uninterrupted minutes. Happy writing.”

I was struck by Jill’s line, “Yes to avocado skins in the sun on the counter of your ideas” and began drafting this poem that I call, “Yes to Avocados.”

If you’d like to hear my spoken word version of “Yes to Avocados” click here

Yes to Avocados (with credit to Jill Cooper’s poem that spoke to my poem)

Yes to green meat
scooped out with a spoon.

Yes to pits
held by toothpicks
balanced on a glass
waiting to sprout.

Yes to “I’m gonna grow an avocado plant, Mama, and plant it in the garden by the string beans.”

Yes to skins of a black that’s green and a green that’s black.

Yes to bumps.

Yes to thumbprints that say, “I’m ready for guacamole.”

Yes to firmness that says,

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Yes to slices
and chunks
and mash.

Yes to highchair trays covered in green smears
and bibs with pocket surprises.

Yes to black beans
and ceviche
and Avocado Lime Pie.

Yes to bright orange stickers
that say: RIPE.

I love poems that speak to other poems. I’m adding “Yes” to go with three other poems that I’ve used that really seem to inspire the poetry within us.

To Be of Use by Marge Piercy Marge Piercy’s poem
The lines that speak to me most are:

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon George Ella Lyon’s poem
I get chills every time I read the opening lines:

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams William Carlos Williams’ poem

Writers love describing what “so much depends upon.”

What poems speak to you? You are invited to share a line or two or twenty.