On-Time Arrivals


One of the questions I get is how I stay on schedule, especially on days that I have multiple appointments with little breathing room in between. This is where my iPhone comes in handy. Let’s say I have a meeting at 8:40 during a teacher’s planning and I know I need to leave by 9:05 to get to my next commitment. I set my phone countdown timer for twenty minutes. At 9:00, my harp alerts us to the time and we wrap up our conversation so I can be on my way.

Some coaches have expressed that they don’t like being driven by a timer so I know it’s not for everyone. I value being on time for my commitments and find that when I know there’s an external reminder I can be present at the meeting and don’t have to watch the clock. I often say, “I’m going to set my timer so I can focus on our conversation. It’ll go off a few minutes before we need to finish up so I can stick to the time frame we set.”

On days that I know things may run tight, I also let teachers know that in the notes area of our Outlook appointment. I’ll write, “I’ll be coming directly from co-teaching a lesson so I may run a few minutes behind.”

What helps you stay on schedule?




Months ago I read the book Divergent by Veronica Roth with my book club and it ignited great discussion. Monday night I had the opportunity to see the movie with my book club girls. I have to say, I’m a fan. I’m not one of those people who gets upset if the book and movie don’t match. Different versions of an interesting story are fine with me.

With the debut of the movie came fun social media promotions. According to the first survey I took, I should belong to the Amity faction. Then I found a different set of questions and got Abnegation. Apparently my test results are inconclusive.

Click here for the quiz if you are interested:

Divergent Quiz

Still I have to agree with Four,”I don’t want to be just one thing. I can’t be. I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest and kind. Well, I’m still working on kind.”

Bravery, selflessness, intelligence, honesty and kindness are a recipe for a good coach. One of the things I love about this job is that every day is different. Thursday called on my selflessness and kindness. Today required bravery and honesty.

I’m curious what you think. What other factions contribute to a good coach? How do we acquire the attributes of another faction?

Here are a few other quotes that connect Divergent to our work:

“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.”

“But I will find new habits, new thoughts, new rules. I will become something else.”

“A brave (person) acknowledges the strength of others.”

“Politeness is deception in pretty packaging.”

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

“Sometimes crying or laughing are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now.”


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!


Testing, Testing 123 Testing


Happy St. Paddy’s Day! I discovered my Leprechaun name is Helpful McChuckles and while that’s funny, we are moving into a season where I don’t always feel as “helpful” as a coach. Yep, it’s testing season.

Over the years here are some ways I’ve focused my time and energy during testing:

* Read Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler or Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss with help from Lane Smith and Jack Prelutsky
Taking time to read and laugh together as colleagues during a staff meeting or reading to kids before the BIG DAY are great ways to invite conversation and troubleshoot what might come up.

* Organize I-was-in-your-shoes opportunities for teachers beforehand
Just last week, my colleague Sean and I offered a class on expository writing for our fourth-grade teachers. We set them up in a testing scenario so they heard the same administration directions and were given the same conditions as their students will be given in a month. It was an experience in empathy. Several teachers noted in reflection the sorts of things that put them at ease. Some admitted the mock testing was fun while others felt pressured and knew they’d have students who felt that way too about the real thing. Sean took pictures of the teachers hard at work on their writing tests to share with their students.

* Work on non-classroom projects
I tend to save projects like revising assessments, rewriting curriculum supplements and organizing the district website materials for late April. These projects are time-suckers that pull me out of the classroom, but when I can’t be working with teachers and students, it’s nice to check these off my list.

* Focus on primary grades
In our state, spring testing begins with third grade so it’s a great time to work with K-2 teachers. With our writing work this year, we planned to coach in primary classrooms the last quarter when testing impacts grades 3-6 for a bit. Because their schedules tend to change more than normal to accommodate the intermediate students’ testing needs, I’m prepared to be flexible.

* Offer kindness and calm
My colleagues all want their students to do well so they tend to feel a bit “nervy” at this time. I find that phone calls, emails or dropping off a bag of mints is a welcome “hang in there” reminder.

How does testing season temporarily change your work as a coach?


Green Eggs and Ham Coaching

Green Eggs and Coaching

I do not like
green eggs
and ham!

I do not like them,

I’ll admit I feel Sam-I-am-ish this week. The concept of educators having coaches like business professionals and athletes have had for years is a good one. Most people agree that two heads (and hearts) are better than one in professional collaboration. In my own experience, I’ve never worked with an educator who was meeting 100% of kids’ needs in 100% of the content areas, 100% of the time so it makes sense that coaching can benefit everyone.


And this is a big but.

It doesn’t mean that teachers want to work with coaches. Not in a box. Or on a train. Or here or there or frankly, anywhere.

Some don’t want to because they don’t trust us. Their experience of having another adult in the room might be closely linked to evaluation. Myths about coaching can be rampant. Teaching is personal and they are unwilling to be that vulnerable. Others don’t want to because they don’t think it will improve their practice. Their thoughts range from, “What do you have to teach me? I’m twice your age.” to “It would be nice to reflect, of course, but there’s no time.” A few may have had bad experiences with other coaches or consultants where they felt judged instead of empowered in their work. Once bitten, twice shy. Finally, there are educators in crisis. Their husbands have left, they can’t get pregnant, their children are experimenting with drugs or their parents have early onset dementia. Personal stress impacts learning and memory, which in turn affects an openness to collegial collaboration.

The natural instinct of a coach would be to not work with these individuals. And in the beginning, there’s some wisdom to that idea. If coaches only work with early-career or struggling teachers as they begin their role, that’s how colleagues will brand coaching: you work with a coach when you need fixing. So in the beginning of any coaching initiative it’s wise to work with a variety of teachers including the strong teacher-leaders. Then when you say, “Every teacher deserves a coach” your colleagues will see your actions match your beliefs. After the first few months or the first year of coaching though, you will need to begin working with those who lack trust, time, positive presuppositions and openness.

How do you get someone to try green eggs and ham when they don’t want to?

You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.

Sam-I-Am was on to something. He was so positive about his colorful breakfast foods. Look at his face on every page–smiling. He had moxie. He knew that green eggs and ham were tasty so he kept offering them in different ways. When a tray didn’t work, he tried an extendo-hand. He asked many questions, Could you, would you,
with a goat? Could you, would you, in a boat?

Here are some things I’ve tried or learned from transformative coaches:

Name it
After hearing from a colleague that the person I was to begin working with in a couple weeks was already complaining about coaches (shouldn’t those coaches be back in the classroom if they are such good teachers?), I decided to be upfront. I started in, “I know that some teachers aren’t excited to work with coaches in the beginning. For me, this is all about the kids. If we don’t begin to see improvements in students’ writing then I will understand if you choose not to continue our work. But we’ll need a couple of weeks to give it a shot. Are you willing to do that?” She was.

Don’t Take My Word For It
“I’ll be honest with you. I’m pretty nervous having you here while I’m teaching.” I nodded as the new teacher stared at the table.
“I don’t feel comfortable being watched,” he said. I nodded again.
“I hear you and I don’t think you’ll feel watched. You should notice me paying attention to what your students are doing and saying. My behavior should put you at ease once you get used to having me in here. If it doesn’t, please tell me.”
My husband once shared a business adage: under-promise and over-deliver. I keep that in mind as I coach. I don’t promise teachers will always feel at ease, but I work toward making them feel that way with what I say and do. I don’t promise that our collaborative work will be career-changing, but I also stay open because it has that potential.

Stay In Your Role
In the variety of coaching experiences I’ve had, sometimes I’ve coached in the context of a teaching guide or resources and other times not. Working within curricula, there are educators who think any curriculum kills teacher autonomy. One such teacher told a colleague of mine, “You aren’t going to find fidelity here if that’s what you are looking for. I haven’t even opened the resource.” My colleague responded, “I’m not the curriculum police. Maybe we can find some ways to make it fit better for you. Let’s start where you are at.” My colleague knew that the conversation about whether or not it’s OK to ignore the core curriculum was between that teacher and her administrator. Her job was to support efficient and effective curriculum and instruction which can happen in many ways.

Watch for Red Flags
One time he said, “The parents of my students are very concerned about you being in here.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“They want their kids learning from me.”
“Did you reassure them that teachers often work together in classrooms in our district?”
“I think they are still uncomfortable. You should probably not confer with kids.”

Another time he said, “I don’t want to teach children this lesson on arguing against another’s perspective. My team is against it.”
“What did they say?”
“They say we are encouraging disrespectful behavior.”
“Is that what you thought when you read the lesson?”
“What I thought? What I thought was I don’t want to step away from what my team is doing.”

The last time we met he said, “This coaching is taking time away from my test prep. My principal is going to be very disappointed if my scores drop.”
“Your principal has been in full support of our coaching work,” I assured him.
“That what she says…” he trailed off.

I knew when I left his classroom that would be the end of our work for the time being. He’d given me three red flags waving in unison to say, “I won’t work with you.”

I emailed later that day to say, “I appreciated the chance to work together this month. I’ve learned a lot from you. Hopefully there will be a time in the future to collaborate that’s a better fit.” I encouraged him to share the decision to pause coaching with his principal along with the obstacles he was facing. Then I let go. I’ve learned to trust if I let go, future collaboration is more likely. Meanwhile a slot opens up for a teacher who is hungry to get to work.

While not all coaching cycles end with, “I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am,” many of them do. Like teaching, it’s the good, hard work that pays off when you see students reading powerful books whining when it’s time to stop and students writing poignant pieces pleading for more time after recess and teachers stating, “This is exactly what I needed.”

Thank you Kurt for the delicious image. We’re a good team.


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.


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!



Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
— “Brave” Written by Sara Bareillis and Jack Antonoff

I worked with a remarkably brave student this week. I’ll call him Marcos. In Marcos’s classroom they are working on essays with strong messages. He’s decided he’s going to write about his dad. On the day he told me this, he burst into tears and pinched the bridge of his nose to try to stay in control. I told him I’d give him space because I could tell it was a very emotional topic. A little later he sidled up to me while I was working with a small group on the carpet.

Quietly I told him the story about a student in another class who had recently decided that writing about her mother was too painful and she decided to write about an older cousin because it was easier. I wanted to give him an out.

“I want to do this,” he assured me.

“Tell me about your dad,” I encouraged.

“Well, he left when I was three months old. So I don’t know where he lives, what kind of car he drives or whether he’s an outdoor person like me.”

“Wow,” I said. “That must leave you wondering–”

“About everything. All the time,” he said.

“When I was a kindergartener I figured out that my stepdad wasn’t my real dad because he’s white like my mom and not Hispanic. So I asked my mom, ‘Who is my real dad?’ and she said, ‘Don’t ask those questions,'” he continued.

When I’m graced with conversations like these, I tread carefully. I treat him gently; he’s a writer on thin emotional ice.

“How will you start?” I asked.

“I want to start with my mom telling me, ‘Don’t ask those questions.’ And then I want to write all the questions I have. I want to write that people can tell you not to ask questions out loud, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have them inside. You know?”

I nodded. I did. That sounded like an incredibly powerful thesis.

He went back to his spot and I collected myself. I had questions of my own. Why did he trust me with that story? How long had he been waiting for an invitation to write it? What would it become? And mostly, how can he be so brave?


Coaches’ Email Etiquette


Over the course of my work week between confirming schedules, double-checking planning details, sharing reflections and responding to teachers’ requests and questions, I probably spend about 60 minutes of my work day on communication. With this much time dedicated to connecting to my colleagues, I ask myself:

Do people respond to or ignore my emails?
If they do respond, do they give me the information I need?
Do they seem to misinterpret my communication?

Learning from my mistakes as well as what has worked, here are seven email etiquette tips:

1. Start with something nice

Simply starting with “How was your weekend? Is Devin walking yet?” or “It was nice to see your email waiting in my inbox this morning” or “I hope you’ve had a great start to your week,” can set the tone of your email. It takes very little time to start off with a personal, positive note. That’s just another way that I let colleagues know I’m about people first.

2. Reply to All means ALL

Use “reply to all” when you are sure that all the recipients are interested in what you have to say. I use reply to all when a teacher emails three coaches and asks a question. I want to be sure the other coaches know I answered the question or that they can chime in and add to what I’ve said. I don’t use reply to all when a teacher is complaining about the assessment changes and has cc’ed an entire grade level. I am pretty sure not every teacher wants to hear the back and forth.

3. Fast forward frame of mind

Imagine that every email you send to a teacher could be forwarded to a principal, your supervisor or the local news. Imagine that every email you send to an administrator could be forwarded to their staff. Yes, it happened. I use that lens to help me decide when to pick up the phone or meet in person to respond to a concern or have a difficult conversation.

4. 24 hours

“What is the district thinking by scheduling the scoring workshop the week before conferences? Are you all sharing the same malfunctioning brain?” Yes, it happened. These type of inflammatory communications may be dashed off to you in anger or without thought. A quote from Naomi Shihab Nye comes to mind, “Never meet urgency with urgency.” I give myself at least 24 hours to consider an appropriate response.

On the topic of 24 hours, I also try to respond to all emails within that time frame. I want my colleagues to know that I take their questions and thoughts seriously. On a particularly busy day I’ll write, “I’m in classrooms all day today, but I have a note to respond on Friday. Your question is a good one and I need to do more thinking.”

5. Collegial editors are your best friends

When I have an email with important information going out to a large group of people I always ask one of my fellow coaches, an office professional or another teacher to read it thoroughly. I ask them, “What could be misinterpreted here? What information is confusing or missing?” No matter how thoughtful I’ve been, having another perspective always improves the communication. I remind myself that with at least 16 different personality types, there are 15 others that don’t receive information like I do.

6. Consider confidentiality

I don’t share confidential information in emails with teachers. I might write something, “After talking with you about your Student H and conferring with her, I’m thinking we might want to inquire further about what’s going on with comprehension beyond literal questions.” The teacher and I know who Student H is, but if that email accidentally popped up on the screen while the teacher was setting up her document camera, the students and volunteer parents wouldn’t immediately see that we’re writing about Heidi.

7. Mirror their style

Does your colleague respond with short, clipped sentences? It’s probably because they prefer quick, concise communication. Does she instead seem to use email as a way to process her questions and reflections? It may be that she appreciates more elaboration of ideas. Sometimes I ask teachers in the enrollment stage of coaching about their email style. Other times I just watch their responses and align mine accordingly.

What additional tips make up your etiquette list?