My Sorry State


If you haven’t seen this video already, watch it before you read on.

Not Sorry Video

No, really. Go ahead. It’s about a minute. I’ll wait. I want you to have context for what I’m about to write.

After thinking about being “not sorry” the last few days, I’ve been noticing how much I apologize for things I’m not really sorry for. My ten-year-old daughter has been listening to herself too.

I seem to be the one to move in hallway stand-offs. “Sorry.”

I apologize for facts. “I’m sorry, but I have a commitment that day.”

I say “sorry” for winning games. Which is funny since one of those games is actually called Sorry.

I even apologize for my needs. “Sorry about this, but that pizza isn’t gluten free like I ordered.”

And here’s the funny thing–I didn’t think I said it that much. Is it possible that “sorry” for me has become a habitual response like “fine” after someone asks, “How are you?”

I’m not a meek, submissive or passive person. I speak my truth and stand up for what I believe. My friend Dixie recently said, “You may be tiny, but I wouldn’t want to scare you in a dark alley.” So perhaps I’ve used the word sorry when I really meant something else. Maybe it’s been the stand-in for “excuse me” or “thank you” or silence. Lately I’m noticing I can just be silent instead of saying sorry because I want sorry to mean something. I want it to be as powerful as the word love in my life, because I have many legitimate apologies.

“I’m sorry I forgot the tent pole–the gold one that holds up the entire frame.” (Yes, it happened.)

“I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings. That was never my intention.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you fully when you had something important to say.”

These are the statements worthy of my sorries.

This summer I am considering my sorry state in my personal life and next fall I’m going to see how that transfers to my professional one. The truth is, I’m not sorry we bumped into each other in hall. We have bodies. Those things happen. I’m not sorry that I have plans and can’t attend a candle party. (I’m also not sorry that there are fifty million other things I’d rather be doing than attending a candle party. That’s just me.) I’m not sorry I beat you at Monopoly or Wii Just Dance and I’m especially not sorry about Sorry because you kicked me back to the start one too many times. And I’m not sorry when my needs impact other people. That’s what happens in a community when we are all trying to make it work.

My daughter Ahna and I are catching each other when we use sorry. She told me a story of how she made cupcakes for her sewing camp friends and one girl told her she didn’t like them. “I said sorry,” Ahna admitted. “But then I realized I didn’t mean it. At all.”

Apologizing is a pure and powerful gift for all parties involved. I don’t want to be the girl-who-called-sorry too many times. I’ll be saving my sorries for when I need them.


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?


Coach to Coach Registration Closes June 30th


We are so excited about the upcoming opportunity to bring together coaches from around the country to learn with and from each other. That’s why we call it “Coach to Coach.” We know there may be a coach in New York who has a similar job to someone in Oregon and making those connections is priceless. I am thrilled to be facilitating the amazing teachers and learners who are already signed up to attend. It is the place to be on August 14 and 15.

To learn more about the Coach to Coach Workshop check it out here:

Coach to Coach Workshop Registration

While August seems far away, it’s time to order materials and give an accurate count for our conference room and reception. We’ll close registration on June 30th. Please let us know if you have any questions or are planning to come and just haven’t worked out all the details yet. Cheers to collaboration!


Skill and Will


There are people who are challenging to collaborate with and others who make everything effortless. Most coaching relationships are somewhere along the continuum between difficult and dreamy. Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about why that is.

In Marzano’s book, Coaching Classroom Instruction, he includes a matrix that is an interesting way to look at skill and will. Many fields look at these relationships. There are those who have low skills, but high will. These teachers may be new to the profession, but what they lack in experience they make up for with their growth mindset. Then there are those that have low skills, but low will. Teachers in this situation don’t have tools or the energy to try. Others have high skills and high will. I recognize these folks as our “go-to” teachers, the ones that are often piloting and giving valuable feedback. The last subset would be educators with high skills, but low will. They may have tools, but an attitude that gets in the way. My coaching has to be differentiated for where individuals are at on the skill and will axises.

High Skill, High Will

For me, these are the easiest teachers to coach. These teachers often coach themselves and then gush about how much they’ve learned through the process. In my experience many of these teachers seek positions in leadership over time. Often when I coach these teachers I look for opportunities for them.

Low Skill, High Will

These can be the most rewarding teachers to coach. Often they have a beginning sense of what they don’t know and are highly motivated to learn. A behavior management tip or instructional strategy is often put in place by the next day. Coaching evidence is easy to find in their classrooms. While coaching these teachers I frequently point out how they are growing and changing and the impact that’s having on their students’ learning.

Low Skill, Low Will

Sometimes I ask teachers during our initial meeting why they went into teaching. I’m surprised when I hear answers like, “I’m not really sure, I just ended up here” or “I didn’t have the math scores to do accounting so I chose teaching” or “Summers and off before five.” These responses come from teachers who struggle with instruction, management, assessment or communication AND place blame on “those” kids and parents or “the” district. It’s tough to find a way in to these classrooms. Often teachers feel defensive and don’t even think it’s possible to get better because it’s not them. That’s a hard place to coach from. I start with as much strengths-based coaching as possible and check on accountability to goals frequently.

High Skill, Low Will

I’d have to say these teachers perplex me most. They have experience, tools and strategies and no drive to continually get better or enhance the profession. One said to me, “Sure I’m the best teacher on the team, but no way am I going to mentor the new teacher. She’s going to have to figure it out on her own.” With the low skill/low will folks I can understand feeling deflated because of the learning curve, but it’s confounding when professionals have the skills and choose not to reflect and continuously improve. I feel very drained after these coaching sessions and remind myself to remain positive and keep working on behalf of the students. Sometimes our collaboration centers around rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) the thrill of learning and a passion for teaching that comes with doing the good, hard work.

Now with any typology thinking, I have to be very careful. I don’t want to go around making judgments about people before I really understand their stories. Still, thinking about skill and will helps me consider enrolling strategies and coaching moves that have worked in the past with similar teachers. Also when I feel off balance as a coach, I look at how many teachers who express low will are on my calendar and understand how that affects me.




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?