P’s and T’s of Coaching: Poise



The past two months I’ve had the opportunity to work with coaches in Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont. When we talk about our coaching toolbox, I begin with an anticipation brainstorming exercise by saying, “If there were things that needed to be in our toolbox as coaches that started with the letters P and T, what would they be?

Every time I do this, the list of wonderful words increases. Recently in Indiana, one of the coaches called out “Tompassion.” There was some laughter at the back of the group when another came forward with “tequila.” Today I’ll begin a series of some of those words so we can add to our toolboxes.

Poise is a catch-all term that by definition means grace, elegance and balance as both a noun and  verb. Leaders are poised when they make eye contact with others and lean toward them. Poise is shown by nodding, smiling and verbal tracking of conversations with sounds like “uh-huh,” “oh,” and “hmmm.” It’s also shown with our body language. When I walk into a teacher’s classroom I put my binder or notebook down so my hands are free and open. I try to layer my clothing so in a cold room I don’t look like this:

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I also try to refrain from stances like hands on hips. I know that without meaning to I can be conveying an aggressive pose.

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The research about body language is fascinating. Mirroring is one way that humans (women in particularly) build trust and acceptance quickly. It’s great to work on what we say as leaders, but it’s so important to work on how we say it with our bodies as well. Here’s a link to an article on mirroring if it interests you.

Mirroring in Body Language

I often take a deep breath before I walk into a meeting, classroom or presentation and envision what I want my eyes, smile, hands and wrinkles to say.

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“I’m open to you.

I’m curious about you.

I want to work together.”





That’s my goal for poise.


Show Up
















There are a few writers that cause me to consider never writing another word. Anne Lamott, author of Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird, is one. Ann Patchett is another. Patchett most recently had that effect on me when I read her collections of essays in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

I’m sure Ann and Anne would be horrified to hear my confession, but here’s what happens. I read one line—just one sentence—like Ann Patchett’s:

Hard work is first and foremost hard, and whether or not it’s ultimately rewarding is very rarely the thing you’re thinking of at the moment.

Or Anne Lamott’s:

You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.

And I have to stop reading because it’s that good. The wisdom, the structure, the word choice are masterful. I know I’ve never written something that good and I’m concerned I’m wasting people’s precious reading time.

“If I stop writing,” I think, “people will have more time to read better stuff.”

My teenage daughter made a similar comment about her art that sent me on a rant.

“Just because you aren’t Salvador Dali yet, doesn’t mean you should stop creating. Do not deprive this world of your creativity. And who cares if it’s not great in other’s eyes? It’s great in mine.”

Following my own motherly advice, I strive to observe and record like Patchett and Lamott and remember the point isn’t to be great, but simply to show up for your own personal brand of creativity.


Mother Sauce: Teams Unifying Professional Development

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My youngest daughter is a fashionista. As a preschooler she was already coaching me about what I could do to dress up my go-to black dress and black tights so I could have a little “pop” of color. Now that she’s ten I take her whenever I go shopping because inevitably if I get a compliment on my outfit, it’s something Ahna picked out for me (lead image–Ahna talked me into it). She’s very good. A few weeks ago we ordered the first DVD season of Project Runway (2005) which is a competition between fashion designers who are judged “in” or “out” based on what they show on the runway.

As expected, each designer has his or her own special style. Austin goes for couture while Kara Saun dresses her models with a classic look. This is true of coaches too. My colleagues and I have read many of the same books, attended the same trainings and spent many 90-minute sessions on Friday learning from each other, but each one has their own special style.

About halfway through the season of Project Runway, there was a challenge for each designer to create an outfit for the year 2025 and have it fit with the other designers as part of a collection. While there were some unique individual futuristic pieces, they failed as a whole. There was no unifying look—no collection. The literacy coaches face a similar challenge when they offer professional development. How can the third- and sixth-grade writing classes look similar enough to be part of the collection, yet be different to fit the coach and the audience?

My colleague Janeal uses a cooking metaphor that I love. She says together we create a “mother sauce” of professional development and then each person tosses in their own special ingredients. Here are a few ways that we unify our professional development without losing our individuality.

We plan together. At least a week before a class we plan a brainstorming session. We start with the end in mind and ask, “What do we want participants to walk away with at the end of our time?” Sean throws out an article idea, Paula pulls up a video we might use and Samantha brings out the notes from something similar we’ve taught before.

We use a common template. When we share a class or co-present, our pacing guides are always the same. The predictability makes it easy for us to read and deliver.

We have a table with these four headings:


We are each responsible. Often our planning sessions are short or happen over lunch. Before we part, everyone takes on a piece of the work. Samantha is going to type up the pacing guide and send it out to everyone; Paula is going to design a graphic organizer; Sean and I are going to capture some video in a classroom. We also agree on when we will be done with our parts.

We build our bins. In our district we teach classes after school 1-2 times a week. For the one of the writing courses we offer, there is a class for each grade level. Paula, Sean and Sam each teach two different grade levels. A couple days before each class, the clear bins come out. They are filled with the pacing guides, copies, mentor texts, charts and supplies.

We debrief. After we all teach, we come back together. It’s not unusual for one of us to share that we spent a lot more time with one activity while someone else shortened it. A couple of us are known for last-minute text changes or different protocols. We talk about what worked and what didn’t; we try to replicate the successes and minimize the fails.

The result of the “mother sauce” approach is that we use the best ideas of everyone, divide the work and improve continuously.


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?