Saturday, August 1, 2020

Delegation: Who’s Bringing the Ice Cream?

Many years ago, a friend and his wife were asked to bring ice cream to the church social. Not just a gallon – their job was to pick up all of the ice cream for the group from the local creamery. Although they were planning to visit relatives in another town that day, the young couple planned their schedule around returning early enough to get the ice cream to the park before the party.  When they arrived at the creamery, however, they were told that the ice cream had already been picked up.  The leader who had given them the assignment, knowing they were out of town, had taken care of this errand.

Maybe my friend and his wife should have felt grateful that someone had their back. Instead, they felt frustrated that their carefully-planned return trip was in vain.  They felt deflated that the leader who gave them the assignment didn’t believe they would carry it out.  They wondered if they had a part to play.  The sting, and the lesson, lingered.  Over subsequent decades, whenever they have conversations about delegating tasks, they’ll ask, “Who’s bringing the ice cream?”  This question serves not only to divvy up the work, but also to remind them to give ownership for a task to the one who it’s been delegated to.

Coaches can sometime act as “saviors,” prepared to jump in and save the day when someone is off their game. While it’s important that we ensure the final outcome is effective instruction for students, taking up the slack too often can backfire, reducing teachers’ preparation and motivation.

It may be tempting to keep a few tricks up your sleeve that you can pull out in the time of need. But if a teacher said she’d bring that research article to share with the group, let her do it. And if she forgets this time and the group doesn’t have what they need, she’ll probably be more likely to be prepared the next time around. If the data that’s needed for a decision is the responsibility of the classroom teacher, don’t bring the data yourself.  An email reminder beforehand could be appropriate, but “bringing the ice cream” is not.

I’m a firm believer that people rise to the expectations we have for them. Expect that teachers will live up to their commitments.  Expect that they will follow through.  Occasionally, the group may have to do without the ice cream, but the expectations and responsibility that are built will be worth the lack of dessert.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

Five reasons remote learning did not meet the needs of learners:

10 SEL learning strategies:

Writing-at-Home resources for young children 4 – 8 (great share for parents):

A 3-minute listen on the court’s decision that students have a right to learn to read:

6 Co-Teaching models:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

Use code TCP2020 during checkout for free shipping on my book, Collaborative Lesson Study at  

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Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at

Monday, July 27, 2020

Tune In

Listening has been a common theme in this blog, because it’s such an important coaching skill. As we prepare to listen better, I think the “Levels of Listening”* can be a good mental checklist of what to tune in for. 


When we are discriminative listeners, we recognize vocal expression and non-verbal cues.  We hear the enthusiasm when a teacher shares a new idea. We see the slump of the shoulders that signals discouragement.  Discriminative listening helps us to differentiate messages by tuning in to more than the words being said.


Strategic listening includes absorbing new information and making connections between ideas. We may ask questions to clarify, and we synthesize the current conversation with previous ones to get the big picture.  As we listen strategically, we may also summarize what the teacher is saying in ways that provide clarity for her.


When we listen precisely, we hear details. We can piece together a story, recognizing sequences even if information isn’t shared chronologically.  We infer the teacher’s meaning based on the context of the conversation and what we know about his classroom.


When we listen critically, we distinguish between facts and opinion and recognize bias. We think about sources that are mentioned and evaluate the validity of the information.


An appreciative listener recognizes the power of language and is aware of the feelings and moods that are evoked by the speaker. If we listen appreciatively, we may admire the flow of words and take pleasure in listening.

When I listened recently as Caitlin talked about plans for the upcoming school year, I thought about how these levels of listening came into play.  Considering the possibility of returning to remote learning, Caitlin said, “I’m not a big technology person.” Listening discriminately, I heard acquiescence in her voice, acknowledgement that this was something that might have to change.

Caitlin continued, “I use technology in my room, but second grade is hard because it’s their first year on Chromebooks. It’s a switch.”  Strategically, I recognized that Caitlin was backing her opinion up with facts: First year with Chromebooks.

“Going into next year, We’ll start immediately using digital platforms. Get them more used to it. So that if this does happen, I’ll be able to move right to that quickly. I’m a big believer in pencil and paper, and real books and things, because that’s what research is showing us is effective. That being said, we’ll learn how to do these digital learning platforms right from the start. So that they’re more comfortable with it.  As I listened precisely, I noticed that Caitlin was giving details about her plans for the beginning of the school year. Her story’s sequence was projecting into the future. I listened critically, too, wondering what research she’d read that indicated the benefits of “real books” and pencil and paper.

I appreciated the chance to listen to Caitlin’s thoughts about technology in the upcoming school year. I recognized the tension she felt and the concerns that her words created for me, too.  I hoped, too, that in talking this situation through, Caitlin found power in her words to be proactive, even in the face of uncertainty.

Thinking about these five levels of listening heightened my awareness of how much we can learn when someone else does the talking. The listening levels are valid one-on-one or in groups and in both face-to-face and virtual conversations,

As coaches tune in by being discriminative and strategic in our listening, by attending with precision and having a critical, yet appreciative filter, we’ll learn from the conversation, and so will the teachers whose conversations we’ve tuned in for.

*National Communication Association. (1996). Speaking, listening, and media literacy standards for K through 12 education. National Communication Association.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

Great ideas for digital reading responses:

Children’s cyber-safety during the pandemic:

How to create a Bitmoji classroom (if you know Glogster, it has similar functions):

Coaching through email signatures:

10 SEL strategies:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

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Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Supersize It!

Will grew up as the oldest in a large family. Although his brothers often got hand-me-downs, Will’s clothes were brand new. This was an advantage, but his frugal mother recognized how quickly her boys were growing and made sure to buy clothes for Will that he wouldn’t quickly outgrow. In fact, it usually took quite some time to grow into them.  Out of habit, this practice continued after Will was fully grown. As a young adult, his mother gifted him oversized jackets and too-long pants.  She supersized all the clothing she sent his way.

Although supersizing outlived its purpose for Will, supersizing can be a great approach for learners.  It’s Vygotsky’s well-known zone of proximal development.  If the learning activity is just beyond what a learner can currently do on their own, it might seem a little oversized, but it’s actually a good fit.

If a kindergarten can count a set of objects accurately, she’s ready to move to a larger set. If a high-schooler is good at providing evidence to support a claim, he’s ready to learn about counterclaims. Similarly, if a teacher asks great questions for partner talk but hasn’t taught her students to be the questioners, she might be ready to give Socratic Circles a try.

Both Emma and her first-grade students were ready for a stretch. She was successfully differentiating reading instruction and wanted to expand differentiation to math lessons as well. Emma’s first graders were leaning about measurement, she and her coach designed a math lesson where students worked in small groups to measure objects she provided. The lesson was a stretch for the learners, because each group had objects and measuring tools that were a bit more difficult than they’d been successful with in the class.  Some groups had small objects and rulers. Others had larger objects that they measured with paperclips. The lesson was a stretch for Emma because she had to think about how to group students based on their previous work, and she had to make the task a just-right stretch: hard enough, but not too hard. For both Emma and her students, the task was something they could grow into.  

When coaches and teachers supersize the experience and offer support, learners will soon grow into tasks that at first seem too big. Vygotsky’s principle holds true when a task is just beyond reach: What a learner can do with assistance today, she can do on her own tomorrow.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

3 Ways to More “Aha” Moments in Coaching:

Helping teachers work smarter together:

The ABC’s of feedback:

How lifting a line from mentor texts helps students’ writing soar:

How mentors help first-year teachers:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

Want to know about new posts? Click “Follow” (bottom right)
Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at

Saturday, July 11, 2020

When Schools Reopen - Be Ready to Listen

School’s out, but our minds are full of how we can prepare for the uncertainties of the upcoming school year.  We know that, whether teachers and students return to buildings for face-to-face instruction or meet virtually, they will be bringing with them baggage from school closures in the spring – we all will.  Attending to the social-emotional needs of students and teachers – and ourselves – will be an important part of our role as coaches.

I’ve been talking with teachers about their lingering concerns from the school year. They worry about food scarcity for families who relied on school meals to feed their children. They worry that learning doesn’t take place when essential needs aren’t met. They worry about regression, especially for English language learners. They worry about families having the transportation to access resources that schools were making available. They worry about their lack of contact with students who didn’t have technology. They worry about the information their families are getting about COVID-19.

During my recent conversation with Andi, a middle school teacher, she talked about knocking on students’ doors during this time and seeing their eyes light up when they saw their teacher at the door. “Bet you didn’t think you’d see me here, did you?” she said. Andi talked to me about the importance of making sure her students could see her eyes. She talked about one student whose father is now hospitalized with COVID-19.  There was worry in her voice, and some frustration about the misinformation the family had received. She had dropped off school work and made frequent phone calls to check in. But she wished she could do more.

And all I could do was listen.  But that was something, after all.  Having someone to listen seemed to lift a bit of the weight from Andi’s shoulders, and she problem-solved about the future as she talked. She began to feel more hopeful as she thought of how she would frontload technology if she sees her students at the beginning of the school year; of how she would teach Zoom-etiquette and give internet precautions. And advocate for technology for every student.  She talked, I listened, offering only an occasional nudge or response.

Listening is one of those coaching skills that we can practice all the time. When a friend comes with a question, a problem, or a tough decision, you can practice listening. Take a step back. Ask a few questions. Listen to her answers. Listen to both what she says and what she does not say. Listen to the tone of her voice. Does she use the word “should” a lot? Do you hear self-blame or pressure? If you’re talking face-to-face, notice when her eyes light up or dim. Watch how her body lifts or falls when she talks. Does she look you in the eye? As you listen, be on her side.

This summer, let’s practice listening. It will surely be good preparation for things to come.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

This 7-min. how-to video about comprehension strategies could be shared with parents:

Helping students know their characters before they begin writing fiction (could be adapted to develop understanding of characters they are reading about):

What one teacher learned from readers’ notebooks:

Reopening schools:

Valuing read alouds during remote learning:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

Want to know about new posts? Click “Follow” (bottom right)
Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Think of a Time

Emily was a novice teacher struggling with classroom management. When she asked for my help, she said, “I’m just not good at holding the kids’ attention.”  She seemed dejected and needed immediate support. So I said, “I wonder if you can think of a time when you really had the kids’ attention.”  

Emily became pensive.  Then she said, “During read-alouds, they are usually pretty good.”  She paused. “And when I was explaining the rules for the math game, they really paid attention.”

“Why do you think they were so attentive then?” I asked.

The conversation continued, and Emily found ways to build on previous successes that she’d experienced with classroom management. Things didn’t change overnight, but as she continued to pay attention to what was working with her students, her repertoire of classroom management tools grew.

Especially when teachers are feeling overwhelmed or unsuccessful, the phrase, “I wonder if you can think of a time….” can increase a teacher’s confidence. Confidence is optimistic self-belief.  Boosting confidence is important, because, as Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t - - you’re right.”

Elements of success become springboards for future action.  Focusing on successes demonstrates your confidence that the teacher you are working with can overcome challenges and provide effective instruction for her students. 

When coaching, building on positives tends to get you further than drawing attention to negatives. Asking teachers to “think of a time” when things were going well will increase the frequency of such times, and the pool of effective experiences they can draw from will continue to grow.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

Key values for remote learning:

3 steps to take while coaching virtually:

The problem with the “comfort zone”:

10 ways poetry can inform prose:

Protocols for discussion (that work for students and teachers):

That’s all for this week.  Happy Coaching!

Want to know about new posts? Click “Follow” (bottom right)
Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Are You Sitting Down?

Are you sitting down?  I’m not about to break some bad news. Rather, I’m about to encourage you to get up!  If you’re like me, the last few months have included a lot more sitting than normal.  With instruction and meetings happening virtually, we don’t even have to move from room to room.  That can lead to a lot of energy-draining time in one place.

Building habits that increase our energy improves our effectiveness in all we do, including our energy for learning, teaching and coaching.  Movement increases energy.  It gives us feelings of abundance, freedom, and renewal.  It may seem counterintuitive, but taking a few minutes away from a task actually helps us get it done.

We know this is true for our students, so we build “brain breaks” into plans for instruction.  Moving from the carpet to tables, or going to a spot in the room to represent their stance on a topic, gives students an opportunity to get the blood (and the thinking) flowing.  GoNoodle is a big hit with students because it’s fun, but it also helps them learn more.  Whether teaching face-to-face or virtually, teachers need to include opportunities for students to move.

As we plan professional learning opportunities for teachers, let’s also include movement.  In face-to-face trainings, finding someone from across the room for partner talk, forming new groups, or using protocols like Wagon Wheels include movement. I like to build in a “walk and talk,” especially in nice weather, where participants partner up and walk a loop around the building (be mindful of physical limitations of some participants).  Even just standing up sends a rush of blood to the brain, bringing new energy and engagement.  If a training or meeting is running too long, simply asking everyone to stand for a few minutes can help. This is equally important in virtual and face-to-face settings.

Now, how about you? Are you building times for moving into your day? My friends with Apple watches get a reminder if they haven’t stood up in the last hour, but you can do this without the fancy technology. Recently, I was meeting with a colleague when her watch alarm went off.  She apologized but took a one-minute break to walk down and back up the stairs. I was impressed with her commitment to herself and vowed to do the same.

If you want to spur some creativity, apparently circles help.  Making giant circles with your arms supposedly gets the creative juices flowing and creates a sense of joy.  Try it and see if it works for you!  It can’t hurt, and it will at least add a bit of activity. Moving your body exercises your brain, too. 

As you plan for the virtual and face-to-face work that you, teachers, and students will do, including movement will increase everyone’s energy and effectiveness.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

How a picture walk opens conversations about books:

A podcast about remote learning for students without internet access:

Principles of adult learning to guide PD:

An inspirational community-building idea:

5 ways to continue growing as a coach:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

Want to know about new posts? Click “Follow” (bottom right)
Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Pay Attention!

When you opened your eyes this morning, you immediately began to see. It was automatic. Then, as you focused your attention, you began to notice. Maybe you noticed early summer light slanting though your window, making diagonal patterns on your walls. Or the loose weave of the blanket you’d thrown off during the night. Noticing is seeing with conscious attention and focus. The details we are aware of bring nuance to our observation. Careful noticing is a skill that will benefit our coaching work.

Noticing Students
During a classroom observation, we notice when students gasp with surprise and share interesting facts they are learning.  We notice when students are active listeners during a read aloud – clearly focused on the teacher or the text.  We notice heads nodding and fingers pointing, students’ persevering during struggle and those giving up.  We notice problem-solving strategies students are using.  Our careful attention to what students are doing during a lesson supports reflection during debrief discussions. Sharing these observations can also encourage habits of noticing in the teachers we are working with, especially when we routinely ask, “What did you notice?”

Noticing Teaching
During a classroom observation, we also notice a teacher’s actions and their impact. We have an advantaged viewpoint for such noticings, since we aren’t the one doing the decision-making. We can shift our attention from a bird’s-eye perspective of the classroom to a close-up view of one-on-one interactions. Sharing these perceptions brings additional insight to a coaching conversation.

Noticing Teachers
A third type of noticing, important for coaching, involves attending to the responses of the teacher during a coaching conversation. What is the teacher’s body language telling us? What do we see in her facial expressions? Are there signs of emotion? Is that thought unfinished? Do her eyes indicate an aha moment?  How comfortable or challenged does she feel?  Paying attention to teachers makes our responses more fruitful.  

Our fine-tuned, careful observations of teaching, teachers, and students inform us. Cultivating skills of conscious noticing enriches our coaching work. As we move through the day, we’ll have ample opportunities to hone our noticing skills.  Shaking ourselves into wakeful awareness adds richness to our day and power to our coaching conversations.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

The 3 Cs of professional learning from a distance:

Fostering positive relationships and discourse on race by connecting through technology:

Giving children voice:

A few positive changes that might be noticed when we return to schools:

Language for an asset-based approach that helps us notice the strengths of ELL students:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

Want to know about new posts? Click “Follow” (bottom right)
Follow on Facebook at: or Twitter @vscollet for more coaching and teaching tips!  You can also find me at