Saturday, June 4, 2022


On the last day of the school year, I played catch with a 4th-grader while I waited for her teacher to give each child a hug as they left for the summer. After all the buses had been called and there were no more children left to hug, the teacher and I sat down for a chat.
“How long have you been teaching?” I asked.
“Thirty years,” Sandra responded.
“Wow! Good for you!” I said. “Will you be back next year?”
“You bet!” she replied. “I like a challenge! And I like English language learners.”
Later in the conversation, I uncovered some additional reasons for this teacher’s longevity and positive attitude: Her school leaders really made a difference.
“I would say (here) that administrators are 100% supportive. They’re not always breathing down your neck. They treat you as a professional. It’s been a really great year for me.” Sandra added that “they’re not nit-picky, and they’re not micromanagers here, which is very nice…So it’s been a very happy year. I’ve been happy every single day when I’ve walked in here. I’ve wanted to come to class.”
That seemed especially impressive to me, given the worldwide challenges of the 2021-22 school year.
When the conversation turned to test scores, Sandra said, “Here they don’t make a big deal about them.”  She referenced knowing teachers (at other schools) who have been “called in and chewed out and cried and everything” because of test scores. “Here,” Sandra said, “they don’t rub your face in it. Which is wonderful, you know!”
Sandra is not a lackadaisical teacher; she talked with me about the routines and structures she had in place and about the learning that went on in her classroom. She was giving it her all and happy about it. Her supportive principal made a big difference.
“She just lets us be a human. She’s so nice! She’s just nice all the time!” “She’s a mom. I’m a mom. My daughter graduated this year, and she’s like, ‘Well, go!’” She contrasted that with her experience at another school, where she said even a personal-day absence had to be approved, and if she needed to leave 15 minutes early, she had to take a full day off.
These stark contrasts over the course of a long career made Sandra appreciative of the leadership at her current school. “I love my job,” she said. “I am so happy to be here.”
The points Sandra made during our conversation aligned with the report I’d heard recently on a podcast.*  In episode 190 of “Cult of Pedagogy,” Jennifer Gonzalez summarizes responses she received from over 200 teachers who are staying in the profession when others leave. Gonzalez lists the following leadership moves that make the biggest difference:

1) Appreciation, listening, and emotional support. Sandra felt this from her administrator. She said, “She just lets us be a human.” 

2) Flexibility with policies and curriculum. Sandra explained, “They're not micromanagers here.”

3) Prioritizing physical and mental health. For the teachers Gonzalez heard from, response to the pandemic came up a lot. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case in my conversation with Sandra, but it was clear she felt cared for.

4) Lightening the Load. Sandra said, “they’re not nit-picky here.” School leadership let teachers make decisions about how to spend their energy.

5) Trusting teachers. Sandra said, “They treat you as a professional.”

As an instructional coach, I hope you’re in a position to offer this kind of support to teachers, to influence administrators to do the same, and to be a buffer when they don’t.


I’m excited to share that my book, Differentiated Mentoring and Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner is available for preorder here!  The book is my gift to coaches. I’ve put all my best thinking into it, and I can’t wait for you to read it!


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

*What principals do differently at schools where teachers stay:

Building relationships for compassionate coaching:

4 practices for making observations more empowering for teachers:

Authentic ways to support striving readers:


5 mistakes new teachers make:

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, May 28, 2022

Hats Off to Educators

This week I am overcome by the difference educators make in the lives of their students. In my region, it is the last week of the school year, and I am thinking back on a year I hope we never repeat.
We have survived this year – the months when substitute teachers could not fill the holes, so colleagues gave up their planning periods and principals went back to the classroom. We were hoarse from teaching all day through a mask. We didn’t dare hug the child we were sending home to quarantine. This school year is ending with the loss of lives of teachers and students that is heavy on our hearts. As the poem by William Wordsworth repines, “The world is too much with us.”
As educators, you are exhausted from a long and challenging year. But you have touched the lives of children in an unmeasurable and ongoing way. Although districts spend millions of dollars on curricula, teachers are schools’ most valuable resource.
This year, I have also witnessed the difference a caring educator can make. Someone who is willing to joke and share. Someone who is willing to both talk and listen. I have seen the difference made by teachers who see possibility and potential, who have high expectations and work to assure those expectations are met.
The difference made by an educator with an asset-based mindset was made clear to me this week as I talked with teachers from a building I was visiting. One teacher told me about the high-expectations parents had for their children. She talked about students’ enthusiasm, how hard they were working and how much growth they had made over the course of the year.
I also spoke with a teacher who told me about how challenging his students were. They just “didn’t care” about education. They were behavior problems, and their parents didn’t seem to have education as a priority. The thing is – these two teachers were talking about exactly the same kids.  Because the grade-level was departmentalized, these two teachers shared students. But one saw students as disengaged and troublesome, while the other saw them as thriving.
There was truth in both their statements. I had seen students sent out of the negative-minded teacher’s classroom because of bad behavior and I had noted the low energy during the little time I’d spent in that teacher’s classroom. On the other hand, I’ve spent lots of time in the classroom of the asset-minded teacher, and I have seen students’ engagement, their creativity, and their interest and enthusiasm for learning.  The. Same. Students.
Hats off to the educators who have kept on believing in students, despite all that this year has thrown at us. Thank you for the caring that leads to good teaching. Hats off to you for the difference you are making in the world.
I’m excited to share that my book, Differentiated Mentoring and Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner is available for preorder here!  The book is my gift to coaches. I’ve put all my best thinking into it, and I can’t wait for you to read it!
This week, you might want to take a look at:
Continuing professional learning as a coach:
A podcast about creating affinity spaces in the classroom:
Prioritizing educators’ well-being:
The importance of the first 5-years for brain development (brought to you by in this TED talk by a 7-year-old):
How to increase the chances that your feedback gets heard:
That’s it for this week. Happy coaching!
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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, May 21, 2022

Reflective Affirmations

News flash!  I’m excited to share that my book, Differentiated Mentoring and Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner is available for preorder here! (Free shipping code: TCP 2022.)  The book is my gift to coaches. I’ve put all my best thinking into it, and I can’t wait for you to read it!

The final coaching conversations of the school year are all about closure and celebration. For me, this week’s lesson observations led to reflective conversations that were full of affirmation. It was glorious to think back on goals we’ve had throughout the school year that have come to fruition, and the evidence was in these final observations.
After watching a lesson in Naomi’s classroom, we sat down together and I asked, “Thinking back on the math lesson, what stands out to you?”  She launched into a description of how she used their morning work to transition into the lesson; she started the description by saying, “Something that I really liked was…” She said she was able to “prime their minds” for the upcoming lesson. I loved that phrase and used it in my follow-up comment. “Yes, it primed them for it – they were ready to think about fractions.”
Because Naomi started our conversation with a discussion of the beginning of the lesson, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to talk about another positive aspect of the start. After affirming the smooth transition from morning work to math lesson, I asked her to talk about her decision to start the lesson by “hooking them on the why.” Before launching into the math content, Naomi had asked students, “Why are we even talking about fractions? When do we use fractions?” Naomi wanted students to recognize that what they were learning was actually relevant to their lives. Responding to Naomi’s question, students launched into a long list of ways fractions could show up in their lives: cooking, measuring, construction, cutting up bread, making video games, and even middle-school science class.
I tied Naomi’s description back to a topic we’d talked about together many times: class discussion. The goal had been for students to take more ownership for whole-class discussions, rather than ping-ponging back and forth between teacher and student – and it happened during this discussion, as students affirmed and built off of one-another’s ideas about the relevance of fractions. That was something to celebrate!
During this final coaching conversation, even the one recommendation I made was wrapped up in an affirmation. Something I’d noticed as Naomi listed students’ ideas about fraction use on the board was that many of the comments were morphed into something for future job use; when students talked about cooking, Naomi mentioned a job as a cook or baker; when they talked about measuring, Naomi mentioned a job in construction. When they talked about measuring in middle-school science, she talked about a career as a scientist. While career insights were worth highlighting, I wanted to make sure Naomi recognized the value of the more-immediate applications students were bringing up. So as our discussion of the discussion continued, I said, “That makes me think about…” and I brought up the middle-school science lab example mentioned by a student. Naomi nodding, remembering. Then I said, “I thought that comment was especially interesting, because it wasn’t about the long-term future, it was about something they’d been thinking a lot about – that transition to middle school. That seemed like a really authentic, important connection.” Naomi brightened up, “It was a point of excitement!” she said, launching into a description of their enthusiasm about both science and middle school and saying, “I definitely think that was an authentic connection.”
I picked up the conversation, saying, “One thing I was thinking about is, some of the things on the list are pretty long-term.” I then emphasized the value of students making connections with their lives now – as they had done during this lesson. I hope that lingering a bit on that “authentic connection” moment becomes a reminder to pay attention to such connections in future lessons.
Our conversation continued as Naomi and I took turns bringing up positive parts of the lesson: Her effective modeling, giving students classroom responsibilities, using all-respond techniques (and expecting all to respond!). We talked about her probing questions (“How do you know?”) and even the specific words she used, as I commented: “I loved the way you framed the practice by saying, ‘You’re about to get a chance to show what you know as far as ordering fractions goes.” This led to a thought-filled exchange about the power of teachers’ words.
There were so many things to affirm during this final observation of the school year. Coaching is not about intervention or remediation; it is about finding the right level of support based on specific needs and contexts. When the need for other types of support falls away, commenting on the good things that are happening highlights and celebrates them. I find that affirming not only benefits the teacher, it lifts me, too. I am more buoyant when my efforts are focused on helping teachers recognize their strengths.
This week, you might want to take a look at:

As the school year draws to a close, I wish you more:
Tips for transitioning from teacher to coach:
What data counts for student growth:
TEDx Talk: Collaboration starts with you:
Characteristics of an effective PLC (beyond Solution Tree):
That’s it for this week. Happy coaching!
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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, May 7, 2022

Coach as Liaison

Coaches sometimes act in the tenuous but valuable role of liaison, connecting teachers and administrators in ways that increase success.  When something is amiss, serving as a liaison requires careful consideration. If you are aware of a situation that may need attention, you’ll want to think carefully about whether there’s a part you should play in this process.  Relationships are the foundation of coaching, and liaising may put relationships at risk.  
It’s easiest to broker touchy conversations when evaluation is not part of the picture – when the coach is not in a formal evaluative role of teachers and when the principal is not the evaluator for the coach. Of course, there are many instances when one or both of these are not the case, and these require even more caution and care.
Let me offer an example and some possible steps forward: One problem you may be recognizing is teacher burnout. Although teacher attrition is a longstanding concern, the post-pandemic climate has resulted in an exodus of teachers from the profession.  If plans for next year seem out of step with teachers’ stamina, it may be worth offering your perspective to the principal.  But you’ll want to carefully consider both if and how to broach the topic.
First, ask yourself:

·       Would my administrator want to be aware of this concern?

Also ask:

·       Are there things the principal could potentially do about it?

Even if the answer to the second question is, “No,” it might still be helpful to have the discussion. If the answer to both questions is “Yes,” you may be the right one to broach the topic.
As an instructional coach, you are always thinking about what’s best for kids. That’s the bottom line. And as a liaison, you also consider what’s best for teachers and administrators. Ultimately, supporting both administrators and teachers is in the best interest of students.
Discussing touchy topics can strain relationships, so the conversation better be worth potential tension, and a positive outcome should seem tenable. Be sure you think about:

·       Confidentiality:  Ask yourself, “What can I say without breaching confidences? What should I avoid saying so that I don’t cast a teacher in a potentially negative light?  Make general statements without naming names, but phrase things in a way that doesn’t leave the principal wondering, “Who said that?”

·       Positive presentation:  Cast teachers in a favorable light. In the example of overburdened teachers, for example, be sure to emphasize how hard teachers are working, offering specific examples.

·       Positive assumptions:  Go into the conversations with the attitude that both the principal and the teachers are doing their best and want everyone involved to be satisfied with the outcome.  You’ll want to make sure your own positive assumptions are evidence as well.

·       Trust:  The liaison role is all about trust. You are willing to consider this conversation because you care. The trust you have built through previous interactions makes the role of liaison possible. 

With these characteristics of the situation in mind, decide whether the discussion you are contemplating is worth the risk.  If the chance for a favorable outcome seems high, plan for the conversation. Considering different approaches and anticipating possible responses will help you feel more confidence and increase the potential for success.  


Remember all the coaching moves in the GIR model (model, recommend, question, affirm, and praise)?  Your skill with some of these moves can come in handy as you talk with an administrator about a touchy topic.
You might want to start with praise.  You can acknowledge how hard the principal is working, with specific evidence. For example, that appeal to the school board for funds to repair the playground really paid off. Maybe the principal took on an extra school fundraiser requested by the PTO, and you saw her sorting orders and counting cash herself – that was a lot of extra time! Or you noticed how she scrambled to make sure classes were covered when three teachers were out and no subs were available.  If praise is sincere and specific, it sets a positive tone.
Next you might be ready to broach the topic you’ve been worrying about. It’s helpful if you can connect it first to your own work. In the example about overburdened teachers, you might say, “I’ve noticed that teachers have a lot on their plates right now, and there are some new initiatives being rolled out in the fall. I’m worried that teachers may not have the energy for coaching.”  Making connections to your own needs gives a context for why you are bringing up the topic.  It doesn’t point a finger at teachers.  What might your principal say when you pause after this connection? Think it through.
Next, you might ask a question that encourages the principal to brainstorm some things that could be done or changed. In the overburdened teacher scenario, you might say something like, “Teachers are going to have a lot of plates to spin in the fall. There’s the state’s expectations for PLC work, the new district reading curriculum that will include lots of trainings, and the focus on inclusion from SpEd. Do you think there’s anything that could be taken off their plates?
If it feels right, you might even make a recommendation about the situation, asking, “Would you mind if I suggest something?”
Notice how the sequence outlined above moves in the opposite order of the way we think about moves in the GIR model. When approaching a school leader, it can help to lay some groundwork that acknowledges their decision-making role.
If you chose to play the role of liaison, contemplate how the administrator might react to your insights and ideas and what you can do to increase the odds that they will be well-received. How will you temper the conversation to ensure that you abide by the ancient principle, “First, do no harm”?

This week, you might want to take a look at:
Prioritizing educators’ well-being:
A podcast by Jay McTighe about teaching real-world thinking skills:
Solutions for class discussion problems:
Upbeat ways to end the school year:
You make a difference:
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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, April 23, 2022

Difficult Conversations Worth Having - and How to Have Them


Some difficult conversations are worth having. 
When faced with a difficult conversation, there are many reasons we may want to avoid it: It’s uncomfortable, it could be awkward, confrontational, or contentious, and it might harm relationships. And since relationships are at the heart of coaching, we need to safeguard them. We have to ask ourselves, which difficult conversations are worth having?  And how do we move forward when a difficult topic needs addressing?
For me, conversations about equity are worth having, even when they have the potential to be difficult. Recently, a comment that seemed to reflect a deficit mindset toward students was made as a group of teachers wrapped up their team meeting. I was taken aback, because I’d never before heard a whisper of such negativity at this school, which serves predominantly Latino/a students from under-resourced communities. When a teacher described a recent experience she’d had at a district GT (gifted and talented) competition and said, “I’ll never see that kind of high-level thinking at this school,” I had to catch my breath.  I felt an immediate and intense need to respond, and I recognized that how I did so was important. I became so zeroed in on that teacher that I have no idea how the other teachers responded, but I knew my answer would be heard by all of them, too.
When I replied, I mentioned the research about emerging bilingual students that suggests that, by 3rd grade, children typically are proficient in both languages and so they have a big, flexible language resource to draw from. “Well, I haven’t seen that,” the teacher responded. I pushed again, gently, as the teachers packed up to head back to their classrooms. And I was left with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing I had not been a strong enough advocate for students. I knew I needed to do more.
I needed to better educate myself about these students’ assets so that I would have a ready answer. I found an article, “The Potential and Promise of Latino Students,” and drilled down to the section, “Primed for ‘Deeper Learning’ and Bridge Building,” which highlights assets of first- and second-generation immigrants. The explanation provided was helpful for me, and I decided to share it with the teachers, too. But I was nervous about returning to the previous conversation. I couldn’t let the teacher’s negative comment stand, but if I was too direct, relationships might be damaged. So I stewed about it.
I stewed about it, and I talked with a group of trusted colleagues (at a DEI meeting of folks with like-minded purpose). They asked questions and offered suggestions and helped me think through the upcoming conversation from multiple perspectives, imagining what turns the needed conversation might take. We considered causes that might have elicited the teacher’s problematic comment (upcoming testing, for example). They thought with me about how teachers might reply and prepared me with appropriate responses. One of my friends suggested I start with a fact: the number of students at the school identified for the gifted and talented program (which was woefully low), and a question, “Why do you think that is?” She suggested that I take some possible responses off the table right off the bat so they didn’t get any airtime. With the article and my colleagues’ coaching, I felt (mostly) prepared for the conversation.
The next time we met, I asked about the GT-program numbers, I immediately said, “I know we don’t believe for a minute that because someone has more melanin in their skin or fewer dollars in their bank account, they have less brain cells.” The conversation that ensued was far-reaching, including not only GT identification and services, but also concerns about curriculum and instruction. At a comfortable spot in the conversation, I directly addressed the teacher whose previous comments had provoked this conversation and asked her about the district GT experiences she’d referenced. Her answer this time revealed a deeper commitment to enriching instruction for all students. It will take more thinking together to get to the specifics of what that might look and sound like, but at least the negativity wasn’t left to stand and the team seems ready for further constructive conversation.
As I’ve reflected on this experience, I realized several important steps that helped me broach the difficult conversation, and I want to keep these steps in mind in the future:

·       Take a deep breath and pause to think before responding.

·       Respond so that a deficit mindset does not linger as somehow okay.

·       Do some research; find a good resource.

·       Talk with trusted colleagues.

·       Rehearse the conversation internally.

·       Create a safe space for conversation; do not point a finger of blame.

·       Start with a fact.

·       Ask a question.

·       State and negate problematic assumptions.

·       Listen and support an open conversation.

·       Circle back to concerns.

·       End the conversation with action or forward momentum.

You may not need all of the steps above when faced with a difficult conversation. I am not an expert on coaching for equity, so I had to be introspective and seek guidance from research and colleagues as I thought my way forward. I was so nervous about the conversation!  However, afterward I felt gratified; destructive comments had been addressed, potential plans were brainstormed, and relationships seemed intact – maybe even improved because of our honest conversation.

This week, you might take a look at:
This podcast episode about a pathway toward equitable schools:
4 reasons American teens are so sad:
Instant mood-boosters:
3 Ways to More “Aha” Moments in Coaching:
The ABC’s of giving feedback to a colleague:
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
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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, April 16, 2022


In last week’s post, I talked about why we should give teachers grace and accept a “no” answer. This week’s partner post suggests how to make a “yes” more likely when it’s warranted. We want teachers to mindfully choose their yes’s, to assent to participate when it’s in their own best interest and the best interest of their students and colleagues. So let’s think about how to increase the likelihood of a “yes.” It’s not a trick, it’s a hope for a win/win situation.
As coaches we make a lot of requests:

      ·       Can we meet?
·       Can I observe?
·       Will you observe?
·       Will you share?
·       Will you join?
·       Will you attend?
·       Would you read (this book or article?
·       And so on…

Here are some things we can do to increase the chance of “yes.”
A Heart-Felt Ask
Before you ask someone to join or respond, think about why you’re asking.  Do you sincerely believe this opportunity will be good for someone?  Does it align with your values?
Make a Match
Once you’ve determined that the request is worthwhile, you’ll consider who to ask. Who is a good fit for the ask? If you need just one person to answer the call, make sure your ask includes why that teacher is the right one for the task. What is it about them that makes it a good fit? Show that they are uniquely placed to participate. Interestingly, requests that reflect identity are more likely to be accepted than those that reflect an action (“be a presenter” rather than “to present”).*  When working with others, creating a group identity helps:  Simply saying the work, “together” can have an effect.**
The Right Context
Think about the setting for your request – especially the when. Catching a teacher five minutes before the morning bell, when they’re gathering those last supplies for the day, is not likely to be a good time. The beginning of planning period is probably better than the end. The end of the day, after the halls clear, could be a good time – unless you know that teacher is always rushing out the door for daycare pickup. The “right” context depends on the teacher.

Decisions are influenced by context.  The situation plays a large role in guiding our actions, so consider the circumstances before making a request. Find a time when you’ll have the teacher’s full attention.  

A Clear Request
Be clear about the ask. The more direct and specific you can be, the better.  Sometimes, we let a statement (It’s cold in here!), stand in for a request (Will you turn up the heat?). Implying that something needs to be done is less likely to get a positive response than making a specific request. Include where, when, and for how long. “Our next book study is Mindfulness for Teachers. We’ll meet on Thursdays in April after school for 30 minutes. Would you be interested?”
A Reason Why
Another word that cues acceptance is “because.” “I’d like to have Sharla observe this lesson when you teach it because…”   Saying what the benefits will be – for the teacher and for others, provides purpose.  Feeling effective is a human motivator, so knowing the expected effects will make a difference. Project the impact of the requested action.
Positive Assumptions
If you’re expecting a “no,” it can show in the words you use, the tone of your voice, and your body language. So expect a “yes.” Don’t ask and then layer in words that imply the teacher doesn’t want what you’re offering.  Assume that they would be excited to participate, that they want exactly what you have to offer and have just been waiting for you to ask!  So ask – and then pause, giving them space to consider. Don’t fill the silence with extra words. Speaking up too quickly can push someone into a “no.”
When coaches make a clear, heart-felt ask to the right person at the right time, teachers are in the position to make a thoughtful decision.  Understanding the potential benefits, for themselves and for others, makes an affirmative response likely when you ask, “Would you be willing?

**Carr, P. B., & Walton, G. M. (2014). Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169-184.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
EdCamp for your own school:
Books to build empathy: Sharing refugee stories:
A podcast episode about cultivating STEM identity through creative problem-solving:
Making time for students’ (actual!) voices during writing workshop:
A reason to smile:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
Was this helpful?  Please share!
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