Saturday, September 25, 2021

To Do


This week, the coaches I met with were grumbling a bit. Academic Year 3 of the pandemic is wearing us down, and we’re approaching October, which research suggests is a low month for teachers, so I understand where they were coming from. These weights were affecting our work, however, in a way that I felt we could easily change.
 
We were talking about the coaching move of making recommendations, and I noticed that most of the ideas for recommendations that were being shared were coming in the form of don’ts.
 
“Don’t call on a student before asking the question.”
 
“Stop reading from the teachers manual during the lesson.”
 
“Quit calling on the same student all the time.”
 
These recommendations were all in the negative: Things a teacher should stop, rather than things they should start. They were a “to don’t” list rather than a “to do” list.
 
What if instead we said:
 
“Ask everyone to get an answer in their head before you call on someone to respond.”
 
“It might be helpful to write key questions on sticky notes and put them in the book you’re going to be reading aloud.”
 
“The Dojo randomizer could help you get a variety of students talking.”
 
There may, of course, be times when something is happening that needs to be directly addressed; however, in most cases, we can avert a negative behavior by suggesting a positive one. In a coaching conversation, this keeps the tone more upbeat and the communication more collegial.
 
If you’re feeling frustrated with a teacher’s practice or just plain having a negative day, pay attention to your recommendations. Replace “stop” and “quit” with something the teacher could do instead. Creating a “to do” list rather than a “to don’t” list is more likely to support instructional improvement.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
This video about grouping to increase eye contact and learning:
 
https://www.edutopia.org/video/what-social-brain
 
 
4 steps to define your coaching purpose:
 
https://simplycoachingandteaching.com/blog/2021/09/08/coaching-purpose/
 
 
Pitfalls and pivots for instructional coaches:
 
https://www.edelements.com/blog/secret-lessons-and-common-pitfalls-from-a-former-instructional-coach
 
 
Picture books about worry:
 
https://choiceliteracy.com/article/reassuring-worried-children-with-picture-books/
 
 
Supporting comprehension of ebooks:
 
https://www.readingrockets.org/article/teaching-interactive-picture-e-books-grades-k-6
 
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
 
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Friday, September 17, 2021

Coaching Attributes

This week, I reached out to teachers asking them the attributes they value in a coach. I wondered which characteristics draw them in and help them be better versions of themselves. I learned a lot from teachers’ responses! 

There were some characteristics that weren’t surprising, but having them come up again and again reinforced their importance: Someone who can see the humor in a situation. Someone who looks at mistakes as an opportunity to grow. Someone who is caring. Someone positive. Someone who is supportive and comfortable to be around. Someone who gives feedback in an encouraging way – who confronts when needed, but does it with grace.   

The idea of respect and trust came up over and over again. Someone who shows trust in me. Someone who values my input. Someone who respects me. Someone who works alongside me. Someone who recognizes and appreciates my contributions.

There were also some themes describing what not to be and do. Teachers don’t want a coach who is high-anxiety, someone who gets easily frustrated, or someone who is a natural complainer. They don’t want a coach who continually points out the negative.  

Some interesting ideas came up when I asked teachers about their own personalities and how that related to attributes they wanted in a coach. Teachers often valued attributes in their coaches that the viewed as positive in themselves. If they saw themselves as organized, they wanted a coach who was organized. If they saw themselves as flexible, they wanted a coach to have that characteristic. From these comments, I recognized that it could be helpful to listen to what a teacher perceives as her own strengths and mirror them.
 
Alternatively, sometimes teachers mentioned valuing someone who was different in ways that balanced personal attributes they wanted to adjust. For example, a teacher who described herself as shy wanted a coach who would pull her out of her shell. I found it interesting that a teacher who felt he was too strict with students wanted a coach who would help him “loosen up a bit.” From these comments, I recognize that it can be helpful for me to tune in to what a teacher perceives as a weakness and be a counter-balance, pulling him through the area of need with my own modeling.
 
Reflecting on the responses I got when I asked teachers about the attributes they value in a coach has given me a laundry list of things to self-assess for and work on. I think it’s a question I’ll ask regularly as part of my quest to become a better version of my coaching self!  

This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
Name your strength:
 
https://choiceliteracy.com/article/self-fulfilling-prophecies-recommending-yourself/
 
Using pop culture to teach writing (10 minute podcast episode!):
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpZSIPvkZsE
 
Have you used Kahoot?  This video (1 minute and 40 seconds!) describes how to use a blind Kahoot to introduce new material:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwGE758uWuc
 
 
How to support those who mentor new teachers:
 
https://www.niet.org/newsroom/show/feature/support-teacher-mentors
 
 
Ideas for culturally-sensitive communication:
 
https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/publications/critical-practices-for-antibias-education/family-and-community-engagement
 
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
 
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Friday, September 10, 2021

Listen First

Yesterday, I was strongly reminded of the value of listening first in a coaching situation.
 
In last week’s post, I described the disrupted experience my student-teaching interns have had during their COVID teacher-preparation experience – cancelled practicums meant these interns stepped into student teaching with almost no experience in the classroom. Coupled with that, the majority of them are in kindergarten classrooms, and their mentors reminded me that many of these kids were still three years old when COVID began. They’ve spent much of their young lives socially distanced, and this seems to be reflected in their classroom interactions. I reminded myself to be aware of these issues as I started the first round of interns’ formal evaluations.
 
My experience in Leslie’s classroom seemed to confirm my fears. Students were complaining about each other, telling on their peers, needing frequent reminders to participate, Many students disregarded Leslie’s requests. Kids pulled them arms inside their shirts and flapped the sleeves around, and several were laying down on the carpet where the group was seated, During the short lesson, Leslie had students move from the carpet to their desks several times, in what appeared to be an attempt to keep them engaged – but it backfired as students became more distracted from the content. Admirably, Leslie’s voice was firm and calm throughout, but most of her talk was directed toward student behavior rather that teaching content.
 
I had observed this lesson at 11:30, and after school I was driving back to meet with Leslie so that we could discuss the lesson. As I drove, I reminded myself of all the things that were working against Leslie. I knew I should acknowledge these. I wanted to make sure the feedback felt manageable. I decided on just one recommendation I could make that would have the most impact (“Increase the proportion of instructional talk to management talk”). Thankfully, I also reminded myself to listen first.
 
As Leslie and I walked together into a room where we could have a conversation, I asked, “How was the day?” The floodgates opened, and Leslie told me about a situation that had unfolded due to one student in the class who consistently exhibited challenging behaviors. To protect privacy, I won’t go into details, but it was clear that the other children in the class felt unsafe until the child was removed from the classroom, and the situation was traumatic for the student teacher and mentor as well.
 
After the child with challenging behaviors was gone, the mentor and intern had a conversation with the rest of the class about what had happened, trying to restore calm. It was time for recess then, so they went outside.
 
“When did all this happen?” I asked, as Leslie’s description of the situation came to a close.
 
“Right before you observed,” Leslie said. They were just coming in from recess as I joined the class.
 
When I had observed that morning, I had no knowledge of what had recently transpired. As I reflected on the observation, I hadn’t known about the incident that had so impacted students. Now, I recognized that what I had seen had likely been more of a reflection of the morning’s events than the intern’s teaching skill. I backpedaled on my planned recommendation and instead empathized. Leslie talked about how thrown off she had been by the morning’s events, and how atypical her students’ behavior was during the lesson I had observed.
 
Although I’d been in her room for a few minutes previously, I didn’t really have a sense of the typical classroom climate, so I asked.  Leslie told me about routines that were beginning to be established, and she described some hopes for the future. It was a very different conversation than I had anticipated. I can’t say we moved the work forward too much, but what would have happened if I’d launched into my recommendation without listening first? I think I’d be undoing damage to the relationship for some time to come.
 
I’ve written so many posts about listening. If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may be tired of them. But, as for me, I could always use another reminder about this important skill. Over the course of the coming year with Leslie, she and I will reap benefits because I listened first.


This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
Professional growth partners pair teachers for ingrown PD:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLBVJfQHQoQ
 
 
Helping anxious students re-adjust to social settings:
 
https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/58462/how-to-help-anxious-students-re-adjust-to-social-settings
 
 
This podcast about the importance of Maslow’s fourth tier:
 
https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/maslow-esteem/
 
Why teachers should be asking more questions in their classroom:
 
https://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/always-on-inquiry-asking-more-questions-classroom/
 
Why kids shouldn’t sit still in class:
 
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/well/family/why-kids-shouldnt-sit-still-in-class.html?_r=0
 
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
 
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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Good Things Happening!

This year, I am working with student-teaching interns who are more novice than any I’ve ever mentored before. Because of the COVID pandemic, these interns have had only one practicum experience. Practicums provide preservice teachers opportunities to observe and try out practices in a school setting, gradually preparing them for their student-teaching experience. Because of school closures, remote teaching, and safety protocols, these interns’ first and last practicum was fall 2019, two years ago. As their university liaison, I have worried and wondered about how the missed experiences will play out. As I met with them during the first weeks of school, I noticed understandably less confidence as they approached their first teaching opportunities. Finding ways to boost their feelings of efficacy seemed important! So I decided it was time for the “Good Things Happening” strategy.
 
When I walked into my 2021 interns’ classrooms for the first time, I was intentionally looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. The lens through which I was viewing instruction allowed me to find opportunities for affirmation. When I walked into a room, I stood quietly to the side. Sometimes I immediately noticed something I could affirm. So I made a quick exit, stepped into the hall, and used my phone to record a memo to myself about what I wanted to applaud. Then I stepped into the next room and repeated the process. Sometimes I told myself, “Wait for it…wait for it…” And with a little patience and the right attitude, I found something encouraging in each classroom.
 
Below are some examples from the first round of “Good Things Happening” emails that I sent to interns this week. Since their focus at the beginning of the year is on the classroom environment (building relationships, managing procedures, and establishing routines), many of my comments focused on these aspects.
 
Each email started with a friendly salutation and an introduction such as, “It was fun to stop by your room Thursday!” This was followed by an affirmation like one of these:

·       I was impressed with the firm teacher voice you used when you redirected an individual student. You were also clear about consequences. And it worked!

·       One thing I noticed is that when a child asked a question during the phonological awareness practice, you listened and responded. That might not seem like a big deal, but often interns are so intent on their part in a lesson that they aren't tuned in to students. I love that you were paying attention. Responsiveness is an important teaching attribute!

·       I noticed that you were checking in with individual students. What a great way to build relationships and get to know their needs!

·       I was impressed with the firm, calm teacher voice you used when giving directions to students. It was helpful, too, that you let them know how much more time before cleaning up. Setting their expectations supports smoother transitions.

·       I was really impressed with the quiet noise level in the classroom. The calm music was floating through the room, and it just felt like things were rolling along as they should be. The culture felt inviting. I felt glad to be there, and I bet the kids did, too!

Soon after I sent the emails, interns responded appreciatively:  “You made my day!” “Thanks for noticing!” “Your ability to see something positive happening has been so appreciated!” Not only that, but their mentors, whom I’d copied on the emails, began replying with their own intern affirmations. It was a chain of efficacy-building assertions – just what these less-experienced interns needed!
 
My “Good Things Happening” routine takes little time but yields big benefits. Mentors and coaches can usually have deep interactions with only a small percentage of the faculty at any given time, so it’s helpful to continue nurturing relationships with the others in an ongoing way. “Good Things Happening” is one of my favorite ways to sustain these important relationships, a method that is especially helpful for preservice and early-career teachers who need a boost.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
How veteran teachers can help new teachers this year:
 
https://www.edutopia.org/article/supporting-new-teachers-year
 
 
The role of two-way trust in coaching:
 
https://simplycoachingandteaching.com/blog/2021/08/25/trust-in-coaching/
 
Tips for listening:
 
https://choiceliteracy.com/article/from-hearing-to-listening/
 
 
“Naughty” behaviors that are developmentally appropriate:
 
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joyful-parenting/201705/not-naughty-10-ways-kids-appear-be-acting-bad-arent
 
 
During lesson closure, ask students to reflect – fist to five:
 
https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/getting-instant-student-feedback
 
 
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
 
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Friday, August 27, 2021

Affirmations Sweeten the Conversation

This week, I had a thought-filled conversation with Rachel, an experienced mentor who welcomes student-teaching interns into her classroom every year. Rachel wants to make sure she is developing a strong relationship with Anna, her current intern. This is one of Rachel’s areas of strength: she recognizes the necessity of strong relationships as a foundation for growth, and the value of affirmations in developing those relationships. So I wasn’t surprised about the notes that she had shared with Anna:
 
-started off with praise for students sitting correctly and attentively
-clarified expectations if students were confused
-”thank you to students who made the first sound”
-”good job” (reinforcement)
-”I want to see everyone_____” (explicitly stating expectations)
-”I need to see you participating” (redirecting attention and responding to misbehavior)
-clear instructions
-used visual representations (just make sure to think through the mirror aspect)
-”Ashton, would you like to participate with us? (student nods) I would love that too!” (invitation to participate and genuine excitement)
 
What a list of affirmations!  They are specific, including examples of the exact words that were used. Note the parentheticals that make explicit the verbal move the intern was making. Noticing and naming these specifics makes it more likely they’ll be repeated in the future.
 
Bounded by affirmation, a recommendation is also included in the list (“make sure to think through the mirror aspect”). This came up during the lesson when the intern didn’t think about the fact that students were seeing her actions as moving in the opposite direction (right to left instead of left to right). The mentor reinforced this and added that it would “get easier and feel more natural with practice as you gain more experience with managing the visual representations alongside the phonemic awareness skills.” Her message ended with another affirmation: “I noticed and appreciated your efforts to keep everyone engaged and on task.”
 
This mentor’s lesson follow-up demonstrates the affirmation sandwich: A recommendation surrounded by affirmations is usually well-received. Mary Poppin’s adage about the spoonful of sugar holds true. Affirmations sweeten a coaching conversation! 

This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
Developing social and life skills (relevant to teachers of all grades):
 
https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/2014/6/24/18570091/summer-school-teacher-essay-working-to-find-joy-in-kindergarten
 
 
Making sure students feel cared for:
 
https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/57646/how-unconditional-positive-regard-can-help-students-feel-cared-for
 
 
Creating affirmation stations:
 
https://blog.teachboost.com/build-a-culture-of-appreciation-with-affirmation-stations
 
 
Building relational energy:
 
https://barkleypd.com/blog/coaching-and-leading-with-relational-energy/
 
 
Using advertising to teach critical thinking:
 
http://www.middleweb.com/16528/close-reading-advertising/
 
 
That’s it for this week.  Happy coaching!
 
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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Walk Softly

This week, a new instructional coach asked me, “What does it look like when Vicki Collet walks into a classroom?”
 
I knew my friend was asking about my coaching presence, the stance that I take toward teachers and my work. Do I walk into a room with an air of authority, making sure my presence is known to all? Do I feel satisfied when heads turn my way? Do I expect a performance, for everyone to be on their best behavior and doing their best work?
 
When I responded to my friend, the first thing I said was, “On days when I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time in classrooms, I wear soft shoes.” I don’t need my steps to announce my presence. I quietly enter a room, not because I’m being sneaky, but because I’m being respectful. I don’t want to disrupt the important wok that is underway.
 
After gliding in the door, I lean against the counter or wall, out of the way. If it will be a longer stay, I quietly find a seat. If it’s a short visit, I stand or lean for a minute while taking in the room’s activity. If the teacher is talking to the whole group, giving information or instructions, I stay still. I don’t want to distract from that!  If students are working, if the teacher is moving from group to group or student to student, I move in closer to see and hear.
 
If I approach a group or a duo in dialogue, I avoid eye contact. Eye contact encourages them to talk to me instead, often backtracking their conversation and changing the pattern of talk. I want to hear the real deal.
 
Sometimes, especially when students are working independently, I take a more active role as an observer, whispering a request to a student to explain their work or their thinking. I learn by listening to their response.
 
This time of year, I am creating connections and building relationships. I make quick rounds through the building, stepping into as many classrooms as possible in my soft shoes. I stay just long enough to catch something remarkable going on. Then I step into the hall and send myself a quick message about it so that I can follow up later with an email to the teacher affirming their practice. By starting with the positive, I am building trust.
 
There was a time in the past when I felt the need to establish my authority early on. I made sure my credentials were known. I was quick to offer my expertise. But I found that approach didn’t really work in my favor. Better to be approachable, establish trust, and let my actions, rather than my self-proclaimed words, build teachers’ confidence in me and my role.
 
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, is famously quoted as saying, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” While the first part of this sentiment is applicable for instructional coaches, the last part is not. Instead, we should couple soft walking with empathy, encouragement, sustaining, and support. As we walk softly and demonstrate confidence in teachers’ own abilities, they will return that confidence and partner with us in the work of instructional improvement.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
This podcast about attributes of a positive school culture:
 
https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/what-are-the-attributes-of-a-positive-school-culture/
 
 
5 key roles of an instructional coach:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtlVavxZBrk
 
 
Growing writing stamina:
 
https://choiceliteracy.com/article/growing-writing-stamina/
 
Clarifying your coaching role:
 
https://blog.teachboost.com/use-a-coaching-brochure-to-showcase-everything-you-do
 
Creating a coaching menu:
 
https://blog.teachboost.com/coaching-is-served-3-easy-steps-to-create-a-coaching-menu

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
 
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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Cultivating an Attitude of Becoming

Staci, a kindergarten teacher I worked with, had an exceptionally challenging class. A five-year-old with an oppositional defiant disorder; another with severe ADHD; one who was non-verbal. And the list didn’t stop there. Although there were moments of frustration, Staci consistently met the challenge with a Zen-like attitude: “How will this help me grow? What can I learn from it?”  Because of her attitude of becoming, Staci was able to support students during melt-downs, redirect inappropriate behavior with firmness and compassion, and build a safe environment of participation in her classroom. When Staci and I met, our curiosity gave us an orientation of becoming toward both Staci and her students, and it helped us approach uncertainty more positively.

As we build on strengths and shore up areas of weakness, as we visualize and celebrate successes and approach challenges with curiosity, we are cultivating an attitude of becoming in ourselves and those we work with. We coach toward potentiality and build toward the coaches and teachers we will eventually be. This is an attitude of becoming.
 
Becoming means developing, ripening, emerging, or enhancing. Becoming assumes a changing into and moving toward. As we encourage teachers to look at changes and challenges as opportunities for growth, we are supporting becoming. Without an attitude of becoming, we may remain stagnant. Stuck. Unmoving.
 
As a new school year gets underway, it may be helpful to think about change as a process of becoming. Just as a rose bud is becoming a full-flowered rose, we, and the teachers we work with, are capable of blossoming into something even better than our current teaching selves. What changes are you, and the teachers at your school, opening to? How will you support that unfolding? How will you share with teachers a view of change as reaching toward desired potential? Viewing change in the positive light of becoming is a hopeful view for the future. 

What are you becoming today?


This week, you might want to take a look at:
 
Incorporating art in the high-school language arts classroom:
 
https://choiceliteracy.com/article/reading-pictures-in-high-school/
 
 
Tips for building coach-teacher relationships:
 
https://blog.tcea.org/relationship-building/
Tips for new (or reminders for returning) coaches:
 
https://blog.teacherspayteachers.com/4-tips-new-instructional-coaches/
 
 
Coaching about classroom culture:
 
https://studysites.corwin.com/highimpactinstruction/videos/v10.1.htm
 
 
This podcast about how new teachers can find great mentors:
 
https://www.teachingchannel.com/blog/podcast-43
 
 
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
 
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