Saturday, May 15, 2021

Student-Focused Recommendations

Are you a coach who wants your recommendations to be gentle but effective? Keeping the focus on students is one way to soften a recommendation.

Sometimes, novice teachers (or those who are learning something new) feel personally attacked by recommendations, especially those that come after an observation. Shifting the language and the focus of the recommendation can make it easier for a teacher to gracefully receive suggestions.

To soften the language of a recommendations, avoid using the word you. Although you feels great in a celebratory statement, it can be rather finger-pointing as part of a recommendation. An easy way to avoid you when suggesting a change in practice is to put the focus on students.

Student-focused recommendations can begin with an observation about what students were saying or doing, followed up by a possible response. For example, a coach could say, “I noticed that most students were still getting out their notebooks while the directions were being given” (not while you were giving directions). Pause. The teacher may fill that pause with her own solution to the problem. But if not, continue with a student-focused recommendation. “Giving directions one step at a time can help kindergartners stay on task.” This is a soft recommendation; it doesn’t feel overly-directive, and I’ve found that the teacher will usually jump into the conversation at this point to acknowledge the need.  

Here’s another example: “I noticed that there were a few students who were moving around the room a lot during guided reading.” Pause. “Checking in quickly with students between groups might help them stay on task.”

Although such careful language isn’t necessary with all teachers or at all times, it’s helpful to be aware of ways to soften the language of a recommendation. Noticing how feedback is received, and being prepared with ways to modify your approach, can improve the climate and outcome of a coaching conversation.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
Building empathy with stories:
Using “What I Need” surveys to determine coaching support:
Strategies to support deep learning:
Managing how primary students share their writing:
Empathy statements for responding to difficult teacher comments:
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

Friday, May 7, 2021

Productive Talk

Let’s talk about talk. Talk is the sea on which ideas float. In productive dialogue, participants bob up and down in this sea, taking their turns as they share ideas, listen, encourage others to participate, and build on their own and each other’s thoughts. 

There is persuasive research evidence about the importance of stimulating classroom talk, including student-to-student talk. The teacher’s role in such talk is to coach, support, and encourage; to prompt for relational thinking that includes analogies, alternative hypotheses, and elaborative clarification.* Students have higher cognitive engagement and increased learning when instruction includes opportunities for them to ask questions, evaluate each other’s contributions, and construct their own meaning.**

Interestingly, students are more likely to use a sentence frame that has been introduced by a peer rather than a teacher. When a student says something like, “What do you think, ________?” or “I (dis)agree with ____,” the use of these phrases escalates as the discussion continues. Researchers call this the “snowball effect.” Student talk gets bigger and bigger.***

To harness this power, teachers can reduce the time students work alone, increase the time they work with each other, and prompt for the specific types of thinking and talking described above.

In your classroom, school, or district, is there an emphasis on student-to-student talk? What are you doing to make it happen more?  This kind of talk time is so good for students! It is also good for grown-up learners!

Now that you’ve thought about increasing student-to-student talk in the classroom, let’s think about increasing peer-to-peer talk among educators, including PLC meetings and coaching conversations. Is there an emphasis on peer-to-peer talk in your school or district? Review the bolded recommendations above. What are you doing to make these things happen during collegial conversations?

Although the research cited above deals with student talk, I feel confident the impact would be mirrored if educators’ talk were studied. Let’s talk about talk!  In the classroom or the PLC room, learning increases when it floats on a sea of talk.

* Lin, T. J., Jadallah, M., Anderson, R. C., Baker, A. R., Nguyen-Jahiel, K., Kim, I. H., ... & Wu, X. (2015). Less is more: Teachers’ influence during peer collaboration. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2), 609.
**Alexander, R. (2008). Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk (4th ed.). Dialogos UK Ltd.
***Anderson, R. C., Nguyen-Jahiel, K., McNurlen, B., Archodidou, A., Kim, S. Y., Reznitskaya, A., ... & Gilbert, L. (2001). The snowball phenomenon: Spread of ways of talking and ways of thinking across groups of children. Cognition and Instruction, 19(1), 1-46.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
7 types of rest everyone needs:
14 printable Bloom’s Taxonomy posters:
Enduring practices from remote learning:
The value of rereading picture books:
Ensuring teachers’ professional learning is impactful:
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 1, 2021

Hold Your Tongue

Some coaches take their work very seriously. Their job is improving instruction, with not a minute to spare! When a coaching conversation starts, they quickly jump in with a recommendation. Unfortunately, such an approach may mean that the recommendation bounces right off.
This week, I talked with a group of novice teachers about the coaching they received. Early-career teachers are likely the most in need of recommendations, and they are typically grateful for a suggestion that makes their teaching better. They may even be craving it. But if a coaching conversation is launched with a recommendation, the teacher is often not ready to hear it.
Ellie talked to me about how her relationship with her coach has changed over time. After observing a lesson, the coach used to start their debrief conversation with a suggestion about how the lesson could be improved. She saw that as her duty. But the coach has been examining her own practice, and now she does things differently. Knowing that Ellie thrives on affirmation, she starts there and also invites Ellie to say a thing or two about what went well. “I used to not feel comfortable asking for feedback, and she would just tell me. Now I know when I need to ask for help,” she said. Feeling affirmed and having a chance to talk things through has made Ellie confident about seeking support. She is open to recommendations.
Kyler, another novice teacher, has a seasoned coach who is full of stories from her many years of teaching. She uses these stories to illustrate the points she wants to make. But as the stories unravel, Kyler says that her in-the-head response is, “Stop talking already! I have ideas, too!” Even less-experienced teachers want their voices heard first. Kyler’s coach is an amazing teacher with loads of expertise and experience, but her approach made this young teacher  pull back. “I think if I could share my thoughts about a lesson before the coach first says, ‘Your pacing was too fast on that one,’ I feel like that would be helpful.”
After an observation, I often start a coaching conversation by asking, “What stands out for you about that lesson?” or “What do you want to celebrate about that lesson?” Even with that second question, I’m often surprised by how quickly the teacher turns the conversation to something he wants help with. At that point, recommendations are likely to stick.
Even though making recommendations is an appropriate, effective move in the GIR model, it matters how and when those recommendations come. When coaches give teachers a little space, teachers often name their own concern, opening opportunities for meaningful recommendations.
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, April 24, 2021

What’s Your Love Language?

Through my work with student teachers, I learn important things about coaching. At my institution, we call cooperating teachers “mentors,” but I see it as a coaching role. We are nearing the end of a semester, so I am interviewing student teachers (we call them “interns”), because I am always trying to learn from the year, always trying to improve.
This week, I interviewed Christy, a creative, fun-loving fourth-grade intern. The first part of her year-long internship was in kindergarten, and it immediately felt like home. Although she eventually came to love it, teaching in fourth grade was a challenge at first – she wasn’t sure how to relate to these big kids, and the content scared her a bit. Compounding that was the fact that she felt she and her mentor were a mismatch. She said they were so different in their thought-processes and personality types. Her mentor was a linear thinking. She was not. So, even though they were both trying really hard, in the beginning, they just didn’t mesh.
Thankfully, they eventually came to understand one another’s needs. Christy knew her mentor needed detailed lesson plans turned in early. And, after an especially rocky interaction, Christy shared what she really needed from her mentor: Ongoing words of affirmation.
“Affirmation is my love language,” Christy told me. “I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me!”  Christy shared these truths about herself with her mentor. The next day, after Christy taught a lesson that went well, she came back after recess to find a sticky note on her desk. “That was awesome. YOU are awesome,” it said. Even though that was months ago, Christy still has that sticky note. It meant so much to her! And it was a turning point in the mentoring relationship.
Affirming is an important coaching move. It’s one of the final phases of the GIR model not because we don’t use it sooner, but because the other moves drop away, making affirming the dominant coaching move. Many mentors tell me they affirm all along the way. Christy’s story reminds us that some teachers need affirmation more than others. Her mentor had a different intern earlier in the year, who had a great experience. And once Christy’s mentor knew her “love language,” she had a great experience, too.
You’ve probably heard about love languages. The authors, Gary Chapman and Paul White, have adapted these for the workplace, calling them “languages of appreciation.” Number one is words of affirmation. They explain that, for many people, what others think of them is very important. And everyone could use a good word from time to time.
Affirmation can come in personal, one-on-one conversations or in front of others. It can be written down or said out loud. We can affirm an effort, an accomplishment, or a character trait. The important thing is that the affirmation is sincere. From Christy’s experience, I learned that, for those whose language of appreciation is affirmation, it also needs to be frequent.  
Thankfully, Christy and her mentor eventually found the cadence of coaching conversation that was right for them. If you are using the GIR Coaching Model to guide your interactions with teachers, think about the role that affirmation, and other languages of appreciation, play for the individual teachers you are working with. Being generous with authentic affirmations shows appreciation and can energize a coaching relationship.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
This podcast on the power of choice:
Ideas for showcasing coaching work:
Effective Use of Questions as a Teaching Tool:
How to cultivate effective peer response to writing:
Building coaching relationships through love, humility, and trust:
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

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Have I Told You Lately?

This week, I got a cryptic text from my adult daughter. No context, just a question: What does the research say about praise?
I was in the middle of a busy day, so I didn’t stop to ask questions. I just sent an equally quick response: Praise effort more than talent. Be specific.
A couple of days later, I shared this same advice with coaches and asked for examples of praise that was specific or effort-focused. Two coaches were quick to jump in and share wonderful things about teachers they are working with.
One said, “Peter is so good at listening to students. He always puts them first. It makes his instruction so much stronger. When students are working, he is having conversations with them, one-on-one, that start by acknowledging where they are and then push them forward.”
Another coach described the amazing STEM lesson a teacher had just taught, where students worked effectively in small groups to solve a problem in a scenario connected with their unit on immigration. Students got their hands on materials and worked collaboratively. Because of the pandemic, we haven’t been doing anything like that this year. But restrictions eased about a week ago. The coach described how pleased she was that this teacher took the risk, in April, to diverge from year-long routines. The lesson, she said, was a great success.
If was clear the coaches recognized the value of what these two teachers were doing. They sang their praises to our group of coaching colleagues. But my next question cut them short. “Have you told them?”
Although both coaches recognized the teachers’ strengths, they had not taken the time to say so. Maybe because some coaching models discourage use of praise. Maybe because they are so focused on improvement that they are looking for things to change rather than things to applaud.
Because my research with the GIR model clearly identifies affirmation and praise as effective coaching moves, I confidently encouraged these coaches to think about specific, focused praise they could offer. We took a few minutes to get this specific praise down in writing on the GIR Conferencing Plan (see below). Because if we don’t plan for it, it may not happen. And praise it too important. We can’t let the opportunity slide.
During this coaching session, I had the song, “Have I Told You Lately,” rolling through my head. (My dad was a country-western singer, so it was the Hank Williams version rather than the Rod Stewart one you may now be humming!). Even though coaching may not be about love, the song’s reminder is relevant. Ask yourself: Have I told teachers lately about the good things they are doing? If not, maybe its time to do so. In the words of Hank Williams, “Well, darling, I’m telling you now!”

This week, you might want to take a look at:
This short video about using stories in the classroom:
PLC Conversations that increase collective responsibility:
Characteristics of a good mentor:
This podcast about best hybrid teaching practices (are there some things you’ll hang onto for the future?)
Excellence is a habit:
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


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Why Increase Teachers’ Responsibility

Week after week, I’ve been writing here about the Gradual Increase of Responsibility Model for coaching. Recently, I was asked to provide an explanation for why I would want to increase teachers’ responsibility. Don’t teachers already have enough responsibility? After all, they are already responsible for lunch counts, permission slips, and attendance; completing required administrative documentation; collecting fundraising envelopes and picture money; and being on bus, recess, or hall duty. This year, teachers have also been responsible for making sure students wear masks and stay spaced. They’ve been responsible for wiping down high-touch surfaces or managing new technology. And the list goes on. Don’t teachers already have plenty of responsibility?
My answer is a resounding, “yes,” and perhaps some of those things could be taken off their plates. Yet, I continue to advocate for increasing teachers’ responsibility in the important and job-appropriate practice of instructional decision making, because that responsibility is life-giving. Using their brains to think about how to best support students’ learning is empowering and creates energy for teachers. It’s probably the reason they entered the profession in the first place. Giving teachers more of this kind of responsibility allows them to exercise their agency, using all they know about content, pedagogy, and their students.
Coaching with the Gradual Increase of Responsibility Model increases teachers’ role in their own professional learning. Like the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model for teaching reading comprehension, which was the conceptual guide for the model’s development, the GIR Coaching Model suggests differing levels of support and increasing responsibility for teacher-as-learner. The Model is a coaching guide for choosing the right level of support for instructional decision-making – support that guides, challenges, or affirms to ensure that teachers are empowered and students consistently experience effective instruction. Teachers’ agency is honored and their efficacy increases as they design and witness improved instruction.
The teachers I’ve been working with this year have been stripped of much of their professional agency. I understand why: the district felt a tightly-scripted curriculum would allow easier pivots between in-person and remote learning. Yet this move has been energy-draining for teachers. Thankfully, as the pandemic eases, these teachers are being given more flexibility. This week, as we worked to plan lessons from scratch, I saw energy and joy flowing during their work. The first-grade team got excited about bringing in baby plants for students to match to photos of their grown-up counterparts; the third-grade team can’t wait to see how their students handle the boat-building STEM challenge they are linking to their immigration unit; the fourth-grade team will have their students act out the Greek myths they’ve been reading about. As we planned, teachers kept using the word “excited” – they can’t wait to teach these lessons. One teacher said, “This is going to be my favorite lesson all year!” The energy in the room was palpable, and the joy teachers felt as they considered their students’ needs and their own instructional repertoires was evident in their smiles and laughter. Yes, there was lots of laughter during these lesson-planning sessions!
Increasing responsibility by giving teachers the chance to do more of what they love about teaching is powerful!  Increasing their instructional agency acknowledges teachers’ professionalism. It recognizes their role as agents for change. The GIR model is a pathway that enables continual growth of the knowledge, interpersonal resources, and motivation required to improve teaching and learning. Teachers drive instructional improvement as they determine new ideas and methods to incorporate into their teaching.
So, should we be asking less or more of teachers?  My answer will always be that we should require less of what does not require teachers’ professionalism, and more of what does.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
Compassion, connection, curiosity, and care as leadership characteristics:
What goes into a culturally-sustaining classroom:
Publishing parties for authentic writing purpose:
What coaches need to flourish:
LOTS and HOTS: a taxonomy of digital learning:
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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Encouraging Energizing Stretch

You could probably make a long list of reasons why teaching is a challenging activity. Among the challenges is the fact that no two days are ever the same, no two classes are ever the same, no two lessons are ever the same. Both students and teachers bring varied knowledge and experiences with them when they step into the classroom each day. The infinite possible combinations make teaching a challenging, problem-solving activity.
Reflective conversations and assessment analyses provide a process of discovery that Invites teachers to uncover needs. One of the roles a coach can play is to make a challenge concrete. When we name a challenge clearly, we open a problem-solving conversation and define an opportunity for growth. These challenges require stretch between what we currently know or can do and what needs to be known or done. After clearly naming the opportunity, coaches can generate questions to be grappled with together – questions so hard that answering them requires learning. Curiosity creates change.
This year, some districts have turned to scripted curricula they felt would allow for easier pivots between face-to-face and remote learning. Prescribed, whole-class phonics lessons created a challenge in Katie’s first-grade classroom because some students had already mastered the prescribed skill while others weren’t yet ready for it. Katie executed the lesson plan well, but as we reflected, I asked questions about individual student’s responses that illuminated their differing abilities. I made the challenge concrete by saying, “These scripted lessons are meeting the needs of some students, but other students’ needs aren’t being met.” Then I asked, “How could these phonics lessons be differentiated in simple ways?”
The conversation that ensured included brainstorming and then choosing specific strategies that would fit seamlessly into upcoming lessons without disrupting the pacing of the lesson or causing too much extra work for Katie, who is already carrying extra responsibilities during this pandemical year. It was a comfortable stretch.
To encourage stretch that is energizing, coaches reframe challenges as opportunities and demonstrate confidence. Asking questions is an assurance of faith in a teacher’s capacity. When teachers engage their brainpower and generate answers, they are invigorated and motivated. Powerful work is done when teachers stretch in response to the opportunity presented by a challenge.

This week, you might want to take a look at:
Ideas for 1-minute PD:
Positioning diversity as a strength:
When teachers share “small moment” stories, so do students:
5 stages of implementation:
Best tips for celebrating student writing:

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