Saturday, November 28, 2020


A week ago I met with Piper after observing in her classroom. Piper is an effective teacher who includes active learning opportunities. She listens to her students, they listen to her, and they listen to each other.  These interactions are pretty impressive for 4th-graders. When we met to talk about the science lesson I’d observed, we had so many effective practices to talk about: including multiple representations of the content; short, effective partner talks; discussion where students’ built on one-another’s comments, explaining concepts to one another. She also made meaningful connections to previous learning, provided clear instructions, and encouraged students to use independent work time efficiently by setting a timer. Of course, we celebrated all of these successes!  Eventually, the conversation turned to an aspect of the lesson that went less smoothly: After all students drew a picture of the human eye (as a check for background knowledge near the beginning of the lesson), she had each student hold up their drawing and say something about it.  Snaking around the room through the COVID-straight rows of 27 desks, the conversation started out productive but soon dissolved into embarrassment about sharing their drawings and nothing to say.  Because I trust Piper’s judgment as a teacher, I wanted to remain open to her ideas and her reasoning for including this approach. So I asked, “When has having every student respond worked well in the past?”  Responding to this question helped Piper pin down criteria for when a sequential all-respond might be appropriate in future lessons.  Even though my instinct was to dismiss this practice altogether, Piper showed me there are times when it can work well.  I’m glad I was open to her thinking!
Being open is a coaching attribute that can be part of our lifelong-learner mindset.  Asking an open-ended question, as I did with Piper, is one way to demonstrate an open mindset.  Starting a conversation with, “What’s on your mind?” leaves the door wide-open for any topic of conversation.  Asking, “What else could you try?” suggests there are many possible solutions. Asking, “What makes you say so?” deepens the level of analysis in a conversation.  When we ask questions without having our own answer in mind, we are displaying an open mindset.
Keeping the doors of the mind open means that we avoid criticizing or ignoring new ideas.  It means delaying judgment. It’s refreshing not to have to defend your own ideas, but rather to listen intently to others’.  Although there are definitely times when coaches should share their expertise, doing so with an open mindset brings a lightness to the conversation, affording teachers their agency and acknowledging their own professional judgment.  Being open invites a productive conversation. 
When we maintain open communication with teachers, we welcome their thoughts, worries, concerns, and celebrations. We establish a conversational tone where teachers feel free to talk about their thoughts and opinions.  Teachers know they can bring up both everyday issues and difficult topics. I’ve found that exploring ideas together leads to growth – for the teacher and for me.
When coaches have an open mindset, they are approachable.  Their posture, positioning, and facial expressions help teachers feel at ease. Some of us have to think intentionally about each of these things, but they tend to flow more naturally when we remind our brains to move our own ideas to the back burner for a minute and be open to the ideas of others.
Our state of mind frames and changes everything we see. When we are open, our mental models are temporary and flexible. A good conversation is one where we learn something, and what others say is always interesting.  Being open is seeing things both as they are and as they could be.  It means seeing our coaching work as full of possibility.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
How to build resilient teams:
A podcast about productive PLC conversations:
7 rules for supporting students who have difficulty self-managing:
Assessing engagement with the engage-o-meter:
Humor writing for teens:
That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!
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Saturday, November 21, 2020

Interrogating Success

This week, I’ve felt a little grumbly about our teacher evaluation system – the negative messages it sometimes sends through its wording.  Although I think the elements of the rubric our state uses are generally aligned with strong instruction, I find myself grimacing at certain words, phrases, and assumptions.  Phrases like, “but may display lack,” and “no knowledge.”  Words like, "limited," “however,” “only,” “although,” and “but.”
If we have a growth mindset, wouldn’t we say, “Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ skills…and displays this knowledge for the class as a whole” rather than “Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ skills…but displays this knowledge only for the class as a whole.”*  Changing the but to an and and dropping the only sends a message that acknowledges what a teacher can do.  Words matter, whether coming from a rubric or from the mouth of an instructional coach.
I was also grumbly about the final section of the rubric, where the observer is to list, “Focus areas for next observation.”  That section of the rubric seems to be asking for recommendations.  But what if the teacher doesn’t need recommendations?  What if, instead, she would benefit more from authentic questions? 
In our state’s use of the system, a post-observation question for teachers’ written reflection is, “If you had the opportunity to work with the same students on this lesson again, what would you do the same? What would you do differently?” I’m so glad the reflection request begins with the notion of what worked well, but I find that most teachers jump right to the second question and list changes they would make.  What if, instead, we interrogated success?  What if we began with only the question, “What would you do the same and why?”  What if we focused so much on the things that went well that they became an emphasis for future lessons?   
This week, I tried to focus my conversations with teachers on the things that worked – the effective core structures of lessons, the in-the-moment adjustments, the thought-provoking questions.  I talked with Annie about how her follow-up questions stimulated learning.  I asked Ashley about how including opportunities for students to self-assess supported the work.  Aymanda and I talked about her spontaneous decision to stop reading the words of a book and let the pictures tell the rest of the story.  With Emily, the conversation centered around the joy that is palpable in her room and what she does to build it. After these conversations, both the teacher and I felt thankful for the good things that were happening in their classrooms – good things that will surely continue, and perhaps be more intentional, because we have looked at them closely.  By interrogating successes, we gain a deeper understanding of effective instruction. A close examination of what went well creates anchors that help teachers stay the course.
*Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. ASCD.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
This podcast about the school as a conversational community:
How to curb burnout:
What really matters in learning to read. A podcast with Dr. P. David Pearson:
What makes a good mentor:
This work-Life Balance quiz:
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, November 14, 2020

Guessing or Gathering

When planning– whether it’s in our personal lives or in our classrooms - we look forward and think about what the future might hold. We think about hoped-for outcomes and anticipate potential roadblocks. All this forward-thinking is essential, of course, but future-oriented forecasting is best coupled with the “look back” practice of reflection.
The future hasn’t happened yet, so it can’t be our teacher.  As we plan, instead of looking ahead and guessing, reflection helps us look back and gather.  Gathering beats guessing as a planning tool.
It’s also unrealistic to depend on the present to teach us in the moment as it happens.  The present is fleeting; it happens too fast, and we are going to miss out on the nuances if we don’t rewind to reflect. We need to name the unnamed, and this requires attention.
That is why reflection is such an integral part of coaching. When working with a coach, teachers have a reason to say it out loud, to make connections, to describe specific, concrete examples, to make sense of a situation.  After the moment has passed, we can connect the dots and look for patterns. We pull lots of ideas together to consider the relationships between them.
I had a reflective conversation with Ryan this week after observing in his classroom.  The lesson was about informational writing, and there were parts that went smoothly, along with bumps in the road.  After we had talked our way through the lesson, thinking about what we noticed and why that mattered, Ryan returned reflectively to his favorite moment in the lesson.  After sharing informational texts written by published authors, Ryan had asked, “Do you think the authors who wrote these could always write like this?  Do you think when they were in third grade like you, they could include facts, details, and definitions like this?” A student called out, “No!” enthusiastically, and Ryan asked students to turn to their partner and talk about this question.  I heard students dialoging energetically, “They can’t just know that already!” “They have to learn about it first!”  When he later reflected on this bright spot in the lesson, he realized the thing that made it stand out was how it brought authentic purpose to the lesson objective.  Students had ah-hah experiences about their own learning.  Seeing that moment in connection with and in contrast to other parts of the lesson helped Ryan gain valuable insight.   
During reflection, we gather information - little bits and pieces that were mostly unnoticed in the steady forward-flow of the moment. After gathering, we synthesize – that is, we pull lots of ideas together to consider the relationships between them.  Our answers won’t be definitive.  In fact, one of the valuable outcomes of reflection is the questions we carry with us into the future. For the reflective practitioner, though, the future will be guided by gathering rather than by guessing.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
The case for coaches in professional learning communities:
A podcast - We are all teacher leaders:
Lifting a line from mentor texts helps students’ writing soar:
Avoiding Zoom fatigue (for teachers and students) – check out the notes or the podcast:
Using single-point rubrics:
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, November 7, 2020

Downloading Solutions

When coaching with the GIR model, we are always thinking about what the teacher needs. But moving from recommending to questioning requires a deep shift in how we, as coaches, see.  We may need to work on ourselves before we work with others.

As knowledgeable, experienced educators, we are able to download solutions based on patterns that have worked in the past. This is comfortable territory! Interpretations and options for action are those we know and trust. However, as we shift our coaching moves from recommending to questioning, we are also shifting what we attend to.  When making recommendations, the center of our attention is really ourselves – what we already know and can do. We perceive through the lens of judgment. When we question, our attention shifts to the unique reality in front of us.  Instead of past patterns, we see the present moment and emerging futures.  Instead of letting what we see confirm what we know, we suspend judgment and broaden our perceptions. Questioning opens the boundaries of potential solutions. Instead of listening to the voice inside of us, we listen to the voice in front of us.

How can we make this internal shift?

·       Listen without letting your brain forecast your own response.

·       Suspend judgment.

·       Pause before responding.

·       Recognize the possibility of multiple solutions.

·       Suspend the decision.

·       Look for new information.

·       View the situation from another perspective.

·       Be ready to brainstorm.

When coaching shifts from recommending to questioning, we stop downloading the familiar from our own existing knowledge. Instead, we work collaboratively to create new possible futures. Moving from recommending to questioning is as much about changing as coaches as it is about teacher change.

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

Thank you for all you do! You’re doing a good job!


Vocabulary activities for any age:

This podcast about establishing relationships with students of color:


A how-to guide for relationship mapping:

Rich picture books:

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, October 31, 2020

Looking for Beautiful Things

My husband recently bought two new cameras, reinvigorating his interest in amateur photography. While on our walk, he paused and looked down the nearby street, grabbed a camera from his pocket, and framed a photo of colorful fall trees. He wore a smile as he tucked his camera back into his pocket, and I thought to myself, “It’s good to be looking for beautiful things in this world.”

Coaches, too, can be looking for beautiful things.  During observations and subsequent debriefs, a strengths-based approach can go a long way.  Sometimes teachers dread coaching and even come to dislike reflection because there is a “fix-it” mentality. A fix-it approach focuses on what went wrong and brainstorms ways to correct it. In contrast, a strengths-based approach focuses on what went right and looks for ways to increase it.

Positive psychology suggests this is a helpful approach. Positivity boosts creativity. Building on strengths, rather than focusing on deficiencies, promotes confidence and resilience.

Unfortunately, humans tend to have a negativity bias, remembering unfavorable experiences more than positive ones. This has some disadvantages, Negative emotions consume energy and can lead to worrying, uncertainty, and a narrowed view of options.

In today’s educational climate, we need practices that increase energy and creativity. Decision fatigue and all the extra to-do’s because of the pandemic are weighing teachers down.  So it seems the right time for a strengths-based coaching focus. 

I had this on my mind as I met with Andrea last week.  I had spent some time in her classroom and seen so many positive things!  Even though technology failed, she didn’t miss a beat!  But when I asked what stood out for her with the lesson, she said, “It was a disaster!” It took some doing to pull her back to talking about things that went well. But we ended up focusing our conversation on the open-ended questions she asked her students throughout the lesson and how students responded to them.  I had specific examples in my notes, and reflecting on the higher-level thinking students were doing was encouraging.  A focus on this positive outcome brought enthusiasm as she thought of specific questions to include in an upcoming lesson.

At a time in world history when it feels there is much to drag us down, a strengths-based coaching approach can renew energy and optimism. By understanding their strengths, teachers can more easily create successful learning experiences for their students.

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

The role of skillful noticing:

Problems and solutions when teaching with a mask:

Instant mood-boosters:


How to set up virtual book clubs:

This podcast episode about the classroom as a place of joy:

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, October 23, 2020

Time Out! (for Coaches & Teachers)

 Football season is upon us, but it’s more than just athletes who need a Time Out! Teaching has never been a more stressful profession.  And ongoing stress has serious consequences, affecting the area of our brain responsible for memory and learning.
When stress is high and seems to be getting in the way of your coaching efforts, you might try some of the following to get both you and the teacher you are working with ready for a productive coaching session.
1) Take a deep breath.  You might even close your eyes while you do it. Don’t hide your attempt from the teacher you are working with. Our brains subconsciously mirror the emotions of others. As you relax, the teacher you are working with is likely to relax, too. You may even see the exhale.
2) Drop and relax your shoulders. We carry a lot of tension there! Rotate your shoulder blades and imagine the stress going down your arms and out of your fingertips.
3) Laugh out loud – it lowers stress hormones and boosts feel-good endorphins. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian to bring out a chuckle!  Slip a comic strip in the front of your clear-view binder or share a story from the school-day that made you smile. Lightening the mood can increase the effectiveness of your coaching.
4) Add calming images, sounds, or scents. In your classroom or office, a photo or sound of waves washing up on the beach can foster relaxation. Bird song, music, lavender, the scent of pine trees, the sound of rain, or the image of a sunset are some other possibilities. Invite your senses to take you to a relaxing place. It will ease the way for an open conversation and make others feel good, too!
5) Chew gum.  A few minutes of chewing can actually reduce anxiety. So offer a minty stick when you sense tension.
6) Offer lotion. Our hands also carry a lot of stress, and applying lotion provides a mini hand-massage for instant relaxation.
7) Squeeze a stress ball. It’s a portable way to reduce tension.
8) Head outside. If it’s a sunny day, an outdoor walk-and-talk will lift your spirits and inspire new ideas.
9) Journal. Writing about what’s stressing you can make emotions less intimidating. In addition to reducing stress, taking a few minutes to write at the beginning of a coaching session builds in reflection time and can provide a springboard for discussion. Those two or three minutes for reflection feel like a luxury in our fast-paced days.
10) Food for thought: although complex carbs create a more lasting stream of serotonin, simple carbs, like sweets, produce a spike in the hormone that can get the brain in gear for productive conversation.  My favorite research about stress is that dark chocolate regulates the stress hormone, so now I have an excuse for my addiction!
Of course, you won’t try all of these at once. One or two will likely do the job, releasing helpful hormones that chase away some of the ill-effects of stress. Decide whether or not to explicitly mention the stress and what you are doing to relieve it based on the context, the people you are working with, and your relationship to them. 
The quick-fix stress-reducers mentioned above set the stage for the coaching conversation – which could be another stress reducer.  Talking about stressful situations to a calm listener relieves, relaxes, and creates opportunities for problem solving. 
Try a few of these suggestions yourself to get ready for the day. You’ve earned that time out!
This week, you might want to take a look at:
An article about the value of reading for pleasure:

An article about using memorabilia as writing prompts:
An online app for Venn diagrams:
A podcast with off-screen activities for remote learning:
Get convinced about the power of collaboration:
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, October 17, 2020

 This week, as I met with my PLC, an agenda item was, “What’s essential?”  In this year of 2020, and seven months into the pandemic, we realize that teachers and students are bearing extra burdens.  Each day holds many extra decisions, and each decision seems heavy.  So, in our PLC, we began to ask, “What can we take off?” “How can we lighten the load?” These are questions that coaches can use as they reflect on their own workload and also as they consider the work of students and teachers. 
Although I’ll always be about continuous improvement, this is not the year for pushing hard, for tough love.  This is the year for compassion, for grace, for caring. As I described in last week’s post, this is the year for “soft-pedaling.” In that post, I talked about how bicyclists pedal, turning the crank without applying force. This week, let’s consider soft pedaling as a musical analogy.
Musicians know musical dynamics from notation using the Italian words, “piano” and “forte.”  Dynamics are one of the expressive elements of music. The relative loudness of a note or section communicates a particular emotional state. In musical notation, p, or piano, means quiet or soft. There’s even a special pedal on the piano for it, the una corda or “the soft pedal.”  Pianist know that the soft pedal not only quiets the sound, it gives a subtle change, producing a mellower tone.

Reading up a bit about the soft pedal,* I learned that every piano will have a different response when using it. “It’s very important to get to know the effects of your soft pedal,” says expert pianist Robert Estrin.  Further, Robert describes, “Room acoustics, audience noise, and many other factors can determine whether or not the soft pedal is appropriate. Many times I have performed on pianos that were a bit too bright and border on having a harsh tone. When faced with this problem I might use the soft pedal a great deal to sweeten the tone and produce a better sound out of the instrument.”
How can coaches sweeten the tone during this harsh year?  Last week’s post included a string of ideas related to soft-pedaling. I’ll continue that approach below, with each idea linked to a previous post.  If an idea strikes you as something you’d like to dive into, click the link to read more.
Following classroom observations, it’s easy to judge and recommend. However, this year, we might want to restrain judgement and, instead, ask questions. This approach feels softer, and it can reap rewards, encouraging teachers to take an active role during debrief conversations. The act of questioning often prompts an insightful explanation or the teacher’s own appropriate adaptations or next steps.  For example, asking, “Why did you give the students more time to work?” rather than making a recommendation, might lead to a fruitful conversation. Even if the direction is not what you expected, it will likely be a direction that is meaningful for the teacher you are working with.
Each coaching cycle is a journey, and because 2020 has been full of unexpected twists and turns, our coaching journeys have held the unusual and unexpected. The hope is that each coaching excursion is a collaborative one. This year, teachers need a coach who is not only at their side, but on their side. As a teacher told me, “When you have someone who is on your side, you are going to want to grow as a teacher and as a professional.” A supportive coach believes in what you are doing. They are your champion and cheerleader. So, they are going to recognize and acknowledge what you are doing well.  We can do this through affirmation and praise, leaning hard on those coaching moves that typically take center stage near the end of a coaching cycle.
This year, more than ever, teachers benefit from affirmation. Affirming all along the way maintains a positive climate for coaching. As a coaching tool, affirmations can give recognition of what to continue.  When affirming, coaches act as a sounding board so teachers can fine-tune their ideas. Giving a metaphoric pat on the back through words of affirmation is a good feeling – for both you and the teacher you are supporting. 
This week, I realized the power of praise.  During an observation, several things had gone wrong that were out of the teacher’s control (accidents happen, especially in kindergarten!).  Even though she subtly handled all the details and kept the lesson going for the class, mentally, she was flustered.  Her directions were off and she wasn’t really noticing her students’ responses.  Later, after the teacher unloaded during our debrief, I chose to focus on a long list of things that went right in the lesson: “The partner talk was brilliant,” I said. “Kids were coming up with great ideas, and it really worked that you followed Javier’s suggestion and had the class stand up, and then touched their heads so they would sit down as you counted them. I think that reinforced their understanding of the need for accurate counting!”  I also praised the instructional scaffolds she provided: “Having their 100’s charts and counting bubbles on their clipboards was really helpful.  I saw lots of students using them!”  I continued the conversation with addition details about positive things I’d noticed.  Kimberly did swing back to the things that hadn’t gone so well, and we talked them through and made plans, but even if that part of the conversation hadn’t happened, the praise, in and of itself, served a coaching purpose.  During stressful times, praise can help teachers find their happy spot – the reason they come to school every morning.
Asking questions, affirming, and praising can be “soft pedal” moves, appropriate for coaching in these turbulent times.  They sweeten the sound amidst the sometimes harsh tones in today’s world.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
This 10-minute podast about face-to-face school and SEL:
You can’t do better than your best:
Remote learning lessons from Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger (using puppets and props, allowing children to respond even in recorded videos, and talking directly to students):

Georgia Heard talks about using poetry to connect us during these uncertain times:

Picture books meaty enough to share with secondary students:

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