A Quick Note

I just finished my first round of coaching cycles.  (I will post about those in more detail soon.)  I took 10 minutes tonight to write a quick thank you note to each of the three teachers I worked with this round.  I began each note with “Thank you for inviting me into your classroom for a coaching cycle,” and then I personalized each note.  I wrote to Erin about her thoughtful nature and her smart decision-making.  I wrote to Rachael about her easy-going demeanor and genuine relationships with the kids.  I wrote to Kristin about her willingness to take a risk and try new things in her teaching.  I wrote kind words to each of them as a professional courtesy and to increase the likelihood of them entering into a coaching relationship again in the future.  But mostly, I wrote kind words to each of them because I meant them.



Looking at Student Writing

Tomorrow is the first of our grade-level team meetings to look at student writing.  During the first couple of weeks of school, the teachers collected a baseline writing sample from each student.  There was no prompt.  Students in grades K-8 were given time to do their “best writing.”  We will gather tomorrow to carefully look through the writing samples.

We will use the “Protocol for Analyzing Student Work” from Diane Sweeney’s book, Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals.

The protocol is as follows:

1.  The facilitator frames the purpose for the conversation and introduces the student work that will be used.  
As facilitator, I will not need to introduce the student work.  However, I will frame the purpose for our conversation, which is to develop 1-2 specific instructional goals for the next few weeks of writing workshop.

2.  In pairs, the group examines the data/student work with the following questions in mind: “What can we learn from the student work? What evidence can we tease out that indicates successes or breakdowns in student learning?”  
Immediately prior to this step, teachers will individually do a quick sort of their students’ work, separating it into high, medium, and low piles.  Then, I will present the two guiding questions, which will also be written on a small chart.

3.  Each of the pairs shares in a whip-around, and they are as specific as possible.  During this process, the facilitator charts the information that is shared.
I will create a Google Doc to chart the information.  I will record their findings on a T-Chart within the Google Doc, with one side labeled “Noticings” and the other side labeled “Evidence.”

4.  The whole group discusses the implications for the teaching and learning based on what was noticed in the student work.  Participants share in a whip-around, and at the end of the round the facilitator synthesizes new thinking. 
I will record the implications on the same Google Doc while they share.  This way, the teachers can refer back to the Google Doc as needed after returning to their classrooms.  Also, we can return to the Google Doc at our next grade-level meeting.

5.  Individually, each group member reflects in writing to name their next steps for instruction.  The whole group shares their next steps, and the facilitator takes notes for follow-up.
The teachers will record their next steps using pen and paper.  I believe there is something about handwriting a note which helps cement it in memory.  They will also get to keep their own papers.  I will encourage them to share their next steps with our principal by the end of the week.

I will post the Google Doc here by Thursday as an example.
Update:  Click here to see the notes from our meeting.

Setting Norms

Once each month, we hold a literacy coach meeting to bring together the four literacy coaches in our district.  We are each building-based, so this is often our only time to collaborate, talk, and vent.  This year, we decided to formalize our meetings by developing norms.  We developed these norms at our first meeting of the year.

1.  Honor the agenda and time limits.

This norm was developed because we have a tendency to get stuck on a topic.  Our meetings last for about an hour and a half, and in the past we often ran out of time.  We build the agenda together prior to the meeting using Google Docs, so now we are adding time limits to each topic.    Here is our most recent agenda, with time limits:

Sample Agenda

2.  Keep a positive tone.  Discuss ideas and topics, not people.

This norm was developed because, at times, our meetings turned into venting and complaining sessions.  Also, we sometimes tended to use over-generalizations such as, “The teachers won’t want to do that” or “The third-grade teachers aren’t…”.  This norm reminds us to hold the teachers in a positive light and to look for the bigger coaching ideas behind our interactions with specific people.

3.  Use a protocol when applicable.

This norm was developed mainly to help focus our discussions.  Two protocols we might use are Peeling the Onion (when we have a problem or issue to discuss) and Save the Last Word for Me (when we have a professional reading to discuss).

4.  Make sure everybody’s voice is heard.

I added this norm to the list because…well,  let’s just say I’m not shy.  I have a tendency to be the first one to speak up, and I also assume the role of leader (when I am an equal).  This norm will help ensure that all of our voices are heard.  We discussed how we could meet this norm by directly  asking any silent participants, “What do you think,?”.

5.  Set aside time to reflect at the end of each meeting.

This norm was added because there were times we all left a meeting feeling beaten down under the minutia of decision-making.  We discussed and agreed and disagreed and discussed and revised and agreed and questioned… and then asked, “Wait, what did we decide?”  This norm helps us to reflect back on the meeting and restate what we accomplished during our time together.

Here is the poster we will refer to at each meeting:



Coaching the Core

I am in the beginning stages of a coaching cycle with a junior high literacy teacher.  She specifically asked for help with the Common Core State Standard #9 for reading literature.  For 7th grade, this standard states that students will be able to

compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.


She also wants to incorporate the work she has been doing with reader’s notebooks, encouraging kids to respond to their reading in a variety of ways.

Our first meeting was to determine what, exactly, our student goals were.  So, we dove into that standard and tried to write more specific learning objectives from it.  Kids will need to:

  • be able to compare and contrast a fictional portrayal to a historical account.  (They could probably do this with a Venn diagram or through an essay.)
  • be able to identify how authors use factual information in their fictional writing.  (Close reading will come in handy here.)
  • be able to explain why authors of fiction use or alter history.  (Possible responses to this might be to invoke empathy, to give us a new perspective, to provide more information.)

Our second step was to gather resources.  So far, we know we are going to use Poetry Pairings by The New York Times.  We are also building text sets.  For our demo lessons, we will use Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, along with an article, some photos, and a video about the L.A. Riots.    For the kids, we are building text sets around immigration (How Many Days to America by Eve Bunting, Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone) and the Japanese Internment Camps (Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki).

My role as the literacy coach differs according to teacher knowledge and skill level.  This teacher is masterful; she is one of the most thoughtful and reflective teachers I’ve known.  So, I will teach alongside her.  I will help her look at student work so we can decide our next steps.  I will help her stay focused on our learning goals and possibly refine them along the way.  I will be a sounding board, a teaching partner.   I will offer my knowledge about the Common Core and about reader’s response.  I will help gather resources.

I see the important work we’ve already done together just by simply sitting down and talking through the standard.

Everyone should work with a coach – even the best of the best.

PD for the Potty

This week’s bathroom poster:


Just giving the staff something to think about while they… sit.

Study Groups

Our PLC model has undergone some shifts in recent years.  About five years ago, we had no cohesive model.  Then, we adopted a Lab Teacher Program for a couple of years.  While that model did have its successes, there were some obstacles to its implementation.  Last year, that Lab Teacher Program sort of morphed into Study Groups, where small teams of teachers met periodically to learn more about a topic.  For example, one group studied a couple of the Common Core State Standards and another group studied conferring with young readers.  The best part of these groups was that after we did some learning around the topic, we went into the classrooms to see a lesson or a conference in action.  The best way to learn is to get your feet wet, right?

This year, we are keeping the Study Group format (small groups of teachers, classroom practice in action), but we are adding a professional text to guide the learning component.  The idea is that we will read the book, discuss the major concepts, and then get into some classrooms and try it out.  This might mean we plan a lesson together and watch a colleague teach it, or maybe do some one-on-one conferences using the fishbowl method, or maybe watch a demo lesson done by the literacy coach.

To generate some interest, I hung mysterious signs in the bathrooms last week:

Study Groups

At Monday’s staff meeting, I will book talk each of the chosen books.  Teachers will choose one of the study groups to participate in, or they may choose the sixth “opt out” option.  I find that having the teachers make their decision before leaving the staff meeting usually increases participation.  This way, nobody forgets to sign up or loses the sign-up sheet in a sea of ungraded papers.

I hand-picked our professional texts off of my bookshelf, picking five of my favorite books for teachers.  Our options for this year are:

Hows It Going

Talking to Writers (3-8)

This study group will work to improve our one-on-one writing conferences.  Conferring with young writers is an art that takes practice and time to develop.  Let’s get our feet wet together!  We will learn a format for conducting a writing conference, and we will learn how to teach students their role in a writing conference.  We will use the book How’s It Going?: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson as our guide.


About_the_AuthorsWriting Workshop for the Youngest Children (K-2)

This study group will examine the intricacies of writing workshop in the primary grades.  The focus will be on making books, and we will take a detailed look at routines, minilessons, and assessment in K-2 classrooms.  We will also look at some specific units of study and some excellent mentor texts we can use in our classrooms!  We will use About the Authors by Katie Wood Ray to guide our learning.



IgnitingA Love of Books (3-8)

This study group will learn how to create a culture of literacy and a love for reading in your classroom.  If you’ve always wanted the kind of classroom where kids are excited about reading and books, this study group is for you! We will learn how to give great book chats and how to really get to know the readers in our classrooms.   Our learning will center on Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven L. Layne.



What Readers Really DoAuthentic Readers

This study group will learn how to meet some of the Common Core State Standards, while keeping authentic reading experiences at the heart of their classrooms.  We will learn how readers infer, develop notions about theme, and work their way out of confusion.  We will practice some of these reading experiences ourselves and then go into the classrooms to teach kids how to be real readers.  We will use What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton as our guide.


Celebrating WritersLet’s Celebrate!

This study group will work to make our writing workshops places of joy and celebration.  We will discover ways to build a true community of writers.  We will learn about celebrating not only finished pieces of writing, but also learn how to find and celebrate all the successes along the way.  If you are looking to put fun and excitement in your workshop, this book is for you.  Let’s look at student work through a lense of celebration!  We will learn from Celebrating Writers by Ruth Ayres.


I am feeling really good about these selections and the current PLC model.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the year…



Coaching Non-Negotiables

We have been working hard in our district to develop a coaching model for the 4 literacy coaches in my district.  We have experimented with several different models, and I think we are close to a consensus on what will work best for our teachers and students.

We have decided on the following non-negotiables about coaching cycles:

  • Coaching cycles must be long term (3-6 weeks).
  • The coach must work directly with the teacher in the classroom at least 3 days per week.
  • There must be a method to measure impact (student work, formal assessments, teacher reflection, etc.)
  • There must be demonstration teaching, including a pre-brief and a debrief.  There might also be co-teaching and observing.
  • There must be a specified goal for the coaching cycle.  It could be either a student-centered or a teacher-centered goal.

Using these non-negotiables as a starting point, we will work to develop a coaching model for our district.

Do you have any non-negotiables as a coach?


Bathroom PD

Being the sole literacy coach in a K-8 building, I am always trying to think of ways to reach more teachers.  This year, I decided to meet them where they are… in the bathroom.  I hung the first of many professional development posters this week.  I hung the posters on the refrigerator doors in the teachers’ lounge, and I hung them directly across from the toilets in the bathroom.  I figured it would give the teachers something to think about while they… sat.

This week’s poster highlighted the 5 parts to a successful mini-lesson:

Bathroom PD Minilesson

Close Reading Demo Lesson

Last week I wrote about the memo I sent to teachers for the beginning of the year.  Although I have not yet started official coaching cycles, I am trying to get into as many classrooms as possible.  A sixth grade teacher invited me in to do a demo lesson on close reading, and I was happy to oblige.

The Lesson

My goals for the demo lesson were:
1.  To show the students how close reading allows them to understand a text more deeply.
2.  To demonstrate, for the teacher, a close reading lesson that she could extend and build upon in the coming weeks.

FILWFor the lesson, I used the text “Salvador Late or Early” by Sandra Cisneros.  I chose the text because it was short enough to read in one class period, yet it holds deep meaning for the sixth graders to uncover.  First, I read the text aloud and shared my initial thinking.  “It seems as though Salvador is responsible for his younger brothers, like he has to take care of them,” I told the sixth graders.

Next, I used the three-step ritual for close reading that is outlined in Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.


Close Reading Anchor Chart

The anchor chart

The first step is to read through a lense.  Wanting to understand Salvador more, I  reread the text through the lense of collecting character details about Salvador.

Using the document camera, I recorded the following details about Salvador:

  • eyes the color of caterpillar
  • crooked teeth
  • crooked hair (messed up)
  • wrinkled shirt
  • apologizes when he speaks
  • 40 pound body
  • scars
  • chest throbs with what only he knows


The next step is to look for patterns in the details.  I thought aloud about the details I had collected.  “When I look at these details about Salvador, several of them stand out to me.  His wrinkled shirt, his messed up hair.  I wonder who is taking care of Salvador?  His 40 pound body… that is small.  My four-year-old daughter is 40 pounds.  A lot of these details seem to suggest that perhaps Salvador isn’t being well taken of at all, maybe he’s even neglected, or abused.”

The last step is to develop a new understanding of the text.  Once again, I thought aloud, “When I first read this piece, I thought that Salvador had a lot of responsibility and had to take care of his younger brothers.  After close reading, I now think that maybe no one is taking care of Salvador.  In fact, I think Salvador is being neglected, maybe even abused.  Salvador does not come from a good place…” and so on.

 Coach’s Reflection

I think I met my two goals for this lesson.  I think the students clearly saw how close reading helped me delve deeper into understanding a text, and I think the classroom teacher has some close reading work to build upon.  The classroom teacher and I talked briefly about the lesson afterwards, and I have plans to return to her classroom next week.

Last year, under the guidance of Ellin Keene,  the literacy coaches in my district developed criteria for demonstration teaching. Looking back at the list of criteria, I see some hits and some misses.

Coach is clear about the lesson’s focus.
Classroom teacher takes notes during lesson.
A sense of authenticity prevails – this is something real readers or writers do.
The coach uses high quality text.

Goal is determined collaboratively before the lesson.
Demonstration teaching should be based on a gradual release of responsibility.
The lesson includes a focus on the larger implications of the objective in their lives and the world.
Principles of quality classroom discourse are used – wait time, probing.

All in all, I think it was a success, and I am excited about the follow-up with this teacher.

Can I Come In?

As a literacy coach, the first few days of school can feel somewhat awkward.  We have not yet started our one-on-one coaching cycles, and we have not yet launched our small group PLCs.  What is a coach to do?  I helped out in the kindergarten room taking lunch count, I reorganized the Book Room, and I distributed all the student DRA folders and writing portfolios.  I compiled a list of first day read-alouds and stacked the books in my office for teachers to grab.  I hung some PD posters in the bathroom and copy room.  But, where I really want to be is in the classrooms.

So before leaving for the weekend today, I sent the following email to the teachers:

Hello, everyone.  I would love to come into your classrooms next week and begin working with you! 

I’d be happy to:

  • Teach a lesson from the First Twenty Days
  • Help you launch writer’s notebooks
  • Talk to your kids about Slice of Life writing and share some of my own
  • Demonstrate lesson(s) based on the CCSS
  • Do a few reading or writing one-on-one conferences together
  • Help you form and teach some initial invitational groups
  • Practice taking and analyzing running records together
  • Do some one-on-one conferences together based on the six systems
  • Give a couple of book chats on some great books
  • Introduce myself and read-aloud one of my favorite picture books
  • Help you get started with Words Their Way

There will be a sign-up form in your mailbox that you can return to me, or you can simply reply to this email.  Let me know a day and time that I can come in!

I also put a hard copy of this list in the teacher’s mailboxes.  The paper copy also has an “other” option where teachers can write in any additional requests.

I received several requests for support before I even left for the day, and I am so happy to get into some classrooms next week to start forming new relationships with teachers and students.

How do you typically begin your coaching work?


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