Sunday, August 2, 2015

4 Tips for New Literacy Coaches

I am about to start my fourth year as a literacy coach at my elementary school. This has been an exciting journey and I love my job. Like any teacher who knows how important what they do is, at the beginning of each year I am plagued with doubt about my ability to perform this important role on my campus. My thoughts include:
  • Surely someone is better qualified to do this.
  • Am I prepared to support my teachers in their new learning?
  • Do I have the energy to give all of myself another year?
  • How do I best help all teachers; new and experienced?
  • Where will I get new ideas instead of just using my boring old ones?
  • Where do we go next?
I decided it might make me feel better to prepare a list of tips for new coaches. This would actually be evidence that I have learned something in the last three years; figured something out that I can turn around to you. And maybe it will convince me that I'm better prepared than I thought.

Tip # 1 Listen

When I was in the classroom, I was often wary of people "coming in to my room," to "tell me how to do stuff." I wasn't the only one - this is a pretty common feeling. Don't be one of those people who barge into classrooms to tell everyone how to do the job they're doing. Instead, start off listening. When teachers say, "That's not going to work," or "I don't like that idea," instead of getting defensive or upset, say, "What is it that you're worried about?" in an honest way. They can explain their concerns and maybe it'll help you solve the problem together.

It's not about what you want to do. It's about how you can all figure out what the best thing to do is. If you really come to the school with the attitude that it's a team challenge, and everyone has a voice, you will make a lot more of an impact than if it's the Ms. Chrissy Show. Chrissy can think reader's notebooks are the best thing ever, but nobody cares what you have to say if all you do is talk. Helpful things to say include:
  • Can you explain what you're worried about?
  • Tell me a little more about that.
  • Have you tried that before?
  • What could we do to make a difference?
  • How can I help you with this?
  • Here, have some candy. (Candy is a very effective planning tool)

Big Idea: You gotta listen to the people. 

Tip #2 Be organized

The two most important things I own: my calendar and my notebook.
Get a system, and get it fast. These are the kinds of things that happen (regularly) that make me thankful that I figured out an organizational system.
  • A teacher stops me in the hallway and says, "Oh, I know we're meeting on Thursday at 10:00, but I have an ARD at that time, so how about Friday at 2:30?"
  • I get an email in March that reads, "I can't seem to find that BOY data I sent you in August. Do you have a copy?"
  • My principal says, "What date did we provide that training about levels of rigor last year?"
  • Central office sends an email that says, "Instructional coaches, please ensure that all of your teachers entered in their MOY data online."
  • At a grade level meeting, teachers ask for their students' performance data on a test from three weeks ago.
  • At the end of the year, everyone has to turn in everything. This means you could potentially have to provide copies to teachers again of everything they've ever handed to you. (And occasionally they'll request things they never handed to you at all, in the hopes that you might have it :)
So get a system. My system involves one notebook (for the entire year - I don't write anywhere else), a calendar (paper and pencil; not electronic) a four-drawer filing cabinet, a hierarchy of folders on my laptop, and my literacy coaching binder. I carry my notebook, calendar, and a pen everywhere I go, no matter if I'm just heading to the bathroom. The one time I don't have it is the one time a teacher will stop me to schedule something really important, and I need to make a note that says, "Find parent conference letter for Ms. SoandSo".

They're not beautiful, but they are organized.
This system helps me to know where everything is, and in the everyday occurrence off-chance that someone needs another copy of something from seven months ago, I can usually find it. And it doesn't even bother me that much, because the truth is that teachers are busy, sometimes frazzled, and I probably lost lots of stuff when I was in the classroom. So the big idea here is: Save everything and write everything down, and figure out a way to remember where you put it. 

Tip #3 Budget your time

This is tough. Everyone will want a piece of you.

On the first day of school in my first year as a coach, I was so lonely. I sat at my empty guided reading table in my empty room and thought, "Nobody needs me. I miss my kids."

That has never happened again. Now I sometimes wish I could turn out the lights, lock the door, and hide so I can go to the bathroom.

Honestly, now I schedule everything on my calendar. Even things that don't need to be done at an exact time. I schedule all of these kinds of things that would normally require scheduling:
  • PLC
  • Grade level meetings
  • Meetings with leadership and central office
  • Trainings
  • Due dates
  • Planning with individual teachers
  • School events
  • Scheduled observations
  • Working with students
  • Observing students in the classroom for RtI
And I schedule these kinds of things that usually don't really require scheduling:
  • Classroom visits: "Visit second grade writing" in the time frame I want to visit them, or if I'm visiting some teachers one day and some another day, I'll write in the teachers' names. 
  • Time to work on documentation: "Finish Reading At-Risk BOY"
  • Time to work on assessments: "Third Grade Reading Fiction/Poetry Test"
  • Time to work on materials for teachers: "Fourth Grade Point of View Materials"
It's like a to-do list with a time frame. 

Tuesdays look fairly blank because we have PLC all day - meetings, meetings, meetings!

And this year, I'm considering adding these elements to my schedule:
  • Go to the bathroom.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Walk from one meeting to the next (rather than scheduling them all back to back!)
  • Breathe.
Big tip for budgeting your time: If it has to be done while students are in the classroom, schedule it first. For example, if I want to observe third grade reading to see how our character study lesson plans are going, I need to schedule that at the time third grade is teaching reading. I shouldn't work on documentation at that time, because I can do that after school. To quote my mother: "You always have time for the things you do first." It's true. Try it out. You'll see.

Tip #4: Know Your Job Description
This one is pretty important. Your principal (or possibly your district) has an idea of what your job is. If you have a different idea of what your job is, and you continue doing that job for any length of time, one of you will end up being pretty unhappy. When you apply for any instructional coaching position, it's necessary to ask the principal, "What are the three most important things I need to spend my time on? Where will most of my time be spent?"

My principal (God bless her, like for reals) knows that the only way a school grows is through time spent with teachers. Most (by which I mean more than half) of my responsibilities revolve around supporting teachers in some direct or indirect way:
  • Planning with teachers
  • Training teachers
  • Meeting with teachers to debrief data
  • Modeling lessons for teachers
  • Observing classroom lessons
  • Providing feedback to teachers
  • Writing assessments so teachers don't have to
But of course, there's a whole list of other stuff that I do that, although it does support teachers in some way, isn't directly working with teachers:
  • Monitoring awards assemblies or special campus events
  • Having a walkie-talkie (I hate walkie-talkies!) for use in fire drills and lockdowns
  • Making copies of DRA so teachers don't have to
  • Sitting in leadership meetings, weekly
  • Training at the district level, whatever they want me to train on
  • Attending district and other level trainings
  • Planning and running school events like Family Literacy Nights
  • I'm sure there's more, but I'm getting a little a little overwhelmed thinking about some of it.
So make sure you and your principal or admin are on the same page. It will make a huge difference in how both of you see your purpose and productivity!
Literacy Coaching is incredibly rewarding and interesting; each day is a new challenge to figure out with my colleagues. I love love love it, even when I feel like I'm underwater. Hopefully these tips will help you feel like you are underwater less often.
Want to know more about Literacy Coaching? Check out my post: What Do Literacy Coaches Do?
Current Events: TPT is having a huge Back to School Sale on August 3 - 4. Get every item in my store for 20% off! And, today only (Sunday, August 2), get my Teaching Reading by Genre: A Teacher's Guide and Materials for the pre-sale price of 40% off! That's 200 pages, $18.00 worth of product, for only 10.80!
My brand-new Teaching Reading by Genre is marked down 40% for a pre-sale price, today only! Grab all 200 pages of tips, tools, printables, and lesson ideas for teaching reading by genre: fiction, expository, poetry, drama, procedural, literary nonfiction, and persuasive for only 10.80!
Grab it here at TPT!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Eyes Are Broken

Apparently, my left eye is broken. 
I went to the eye doctor yesterday because my prescription has been off since I got it three weeks ago. I close my left eye and my right one seems ok, but when I close my right eye, my left eye is all blurry. I look like a little old woman, because I keep tilting my head back to see through the bottom of my lenses...but I don't have bifocals. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but clearly (pun intended) something had to change.
I'm pretty used to having eye issues. I've had glasses since I was in the fourth grade and I couldn't read the board (sound familiar to you lifelong nearsighted people?) This was the eighties, so my glasses were big. My brothers used to lick their fingers and stick them on my glasses. This, by the way, is super gross. Don't do it.
When I go in for an eye appointment, I dread it the whole time because I'm pretty sure I'm going to mess it up. That will only make sense to you if you stress out over this like I do. But I went in for a follow-up anyway because glasses aren't cheap, and I'd really like to be able to see through them. This is how it went:
He said, "So what's the trouble with your new prescription?"
I said, "My left eye vision is blurry, and I feel like I have to look through the bottom half of my lenses to see clearly."
He said, "Oh, I hear that a lot from people with strong prescriptions. There's not much we can do about it."
Sheesh, am I paying for this service?
As soon as I sit down behind those creepy lens-changer thingies, I immediately feel like I'm in a staring contest. I blink and blink, and my eyes water. Then they're completely dry. He clicks through the lenses - one better? or two? Three or four better? - and I totally stress out and blink compulsively, trying to keep up. Please tell me this happens to you. It would make me feel better.
He told me to read the lowest line I could with my right eye. I read the fourth line (there were five)
Then he told me to read the lowest line I could with my left eye. I read the second line. Ummm, that's a problem, right?
He went through the whole mess - one or two? seven or eight? - and I freaked out the whole time. I couldn't trust my own judgment! I already messed this up once! My stress levels shot through the roof and I spent the whole time blinking.
Finally, at the end of all of that, he said, "Well, it looks like your right eye can just read more letters than your left eye, no matter what." 
Ummmm.....Yeah. That's why I'm here. "Isn't that why we need  prescriptions? Because eyes see differently?" I asked, being brave, but sounding incredibly stupid. He didn't answer.
"Well," I tried again," Isn't there some prescription that will help my left eye see as well as my right? Or did I run out of prescriptions?" I laughed, hoping that wasn't possible.
He looked at me and said, "Don't you write better with one hand than the other?"
I wanted to say, "Do you make prescriptions for handwriting?" but I didn't. I just said, "I mean, with the prescription. Shouldn't my left eye be able to see well with the prescription?" 
And then he said - and here it is - "I can't answer that question. I'm not exactly sure what the question is."
What? I'm sorry, did you just say that you can't tell me what's wrong with my eyes? Isn't that kind of your job? Teachers, did you know you could do that? You can say, "Yeah, I don't know what that question means, know, I'm just not going to answer it. Peace out."Wow, that's going to save me a lot of time!
So apparently, my left eye is broken, unfixable, and nothing anyone can do will fix it. My friend suggested that I put on a black eyepatch and just call it a day. Fortunately, I found a site that sells designer eye patches, so...there's that.
Oh, and can anyone recommend a new optometrist? 
At least I like my new frames. 
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Best Advice Ever, according to my mother

My mother is a tough woman. I mean, don't get me wrong. She'll make you whatever you want for your birthday dinner, and water your planets when you're out of town (if you ask nicely). But she is no-nonsense, of the best sort.

With her, there is no such thing as a good excuse. And that's where I learned my best advice ever.
Get ready. It's a big one.

You always have time for the thing you do first.

That might sound pretty ridiculous, and pretty obvious, too, and when you're a 14-year-old kid who just wants to hide in the bathroom and read all day instead of completing your mandatory chore list before your mom comes home, you can't even listen to it seriously. She says, "You always have time for the things you do first!" and you hear, "Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah," like Charlie Brown's teacher.

But as I got older, and my time management became my responsibility and mine alone, I thought,
"Hmmm...maybe there's something to that."

I started scheduling my day starting with the most important and essential tasks. I went to sleep thinking about what I was going to do first the next day, and when I woke up, I was ready to get started! I had the right mental attitude, and what's more, I had enough time to do the thing I was supposed to do!

People, it's true. And it works!

It works at home:
You do the chore you are least excited about but must be done. You save the Seinfeld-watching until later (let's just assume this is the best-case scenario).

It works at school:
You teach the subject you are least excited about first! You know you'll get to writing (if you love writing) and you know you'll get to science (if you love science), but if you really don't love math, consider putting it first.

You do not enjoy grading the kids' notebook entries, so instead of putting it off, you do it as soon as they go to PE. You know, first! First in your conference period!

What?! And after you do it, you're done! With that horrible task you didn't want to do! And you have the rest of your conference period to do whatever else you need to do! (I'm pretending the world is perfect, and you don't have 900 meetings during your conference period.) And you don't have to take them home!
So the next time you see your day stretching before you, and you think of those tasks you really don't want to do, and the remote calls to you, saying, "Seinfeld is on Hulu!" just say, "I'll get to you later! You always have time for the things you do first!"
I know it's pretty duh advice, but really, if you try it, you might feel better about what you accomplish.

Check out the other great advice at Georgia Grown Kiddos!
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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Makeover! Made-over Product Giveaway!

So everybody can use a makeover sometimes, right? Honestly, if someone credible walked up to me and said, "Girl, you need a makeover," I'd say, "Yes, please. I don't know what else to do with all this." and then I'd let them be in charge.
That's probably not going to happen. 
So instead, I did a product makeover! I mean, someone should feel pretty, right?

I made over one of my dumpy old products. It was from my first year on TPT. 
It was sad.
So sad.

And now it's not! Now it's happy and shiny and new! 

It includes this adorable craftivity (which my kids loved)
If you already downloaded my Government Pack, please download it again for the nice, new version. 
I also made over my hideous Genre Study Book from four years ago. I'm so excited with the new design! 

If you've already purchased it, please download it again for the nice, new version!
And if you haven't bought it yet, here's your chance to get it for free! Just leave me a comment with the which product you'd rather win: the Genre Study Book or the Government Pack. I'll choose three winners over the weekend! Good luck! 
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Do Literacy Coaches Do?

About three years ago, I made the move from teaching third grade (previously, fourth grade) to being a Literacy Coach. It was a big one. I accepted the position in July, and then I cried about it every day for over a month. Then school started and I had no time to cry. (Except for the first day, when I sat in my new Literacy Coach room, devoid of students and new school supplies, and pathetically thought, "No one needs me. I'm useless. I've made a huge mistake."

That was the last time I ever felt that way, by the way. Now I feel like, "How many places can I be at once? If I can only be in three places at once today, maybe I can accomplish what I wrote on my schedule."

Because now I know the answer to the big question: What do literacy coaches do all day?

I've been asked that question by many people from online teaching land. They're teachers who are interested in becoming literacy coaches, for the most part. And a few of them have been teachers who just accepted the role as an instructional coach at a school and are really nervous. I understand. So here's my best attempt at describing what we do all day. Keep in mind, this totally depends on your district, principal, and job description. Every school has its own needs. These are just the things I do the most.

1. We support teachers.

This is, by far, where I spend most of my time and it's the most important thing! We have to build our teachers up!  Supporting teachers can take on a lot of vestiges. It can include...
     * Modeling lessons or strategies in the teachers' classrooms.
     * Setting up teachers to observe each other.
     * Planning with teachers using our curriculum from the district, state standards, our resources, and our ideas!
     *Meeting with teachers about specific concerns or questions they are having. Teachers may have me come in and observe students and meet with them afterwards to discuss what they can do to help them. They may have concerns about how their kids did on a recent assessment, so we sit down and look at the tests together and figure out next steps. Or they may even just want to discuss scheduling issues or worries, or advice
     *Doing tasks that will help teachers out. Of course, this has to happen within reason. For example, I couldn't take a day to make all the copies the teachers need for their upcoming lessons. But if it would help an entire grade level for me to lay out a rubric they brainstormed and have it made into posters, I'll do it. Or maybe they're trying to build an assessment that tests certain standards. I'll write it for them and save a copy for next year. I make the copies of our DRA for the teachers to save them time.
     *Visiting classrooms. I pop in to classrooms across the school every week or two to see how we're doing. I can evaluate how kids are receiving the instruction and look for areas to address in upcoming PLCs or professional developments.
     *RtI: I schedule, coordinate, and sit in on RtI. We host meetings a few times a year, provide suggestions/feedback/next steps to teachers, and hopefully meet our students' needs.

2. We work with small groups of students.

You have to be careful with this one. While I love working with students, and I miss having a class of my own (as demonstrated by my pathetic outcry on my first day), it would be very easy to spend your entire day working with students. This might sound fine, until you think about how your job is to support and help grow teachers and your entire school. If you are meeting with six students in a small group for forty-five minutes a day, that's almost four hours a week that you aren't working with teachers. It adds up, surprisingly fast. So choose your groups carefully and limit the time you schedule to work with them. We identify students on the cusp of success and I work with them on a regular schedule. I review the data the teachers have about those students and I plan lessons to address their areas of need.

3. We analyze data.

Data can be less-than-fun, and we have to be careful about what it actually means. Interpretation can be inaccurate when we don't consider all the necessary factors. However, as a literacy coach, you have to understand what is happening in your classrooms, so it's important to keep up with how the kids have demonstrated their skills on the assessments they are given. Then, this data has to be shared with teachers to discuss what you will do about it! We meet once a week with each grade level to discuss any new data and figure out what to do next.

4. We plan and deliver professional development to the campus.

This is very important. The best professional development models are the ones where the trainer stays on campus! You can follow up with teachers and see how the learning is panning out in the classrooms. I have conducted trainings on school instructional initiatives like guided reading, shared reading, word study, writing, district required assessments, understanding state assessments, and depths of knowledge. 

I've also hosted school-wide, grade level, and optional book studies on various books and topics. I  throw in a little professional development during our PLCs where we plan for new units. During that time, I try to share new strategies we might want to include in our upcoming plans.

5. We plan and run school-wide events and programs.

This is a very fun part of my job. School-wide events include family literacy nights, our fun book buddies program, reading and English camps, and our new reading lounge. I also write a family literacy newsletter a few times a year and help run our 25 Book Campaign and our Read Across America celebration. I put up bulletin boards and displays for different events or themes, work with the librarian on our bookmark design contest, and I host the Harry Potter Book Club
I started building up our multiple copies lending library and we have our end of year writing contest coming up. Honestly, these events can be kind of stressful, but if that was all I did all day, I'd have a blast! Who doesn't love to plan an afternoon making golden snitches and figure out where to find enough griddles for a Book Buddies Breakfast!

6. We do whatever the principal wants us to do.

I'm very lucky. My principal is an intelligent, kind, and excellent person. I have been blessed to work for someone who understands literacy, kids, and schools. You might not be so blessed (just sayin'). The things my principal wants me to do, while they sometimes mount up and can be almost insurmountable, are usually good things. We  meet once a week for a few hours on a leadership team to plan next steps and see how we're doing. Sometimes we might be to help out at awards ceremonies, or spend some time in a particular classroom. We might work with another person to coordinate trainings, or to pull in a group of kids for intervention. We also will be asked to administer small group state testing, or other boring but necessary stuff. So it can be a mixed bag. Choose your administrator wisely.

7. We do whatever central office wants us to do.

Again, it's a mixed bag. Sometimes it's great stuff - my latest assignment is to assemble the awesome Scholastic guided reading library they purchased us! But sometimes, it's to deliver trainings to other campuses or to attend meetings that may or may not meet my teachers' needs. It's all part of the job!

 8. We are always thinking about how to help our school.

I collect books that "might be good for something," and I make connections with organizations who can donate books to our campus. I write grants and hunt for great blogs and ideas to share. I read professional books to figure out what we can do to improve the way we work with children and each other. I sit in on Leadership meetings every week to monitor our progress and think about next steps. And most of all, I worry. I worry about our people and our work all the time. Just like you do. I consider the teachers my class, because they are my responsibility, just like a teachers' kids are hers. And I care about them and want them to be successful. 
Does this sound familiar to you literacy coaches? If you're looking into being a coach, just know it's a great job. I love what I do. Anybody about to make the move out of the classroom?
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Watermelon Memory Books

Check out the post over at Primary Powers about Watermelon Memory Books! It was a fun way to wrap up our year of buddy class experiences.

 Check it out on Primary Powers!

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