Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Special Place to Read: Our School Reading Lounge is Ready!

Prepare yourself:
As you read this post, you may find yourself wanting to make a cup of coffee, curl up in a cozy blanket, and read a delicious book.
That's because this post is all about a special spot in my school: our reading lounge.

Also prepare yourself because I am so very in love with this room that I took about 5,000 pictures. It was very hard to choose which 429 of them to include in this blog post. So be ready for photo overload. I can't help it. It's too beautiful!
A reading lounge, according to Stephen Layne in Igniting a Passion for Reading, is a dedicated place for students to read and learn to love reading. There's a link to this gem of a book on the bottom of this post!

A few years ago, my teachers and I did a book study on this book and fell in love with the idea. Three years later, we are the proud owners of this gorgeous space!

How do we use the reading lounge?

We have a sign-up binder with a calendar on the counter. There are 30-minute time slots that teachers can sign up for at their convenience.

Teachers bring their classes in to the lounge to read! Kids arrive with their books and choose a comfy spot to read. During this time, many teachers work with a small reading group or literature circle, or they have reading conferences to talk to kids about their reading!
The basic expectations are that kids will read the whole time, keep their feet on the floor (not on the furniture), leave the furniture where it is rather than moving it around, only read in the lounge when a teacher is present, and respect the other readers by remaining reasonably calm and quiet. 

 We've also talked about having the kids come share their own writing in the reading lounge.

How did we furnish the reading lounge?

When we first started, we asked teachers for donations. They brought in a couch, a loveseat, a couple lamps, and some little storage cubes. I also purchased camp chairs for five dollars each from a sports supply store and some beanbags from Target.

The school paid for our rugs from Lakeshore.

And then came the big boost! I wrote a grant sponsored by Price's Creameries and we received $3000.00 to create our dream reading lounge!

Apparently, Price's recorded a video of me on the day of this grant awards breakfast. So now I'm on a commercial on one of the Spanish TV channels! They keep looking at me funny when I walk into classrooms, and then they say, "I saw you on TV!"

We hired our incredible art teacher to paint the room in a garden theme, bought new couches and lamps, and of course, books! Those were for our Multiple Copies Lending Library (more on that later!).  One of our lovely teachers made the adorable rag curtains, too.

After we finished all of our work with the grant, we had a "Grand Opening!" Each teacher received a beautiful garden themed bookmark purchased by my assistant principal, and an ideas handout for using the lounge and the multiple copies lending library. 


 Want a guided tour? Check out the video!


Grab the book that inspired us:

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Mentor texts for each grade level* Freebie!

What's the most important teaching tool we have? Aside from your brains, it's books! We can do without handouts, copy machines, scented markers (although who would want to?) and even - gasp - post-its. But books are a necessity for authentic instruction. We learn from the greats. One of the first questions we ask when planning every reading & writing lesson should be "Which books show this in action? Which books can we use to engage students in observing this skill or strategy?"

One of the biggest undertakings my school has ventured into is aligning our use of mentor texts for reading and writing experiences. To support teachers and grade levels as a whole in doing this, and to help our collaborative planning, I decided to put together a collection of books for each grade level.

I was so excited to embark on this idea! I searched high and low for mentor text lists, lists of authors with titles under their belt, and recommendations from other teacher-authors, bloggers, and colleagues. I scoured the internet, high and low.


Why was this so difficult? Because my district, and therefore my school, is dual language. We believe in supporting the child's home language (in our area this is primarily Spanish) by following a specific model of language acquisition. This means the majority of literacy instruction in K-2 is in Spanish in our bilingual rooms, and then we increase English language arts in third, until in fourth and fifth we are teaching in English all day (except for Social Studies).
In order to make sure all of our kids had equal opportunity, and our teachers had equal support, I had to find authors and titles that were available in English and Spanish, or with equitable substitutes. This is tough. The trend is currently to move back into 100% English instruction, so Spanish titles are often off-the-market. We had to buy many of them from Amazon because Barnes & Noble (and other booksellers) no longer carries them.
But I finally figured out the authors and titles to use for each grade. The books were delivered a little at a time from different vendors over the summer. When I arrived, I had a pile of boxes in my room. I sorted them into grade levels and added a sticker on the front of each book noting the genre and grade level. Then I put a sticker on the inside cover of each book to give teachers a place to make notes about reading and writing lessons.

I set up the bins in the library and sorted all of the books - one set for each teacher and a master set to keep in my planning room so we'd have one to use during PLC.

During inservice, I provided a little training to teachers about using mentor texts and then I had my Oprah moment! Each teacher received his/her basket, labeled and tidy, to take back with them.
During PLC, we pull out the mentor text basket for their grade level as we plan for reading lessons and writing lessons! 

In case you're undertaking a similar initiative, I pulled together everything that I used for our mentor text project. The stickers, basket labels, and all the titles & authors that I used are there! Grab it from Google Drive!

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How to plan an awesome family event *Freebie!

How do I know it's back to school time? 

My plants are dead.
All of my plants that I grew so lovingly in the spring, watered all through the summer, fertilized and pruned are either pathetic, desperate for water, or downright crunchy. Because by the time I stumble home, sore and crabby, carrying my bag and at least one box full random items for cutting, dyeing, or filling out, I am completely uninterested in watering my plants.

That's why I buy succulents, folks. The hardier the better. 

So we're back to school. I've been back for three weeks, being trained and training others, and last week was our first official week back with the kids. And I am dead tired. It's a Stranger Things marathon kind of weekend, people.
Recently, I was talking to some of my friends who are new to coaching, and she asked me, "What's the FIRST thing you do when you plan a family night?" It took me a little thinking, but I think I've narrowed down my family night planning to nine easy steps! I know that sounds ridiculous, but I wanted everything to be very clear.
Family nights are a great way to bring in the community. Get your parents involved in learning about the things your kids are working on every day! Here is the process I follow when I plan a family night for any content area (literacy, math, etc.)
1. Decide on your purpose.
Possible purposes:
  • To engage families in fun activities at school to help them enjoy the time they spend there.
  • To teach families easy things they can do to help their kids at home.
  • To help families create activities they can do at home.
  • To inform families about education on your campus or in your state.
  • To help families learn about and think about their future plans for their child's education.
The purpose you have will determine the kinds of activities families participate in!
2. Choose a theme. 
Parents love a good theme! And it really helps when you're thinking of fun ways to approach the activities. 
Themes I've done include...

3. Get sponsors.
Why not? I have one small company provide bags for each family (just simple colorful party bags), and we've had our high school and university provide items for prizes. A local organization that provides free books to kids often donates books so each one of our kids can leave with a new book! Which leads me to my next point -

4. Incentivize it!
How will you incentivize attendance? At our school, every child who attends a family night event gets a "Free Dress Pass" when they leave. This means they can wear free dress rather than the uniform the next day. You could also do a "No Homework Pass." 
Food is also a great incentive. For our Family Dream Night at the end of the year, every teacher brings a bag of hot dog buns and a package of hot dogs. Our admin pitches in to get the rest. Our coaches grill everything up and we give out one to each person that night! Huge turnout every year!
4. Think of the experiences you want kids to have with their parents. 
I usually approach these as stations. Stations are an easy way to make sure that there's something for everyone to do and people don't spend too much time waiting for an activity.
For example, when I'm planning a literacy night, I want families to do the following things:
  • Write something creative together
  • Make a fun game they can play at home to practice accuracy 
  • Read something together to practice fluency
  • Play an interactive game
  • Make a fun craft to get them talking and develop creativity and oral language
  • Make a snack while following a procedural text - our people show up when we feed them!
  • And obviously, read, read, read!!
I usually end up with about 6-7 stations. Each station needs about 2-4 people to man it. Obviously, crafts and snacks take a few more people than something simple like reading.

5. Figure out staffing.
I send out an email to teachers about three-four weeks before a family event asking who will attend. On our campus, teachers rotate, taking turns coming to our Family Math Night and Family Literacy Night. Everyone comes to Dream Board Night at the end of the year. 

Teachers respond to my email and I start identifying who will work at each station. After I have everything figured out, I send everyone an email explaining where they will go that evening and what time they should arrive.

5. Plan your stations.
What will each of these things look like? Look to your theme for inspiration! Spend some time googling "pirate word list" or "superhero word list". Hunt on Pinterest for ideas related to your theme that you could integrate into a station. 

Create materials for each station. These include the directions, which I print out and make into posters, and any handouts or graphic organizers people will need to participate in the activities.

6. Make a map.
I map out the areas I will be using for Family Night. We use the front entry in the school for bag and book distribution, the science lab for the snack station, the gym for several stations, and the cafeteria for several more. Noisy activities should be separated from quiet activities; messy activities need an easy-to-clean space.
I provide the map to the custodians who help me by setting up the tables, chairs, etc.  

7. Make a list of materials you need. 
Estimate the number of people and then examine your stations. How many of each material will you need for that many people? Make a list with quantities. If you need to buy it, buy it! If you need to make it, make it! 

Sort all of your materials. To organize your snacks, it helps to provide each student with a little bag of everything they'll need. I also make a sample of each station activity to help teachers, kids, and parents know what they're expected to do there. 

8. Organize everything on a cart.
This is a lifesaver. Instead of having boxes and piles everywhere, I set everything up on a multi-level cart. For example, everything I need for my first station (sentence strips, crayons, and pencils) go on the top level of the cart with a sticky note that says "Station One".

9. Send out invitations!
A week before the event, I send an invitation out to each student on colored paper. We announce it every day over the announcements, and we put it on the marquee as well. You could also send out a half-sheet the day before the event to remind parents.

You could also skip many of these steps and purchase one of my pre-made (and kid-tested!) Family Nights from TPT!

For an easy-to-print version plus a freebie page from my Coaching Megapack, visit TPT and download the freebie guide to planning a family night!

Read about my other family night events on the blog!

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Creating a Coaching Support Plan: Part Five of the Start-Up Guide Series

If you've been following this series from the beginning, you're just about all set. You've set goals, your space is ready. You're organized and you've planned some awesome back-to-school training.

Bring it on, school year!

Now you just have one thing to figure out: How will you support teacher growth and student success all year long?

Yup. This one's the biggie. Your room can be gorgeous, your binders labeled lovingly. Your training can be engaging, challenging, and fun. And then the school year begins, and every single person on your campus can go into their rooms, shut their doors, and you have 40 islands instead of an aligned team. 

Your role as an instructional coach is to provide ongoing support to teachers in order to move your campus towards the campus goals. To do this, you're going to want to consider the kinds of support you will provide to teachers throughout the year.

Before you consider the questions below, you might want to take a look at my post about Structures for Instructional Coaching. Information about year-long coaching support models can also be found in my new ebook, The Start-Up Guide for Instructional Coaches.

To decide what kinds of support will work best for your goals and your faculty, you'll want to consider the following questions:
1. What structures does your administration already have in place?

Different types of administrators have different support systems already in place. For example, at some schools, there are 90-minute PLCs every week for every grade levels. Other schools have it every other week. I worked at a school where the PLC was 90 minutes, once a month. 45 minutes were taken up with training and the remaining 45 minutes were left to us for planning. So obviously, our planning was done elsewhere.

At my current school, we have a 90-minute PLC every week. Each grade level meets with either me or the Math/Science coach, and they put together plans for the next two weeks. Last year, our PLC was at the end of the day, so we had a little extra time. We included a short minilesson (article, modeled lesson, activity) that the teachers could use in their teaching at the beginning of each PLC. 

We also have weekly Learning Thursday meetings after school. We provide one hour of training. Sometimes it's the whole faculty. Sometimes the math/science coach takes half (or some) of the grade levels, and I take the rest. Sometimes we do a book study with small groups. Sometimes we do state- and district-required testing trainings. These systems were in place when I started there, so that's what we work with. It's actually a good chunk of time to work with teachers at the whole group level and at the grade level.

2. What time frames are available to you for provide support?

If teachers tutor every day after school, that time is out. So a book study scheduled at 3:00 on Tuesdays probably won't have a very good turnout! If teachers are overburdened with tons of clerical and administrative stuff to do (so... all teachers everywhere, it seems!), then conference times are going to be precious.

The biggest idea here: Don't waste teacher time. It's precious. That being said, part of being a great teacher is learning. Somewhere there has to be a balance of supporting teacher learning while providing them the time they need to do their job. Anything you give them needs to be the best, because it takes up their time. It needs to be important and useful.

 3. What's the best way to support the goals your campus is working on?

Think back to your instructional goals for the year. Are they broad, sweeping, campus-wide initiatives like STEAM, STEM, or Whole Brain? Things that will impact every teacher and require change from every teacher? Then you'll probably be best off rolling out a campus-wide training with follow-up trainings throughout the year. In addition to this, you'll want to check in on the classrooms through instructional rounds. Perhaps you'll involve the teachers, too and have grade levels visit each other to see how the initiative is going and what they can learn from each other.

If the campus goals are differentiated across grade levels, you'll want to differentiate the support they receive. Providing a training designed for fourth and fifth to the entire campus is a waste of their time, and the #1 goal of providing teachers with support is not wasting their time. This kind of initiative, such as better understanding the reading standards, or incorporating word work practices into read aloud, is probably best done in a small group setting. Model the lessons, read the related articles, have teachers share strategies and explore the materials within their grade levels or a small span of grade levels, such as K-1.

4. Which teachers need individual support?

Individual teachers need support, too. This is not a comment on "weak" or "strong" teachers. Rather, it's about teachers working through their own learning curve at different places in their teaching careers. Working with whole groups can raise the tide that lifts all boats, but individual teachers need differentiated support depending on their individual needs.

For example, if your entire school is working on Writer's Workshop, and 90% of the school-wide support is going to be based around this initiative, you won't be supporting the teachers who are struggling with classroom management or guided reading. This requires 1:1 support, such as coaching conversations, recommending of books, or sharing of resources. Take the teacher on tour to visit other teachers and see how things are working for them! Encourage the collaboration.

5. How will you evaluate the outcome of your support?

After you've done some trainings and some modeling, it's time to take a look and see: How's it going? Think about how you'll evaluate how things are going and what adjustments you'll need to make.

There are two ways to check in:

One way I've done this is by making a sweeping walk-through.
These aren't formal. Obviously, I'm not administration; I'm support staff. So what I do is go into all the affected classrooms and look for the implementation of the initiatives that we are working on. It's not punitive, and it's not a "gotcha". The purpose is to look at the progress towards the initiative and decide if the support you're providing is actually supporting teachers in moving towards the initiative. The issues with this are: you might not always see what's really going on. It's hard to know what really happens on a day-to-day basis.
Another way is to get teacher feedback.
A survey is a handy way to see what people think. The issues with this are: sometimes people aren't honest (for 100 different reasons), and sometimes you're just not speaking the same language. That's something else I address in my new ebook!

Once you've checked in to see how it's going, you can recalculate (my GPS's favorite thing to say) and make adjustments to your support!

So now you're ready! You're all set! You are prepared to get started this school year and to be an incredible instructional coach!

For more information, ideas, and thoughts on instructional coaching, check out my new ebook: The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching. It's what I learned from my first four years as an instructional coach.
And be sure to check out the rest of the posts in the series:

But wait - there's more! There's a giveaway! A BIG GIVEAWAY!

One lucky duck will win my Instructional Coaching Start-Up Kit, an over $140 value!

Included in this kit: 
  • Storage box (So pretty)
  • My favorite notebook (Bendable)
  • My favorite calendar (Week-at-a-glance)
  • The best erasable pens out there
  • A mug (Necessary for coaching)
  • A fruit infuser water bottle (Stay hydrated)
  • A welcome banner (It's important to be approachable)
  • Post-it notes, binder clips, and paperclips (Fancy)
  • The Instructional Coaching MegaPack (sent via email)
  • The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching (sent via email)

In addition to this, every week, you'll have the chance to enter a Rafflecopter Giveaway to be one of five people to win a digital giveaway: my new ebook, The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching, and my Instructional Coaching MegaPack Binder! Over $35.00 worth of products!

To enter this contest, follow the rafflecopter directions below: you can tweet, follow me on twitter, follow me on Pinterest, and share on Facebook. In addition to this, you can add one new entry with each blog post that comes out in the Instructional Coaching Start-Up Series! All the posts in the coaching series are now up online; just check out the links above to add a comment to each one for additional entries in the Rafflecopter - please, one comment and entry per day per post. This giveaway is live until August 10, so you have two more days to earn some entries!

Enter the BIG Start-Up Kit Giveaway:

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Instructional Coaching Must-Haves: Get them for 28% off! you been waiting for the big sale to get the Instructional Coaching MegaPack and the Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching for 28% less? 

Well, now's the time! It's heeeeeere! 

Here's how it works out:

My Instructional Coaching MegaPack is regularly 22.00. With the code BESTYEAR, you'll gt 28% off on August 1 and 2nd! So it's only $15.84!

And the Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching is regularly 16.00, but with 28% off, it'll only be $11.52. Eleven dollars and fifty-two cents for over 80 pages of information, pictures, tips, and documents to help you get started on the right foot as an instructional coach!

Check it out on TPT!