Monday, July 9, 2018

Preparing for an Instructional Coaching Interview

This summer, I've gotten SO MANY emails from people asking me the same question, over and over again. How should I prepare for an interview for an instructional coaching position?

This is a great question. If you've never interviewed for an instructional coaching position before, you at least expect that it will be different from a classroom teacher interview. 

And you're right! There are some significant differences in what you will be asked during a coaching interview vs. a teacher interview.

If you consider the interview questions in terms of the different roles and responsibilities that instructional coaches have, it starts to make a lot of sense!

Here are the different categories and questions you can think about to be ready for your big day!

* How do you approach planning a new unit?
* In what ways do you look at data, and for what purpose?
* How do you integrate different types of assessment into your lesson design?
* What best practices/approaches/methods/strategies do you find are supportive of student learning?
* How do you engage students in their learning?

Leadership Roles (cadres, committees, mentoring, etc.)
* How have you served as a leader on your campus?
* What is your leadership style?
* Describe a time you worked on a team with a positive outcome.

Building Relationships
* How would you engage with teachers who have not had instructional coaching support before?
* How would you
* How would you support a...
    - new teacher?
    - experienced teacher?
    - teacher who doesn't want your help?
    - teacher in a grade/content area/language you haven't taught before?
    - effective teacher?
* How would you handle working with teams who are not getting along with each other?

Adult Learning
* What kinds of professional development have you provided to your campus?
* What components make up a quality professional development?
* How would you support learners who have not implemented district or campus initiatives?
* How would you provide ongoing learning opportunities for teachers?

Campus-Wide Change
* How would you implement systemic change on your campus?
* What do you believe an ideal PLC looks like?
* How would you go about creating a 30/60/90 day plan for change?
* What would your priorities be for our school? (requires you to know a little about the school!)

Time & Responsibility Management
* How will you balance your time between teachers/students/administrative tasks?
* What would your priorities be for the first week? month? year?
* How do you feel about taking on extra work assignments?

These aren't all the questions you'll hear, and every school and district has their own agenda when it comes to how they use coaches. However, this is a good start and should get you thinking in the right direction!
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Sunday, April 22, 2018

6 Tasks Instructional Coaches Spend Time On... that aren't coaching

Think about your day. Where did you spend most of your time? Modeling lessons, working with kids, or planning with teachers? Maybe, but maybe not.
You know that little line in your contract? The one that says, "other duties as assigned?" Sometimes that little line can feel like it grows and grows until it takes up your whole job. And all the original duties you thought you were going to do as an instructional coach can get put on the back burner.

This is not meant to be complain-y. All of these jobs need to be done on a campus, and, when you're a coach, you're usually part of the campus leadership team. And that means that, if it needs to be done, who's gonna do it? Probably you.

But it can be helpful to realize where the time goes, and to think twice about saying "yes" to responsibilities that may not serve your purpose as a coach. (If you have the option of saying "no" that is.)

So what are instructional coaches spending their time on? Here are five ways coaches spend their time (that aren't coaching), in order from most favorite to least favorite.

Monitoring school events

Sometimes it's fun to attend the school pep rally, or pop in to see the magician who's there for second grade. But when you're scheduled for event after event, your week can fill up pretty fast. 

Coaches are usually on the short list to supervise or monitor school events because they don't have a class. It makes sense. But it's hard to support teachers when you're shushing kids in the auditorium, trying to keep them from asking the border patrol officer how much money she makes and whether she's used her gun before.

Disaggregating Data

Oh my gosh. If I could tally up the number of hours I spent printing, multiplying, adding, scoring, finding percentages, marking standards, breaking it up, putting it together, finding patterns, color-coding... 
Well, I'd probably want to throw up if I saw how many hours it actually was, so maybe it's best that I don't.

Looking at data is, of course, important. I'm not going to say it should never be done. But the massive amounts of time coaches spend on data disaggregation is pretty crazy. Want to do something nice for a coach? Buy them some colored highlighters. They'll use them. I promise.

If you'll notice, though, data is still before "duty" on my list. Which tells you how I feel about duty.

Again, because coaches don't have their own class, they end up doing a lot of duty. This might be lunch duty, after-school duty, morning duty, hall duty, or any other place that kids can get into trouble. 
It might not seem like a big deal to spend 20 minutes monitoring lunch every day, but if that's right in the middle of the second grade reading block, guess who's probably not getting reading support. 


I've sat in approximately 8,349 meetings. 

About half of those meetings were relevant to me. The other half? Well, I don't know if they were relevant to anyone. 
This was my favorite: We're going to train you in using this specific approach. What? We trained you in it already? Well, come anyway. It's good to have a refresher.

District/State/Federal accountability

There is so much stuff that has to be done for accountability purposes. This might be sending out parent letters, filling out evaluations and monitoring forms for goals, writing the goals in the first place, checking and double-checking codes on rosters, sorting documents for teachers, and other CYA-type work. 

There's EOY and MOY and BOY, but for some reason, there's never BYOB, which would undoubtedly improve the process.

Some of it might be useful and help you think about your focus and purpose at school, but most of it is really just dotting 'i's and crossing 't's for somebody else's benefit. (And that "somebody" isn't the kids.)

Testing, testing, testing

Ugh. The T-word. Nobody likes it. Sitting in a bare, hot room, testing kids who you didn't get to teach is no fun. Small group test administration is the bane of my existence. I can feel my eyes rolling back in my head as I type. Can anybody stand it? Nope.

You count your steps around the room. Then you count the tiles on the floor and ceiling. Then you wonder what number the kids are on. Then you look around the room and think about how you'll arrange it differently next year. Then you think, "One year from today, I'm going to be administering this awful test." Then you choke back tears.

Does this sound familiar? Where does your time go?

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Texas Reading Test: Camp Reading Ready Test Prep Resource

Over the last few years, several hundred classrooms have used my Camp Write-a-Lot resource for Texas State Writing Test Prep.

I get so much great feedback about this resource, but I've also gotten one request, over and over: make one for reading!

So I did!

The last few days before THE TEST are a great time to review the major concepts you've been practicing, but in a new and fun way. Enter: Camp Reading Ready!

If you've used my Camp Write-a-Lot Texas Writing Test resource, you'll love Camp Reading Ready!

Camp Reading Ready consists of nine TEKS-aligned stations. I wrote them with the TEKS in mind, but guess what? They work for Common Core standards too, because they cover basic skills that most state tests expect kids to master!

Here's a list of skills that Camp Reading Ready will help your kids review:

  • Identifying genre with related author's purposes, vocabulary & test questions
  • Identifying main idea
  • Identifying nonfiction text features and their definitions
  • Matching vocabulary words with definitions and pictures
  • Using context clues to infer word meanings
  • Analyzing & describing characters
  • Making inferences in poetry
  • Sequencing events in fiction
  • Synthesizing, using text features, and understanding text structure in expository text
To start with, the camp includes some motivational tools that will help kids stay focused while working through the stations. Choose from punch bracelets, punch cards, or collecting camp badges!

Identifying genre
In this activity, students read short texts and identify the genre of the text. Then they sort the author's purpose, vocabulary and sample questions into the different genres.

Identifying main idea
I think this might be my favorite station! (Probably because of the puzzle pieces) 
Kids read the paragraphs and match them with the main idea piece. Then they flip them over to check and see if they got a match! It's a fun way to self-check!

Nonfiction Text Features
I found the best set of nonfiction text feature images and I'm so glad I did, because they made some awesome cards! To play, kids follow the rules of Go Fish to Go Fishing for Text Features! 
They make pairs of the feature and the name/definition of the feature! (Scroll down to the bottom to get this one for free!)

Vocabulary Match
I get a kick out of this station because it's got a s'mores theme, and if you know me, you know I'm ALL about s'mores. I prefer the chocolately sugary melty kind, of course, but in a pinch, this will do. Kids match vocabulary that's relevant to the test with pictures and definitions. They can play free-for-all style, or Memory!

Context Clues
This one's a no brainer. Kids HAVE to be able to use context clues, right? In this activity, they draw a task card and figure out the meaning of the underlined word. Sound familiar? It's test prep in a fun camp theme, so we can sneak in the test-taking skills!

Analyzing Characters
I really want to play this game, actually. Like, with another person instead of just with myself. Each player gets a game piece and some character cards. They move their pieces across the board, trying to get back to camp! To move faster across the board, they have to match their character cards (synonyms and descriptions) with the traits on the board. It's Candyland...minus the candy.

Making Inferences in Poetry
I had a BLAST writing these poems! Each poem is written from the point of view of an animal. Kids have to read closely for clues to infer what animal is the speaker in the poem!

Sequencing Events in Fiction
This station is all about making sense. ids read the paragraphs on strips and then sequence them to tell a fictional story about... you guessed it: camping!

Building Expository Text
Okay, maybe THIS is my favorite station. I love having kids use text features, understand text structure, and synthesize all in one! First, kids sort out the text features and begin figuring out the topic and structure of the text. They match captions and photos, titles, maps, and more. Then they take out the paragraphs and really get busy! It's one of my favorite things to do with kids because it is so engaging and requires lots of thinking.

These stations are an engaging and purposeful way to review for the Texas State Reading test, and they're in my TpT store, ready to go. Just click to head over and grab it. I really believe your kids will enjoy it and it will take away some of your test prep stress.

Are you a Texas teacher? Enter your email address below to get a freebie from this resource!

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Blooming Readers: Tips for Building Fluency Through Partner Plays

When I'd sit in RtI meetings, one of the major concerns teachers frequently brought up was fluency.

"He can decode at a level 24, but his fluency holds him back."
"I think if his fluency would improve, his comprehension would improve, too."
"It takes him so long to get through the book that he's forgotten what he read in the beginning."

Fluency is a major hurdle. It keeps kids from comprehending and from reading A LOT, which is what we need them to do. 

The trouble is, to improve kids' fluency, they need to read A LOT. But they don't want to, because reading is A LOT of work. So they don't improve their fluency. So they don't read A LOT. So they don't...

You get the picture.

We know we develop fluency when we take into consideration:
  • Students' independent reading levels (don't try to develop fluency at a frustrational level)
  • Students' reading interests (boring text = not going to engage readers, especially the reluctant ones)
  • Repeated reading opportunities (repeated readings promote fluency because the brain can attend to it rather than decoding accurately for the first time)
So What Resources Help Build Fluency?
As a classroom teacher, and later as an instructional coach, I spent a lot of time trying to help kids practice their fluency in fun, manageable ways. The tricky part is helping every kid in your class practice when they're at such a wide range of reading abilities.

So I needed a solution that met all of these requirements:
  • Short texts, so kids weren't overwhelmed.
  • High-interest texts, so kids weren't bored.
  • Texts at a variety of levels, so kids were appropriately challenged and scaffolded.
  • Texts with no prep, so kids could easily read them every day, for repeated readings.
I realized that kids LOVED reading plays. They stepped right over each other to get the roles they wanted, even if they didn't read confidently. And so I started writing Partner Plays.

Why Use Partner Plays?
Partner Plays are plays for two readers. They're so much fun to write, and even better, they meet my
  • They're two pages long: not overwhelming!
  • They're high-interest: I've written seasonal, holiday, and content area plays that are funny and interesting for kids.
  • They're low-stakes reading. There's no test, no quiz, no questions to answer. It's about reading to enjoy.
  • I include four different levels in each set, so kids can read a text that works for them and their fluency level.
  • They're seriously no prep - print and go! Kids can keep them in a folder, or you can get fancy and put them on a file folder and laminate for repeated readings and durability.
So how do I use partner plays? Well, there are a million different ways, but here are my tips for making partner plays work for you and your kids!

Tips for Using Partner Plays

1. Do a minilesson first about what fluency actually is. Ensure that kids aren't just reading for speed. They need to pay attention to the stage directions in order to really read fluently and express the character's feelings through their tone and expression. The anchor chart below might be a great way to start.

2. Assign partners. Random selection doesn't work as well when you're trying to develop fluency. You want to ensure that kids can actually read the text they're reading.

3. Preteach any words that you think kids might struggle with. It helps to pull your most struggling group of decoders and do a little minilesson with them first, before you "set them loose" to read. If they've never heard the words in the play, it will be next to impossible for them to read some of the words that aren't easily decoded.

4. Have kids read the play several times on their own before they read it with a partner. This allows them to work through challenging words and practice.

5. Repeated readings are important! Keep the same play for at least 3-5 days so kids can really develop their fluency!

Today, as part of the Blooming Readers blog hop, I've taken one of my Spring Partner Plays and made it into a forever freebie, so you can try it out with your kids!

You can just click here to head over to my TpT store and grab it. Then print and go.

Watch the video to see a part of this play being performed by my wonderful third grade buddy!

But wait! There's more!

There's an absolutely ENORMOUS giveaway! Enter the Rafflecopter below to win one of SO MANY great prizes!

Check out the next stop on the hop: Stories and Songs in Second to read about teaching prepositional phrases in reading, and grab a great freebie while you're there!
If you enjoyed this tip and want to see more, check out the whole hop!
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Choosing quality resources: When "cute" doesn't cut it.

Let me start off by saying, who doesn't like cute stuff?

I do. I love cute stuff.

I love little apples and chunky frames on handouts.

I love craftivities that ask kids to cut and glue, color and bedazzle.

I love anchor charts that use color beautifully and include clever visuals to help kids remember.

Glitter... not so much. But buttons? I'm all about buttons.

But sometimes, "cute" just doesn't cut it.

Sometimes, you need a resource with some meat. By this, I mean, when you choose resources to use in your classroom, it's important to keep the purpose in mind. What's the point of any resource? That kids will learn.

So let's think about what this looks like in practice.

Let's say you're working on a unit for social studies. You want kids to learn about the important contributions made by people in the Civil Rights Movement.

If you look for resources for this online, you'll probably find 100,000 different lesson ideas, printables, and crafts to help you teach this idea.

Just to name a few, you'd probably find:
  • a printable "anchor chart" with the pictures of the leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • a craftivity to craft Martin Luther King Jr. out of a paper plate
  • a slew of graphic organizers for brainstorming and organizing information
  • lists of books about historical figures who were active during this time
  • a craftivity where students make a dream bubble and write about their dreams
  • a PowerPoint presentation introducing several important events from the Civil Rights Movement
  • a timeline cut and paste activity of important events
  • partner plays about civil rights activists
So you'll have to be selective.

But how will you choose what resources to use in your unit?

1. Start with the thinking.

What kinds of thinking will kids have to think (in their brains) understand the causes, events and impact of the Civil Rights Movement? They'll have to...
- identify the concept of civil rights
- understand the laws in place at the time of the Civil Rights Movement
- visualize the way life was before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement
- identify important historical figures and explain the actions of the people responsible for fighting for their rights
- empathize with people who made sacrifices to achieve something for their communities
- evaluate the outcome of civil rights leaders' actions
- understand that there are still inequalities in our world

When you're choosing resources, think about whether that resource will help kids achieve that thinking. The "anchor chart" might be adorable and serve a great purpose elsewhere, but will printing out what is actually just a poster actually help students do the thinking you need them to? It's okay to challenge our kids. In fact, it's necessary! Cute resources might look nice in the hallway, but they don't often get kids to think deeply about the important kinds of learning we want them to do.

Tip: Think about what kinds of thinking kids need to do, and choose resources that will help them do it.

2. Think about your time frame.

If you've got a couple weeks to spend on this unit, a lot of "cute" has to go right out the window.

Depending on your daily schedule, you may be able to fit in one crafty lesson, or you may not even have enough time to finish your unit even without the cute stuff. Having students create a paper plate Martin Luther King, Jr. might make a great bulletin board, but it probably won't be a great use of time during your week-long unit.

Tip: Think about how much time you've got, and choose resources that will maximize it.

3. Think about the level of support students need.

Some kids need more explicit instruction than others. Some groups of kids might be ready to read a partner play about Jackie Robinson and begin to empathize with his experience. Some groups of kids will need more scaffolding and discussion to help them get to the same point.

If you have students who need a lot of scaffolding, will cutting out a dream bubble and writing about their dreams be a good use of their time? Will they make the connection between the kinds of ideas you're discussing and the paper plate? If students need a lot of support and explicit teaching, sometimes adding too much "cute" can actually muddle the experience of learning and confuse them. Sometimes a simple experience is more effective than a complicated one.

Tip: Think about the most effective way to teach students the content, and choose resources that will support it.

4. Think about age and grade appropriateness.

If you're working with second graders, that timeline cut and paste activity might be a great way to scaffold their understanding of important events. Your fifth graders might not get much out of it, though, and it's possibly not appropriate for their developmental level. A PowerPoint presentation with videos and images from the civil rights movement will most likely overwhelm your kindergarteners, but it might be just right for fourth graders.

Just because you find it online, doesn't mean that you have to use it. Your time, and your kids' time, is limited, so be selective and choose the resource that will give you the biggest bang for your buck!

Does that mean that any of those resources I mentioned are bad? No! Nothing is inherently wrong with any of them! But with our limited time and unique community of learners, some resources will be more effective than others.

For every resource that's out there, there's probably an appropriate time and group of kids to use it with! But not every resource is created equally, and our job is to choose the resources that will help our kids really, truly learn. Sometimes, it might be the right time for cute! And sometimes, "cute" doesn't cut it. It's our job to know the difference!
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Sunday, March 4, 2018

4 Reasons Why Instructional Coaches Visit Classrooms

How do you feel when people walk into your classroom?

Are you nervous? Immediately stressed? Get a bad case of dropsy?

This is pretty normal, unfortunately. In a lot of schools and communities, teachers tend to teach in a bubble. They spend all day with the minions, only looking someone eye-to-eye while walking to the car after school.

But this isn't ok. Bubble teaching is the opposite of collaboration. This isn't a commentary on teachers or coaches; rather it's about school culture. If your school promotes a culture of collaboration, you'll see teachers working together in different ways: PLCs, book studies, planning sessions, teacher-led sessions, and teachers visiting each other.

And yes, you'll see instructional coaches in classrooms, too.

In some schools, people visiting classrooms are a threat. They're there to "catch" you doing something "wrong". But that's not a good reason for coaches (or anyone) to visit classrooms. 

Here's what you should know: If I don't visit classrooms, I'm like a teacher who doesn't watch her students while they work. You can hand out an assignment and sit back. And then you'll have absolutely no idea what kids do, how or why they do it, and you've missed an opportunity to see how someone thinks.

Here are a few good reasons instructional coaches visit classrooms:

1. To see how the curriculum is going.

When I walk into a classroom and I see a lesson we planned (or didn't plan) during PLC going on, I should know what it's trying to accomplish. As an instructional coach, I know the standards for the subject areas I'm responsible for very well. And part of my job is to watch a bit of that lesson and see: are the lessons we're planning achieving their goals?

If not, then I need to make adjustments to the work I'm doing during planning with teachers. What's missing? Is the standard not being taught to an appropriate level or degree? Is it misaligned to the way we planned to assess the kids? Are the materials not serving the lesson purpose?

There's a lot to think about in curriculum. We can make all the most beautiful plans on paper, but if they don't pan out in the classroom for kids, then we've got to make some adjustments to our approach.

2. To see what training support I need to provide.

If I visit four third grade classrooms and see the same need, then maybe that's an appropriate topic for training. Training needs to be supportive of teachers' needs and wants for professional growth. If teachers are experts in questioning, then I'm not going to waste their time with an hour and a half session on higher-order questions. But if that's an area that many teachers can grow in, it's a good use of our time.

3. To figure out what kinds of support teachers can benefit from.

It's easy to sit around a table and talk about the support teachers need or want. But until I see it in action, I don't really know what that support needs to look like. As the instructional coach, it was my responsibility to meet teachers where they are and support them in increments. Just like in the classroom, everyone needs something different. What's equitable isn't what's "fair". I won't put everyone through the same support plan because that's a waste of their time.

In the classroom, I can really see what's happening. I visit the teacher who mentioned that her students are struggling with test-taking skills during a test to see what the kids are actually doing. I visit the teacher who is struggling with classroom management to see what's already in place. And I visit the teacher who hasn't asked for support to see what I can do to actually do my job: support her in areas she can grow in.

I take notes for myself, so I know where to go next. I use them to create a support plan for the teachers I've seen. Of course, I talk to the teacher, offer the support, and see what they think before proceeding.

4. To see who can help us grow.

Some teachers have a knack for something. They don't always know it, though. For example, I've walked into a classroom and seen a really great strategy for helping kids figure out main idea. I've told the teacher, "That's a great strategy! Could you share it with your colleagues?" and the teacher says, "Oh, everybody does that."

Nope. Everybody doesn't. We think everybody came up with the same ideas, but they didn't. Everybody has strengths and everybody has areas to grow in. So sometimes, in visiting a classroom I see one of those strengths that the teacher doesn't even know she or he has. And I use that as an opportunity to say, "Help us! Help your colleagues!"

I might ask them to share during PLC or another grade level meeting. We may set up a mini-training, or we may have an opportunity for colleagues to come in and watch a lesson in action. I might record the lesson and share it via Google Drive. Either way, if I don't visit classrooms, I can't help teachers share their ideas with each other.

We need to get out of our bubbles and work together to create the best possible collaborative professional environment for teachers. Sometimes that's a little uncomfortable, but discomfort is an opportunity for growth.

How do you feel about having people in your classroom?
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