Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My dog is not normal.

I think something's wrong with my dog Stevie.

I have two dogs. (I used to have three, but our dear Penny passed away a few months ago.) My two dogs are Lucy, who is very smart, enjoys taking walks, can sit and follow basic directions, and is incredibly loving. When you look into Lucy's eyes, you see what a person she is.
And then there's Stevie, who is... none of those things. He can't follow basic directions or sit or stay, he's completely self-preserving, and when you look in Stevie's eyes, you see shiny little black eyeballs. And that's it.

Don't misunderstand me - I love Stevie. He's an adorable little pup, and very sweet.

But...there's something wrong there. I can't say what it is exactly, but he's just not...normal.

It took him almost two years to learn how to run into his kennel. Now, if we only did this every once in a while, I could understand it. But we bring him in every single night, put his food bowl in his kennel, and say, "Go to bed."
He runs to the kennel, and then he sits and stares at it and cries. And then I scootch him in and he's perfectly happy. He just couldn't bring himself to walk inside of his own volition.
So the other day, I had a genius idea. I thought, "I'm going to take Lucy AND Stevie on a walk!" This might not sound like such an amazing idea. The only reason I never took Stevie on a walk before is because Penny didn't like walking (being a stubby dachsund) and so I'd leave Stevie behind to keep her company while I took Lucy on a walk. Which she loves. Like a normal dog.

And I thought, "Well, Lucy loves to walk, and Stevie loves to be with Lucy! He'll be so happy!" 
So I harness up my two dogs, (this was a whole feat in itself - putting a collar on Stevie is like putting a collar on a goldfish) and of course, Lucy is already pulling at the reigns, ready to drag me down the street. And then I look back at Stevie. He's whimpering and jerking his head back and forth to get free of the leash.
And I stupidly thought, "Well, maybe we just have to get started."
I opened the front door, and Lucy blasted forward. I peeked back at Stevie, the leash curled around my legs, and I saw his look of fear. His eyes looked into mine and silently cried, "Leave me! Just save yourself!"
I shut the door behind us and strode out confidently, thinking, "Once we get going, he'll see how nice it is. He'll like taking walks." I start down the sidewalk, taking nice long strides. The weather was beautiful - golden sunlight on a January afternoon. My two lovely dogs and I are out for a walk on a gorgeous day.
Lucy continued to pull at the leash ahead, and I felt a tug, tug on Stevie's leash behind. I look back and realized I am literally dragging my dog down the street. He's sitting down on his tush with his legs out in front like a baby, and and he's absolutely refusing to budge. But I didn't know this, I'm basically pulling him along like a little furry wagon.
And I stupidly thought, "Oh, maybe he'll get rolling once we're down the street a bit."
I want you to picture this: Lucy clawing forward, trying to drag me (and Steve) down the street. And Stevie whimpering three feet behind me, his butt planted firmly on the ground and sliding down the sidewalk as I drag him along. I can only imagine what my neighbors thought.
I finally gave up and carried him all the way back home. You know, I make myself look goofy enough all by myself. I don't need Steve's help to look stupid.

So anyway, now I know that I'll still be taking one-dog walks. Because Stevie isn't smart enough to...walk. And as Lucy and I walk down the street, Stevie will whimper and whine that he isn't being included. But I know better.
Please tell me I'm not the only one with a dog like Steve.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

4 critical questions for managing your time as an instructional coach

Look at your to-do list. I mean, really look at it. Does it look crazy? Impossible? Completely absurd?

This list is like any other: full of important, time-sensitive, necessary things. It's also full of small, chore-like, and not-so-important things. It's just a list of things that need to be done.

If you've taken my previous advice, this list is housed in your notebook which you carry everywhere and stacked on top of your one calendar of important dates. So that's a start.

But even with a list, it's easy to be overwhelmed. What do you do first? What should you add to the list? How do you spend your time?

Over the last few years as an instructional coach, I've been thinking about this question. What's important? I still don't have the answers, but I do have a few questions that help me think about it more clearly.
1. Will this task encourage or grow better teaching practice? 
You are an instructional coach for teachers. Your job is to push, pull, grow greatness in your teachers. That doesn't mean you are better than them - I personally know many teachers who I think are truly incredible and I have learned from them. But if you see an opportunity from your third-person perspective, it's your job to make it happen. That's where most of your time should be spent.

Some examples:
- Modeling! This is huge!
- Coteaching
- Observing teachers
- Providing quality feedback and coaching one-on-one
- Mentoring new teachers
- Sharing resources with teachers
- Researching new or tried-and-true instructional strategies
- Planning quality trainings for teachers and delivering those trainings

2. Will this task result in long-term gains in student learning?
Obviously, if the work you do doesn't impact kids, it's not worth it. That's the bottom line really: support teachers to support kids. This doesn't always look the same. These are some tasks that might support long-term gains in student learning:

Some examples:
- Reviewing data and planning next steps with teachers
- Becoming learned in and training teachers in new strategies to support learners in need of intervention or extension. This might include attending (quality) trainings, reading books and articles, or communicating with your PLN.
- Planning an intervention plan with teachers whose students are in need
- Observing a small group of students during class to provide support to their teacher

3. Will this task empower teachers?
That's your job! The way you've 'made it' as an instructional coach is (sadly) when your teachers don't need you! Isn't that what we want for our kids? We want them to become independent learners who use the inquiry model to figure out problems in their lives. That's exactly what we want for our teachers, too!
Some examples:
- Working with a cadre of teachers on a new campus initiative
- Planning with teachers during PLC
- Working with teachers to put together a pitch for admin
4. Will this task build a positive, supportive relationship with teachers?
I think this is incredibly important, even if it's not considered so popular. No one wants to learn or work with someone if they don't value their opinion. You can't walk in the door and tell teachers what to do. Without a positive, supportive, and respectful relationship, you're dead in the water.

Sometimes tasks are important because the people they are for are important.

Some examples:
- Writing a thank-you note to a teacher who has gone out of her way to support her colleagues or you.
- Creating a resource that teachers need but don't have the time to make themselves.
- Writing thoughtful feedback to a teacher who has asked for help
- Looking into resources that might assist a teacher who's asked for help
- Listening to teachers' struggles and accomplishments
- Building a positive relationship with teachers through honest communication - take the time to really listen and share honestly
A few thoughts on prioritizing:
Some tasks have to be done. Bulletin boards, for example, might not exactly fit into one of these categories, but it has to happen every now and then, and it creates a positive school environment. Monitoring the cafeteria for the Thanksgiving luncheon doesn't exactly achieve a long-term literacy goal, but it is part of the job and does serve an important purpose. That's just the reality.

Some things can only be accomplished when teachers and students are actively teaching and learning! You can't observe teachers' instructional methods when the kids are at home. Build your schedule around the school day. Tasks like copies, creating resources, and planning your trainings can be done after school or when kids are at lunch or PE. Tasks like observing classrooms, modeling, and observing kids can only be done when they're in the classroom.
If you're going to be out for training, make it count. You can only do the work of the campus when you're on campus. Coaches who like to schedule trainings all the time because they 'love the learning' are only fighting half the battle.

No matter what you learn, if you're not on campus enough to turn it around and provide consistent support, you're missing the opportunity to grow your teachers and kids. And that's your job. 
Choose only the best and most essential trainings to attend, and make a plan to turn the best of those trainings around to your teachers.

I made a sample week's log of things I usually do, in case it will help you out! Download it from Google Docs!


Getting started in coaching? Check out my ebook: The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching: How to make a real difference on your campus. It's over 80 pages of information to help you get started on the right foot!


And if you're interested in more materials, visit TPT to check out my Instructional Coaching MegaPack! It's over 140 pages of documentation, records, organizational tools, observation forms, planning guides and more, for instructional coaches!


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