Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gearing yourself up for a challenging semester of instructional coaching

Instructional coaching is full of challenges. Some semesters are more difficult than others. Learn about some helpful tips that you can use to get yourself ready for a challenging semester of instructional coaching.Recently, someone told me, "You make your job look so easy." 
I blinked. 
"Really?" I asked. 
"Yeah! From what I see on Instagram, it looks like you know what you're doing and that you do everything!"
I cocked my head to one side and I blinked again. 
"Lies!" I shouted. "It's all lies!" And then I laughed like a maniac. 
Ok, maybe I didn't laugh like a maniac, but I did say that thing about lies. 
You see, it's not easy. And I don't do everything. And sometimes I feel pretty crummy. 

This is a tough job. After that conversation, I realized, maybe I'm not doing a good enough job of conveying that to my readers. I would hate for anyone to think that I have it all together and that they don't. The truth is: neither of us knows what we're doing. 

HAHA! Kidding. Sort of.

Let's step back a bit.

This last semester has been a challenge for me. We've been going through some personal challenges and we've been struggling in some professional contexts too. In my particular arena, these are questions that invade my thinking at all hours of the day:
  • Am I making a positive difference on my campus?
  • Am I providing the appropriate support for my teachers?
  • How do I differentiate teacher support based on need?
  • How should I change the type of support I'm providing to my teachers based on my campus' changing need?
  • Are teachers gaining the best practices they need in order to support student learning at higher levels?
The list goes on and on. I spend many hours wallowing in self-doubt and worry. I spend hours talking about this with my colleagues, trying to make adjustments in my approach to best suit teachers' needs and the needs of my school as a whole. I debate within myself and aloud to my husband about the pros and cons of different types of campus support.
And I still feel like I don't have all the answers.
You see, much like teaching, coaching is about doing the metal work. Read the books, scour the blogs, ask the questions, and try to arrive at some answers. Try something out, see how it goes, adjust, and try again. There isn't a "right" way. And that's what makes it so hard. 
So, back to the intent of this post: How do you take that uncertainty and use it to gear yourself up for the next semester? (In my opinion, the more challenging semester.)
Well, here are a few things I do that help me move forward, even when I'm swimming in a sea of doubt and dread.

1. Choose a passion project.

We know that passion projects matter. Great things come out of the work we love to do. So give yourself something to live for! What's your passion project? Make a little time for it every week. Last spring, my project was the Reading Lounge. This past fall, I spent all my choice time on Mentor Texts. The year before that was my Book Buddies program (big kids reading to little kids) and before that it was my book study on Whole Brain Teaching. 
Instructional coaching is full of challenges. Some semesters are more difficult than others. Learn about some helpful tips that you can use to get yourself ready for a challenging semester of instructional coaching.
In the spring, I find that I'm pulled in 8,000 different directions (testing, administrative support for state/federal mandates, supporting classrooms where teachers are out with babies or medical issues) and sometimes it's easy to get lost in all of that yucky work and forget that there are things to life that I actually enjoy. So these passion projects motivate me to find the joy in my work, even when I'm charting (disappointing) data or having challenging conversations with teachers or administration. Having something to look forward to is great for motivation!

2. Find a coaching community. 

This position can be very isolated. You may be the only coach on your campus, depending on your district. You may be the only one with your job description, in your spot between administration and teachers. In a recent conversation with a new coach, we talked about this challenge. "I feel like I don't really have anyone else on campus who understands my job." 

She's right. Administration, coaching, and teaching look very different from each other on a day-to-day basis. If you've struggled to interact with someone on your campus, it can be hard to figure out who to talk to about it. You don't want to vent to your administrator, because that can violate the trust a teacher has in you. And you can't talk to other teachers about an experience with one of their colleagues. 

So find somebody to talk to! This can be a coach at another school in your area, or find an online coaching community to discuss your experiences with. Or email me at! I love to hear from other coaches! I'd love to hear from you!

3. Remember you're a human being.

I know, I know. You're superhuman. You can pee in under 28 seconds, wash your hands, and make it back to your room before anyone knows you've left the meeting! You can heat up your lunch and eat it standing up at the same time. You can plan a family night event, email your administrator, and refer teachers to your favorite blog, all while make a new spreadsheet to analyze data.

But don't do that all the time, please. It will make you crazy - I promise. I've been to crazy and back (partway back, anyway) and it's not fun. 
Instructional coaching is full of challenges. Some semesters are more difficult than others. Learn about some helpful tips that you can use to get yourself ready for a challenging semester of instructional coaching.
This is what happens when you haven't had a hair cut in four months and you've lost your minds a little.
You have to give yourself time to do things like eat, go to the bathroom, and see sunshine. This can come in the form of leaving work thirty minutes earlier than normal and taking a walk. This is what I plan to do each year that I hardly ever do. But when I do, I am far happier. And a happy coach is far more effective than a coach who's forgotten what the sun looks like.

4. I have one more tip, but I don't think it's completely appropriate. So I'll just leave this right here...

Instructional coaching is full of challenges. Some semesters are more difficult than others. Learn about some helpful tips that you can use to get yourself ready for a challenging semester of instructional coaching.
How do you get through the tough months? Do you have any tips to share? Please leave them in the comments below!

 Looking for more? Check out my new ebook: The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching on TPT!

And organize yourself with the Instructional Coaching MegaPack of Printable & Fillable Forms!

Instructional coaching is full of challenges. Some semesters are more difficult than others. Learn about some helpful tips that you can use to get yourself ready for a challenging semester of instructional coaching.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Engaging, interactive read alouds with purpose!

The other day I was planning with one of my grade levels and we were talking about making read aloud a little more interactive. Don't get me wrong: read aloud is inherently awesome. You're sitting on the carpet, reading awesome books, talking about your reading. What's not to love? 

But we have these kids....

The kids who have difficulty focusing and therefore might miss out on some of the best parts.
The kids who are so quiet that, unless you pull it out of them, they won't share their thinking.
The kids who raise their hands every forty-seven seconds to share about, "One time when that happened to me," and you're like, "Really? That happened to you? The time you were at your aunt's house for Thanksgiving and she got her head stuck in a turkey?" (True story, by the way. Or anyway, it's a true story that one time a kid told me that happened.)

So, to continue the conversation, I decided to write about my four tips for making read alouds engaging and interactive!

1. Start with a great text.

Consider your audience. Children easy to engage if you think about their interests! If you have to teach literary nonfiction, and you can choose between a book about Derek Jeter, Yankees star, or a book about PelĂ©, the King of Soccer, go with the book your kids will relate to more.  Look for books with...
  • Engaging topics
  • Interesting language 
  • A good flow - easy to follow
  • Some vivid illustrations (you don't have to show all of them, but you might want to choose some great ones)
  • Age-appropriate language

2. Set a purpose for reading.

Before you choose your book and plan your lesson, figure out why it is you're reading at all. Are you going to focus on story elements? character analysis? emotions? traits? changes? relationships? theme? The focus of your lesson will influence your book selection and the kinds of conversations you want kids to have. 

Set that purpose for reading with your kids. One great, interactive way to do this is with my brand-new Interactive Read Aloud Signs. Set a purpose for reading and provide kids with the signs. During the read aloud, students hold up their sign when they find evidence that matches their purpose!  

Another easy way to set a purpose is to ask a purpose question at the beginning of the lesson and give each student a sticky note. As you read, students will think about the question and write their thinking and evidence on the sticky note. They can Think-Pair-Share about their thinking, too!

This way serves as a great formative assessment! Read the kids' thoughts and see what they're thinking!


3. Plan some interesting, thoughtful questions and conversation starters.

Read the book first - reading that isn't fluent is BO-RING, and confusing as well! Figure out a few places you might like to pause and have students think about the text. Consider your purpose and find a few spots that kids can't help but react! Don't stop too frequently - it'll kill the story. 

4. Give them time to talk!

Once you know where you're going to stop,  make sure you have a cooperative discussion structure set up for them to talk to each other. Think-Pair-Share is the easiest one to plan, but you might experiment with others, too! Here are a few great ideas, if you're looking to jazz it up!

5. Use it as an opportunity for writing!

Kids get ideas by connecting to books you read aloud. After the read aloud, have students respond to the book! You can do this in two ways:
1. Have students write a reading response by providing sentence frames to respond to the purpose you set at the beginning of the lesson. If you're using my Interactive Read Aloud Signs, the sentence frames are already provided on the back!

2. Have students write a seed or an idea in their writer's notebooks. They can make a simple connection to write about later. The more ideas in their notebooks, the better! If you're looking for some fun, interactive tools to jazz up Read Aloud time, check out my Interactive Read Aloud Signs on TPT! I've got a brand-new set for fiction!

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