Thursday, September 24, 2015


I'm busy.

The good kind.

The kind where I'm thinking hard and listening and asking just the right question at just the right time.

This kind of busy did not come naturally for me my first year of coaching.  I didn't understand that the role of a coach is to primarily be a watcher and a listener and an asker of questions.  Over the past three years, I learned the hard way, and in fact asking those just right questions was my professional learning goal last year.

This kind of busy makes my brain tired.  When I'm in classrooms, I'm constantly watching.  I'm watching the kids and how they are interacting with each other and the teacher throughout the class period.  I'm watching for the specific "look fors" the teacher and I identified as the focus for our work for the week.  I'm watching the teacher, too, always on the look out for those magical moments that I can share in our debrief; those moments the teacher might otherwise miss because she's so focused on the lesson.

When I'm in meetings with teachers, I'm listening, which takes much more work than just hearing.  I'm focused on one teacher at a time, listening to their reflections on their work of the week - the successes and the flops (because we all have flops).  During that listening, I'm thinking about what the teacher is also NOT saying.  What is she holding back?  What is she hesitant to face?  What is she spending the most time talking about and why?  It's through that listening that I know what questions to ask.

And those questions are so important!  I've found that if I ask the right questions, teacher can often untangle for themselves the knots they have identified.  If I ask the right questions, those things that teachers left unsaid at first begin to come to light.  If I ask the right questions, the next steps in our work together become apparent.

So yeah, I'm busy.  A different kind of busy than I was two weeks ago when I was doing the clerical work of getting assessment folders put together for the sixth graders or doing initial assessments with our new students.  That work is important, but it's not the work that I love.

But this busy?  This is the kind of busy-ness I can live with.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Off to a Slow Start

School's been in session since August 25, but I've missed almost a week due to illness.  In the two weeks I was in my building, I did a lot of clerical tasks that tend to fill my days the first few weeks of the school year:

  • I compiled the literacy profile folders for our approximately 200 sixth graders;
  • I set up our assessment data files for the school year;
  • I pulled data for teachers to consider as we put together our first literacy intervention groups;
  • I (mostly) completed initial literacy assessments on the students who are new to our school district;
  • I wrote most of my September PD newsletter.

You'll notice what I wasn't doing.  I wasn't coaching, at least not much.  I was able to do a demonstration lesson for a new language arts teacher and two think alouds for our seventh grade algebra students.  I set up a coaching cycle with a science teacher.

But that's not enough.

I don't like office days, and usually by the third week of school, I've been in classrooms observing and seeing the great teachers in my district at work.  By the third week of school, I've started several coaching cycles and my brain is busy thinking alongside those teachers, working through problems of practice, learning together new ways of helping students succeed.

I've felt quite a bit of guilt over missing almost a week of school.  I keep thinking about those tasks I've left unfinished (like those assessments!) and the meetings and classroom visits I had to cancel.  This is not the way I usually operate, and it took everything I had in me not to push through being sick, though not contagious,  and in pain and just suck it up and go to school.

But would that really have been better?

Would I have really been an effective coach if I were distracted by being tired and sick?  Would I have been able to accurately do the assessments?  Would it have been better for my family if I had made myself sicker?

I'm still not 100%, but I've given myself the time I've needed to feel more myself.  I've given the antibiotics time to work.  I've given the inflammation and swelling in my foot time to calm down enough for my foot to actually fit in a show.  I've taken time to take care of myself.

This is a lesson that I need to remember going forward.  There will always be stuff to do at school.  There will always be commitments I've made and meetings I've scheduled.  But if I don't take the time to slow down and take care of myself, I won't be able to do any of those things well.

Someone remind me of this in December, ok?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trying This Again, But Different

This blog has been largely dormant since I left the classroom and moved into the literacy coaching position in my building.  I've struggled with how I can write about the work I do, thinking alongside teachers to solve problems of practice or working with them to grow as professionals.  A large part of my job is the trust I need to build with the teachers who let down their guard and invite me into their classrooms and their professional lives.

I was afraid that if I wrote about this work, it would violate this confidentiality and trust.

But as I learn more and more about being a coach and being reflective about my own practice, I realize there are things I can write about in relation to coaching as well as good instructional practice. To some degree, I can write in generalities about my work with teachers, but be specific about my own reflection on the work.

It will be a fine line to walk, but I'm sure I can do it.  As time goes on, I feel a greater need to write about the work I do and reflect upon it in order to grow as a coach.  While I could do this privately, in a notebook no one else will see, I also crave feedback from others whose jobs are similar to mine.  I am the only middle school coach in my district, and while I have a learning team composed of the coaches in the three K-5 buildings, there are many situations that are unique to the middle school.  I'd love to grow a professional network as a support system.

It may take me a while to find my writing groove again, but I am determined to do it.

And I'd be grateful if you'd join me in my search to find my voice.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jumping on the "Nerdlution" Bandwagon

Nerdlution Image by Kristine Mraz and posted on Twitter (@mrazkristine). I love it!
Over the past several days, many of my Twitter friends and colleagues have been talking about setting "Nerdlutions."  These are specific commitments they are making for the fifty days between December 2, 2013 and January 20.  For example, Katherine over at Read, Write, Reflect is committed to writing 30 minutes each day and walking 30 minutes each day to get back into her exercise habit.  Franki Sibberson at A Year of Reading is also making that same Nerdlution.

I'm jumping in.

I keep saying I want to write a book.  I've been saying it for years.  I've even done some preliminary research on a topic I'm interested in exploring further.  However, with my crazy school schedule this year, I don't know if I have it in me to write a whole book.  Instead, I'm going to commit to writing for 30 minutes each day either on one of my blogs (this one, Mindi's Musings, or NextBestBook) or working on articles to submit to professional journals or online publishers such as Choice Literacy for possible publications.  I need to live a writerly life to see if I really have this in me.

I, too, like many of my friends have gotten out of the exercise habit.  My nerdlution in this area is to exercise daily, either at the Y or in my basement.  I have the equipment.  I have the means.  Now I need to MAKE myself do this.  I've not felt good in several months, and I know it has to do with the fact that I have not been active enough.  It's amazing how those endorphins released during exercise really do affect my outlook on the rest of my life.

SO there they are.... two promises I'm making for myself.

Will you join us?  What is your Nerdlution?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Put On Your Listening Ears

Image used via Creative Commons License from
Today was one of those days when I truly enjoy my role as a coach.

I got to spend an 80 minute block observing in a social studies class, listening in on conversations students were having around an article they were reading.

I spent 40 minutes listening to a science teacher talk through his thinking about a lesson in which he will think aloud how to summarize a newspaper article on a science topic and how he is connecting his language and the expectations for student summaries to the work they do in their language arts classes.

I spent another 40 minutes listening to a language arts teacher describe pre-assessment results and thinking through how she will adjust instruction based on the data she collected.  I also listened as she described the format of her small-group lessons.

Today I listened.

The teachers I met with today didn't necessarily need help with they work they were doing.  They needed to talk through their thinking with someone.  They needed a listener who would ask questions that would help them to think more deeply about their practice.  They needed time to process.

When I was still in the classroom, I would often have conversations such as these with my teaching partner.  We would plan our lessons together and ask each other questions, often playing devil's advocate, imagining the questions students might have or predicting student roadblocks.  These conversations were great practice for much of the work I do as a coach.

Tomorrow I will be in that science class and in that language arts class listening as those teachers put into practice the lessons we discussed today.  Both teachers have asked me to listen for specific student language and to look for specific student behaviors.

I'm learning that listening is perhaps the most important thing I do as a literacy coach.  It can be hard not to jump in with suggestions for how I would do the lesson or the language I would use in a demonstration or think aloud.  I have to think carefully to determine what each teacher needs at a particular time during our coaching conversations.  I have to remember that providing an opportunity for a teacher to reflect on his or her practice in order to refine a lesson or rubric or activity is just as important and impactful as demonstrating in a classroom or co-teaching a lesson.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Organizationally Challenged

Organization has never been my strong suit.  In the classroom, I would start the year off strong...everything had a place, and most of the time, I made sure things got back in those places.  I usually managed to keep things going until the end of the first grading period, and then things slowly fell apart.

As a coach, I have a smaller space but many more materials (my office/instructional space doubles as our book room) to keep organized.  If something is out of place in my office, the whole thing looks messy, so I have to make sure to put things away as soon as I'm finished with them.

I also have many different kinds of files to keep organized, and different people need access to different materials.  Last year my big accomplishment was taking our assessment wall digital, figuring out how to take the kinesthetic experience of moving cards on the wall and replicating it somehow.  I put our literacy data into a Google doc and put conditional formatting on certain data points, so that as teachers entered scores, the cell changed colors to indicate whether or not the student had met benchmarks.  I figured out how to organize my coaching notes and plans as well, going with the old school binder and dividers, a system I've decided to continue this year since I prefer to write my notes when I meet with teachers.  I find that when I'm typing my notes I tend not to look at the teacher as much.

My biggest challenge, though, is making sure I have everything I need when I'm out and about in classrooms.  Last year I would often find myself without an essential item... my calendar (I need a paper one for my professional life), pens, pencils, power cord, snack, laptop, etc.  I hated having to rush back to my office during the 3 minute passing period to get whatever it was I had forgotten.

In an effort to find out what other coaches do, I spent some time reading too many blogs.  Kind of like when I cruise Pinterest, reading some of these made me feel like a serious slacker.  So much chevron!  Personalized fonts!  Bright colors!  There's no way my blog would place in a beauty contest.  I did find some great ideas, though. One site, Ms. Houser:  Inspiring & Encouraging, gave me the idea of an "office in a bag."  I realized THAT'S what I needed.  A bag of some sort that I could keep packed with essentials.  I could simply grab it, slip my iPad or laptop in and head off to wherever it was in my building I needed to be.

So here it is:  MY "office in a bag"
Here's what's in it:

  • power cord
  • calendar
  • a folder with blank coaching conversation notetaking forms
  • a "to do" folder for when I have time to get some tasks finished
  • an "in box" for papers or materials I'm given at meetings that need to be filed
  • a pencil case with pens, pencils, and my stylus
  • a lip balm
  • a book
  • personalized Post-It notes for leaving quick notes for teachers
Of course, I had to buy myself a new Vera messenger bag to put it all in.  I tried using a tote I already had, but there weren't enough pockets, and it was deeper than it was wide, so I couldn't find things quickly.  I am happy to report that I bought a retired pattern, so I DID get a deal on it.  I love my messenger bag because it's the perfect size.  I can't stuff TOO much stuff in it, so it can't get as heavy as some of my other bags.

SO.... we'll see if my organizational changes will help me stay on top of things this year.

How do you keep yourself organized?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The More You Know

This year is my second year as the literacy coach in my 6-8 building.  Last year I survived.  This year, my goal is to do more than survive; it's to thrive.  I'm being strategic in my schedule.  I've come up with an organization system for my coaching plans and notes.  I am reaching out to teachers in many different content areas.  I'm reading.  I'm watching.  I'm listening.

Today, Ellin Oliver Keene, author of many books including Talk About Understanding and co-author of Mosaic of Thought came to work with a group of teachers in the building.  A colleague and I realized we had been working with Ellin since our daughters, now in 7th and 8th grades were in K and 1st.  We relish the opportunity to learn alongside Ellin and to have her push us in our thinking.  Mrs. M., the teacher who hosted our observation agreed to have Ellin coach her in the moment while she taught.  Mrs. M. is also a coach (of the sports variety), and she understands that sometimes coaches have to give instruction to players during the game or even in the middle of a play.  The other teachers who were part of our group would have the opportunity to experience this type of intense coaching vicariously and the students in the class would get to view their teacher as a learner.

While I love watching Mrs. M. teach, I was in that room with a different purpose.  I wanted to watch a master coach coach.  I wanted to learn from Ellin how to be a better coach than I was last year.

Now, tonight, after having some time to process, I feel like I have so much more to learn.  There were things that Ellin saw that I missed, words she used that I wouldn't have thought of.  During the reflection time following the observation, I realized I still observed with a teacher's eyes, thinking about how I could take various strategies and language and adapt them to my own classroom.  Well... now I'm a coach.  My eyes and thinking should be tuned to the teacher, her needs, and the needs of her students... not necessarily my own.

This type of reflection and learning is important.  Thinking about my practice helps me to understand what I need to do to improve in my now not-so-new role.  I have some ideas about reading, talking, and thinking I want to do with MY coaches, and luckily I know where to seek those resources out.

The more you know, the more you realize how much more there is to learn.  Isn't that great?

This post was written as part of the Tuesday Slice of Life series sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.  Want to read what others are writing?  Go check it out!