Monday, December 19, 2016

Professional Learning with TCRWP Reading

This is my second post reflecting on the learning that took place during a one day conference with presenters Laurie Passah and Mary Ehrenworth. You can read my first post here.

Mary Ehrenworth kicked off the reading portion of the day by diving into read alouds. She said that read alouds need to be highly planned and strategic (not the lap reading we do with our youngest children at home). The Teacher's College had Doug Reeves come in and do professional work with them. He noted, "The highest level of cognitive demand that children experience is during the read aloud." However, there lacked transfer. Mary suggested that students bring their book to the read aloud to move transfer. Partnerships should be solid, not groups of 3, as partnerships lend themselves to nearly 100% engagement, 100% of the time.

During strategic read aloud, there should be:
  • interrupted reading
  • partner discussion
  • prompting, practice, feedback, practice
  • deepening of reading practices
  • strategic text selection

Mary also suggested limiting the number of years you use a read aloud, as this allows for Power over Balance. If you read the same text year after year, the teacher has too much power.

Classroom libraries are key to improving student reading achievement. Classroom libraries can be leveled in levels A-F, but after that categorize them. She reminded us that children who read book series as children, most likely turn into adults who read. 

My next post will focus on instructional leadership around the Units of Study and workshop model.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Professional Learning with TCRWP Writing

I was tickled to be able to attend a one day workshop put on by Teacher's College and The Reading and Writing Project this week. Mary Erhenworth and Laurie Pessah were our presenters and they did not disappoint.

We began the day learning about writing workshop. Mary's questioning got us immediately reflecting on the writing that was taking place in our buildings. She asked:

  • How is writing going?
  • How do you know?
  • Is there growth?
  • What are the systems in place for writing over time?
She highly encouraged us to begin each year with narrative. This is a time to gain insight into our children's lives. Writing in the narrative genre gives these children the gift of telling their own stories with knowledge, insight, power and grace. We teach the kids to write so their voices will be heard. We look for who the child is emerging through the writing. It is a true way to research our kids.

As teachers this is a time to begin talking about writing. Our ability to talk about writing directly relates to our ability to teach writing. Teachers at this point of the year, gather to look at student writing through multiple lenses. We must take great care to democratize the level of teaching knowledge to improve students' writing. This is done by looking at pieces of student writing and discussing the evidence we found by looking through the lenses of genre, focus, structure, craft, conventions and volume.

Laurie then walked us through evidence we should look for to determine the quality of writing workshops that are taking place in our building. It is not enough to just have it in your schedule.
  • Students are spending most of their time writing.
  • Folder and notebooks are chock full (& amounts of writing are changing over time).
  • Children can talk about their writing, what they are trying to convey and what their goals are.
  • Strategies on charts are reflected in student writing (ask students, "What charts are most helpful to you?)
  • Writing improves dramatically over time in many ways, including structure, elaboration and conventions.
  • Mini lessons are slimmed down to 10-15 minutes (not a time for Q & A).
  • Teachers are meeting with 7-12 kids a day.
  • Students are energized & uplifted when teachers confer with them.
  • Kids use partnerships to rehearse, give advice and to react to each other's writing (not just when the T says, "work with your partner"). 
  • Kids are advising each other with evidence there was crystal clear teaching.

 A tool to measure volumes of writing.

In another post, I will share more of what we learned about reading and instructional leadership.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lucy Professional Development

I spent the last 3 days, facilitating professional development with our K-5 staff around Lucy Calkins Units of Study in Writing. It can be very difficult for teachers to be out of their classrooms, so I tried to make the learning environment as productive as possible.

3 Things that are important parts of the writing units of study are the following:
  • Professional learning for writing development
  • Assessment system
  • Units of study around writing and individual lessons

We focused on the first two pieces this week. Our teachers began the day by reading the unit overview for their next unit and getting to know what it is their students are expected to do by the end. It is good to orientate yourself to the unit prior to teaching...good to know where the flash drafts are, where the revisions take place, and where they finally pick their piece to take to completion. This prevents the teacher from feeling frantic all through the unit.

We have multi-age in our building. Our primary multi-age teachers teach grades 1, 2 and 3. They found the time very purposeful in seeing similarities between the 1st and 3rd grade informational UOS and then made a decision to move the 2nd grade informational UOS to align with their science topic.

After this, we normed the on-demand preassessment piece they gave their students prior to meeting. I blogged about norming here previously. This process is so valuable in that teachers are having rich conversations around student writing. One teacher explained, "I really don't like this process as it is very time consuming, but I really am getting to know my writers and seeing strengths I typically would have overlooked, based on other areas of weakness." Another teacher realized her Kindergarten students were more developed as writers than she thought. Many teachers commented on how they could clearly see where their students were moving into grade level expectations and where they needed more support.

The teachers are seeing echos of their previous lessons in their student writing and seeing strengths and areas of growth. Immediately teachers began to see purposeful groupings for small group work and got a feel of what skills their students are bringing to the unit.

We found this spreadsheet helpful to record scores. It was adjusted based on grade level scaled scores.

I work with such amazing staff and it was so uplifting to be part of their conversations that were centered around kids and moving their writers forward.

Have any other coaches been involved in leading Lucy PD?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Coaching and Half-Marathon Training

I have two passions outside of my family...running & coaching teachers. These two passions take an incredible amount of discipline, planning and focus to be done right. 

I am in the first year where I have been given time in my day to be a coach. Previously I have done it all before/during school, on my prep time and on lunch. I am incredibly appreciative of the school board for approving this time and have truly enjoyed the time to work with teacher more intentionally. However, I am beginning to lose steam. I need a down week. 

When I train for half-marathons, I usually find a training plan I like and stick to it, pretty religiously. In these plans there are down weeks; weeks where the runner decreases overall mileage. Pete Rea, coach at ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, N.C., believes that "regularly incorporating down weeks allows an athlete to complete successfully a full four-to five-month training cycle, avoid injury and ultimately make fitness leaps and achieve a high level of performance." It allows the athlete to absorb the training they did during each block and prepare for even better training in the next block.

So this got me thinking of down weeks during coaching cycles. I have been really busy coaching since the beginning of school, about 8 weeks now. I also have common planning meetings coming up in which I facilitate literacy PLCs. I have to plan and deliver these to 6 different groups of teachers this week.  I can sense my stress building and I am lacking time to reflect. I feel like, just in my running, I need to absorb the coaching I have done, reflect on the processes and make a plan to be even better when I start up coaching rounds again. 

I intend on starting new coaching cycles refreshed, energized and ready to be even better than I previously have been.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Group Norming

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."- Peter Ducker

This quote begins the 5th chapter in Elena Aguilar's book The Art of Coaching Teams. 

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No matter how great our agenda or ability to deliver content, if there is not a foundation of trust or a productive culture put in place, we will not get very far.

I participated in a book study with my #pln following the #educoach group. I have found a plethora of valuable information to help lead teams more efficiently. This aligns well with my new role in which I am facilitating 6 team meetings a month around the area of literacy; I also will continue to facilitate our district ELA Content Leadership Team once a month. 

To begin the year, the math coach and I co-facilitated norming meetings with the grade levels we share. We felt this was a great way to show the staff that we are a team, not math/literacy silos. We also felt strongly that norms for the groups should not change if the facilitator is different. The math coach and I wanted to be a part of the norming process, so everyone has buy-in. Aguilar says, "Norms are effective when a team determines them together and when their meaning is clear to all members."

To guide the process, we modified the agenda from Aguilar's book in which she shared an example of a Norm building meeting. 

Here is our common agenda;

  • Welcoming
  • Agenda Overview

Generating Our Norms
  • Surfacing previous experience
  • Hopes for today
  • Brainstorming

Clarifying and Classifying our Norms
  • Select and share
  • Clarify
  • Organize our brainstorm
  • Narrowed list we all can live with
  • Voting


  • Reflection
  • Feedback
  • Appreciations

The feedback we got was that most teachers found this valuable. They liked that they had time to think independently on what norms they thought were important first, and then come together as a group to see patterns and come to a common consensus. 

Here are some of the norms teams found valuable
Keep children as our focus
Treat each other with respect
Be present both physically & mentally
Practice respectful tech/phone use
We will use our time wisely, starting and ending our meetings on time
Invite and welcome the contributions of every member & listen to each other
Be solution-orientated and forward thinking
Respect other’s ideas
Be open to possibilities and other’s thinking; ask questions to clarify
Assume positive intent
Be present mentally and physically
Be prepared - complete assigned tasks, have data ready
Pay attention to heart and meaning
Speak directly to people about issues
Be solution oriented
Agree to disagree
Ask questions when in doubt
Ask direct questions to clarify issues
Use our time wisely and stay on task
Laugh, enjoy one another

Norms can offer enormous transformation potential. I look forward to working with these teams and getting to the work that centers on kids.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

New Year Excitement

We are nearing the Eve of a new year of school. The school is shiny, the rooms are welcoming, and the staff and students are nervous, but excited. I am also facing some new responsibilities this year...

Image result for back to school

I was part of a coaching grant that began to study the effects of coaching on growing staff & on raising student achievement. I worked very hard with two other coaches to propose a new position in our district. We began by reflecting on our current needs and what could make the most impact on our students. We discovered that although our district just approved a full time math interventionist, this was not going to cover the needs of our middle school students. Also, we have worked hard to grow coaching, but continuing to expect this to be done before school/after school, on prep time and lunch time was not sustainable. Therefore, we developed a plan to propose a 1/2 time math interventionist, 1/2 time instructional coach position.
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We began by pitching our idea to our Director of Instruction, who suggested some changes. We then brought it to our Superintendent, who also suggested some changes, but who recommended we bring it to our Curriculum & Assessment board committee. We brought it to our board committee, who approved bringing this position to our full school board.  I will save the rest of the details, but it went back and forth between committees with more work being done by administrators and the team of coaches I was working with. In the end, the school board approved the position!!!

I am very excited to say I was given three hours of my day to coach. I am thrilled to use the knowledge I have gained through attending coaching professional development opportunities, participating in coaching practice, and also participating in book studies to include the #educoach book study for...
 Image result for art of coaching teams..

I have used coaching as the focal point of my SLO the last two years, trying to support teachers the best I could outside of my full-time teaching responsibilities. Having the ability to be more available throughout the teaching day to co-teach, co-plan, co-reflect and observe and demonstrate as needed, is something I have been striving for the last few years. I should have to say, "No," less often.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#CyberPD Chapters 5 & 6 DIY Literacy

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Chapter 5: Just for You
"We struggle to meet the needs of our all our students, and we sense that there are groups of kids who are not being inspired, pushed, or helped the way they need and deserve," (pg. 2).

I have always struggled with differentiation. What does this really mean? What is the expectation? How can I possibly do it? Then comes chapter 5 of DIY Literacy. I really felt the tone of this chapter took the weight off the teacher's shoulders and placed some responsibility on the student. I have never thought of it this way. I always took full responsibility as the one leading the differentiation in the classroom. It was up to ME to inspire, push or help this students. Maggie and Kate took some of that pressure off by showing how tools can allow students to take ownership and become engaged in the type of learning they need and deserve. 
  • Demonstration notebook: Even though the demonstration notebook is lead by the teacher, it is left for the students to investigate if they need reminders of the lesson. "...a sticky note with their names as a tab on the page so they can refer back to the lesson easily," (p. 76).
  • Charts:The chart on page 80 can be very useful for those students who may need extra assistance from the teacher, but will not have a conference that day.
  • Bookmarks: The bookmarks "empower students with a sense of agency, an opportunity to take stock of all they were learning and then design their own mini learning plan," (p. 83).
  • Micro-Progression: The micro-progression is a way for students to see "which level of work they might be able to reach that day," (p. 84).
Chapter 6: Nuts and Bolts
I was alarmed at this statistic on page 88, "In 2010, an average sixth-grader spent more than 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media." By accepting this version of our current students, I can tap into their consumption of songs, games, shows, cultural events and social platforms to build engagement and more relevance in my teaching. I appreciate the way Teacher's College supports pop culture. I have heard this mentioned by many staffers and it really helps bring a connection to our students. 
I really liked #3 on page 96: Quiz your kids on the layout. I thought this was a great way of reminding students to use the tools by questioning them on which ones they could use for both pushing their thinking & staying productive.
Also, Whew! You don't have to have the most creative eye to build meaningful anchor charts! Use white space, write big & keep colors consistent.