So, this is Christmas (14 personal and professional gifts I received in 2014)

So, this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun -John Lennon

In these last few days and moments of 2014, my thoughts have swirled around how blessed I have been. So without further ado, I present the 14 personal and professional gifts I have recieved in 2014.

  1. Family: I am truly blessed to spend every day with my lovely wife and two adorable daughters. Our house is full of laughter, hugs, and kisses.
  2. Friends: I have more (and better) than anyone deserves.
  3. Health: I feel good.
  4. My basic needs (and my family’s) are not only met, but exceeded.
  5. Comforts: From musical instruments, to tech and toys… I’m spoiled.
  6. Perfect job for me: I took a leap of faith to leave the school where I spent nearly my entire career for an incredible opportunity. I joined the lowest performing school in our district as part of a turnaround effort. I miss my former colleagues, but PB is where I am meant to be.
  7. Work with great administration: I’m so lucky to work for an administration team who have both their heads and hearts in the right place.
  8. Work with great faculty: Our faculty (the vast majority of whom are new to our school) are positive and energetic. We have a tough job ahead of us, but we can do it!
  9. Work with a coaching team: So pleased to work every day with my coaching colleagues, Donna and Lisa. Every day is difficult, but so fun and so worth it.
  10. Our students: While challenging and sometimes frustrating, our students are special and inspire our work every day.
  11. My PLN: Twitter and LinkedIn have both introduced and deepened my understanding of many issues in education and, more importantly, have connected me to hundreds of intelligent, friendly people.
  12. This blog: As I write my posts, this blog has provided me an outlet for reflection, fostered new connections, and pushed my thinking about coaching.
  13. Working with outside folks: I’ve had the privelige of doing good work with some great people from outside my school district. Many thanks to the folks at TeachBoost, the MQI Coaching Research Team at Harvard University, and REACH Associates.
  14. The future: All of this looking back has me excited for all the good to come in 2015!

Take it, John…

So, this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Lets hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

John Lennon – Happy Christmas (war is over)


Where am I?

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  ― L. Frank Baumgrowth

We all remember Dorothy’s words as she sees the land of Oz for the first time.  Dorothy was likely feeling a mixture of emotions, from curiosity and wonder, to nervousnes and even fear.  Just like Dorothy, I recently found myself transported to a new world (luckily without the help of a tornado). I change jobs and moved to a new school. I am in a similar role as an instructional coach, but feel a little like Dorothy.  Not only am I new to the school, but many of my new colleagues are as well.  

So, with so much going on, so much to do, and so many needs, what’s an instructional coach to do?

Keep it short, sweet, and supportive:

  • Make connections and begin to build relationships with students and adults.
  • Focus on establishing working agreements and expectations.
  • Stay organized, prepared, and planned.
  • Help and support your colleagues.
  • Be visible, but not an interruption.
  • Smile, say hello, and laugh!

Enjoy the adventure. Get to know the other characters along the way. Learn and grow with each step.  Before too long, your fears and nerves will subside. You will look around and realize that you have found your place and that Dorothy was right.

“There’s no place like home!” -L. Frank Baum


So, watcha’ watcha’ watcha’ want?

Attention coaches: The teachers have spoken! As coaches, we are charged with the goal of working with teaccropped-slice.pnghers to improve student learning. We cannot attain that goal without understanding the perspective of the teachers we serve.

To better understand teachers’ perspectives of coaching, I recently conducted a (highly unscientific) data collection on Twitter using the following question:

What are the essential qualities of an instructional coach?

Approximately thirty responses were submitted. After reviewing the results, several patterns emerged around the need for the following: Positive relationships, Communication, Flexibility, Learning and growth.

Positive relationships: The need for strong, positive relationships appeared in the responses of nearly all teachers. Teachers described these relationships using words like non-judgmental, honest, trustworthy, and supportive. Building relationships is an essential component of coaching.

Communication: Several responses expressed that communication was essential. Teachers emphasized not only clear and coherent speaking, but the importance of the coach as a patient listener. Teachers want to be heard!

Flexibility: Teachers described the need for instructional coaches to be flexible. Flexibility in time is no doubt essential, but flexibility in approach and coaching strategies is perhaps more powerful. Teachers expressed this as support in “whatever way you need” it and not giving “cookie cutter advice.” Teachers want to work with coaches who personalize and differentiate their approach!

Learning and growth: Teachers expressed the desire to learn and grow. Teachers want to work collaboratively with coaches who build on their strengths. Teachers want to work with coaches who are resourceful, innovative, and student centered.

So, the teachers have spoken. This small sample of teacher response represents powerful feedback for instructional coaches. The challenge is to take this feedback and feed our practice forward. More importantly, don’t take my word for it. Instructional coaches, ask the teachers you work with: What are your essential qualities of an instructional coach?

That’s what friends are for!

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”conversation
― Ernest Hemingway

Tonight, I was reminded how great it is to have a conversation with a true friend.  In recent posts, I have discussed facilitation of conversations that are more about the learning and growth of others (teachers, principals, etc).  Don’t forget that conversations can also benefit your own growth and learning.

More importantly, these conversations can often be good for your own well being. Coaching, like any job in education, is hard work.  It can be mentally, spiritually, and even physically demanding.  An honest conversation can help to ease these demands.

My advice to you: find that one friend to have the toughest conversations, perhaps a colleague with experience in coaching .  Remember that these conversations must have balance between speaking and listening.  Be there for your friend, as they are there for you. These relationships are an essential part of your support network as you move forward in this work.  Think of these words from Leo Buscaglia:

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Thanks for the conversation, CF.


The Finish Line?

“If I’d had some set idea of a finish line, don’t you think I would have crossed it yearsrelationships ago?” – Bill Gates

It’s easy at this time of year to think of our work as finished.  Teachers are planning end-of-year field trips, graduations, even faculty picnics.  Students are worried more about summer trips than tests and quizzes. Even the instructional coach just might be ready for a break.

In this rush to the finish, do forget to take a few moments to build relationships.  These last fleeting moments need not be wasted if you:

  • Reflect on your relationships’ growth (or struggles) this year.
  • For relationships that have grown, take time to personally thank those colleagues.
  • For relationships that have struggled,  design a growth plan for your work.
  • Most importantly, remember that you cannot work on any relationship without working on two people, your colleague and YOU! And this work, is never-ending.

So as we count down the days until summer break and close in on the finish line, remember this: “If you neglect to recharge a battery, it dies. And if you run full speed ahead without stopping for water, you lose momentum to finish the race.” -Oprah Winfrey


The Obstacle Course

“It’s part of life to have obstacles. It’s about overcoming obstacles; that’s the key to decisionshappiness.” -Herbie Hancock

The end of the school year is filled with excitement. We hold graduations, coordinate field trips, finish grades and paperwork, and plan for next year.  For many instructional coaches (and similar roles) it is also a time of obstacles and decisions.  Coaching obstacles range from teachers and students losing focus and motivation to worry about losing the coaching job itself.  So, this short post is about these obstacles and how we decide to overcome them.

The trick? I am not going to tell you how I overcome them. That’s too easy.  I want to hear from you.  

Somebody’s Watching Me!

I always feel like somebody’s watching me,instruction

And I have no privacy.

I always feel like somebody’s watching me,

Tell me, is it just a dream? -Rockwell

The lyrics from this 1980’s hit song summarizes the feeling of many teachers when the instructional coach visits the classroom.  Some teachers feel as if their privacy is being violated or that they need to put on a show.  As a coach, there are several critical conversations to making successful visits.  (Don’t forget to approach these meetings in the true spirit of conversation!)

First, remember that you are a guest. Depending on your school and district, you may need to ask permission or alert the teacher of your plans.  Also, allay concerns by setting a approximate time limit for your visit. After all, Benjamin Franklin spoke the truth when he said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

Second, keep in mind that you cannot focus on everything in one visit. Have a conversation in advance with the teacher to establish a focusing question for the visit.  A few possible focusing questions:

  • How does the level of student engagement change throughout the lesson?

  • Do the questions asked by the teacher follow a pattern?

  • How does the teacher support and encourage student discourse?

  • How does the classroom environment support teaching and learning?

Follow the visit with another conversation.  Begin by thanking the teacher.  Focus the conversation on providing feedback, balancing praise with concerns, regarding the focusing question.  Remember to listen and focus on your observations, not judgement.  Compared to the teacher, you have as much to gain as a coach, sometimes more.  Remember the words of Robert Baden-Powell, “ If you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talk.