Life Lessons for Coaching at the End of the Year

Thanks to the Marshall Memo, I often read articles connected to teaching and learning that might not otherwise cross my desk.  This recent article from Psychology Today got me to thinking about my work as a coach.  It provided some reminders as we move into this last part of the year.  So — Life Lessons for coaching the end of the school year:

Understand that not everything that happens to you is about you.  We are all essentially ego-centric.  The default position for human beings is to believe that something we have said or done has caused, or at least influenced, the current happening.  Remember: this is how medieval and ancient humans ended up with some of the theories about the universe that we now consider ridiculous.  Lots of things happen in schools this time of the year.  Teachers cancel coaching meetings.  Administrators cancel meetings with coaches.  Coaches show up and everyone has forgotten about the coaching session.  It happens.  And it is not about me!! It just happens

Worry less about what others think of you.  This is the time of the year when everyone is getting feedback in the form of end of year evaluations and reflections.  And this is the time of the year when a lot of people are feeling a wee bit defensive as a result of poorly delivered or unforeseen feedback.  The whole ethos of that defensive feeling becomes a vortex that can suck us in.  Beware the vortex!! The time to worry about what anyone thinks of my work is not now — that ship has sailed.  All during the year, I want and need that feedback and I need to take it seriously and make adjustments to my work.  Right now, I need to worry less about what anyone thinks of me.  I need to relax, be who I really am, do my best work and trust the partnerships I’ve built with colleagues.

Reframe and manage disappointment and adversity. This is a time of the school year when resiliency counts.  Take a deep breath, see things from another point of view, and move on.  One of my mantras is “no one wakes up in the morning thinking ‘how can I screw things up today?’ — no one”.  Everyone is doing the very best that they can — sometimes that best is less than we might wish it to be.  Sometimes MY best is less than I might wish it to be.  Manage it and move it.  We have only a few weeks left to the school year.  There is little recovery time available.  Make the most of that time by bouncing back quickly.

Stay true to your own values despite what others expect. The stress of the end of the school year creates a lot of competing agendas.  Things need to get done.  Deadlines are looming.  Everyone is feeling the pressure.  And most everyone is putting some pressure on someone else in the process.  Find your north star.  Find your compass as a professional, as a colleague, as a human being.  Stay true to the compass.

Be open to revising your thinking. As the year has progressed, I know that I have invested my time and energy (and emotions) in things I have deemed important.  As the year winds down, some of those investments have yielded, some of them have not.  It’s easy to become overly attached my investments.  This is a time of the year when I need to take step back and revise my thinking.  The article had a quote that I loved — “there comes a point at which constancy can curdle into rigidity.”  I have a visceral reaction to the word “curdled” – and I think it serves me well.  Constancy has been my goal all along.  But at this time of the year, I need to guard against curdling and making everything around me sour.

Find ways to tackle tasks you want to avoid. There are a zillion and one tasks that must be done before the end of the year.  The paperwork alone is daunting.  Take a measured approach.  Don’t let yourself drown in the tedium.  Find ways to get it done that don’t drain your energy, passion and love for the profession.  Team up with colleagues.  Plan a paperwork session with a little reward at the end of it.  Tuck the tedium in between the fun parts of the job.

Tolerate ambiguity. This time of the school year is loaded with ambiguities.  Teachers are sometimes unsure what grade level they will be teaching next year.  Others may be uncertain of their very employment status.  Students are feeling the looming end of the relationship with THIS teacher and the prospect of constructing a new relationship with a new teacher.  The end of school is bittersweet.


“Lessons You Won’t Learn in School” by Jena Pincott in Psychology Today, May/June 2018,


Blind Date with a Book

I’ve been seeing this promotion in Media Centers around our district lately.  Its a fun play on Valentine’s Day and the kids and the teachers have been having a BLAST with it.  The table is filled with books, selected by the Media Specialist, wrapped in paper.  The kids select a book, without any information than the size and shape of the book.  Everything else about the book is concealed by the wrapping paper.  You get what you get.  They check out the book, presumably read the book, and return.

This is a fantastic way to help some of our voracious readers expand their horizons and possibly read something they would not have selected otherwise.  The students in each of the schools where I’ve seen this have been lining up to choose a book.  And they have willingly checked out the book they’ve gotten.  The excitement has been palpable and infectious.  I wanted to choose a blind-date book myself!!

I don’t want to rain on this parade, but I have some concerns for many of our young readers.  Young readers are notorious for choosing and then abandoning books.  I have shocked many a class by talking about the few books that I have EVER abandoned as a reader and the process that I have undertaken in that abandonment.  And I have spent many hours helping students understand how to go about choosing a book that truly fits them (beyond the “just right reading level” notion).  When readers make informed decisions about books, they are more likely to stick with books.  They are more likely to gain something from reading that book.  And they are more likely to become more powerful readers as a result of that experience.  When students make ill-informed choices or poorly suited choices, they become serial book abandoners.  They reinforce quitting.  This is NOT a habit that I want to support and sustain in the children that I teach.

So while the Blind Date with a Book promotion is fantastic in terms of the energy level, the excitement, and the fun, like all other fun events in schools, it has the danger of an unintended message — that how we choose books is unimportant.  And it is always the unintended consequences that are the most dangerous — because they blind-side us.  So, I’m participating in the Blind Date with a Book, and I’m enjoying the excitement and the fun.  But I’m also remembering to keep my eye open for those students who hear that unintended message.  So that I’m ready to correct the mis-interpretation and help them to enjoy the Blind Date experience too.   

Ipads in Kindergarten

As I move around our district, I’m noticing a trend.  We have a 1:1 environment, with every student having his/her own ipad for learning purposes, but our kindergarteners don’t seem to be getting the same utilization out of this environment.  At first, I wasn’t certain how much of this difference was about the children and their skill or readiness for the digital medium, and how much was about the teachers of kindergarten and THEIR skill or readiness for the digital medium.  As I’ve watched and listened, I’ve begun to think that it is NEITHER of these.  Rather it seems to be more about the ability of the Ipad to add value to the kindergarten classroom.

Any digital medium is only of value in an educational setting if it:

  • does something that a non-digital medium CANNOT do
  • assists the teacher in personalizing instruction to meet individual  needs
  • saves time
  • provides access for students who might not otherwise have access (differently abled students, reluctant students, etc)

Too often, especially in kindergarten, the device is merely doing something that can already be done with paper and pencil (or crayon) with no value added.  And while I understand the SAMR model and that substitution is often the entry point for any teacher, without a value added, there is no incentive for the teacher to continue to use the digital medium.  There is certainly no incentive for the teacher to expand digital options.  And frankly, there is little or no teaching required to utilize the paper/pencil version of a task, while the device often requires some instruction and support.  So, there is actually a dis-incentive to the digital medium.

But the digital experience is essential for our current kindergarteners.  They are a generation that was BORN in the digital age.  In their lifetimes, the digital will become far more powerful and ubiquitous than the analog.  We must provide them with appropriate digital experiences, experiences that are developmentally appropriate for young children, educationally sound for the standards they are expected to master, and frankly, fun and motivating for their young minds.

So, I’m paying special attention in my kindergarten classrooms to find ideas that fit my criteria.  I’ll let you know what I find.

Reading Could Save Your Life

I was reading (yes, reading) a magazine in the doctor’s office the other day and noticed an article about the benefits of being a reader.  Apparently, The Social Science and Medicine Journal has reported a study that showed reading can literally save your life.  They studied the reading habits of 3,635 older adults (50+), adjusted for general health, socio-economic factors, and education level and found that 3.5 hours of reading a week (that’s a mere 30 minutes a day) reduces mortality by more than 17%.  They study lasted over 12 years.  There appear to be cognitive benefits from reading beyond the benefits provided by the material you read.  Obviously reading heavier, more demanding material has different cognitive benefits than reading a beach novel or magazine article.  But all reading appears to boost brain cell connectivity.  And that increased connectivity appears to reduce mortality.

Now I have a new defense for my time spent reading!! pexels-photo-196649

Continuum of Influence

I attended a workshop by Ainsley Rose at the 2016 TLC Conference in Dallas.  During the workshop, he asked participants to order a list of words to create a continuum of influence.

coerce, coach, manipulate, aspire, advise, motivate, persuade inspire

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The group as a whole created the following continuum:

  1. Coerce
  2. Manipulate
  3. Persuade
  4. Advise
  5. Coach
  6. Motivate
  7. Inspire
  8. Aspire

This taxonomy goes from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control.

I had some thinking about the words that differed.  Here’s my taxonomy and my thinking behind it: 

  1. Coerce — this is when I use out and out force to get someone to do what I want them to do.  It is about brute force (whether physical, mental, or emotional).  It is strictly about MY will superceding YOUR will.  I have the power and the authority to demand that you comply with my will.
  2. Manipulate — in this instance, it is still about my will superceding your will.  But I am on a slightly more equal footing with you.  I do not FORCE your compliance, I mold your compliance, often without your explicit consent.  
  3. Persuade — the shift here is to tacit consent.  I am still in the one-up position.  My will still prevails.  But you give consent to it in some way.  You are convinced or coaxed in some way into agreeing with me.  
  4. Advise — Your consent becomes explicit here.  You have the right to ignore my advice.  You become at least somewhat a co-thinker in the process.  I am still “one-up”.  Synonyms for this include; recommend, admonish, direct, instruct.  
  5. Motivate — this word still seems to imply that I am in the superior position, but now YOU have shifted to the driver’s seat.  Not only are you free to ignore my advice, but you are free to steer.  I am no longer providing specific directions or steps to follow.  I am in a less prescriptive role, but I am still pushing your actions.  
  6. Inspire – In this situation I am still most definitely “one-up”.  I am arousing or exciting you to something.  I am doing it TO you still.  Synonyms here are: provoke, spur, galvanize, cause.  As in all of the others, the goal is for you to take action, but I am the provoker of that action completely.  You are passive in the verb itself.
  7. Aspire — Again, I perceive this to still be a one-up position.  You “aspire” to be like me? There is a slight shift here, however.  Now the verb is something that YOU do.  You are the actor in aspire.  I cannot aspire for you, you have to aspire for yourself.  Synonyms include yearn, dream, strive.  This is when I make you CRAVE doing something.  The challenge here is that it is still something where I am somehow the model or at least the one who points to the model or ideal.
  8. Coach — This is a tricky word, but I believe that it lives at the top of this hierarchy.  Typically, in general culture, a coach is a teacher or trainer.  The coach calls the plays, plans the strategy, and is the “boss” of the team.  But in the world of Instructional Coaching, we take a more Rogerian approach to coaching.  The coach is the one who hones, who provides a mirror for reflection.  When coaching takes this form, suddenly the recipient is the primary actor.  YOU decide the goal, the vision.  All that the coach provides is sharpening of a strategy to achieve it or feedback about your success along that pathway.  YOU are the actor both in the mental work and the ensuing action itself.  This is a huge, fundamental shift and one that should not be underestimated.



Check the Picture!

I have heard the phrase “check the picture” many times in my career, and always as a prompt for a beginning reader.  We often ask our kindergarten and first grade readers to “check the picture” in an attempt to solve an unknown word.  They derive content and context from the use of the picture supports.  But today, I watched my teacher friend, Shelley, prompt her students to “check the picture” in math.

The students had just practiced representing numbers in a variety of ways.  They had drawn base-ten blocks, groups, arrays, tally marks and more in attempts to demonstrate their understanding of numbers like 30, 24, and 42.  Then Shelley put a picture on the board and asked the students to create some number sentences to prove or disprove her thinking.  Immediately, the students began creating a wide variety of sentences about the number Shelley had shown them.  And all of the number sentences were correct as far as representing the number itself.  But they didn’t further the understanding that Shelley was seeking with them.  Rather than getting into a guessing game with the children, she simply prompted them: “Check the picture.  Make sure your sentence goes with the picture.”  Suddenly, a flurry of new thinking developed.  Many of the number sentences did NOT match the picture.  Students had to evaluate each of their sentences against the visual on the board.



I attended a feedback workshop at the TLC conference by Joellen Killion.  She asked us to create a definition for ourselves of feedback.   Here was mine:  information that enables the receiver to adjust his/her performance

And now — here was hers: Feedback is a dynamic, dialogic process that uses evidence to engage a learner, internally or with a learning partner, in constructing knowledge about practice and self  (Joellen Killion The Feedback Process p 13)

Some of her key questions included: Who is the expert?  Who is in charge?  Who has the power?

Key terms from her definition included: dynamic, dialogic, process, evidence, learner, learning partner, learning object, constructing knowledge


The rest of my notes from her engaging session are below.


When the knowledge is spoken by the partner/coach rather than the learner, we can be certain that no construction took place.  The learner needs to be the one creating the new knowledge.

very constructivist — feedback cannot simply be “given” and “received”

information vs knowledge — indicative of cognitive demand — knowledge demands work of the learner.

Mary Budd Rowe — wait time

Feedback Typology

  1.  desistance — comes from “desist” — or STOP — coach is in charge, learner is responsible — expectation is obedience, not reasoning why.  Creates a situation like with a two year old — we say stop and the child keeps returning again and again.
  2. Correction — adds the layer of “instead of that, do this” — Book Eat This, Not That — provides instruction or information about the preferred behavior.
  3. approval/disapproval — communicated two ways — verbal and non-verbal (way more is communicated non-verbally)  Coach is doing the work.  learner doesn’t necessarily know WHY the behavior was approved or disapproved.  No criteria evident or available for these first three types.
  4. attribution — Kegan and Lahey — How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work — Says who or what the other person is — using adjectives or attributes  — Implies a criteria but does not communicate it to the learner.  “You are so thoughtful” “You are so stubborn”  Presumes that the coach holds the power and gets to act and produce a reaction.
  5. evaluation — pivot point — in the purest sense — evaluation means giving a score.  It is the judgement of the evaluator, the criteria is not necessarily clear or communicated. Think about High School English — i wrote and essay and I got a B+.  I didn’t know why, but I was graded/evaluated.
  6. assessment — has to have an objective or some declaration of the expectation.  the end result or ideal state must be clear.  Also needs a scale.  Must be able to identify where someone is on the pathway in terms of moving toward the goal. Answers the questions — where are we going?  And Where are we?  I know the gap. Criteria become necessary and public.  Have to be understood by the coach and the learner in some way.  If the learner cannot understand and explain the criteria, then you cannot move any further on this scale.
  7. analysis — knowing the end, knowing where I am, knowing the gap AND understanding the criteria well enough that what needs to be done to close the gap can be identified (might be by the learner or the coach — constructivism requires that it be by the learner.)
  8. construction — the learner is constructing a new understanding. Often something that the learner has never seen or thought before.  How I as an actor in an environment influence the other players and the environment itself. Conclusion or hypothesis drawn is essentially “So, when I…. students will…”
  9. deconstruction — taking the brand new learning and imagine when it won’t work — Under what circumstances might it not be true.  this is when the idea of instructional decision making becomes clear — I could choose X or Y and the reason to choose Y is… and the reason to choose X is….



Literary Essay

Some of our Third Grade teachers have been using Ruby the Copycat to support the work of teaching children how to think about character and create a “baby” literary essay.  We watched the read-aloud of the children’s book and noted character traits and evidence.  Then we wrote one paragraph of the essay together discussing one trait.  Students went on to write an additional two paragraphs about Ruby to create the body of the literary essay.

Scaffolding for Students

I worked with a group of teachers the other day around using the math exemplar problems in their classrooms.  (yes, me, the literacy gal).  We’ve been thinking and talking about how to provide more opportunities for students to work through the inquiry process and to engage in productive struggle to solve a problem.  But as we observed students working with the open-ended inquiry process, we noticed that many of them were not productive, they were just struggling.  Not what we wanted.

At the same time, we were very aware that these students lacked confidence in their own abilities and they had a school history of having learning “handed” to them.  The children were far more accustomed to direct instruction with guided practice than they were to inquiry and investigation.  We did not want to reinforce that proclivity.  We wanted to support the children and to create that PRODUCTIVE kind of struggling with a challenging problem.

We developed a scaffold of support for them.  We did some struggling of our own as we constructed it.  How could we provide “just enough” support, without over supporting them?  How could be push them to work, but ensure that the work would ultimately be successful and productive?

We decided that we would watch the students closely as they worked.  Together we would attempt to identify signs of productivity.  If, after about 3 minutes, a child was clearly unproductive, we would provide the next level of scaffolded support.  If a child was struggling, but appeared to be engaged in productive struggle, we would leave them at their current level of support and check on them again in another 3 minutes of so.

Here’s what we came up with:


  1.  Give them the problem and no support, nothing — simply read the problem and let the kids go.  In effect, we were providing NO support.  We were just allowing space for the struggle.
  2.  Provide a chart for them to identify the numbers they need to find in order to solve the problem.  At this level of the scaffold, we are providing the children with the “outline” for what they need to find or solve in order to be successful with the problem.  But we are NOT providing the ‘how’ or the ‘what’.
  3. Provide a diagram or picture support to scaffold the students’ thinking. At this point, we are providing the ‘how’ of solving the problem.  We are giving the student the diagram or model that provides the answer.  The child still needs to interpret that model and arrive at the correct answer or conclusion, but the work is right there for them.
  4. Provide the answer and ask the students to work backward to prove why that IS the answer.  At this final level of support, we have given them the actual answer.  They already have the chart and the model (from the previous levels — because we are NOT skipping levels of support with them).  They now have to work backwards and re-construct the answer from all that they have.


In Search of Quality Feedback

Several of my schools have been working on a goal of providing quality feedback to students.  We’ve already started using a checklist and asking teachers to self-assess against the checklist.  Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.13.46 AM

Right now, one of my schools is moving to the next step.  Each of my colleagues has set a goal, based on their self-assessment using that checklist.  Then, we’ve worked together to identify three hallmarks of that goal.  We asked ourselves the question: Could it be XYZ if it didn’t have this?  Each teachers list of three hallmarks is different, personalized by them for them.

Now, the teachers are making a series of quick, informal videos of themselves giving feedback to students.  They are scoring these new videos against their three hallmarks.  We’re using a simple check, check, no-check, sort of a system.  Our principal is collecting data from each of us around how often we hit each of our hallmarks and how often we hit the 100% mark.