Does a Checklist Really Work? {Talking with Parents}

Does a Checklist Really Work? {Talking with Parents}

I have been really obsessed with the book “The Checklist Manifesto.”  To say it’s changed my life would be a little wild, but it has definitely changed my perspective.  A lot.

One of the things that I learned about the power of checklists is that is helps us manage the cognitive load of all teachers have to handle in a day/week/month/year.  I mean, we don’t need anyone to tell us that we just have TOO MUCH TO DEAL WITH.

Things gets lost in the shuffle – we forget things that we would ordinarily remember.  We are running around like crazy.  More is definitely not more!

Checklists help us deliver the important stuff reliably across time – I think a series of simple checklists might really be able to help us manage all that we have to do.

As I was writing a new presentation I’m giving on a webinar in few weeks, I really though about what a checklist would look like in real school life, so I’d like to share some ideas with you and see what you think!  I have three to share…here is the first:

Working with/Talking with a Parent


Prior to call, pull any data, notes or information you need to reference


Greet the parent and tell them how happy you are to talk in person/by phone


Confirm the purpose of the call and let the parent know the amount of time you have for the call


Encourage parent to share concern/information related to the purpose of the call


Summarize what you hear the parent saying, “So, I want to make sure I understand what you’re sharing with me…”


Propose 1-2 solutions to the concern or propose 1-2 next steps and have the parent choose which he feels is the best


Confirm with the parent when these solution/next step will take place


Compliment the parent for taking time to work with you – end on a positive
Why Teachers Drop a Skill After Coaching

Why Teachers Drop a Skill After Coaching

A very common question that I get from coaches is this: What do I do when a teacher has been coached in a skill and yet when I get back into the classroom, they’ve dropped or stopped using the skill?

I think that sometimes coaches take this personally – after all, everyone has put a lot of time in effort in coaching and learning a new/updated skill!  But, I find that when I ask myself these three questions, I can usually get to the root of why that’s happened…and, more importantly, I can fix it with the teacher:

  1. Did I break the steps of the skill down to the –nth degree or was the skills we were working on really like five skills rolled up into one?
  2. Did the teacher understand what I wanted him to do? (And a nod of the head isn’t a confirmation…the teacher should be able to fully explain what you want him to do in his own words – make sure to weave this into your debriefing each time!)
  3. Did the teacher simply forget to keep doing it and do we need to add some sort of note on his desk or in his lesson plan book so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle any longer? (Teachers have lots to remember and can simply forget. It happens to all of us!)

The most important thing is to avoid going straight to the line of the thinking that the teacher is stopping the practice on purpose.  By digging just a bit deeper through the questions, you’ll find an even more efficient way to work with a teacher…and it doesn’t have to affect your relationship one bit!



3 “Get Back On Track” Questions for Principals (and an example)

I suffer from good-idea-itis.  I have trouble sorting out the good ideas from the good ideas that are right for my organization.  Can you relate?  When we work with schools, we see a bunch of hugely motivated people often working on the wrong thing.  Or at least the wrong thing for them.  I find that this is a great time to stop and take stock so we don’t spin our wheels all year long and wonder how on earth it happened!

Here are my most helpful “taking stock” questions:

Question 1:  What are you willing to “go big” on?

What is it that is so important, instructionally, that if every teacher improved it just a little bit would make a huge impact on student achievement?


Question 2:  What will you have to do to “go big” on that thing?

  • What will the people need to do?
  • What will you need to do?
  • What will your leadership team have to do?
  • How will teacher teams need to work on this?
  • What materials do you have to get this done?


Question 3: What good ideas will you have to leave behind?

Good ideas WILL need to be left on the table to make room for the really great, important ones.  What are good ideas that you don’t want to give up, but need to, so that you can move forward on the excellent stuff?


Here’s an example of what that might look like in real life!


Question 1:  What are you willing to “go big” on?

We are willing to go big on using instructional aides to teach important skills to the most struggling students during language arts instruction for 40 minutes daily instead of pulling students out to work outside of the classroom teacher’s control.

Question 2:  What will you have to do to “go big” on that thing?

  • We will have to look at the data to determine which grades need the most instructional time with aides right now
  • We will have to adjust schedules in all grade levels
  • We will have to stop using aides to cover classes or duties as needed – will need a permanent solutions to how they “fill in”
  • We will have to find co-planning time with aides and classroom teachers
  • We will have to train instructional aides on very specific techniques for intervening on the foundational skills with the lowest performers
  • We will have to design routines for the aide entering the classroom and getting kids to the right spot so we don’t lose instructional time
  • We will plan to reassess this plan every six weeks and make adjustments

Question 3: What good ideas will you have to leave behind?

  • That our new program will solve every problem we currently have in bringing kids to benchmark in LA
  • That lowering class size/group size is our #1 priority and will make the biggest difference
  • That centers are the answer to grouping kids and providing targeted instruction
  • That by isolating students outside of the classroom in small groups makes them focus even more than if they were peeled off within the classroom
Sample Script from a Teacher Debriefing

Sample Script from a Teacher Debriefing

Teacher Debriefing Script_3-21-16

I find that lots of coaches and principals hit the wall when it comes to debriefing teachers.  They struggle to know how to get into it without it seeming evaluative and overall really weird or awkward feeling.  In the end, coaching a teacher and doing a debriefing (whether you’re a leader or a coach) IS evaluative.  It’s evaluating how efficient and effective the teaching is. When we say “Oh, this is not evaluative,” we’re not totally telling hte truth.

Where we get into trouble with unions, resistant teachers and generally freaked out educators is when we don’t make it clear to people that what we do during the lesson debriefing won’t necessarily end up on their FORMAL evaluation.  There is no way to successfully coach without evaluating how the teaching went.

I have seen that when we can deconstruct the debriefing process with teachers and tell them WHAT it will look like, we find much less resistance.  With less resistance, we can get down and dirty into conversations about how to improve the impact that our teaching has.  And THAT is an on-going conversation that is worth having with every teacher!

In an effort to deconstruct the debriefing, I wanted to share with you a script that I recently used.  I show you each part of the debriefing and label it for you.  I hope that you’ll use it as a script for your future debriefings.  I have found that it is basically fool-proof.  The structure of the script is a sure-thing.

Click here to download the debriefing script and check it out!

Planning for 2016

Planning for 2016

Note: I originally wrote this blog for my weekly subscribers to our list but I thought it might be something that everyone could relate to!  (If you’re not receiving my weekly notes and you think that you might want to check things out, click here)

Well – I took last week off from sending you something new because I was working like crazy to read through the first-round edits for the next book!  It’s coming along, but I always underestimate how long this whole process happens…do you do that?

UGH – you’d think I’d learn!

Well – this weekend is our annual planning conference for my business.  It’s where we plan when I’ll write a new book (my goal is to put out one book per year), when we take vacation (yay!), when I am speaking at conferences, when my team is consulting and training on the road and all that good stuff.

We also have 3 goals for the year (yep – only three for 2016!) and then plot out for each quarter what we need to do to accomplish those three goals.

My motto for 2016 is this: I work only on things that help me reach my goals.  I say no to everything else.

I realize that I have two problems when it comes to staying the course on our goals:

Problem 1: It is not that I don’t do enough, it’s that I do too much of the wrong stuff! 

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about myself recently is that I’m not busy just for busy sake, but that I’m overly busy because I can get really excited and enthusiastic about a lot of things – and those things make their way onto my to-do list and, well, then I’m burning the midnight oil waaaaaaay too much.

I find that one of the skills/habits that I need to build for myself during 2016 is remember to ask this: Am I the only who can do this task?  If so, then how long will it take and does it have to be done today or tomorrow or can it wait until next week?  If the task can be done by someone else, then I need to have someone else do it!

For example, we are putting out a series of videos soon and I need to go through, watch all of the final cuts of the videos (they’re about 45 second long) and make sure that we have the copy right and the appropriate resources attached to the videos.  I have seen the videos a zillion times and created the resources myself, so I know they’re fine.  But, do I need to spot-check everything one last time for about 2 hours total?  Probably not.  I can have someone else do that and let me know if anything needs to be tweaked.

So, then, what do I do with those 2 hours I just got back?  Something that only I can do.  Typically that involves writing new content.  So great – I just gained 2 hours of writing time!

Some may say, “Oh, so Jill just wants to become an expert delegator!” (Which, by the way I am not a good delegator because I really do like the details of things.)

I would fight back on that – I don’t think that I’m trying to just delegate more, I see it as being way more objective about a task and determining who has the best SKILLS and TIME for getting it done.

Problem 2: Saying no.

I like new things.  I like to get excited about an idea and then figure out really quickly how to get it done.  When something goes on too long I tend to lose interest and focus only on getting it done…not necessarily getting it done with a ton of energy.  (This is why I hate meetings that don’t result in doing something!)

The problem is, my goals for my company are not goals that can be done in one weekend.  In fact, the goals are so big that they are going to take all year to accomplish them.  All hands on deck and all year.

So I’m realizing that I have to exercise my “no” muscle.  I don’t really have trouble telling other people no, but I do have trouble telling myself no!  I want to do new things, fun things, big things…but those new, fun, big things get in the way of accomplishing my 3 goals for the year.  They take up time, they allow me to take an off-ramp to other goals that aren’t in line with what I want to accomplish this year.  These things are good – and they oftentimes come with a TON of really great feedback!  The off-ramp things are successful!

But they aren’t aligned with my 2016 goals…so I have to say No.  Maybe just No for now.

So…that’s what I’m thinking about today.  I’m thinking about how I can keep things simple so that I can reach my goals for 2016 and also determine what type of actions led to reaching/meeting those goals.  With too many activities in the mix, I don’t have a way to track which of my actions got results.

And that’s what I’m really interested in this year.

Question of the Week:  What is something you need to stop doing in order to meet your goals for 2016?


If you’re interested in other articles like this, check this and this out!

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