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What’s the Deal with this Blog, Anyway? | For Teachers, Coaches, Principals, and District Leaders

What’s the Deal with this Blog, Anyway? | For Teachers, Coaches, Principals, and District Leaders

As I am sure you’ve noticed, we’re coming out with some blog posts about some of the most important topics in teaching, ones that you’re talking about right now.

These blog posts are 100% in response to questions that you are asking! This blog is a place for us to break down the most important questions you are facing today.

So, when you see these posts pop up in your email or on our website or social media, know that they are responses to questions coming from educators just like you! If you have a question, feel free to leave a comment on them and we will work towards a future post that will address that topic.

Hopefully through comments on the post it will also lead to a place where educators can engage with each other on the topic and BRING RELIEF TO EDUCATORS!  (That’s our tagline by the way!)

We also want to make sure that we are giving you timely content with this blog! Content that is not only relevant and applicable, but also delivered to you in a quick and easy way. A fast read that is understandable, so you can read it quickly, engage in comments, but most importantly take it RIGHT back to your classroom and with YOUR students.

That is our passion.

For more help and tips on how to better your teaching practice, please check out our books. Books can be found at amazon.com or at our store.

What’s the Deal with this Blog, Anyway? | For Teachers, Coaches, Principals, and District Leaders

Discipline vs Redirection in the Classroom | For Teachers, Coaches, and Principals

I often hear a lot of teachers talking about their kids like:

Oh, my kids were so bad today!

Or

We had the worst day, I was just disciplining all day long.

But often what they are REALLY talking about is redirecting kids, and that’s just a general part of classroom management!

It does not mean things are going wrong. It means you are working with kids.

Redirecting kids is saying things like:

  • You know what, instead of doing this, I’d like you to do this right now
  • Guys, I’m going to wait for everybody to have their eyes on me before I give the next direction

Those are examples of good, solid classroom management practices!

Disciplining kids is when kids have not followed the management stuff and you have to give them consequences.

So today, this week, as you are teaching, what I want you to think about is: 

What am I doing to redirect kids without having to lead to full-blown discipline?

For more help and tips on how to better your teaching practice, please check out our books. Books can be found at amazon.com or at our store.

Urgent Letter to School Principals and Leaders

Urgent Letter to School Principals and Leaders

To School Principals and Instructional Leaders at the District Level,

I write this to you as we are on our umpteenth day of quarantine, trying to get back to some semblance of normal…whatever that means anymore!

As I’ve taken a couple of weeks to just watch what schools and districts are doing to gear up for a long time of no students in the schools, something has emerged that really concerns me.  DEEPLY CONCERNS ME.  And I think you need to know it and recognize it, if this describes you.

I am seeing educators scrounging for more materials, more daily schedules, more portals for more activities to do with kids via Zoom, more teaching plans, more online resources…MORE MORE MORE.

Hmmmmm…this sounds a LOT like what we have tried to get away from: confusing and overwhelming teachers.

Before we had even heard of the coronavirus and Covid-19, we had issues in schools: we had overcomplicated things to the point where teachers were overwhelmed and students weren’t performing anywhere near where they need to be.  But now with this wild time of eLearning and distance learning that was literally shoved upon in one fell swoop, we are back at it with TOO MUCH STUFF.

Let me be very clear: when someone feels like they’re drowning (which is what trying to homeschool your own kids while doing Zoom lessons with your class students must feel like), the last thing they need is more water.

I want you to hear me loud and clear: THEY DO NOT NEED MORE STUFF.

In an effort to be a kind but stern fairy godmother as you are navigating this time, I’ve put together some things I recommend you STOP doing and some things I recommed you START doing.

Here’s what I want you to STOP doing as a way to save and stabilize your teaching staff:

  • Stop keeping up with the Joneses and trying to be leader of the year by giving your teachers more resources.  They don’t need them.
  • Stop sending out another “helpful” resource when you come across it online.  It’s not helpful. It’s not received with joy, even though you intended it that way.
  • Stop buying access for your teachers to portals of new activities and teach-from-home shortcuts.  They don’t have time to decipher what to use and what not to use.
  • Stop acting like teaching from home takes a different skill set than teaching face-to-face.  Yes, the technology might be new, but teachers still have to have a management system, they have to engage their kids and they have to teach explicitly.  None of that has changed one bit.

Here’s what I want you to START doing as a way to save and stabilize your teaching staff:

  • Check in with each teacher via email or phone and ask: “What is the most frustrating thing right now for you and how can I help?”  They need relief…and it doesn’t come in the form of more worksheets or online games.
  • Send an email to your teachers and remind them of these foundational elements of teaching that they already know and how important they STILL are in our current circumstances
    • Greet the students by name on the beginning of each Zoom – let them know you see them…literally!
    • At the start of each lesson, review the behavior rules – they haven’t changed since we were in regular school
    • Give kids structured stand up and stretch breaks a bit more often during the lesson because they are working harder to stay engaged
    • This is not the time to be teaching everything new…see our safe-at-home orders as an opportunity to reivew and solidify the most important skills – that’ll be a huge win if you do just that
    • Be excited to see your students – that joy is contagious
    • Go take a nap.  This is hard.  These are muscles we haven’t flexed before and it’s new.

This is not a time for heroics, this is a time and opportunity to simplify.  Show your teachers it is more than okay to do just that.

(And you go take a nap, too.  This is hard hard work.)

With love and so much admiration,

Jill Jackson

(who is also taking naps even though she isn’t doing the heavy lifting like you are!)

“Get Back On Track” Questions for school leaders (and an example)

“Get Back On Track” Questions for school leaders (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

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If you found this post helpful, you’ll probably really find this and this helpful, too!

For The Instructional Coach Or Principal Who Feels Less Successful Than They Are

For The Instructional Coach Or Principal Who Feels Less Successful Than They Are

I recently facilitated a pretty tough conversation between a principal, coach and the staff.  Before they talked with the staff about how they were going to ‘right’ the coaching ship, we scripted what they were going to say and then practiced it a bunch of times.

Here was the basic outline of what the principal and coach shared with the staff:

“Staff, I want to take a few minutes to talk about our coaching plan.  First off, I want to acknowledge that I have done a pretty weak job in the past at setting up the coaching role. 

Our greatest asset on campus is our team of teachers and in order for us to increase how well and how effectively we teach, we need to continue to hone our craft.  This is where Bonnie comes in.  Bonnie was hired as our coach three years ago.  At first, I don’t think any of us had a clue what to do with her!  I know Bonnie would agree! 

When I first rolled out to you the idea that we were going to have a coach, I realized that some of you were less-than-excited and instead of explaining what the coaching would look like, I assumed (incorrectly) that when Bonnie showed up, everyone would be on board.

So, in her first few weeks she visited classes and got to know your kids and you a bit better.  Soon after, we pulled her from her coaching roll often to cover for teachers when we couldn’t find subs – I remember even asking her to cover the phones when we were short on office staff. 

Obviously, this is not what the role of the coach is designed for.  The longer time went on, the more Bonnie would try to get into your classrooms, but it was difficult for her because it appeared that you were not open to coaching.  Let me be very clear: I am not surprised that you appeared disinterested or resistant to the coaching.  After all, I gave you absolutely no context for what was expected of you…and Bonnie. 

I want to apologize for handling coaching poorly…and for letting it go on so long.  I also must apologize to Bonnie, as I was not supportive of her in the way that I need to be in order to get the results from coaching that we are expecting.

So, I ask you to allow me to hit the ‘reset’ button on our coaching process.   Our scores have shown that we are doing a lot of things really well for our kids instructionally.  Recent data has shown that our struggling students in Reading and Math are continuing to struggle – we are having difficulty moving that group of students.  I see this as a very important focus area for our coaching from this point out.

Over the next two staff meetings, I have asked Bonnie to share with you the role of the coach, the flow of the coaching, the timeline for coaching and what she sees as a logical place to start with each of you.  Please know that I have asked and do expect Bonnie to be working with each of you regularly. 

Some teachers might meet with Bonnie more often and some less often, but everyone on our campus will receive coaching from Bonnie.  How you are coached will be up to Bonnie and you – she has a structure for how to do this.

I appreciate your taking all of this information into consideration and allowing us to start fresh with our coaching work.  We know that the most powerful form of professional development is coaching – and we want to be using our coach in ways that have the greatest impact. 

While coaching might not be easy and it might require additional time from you, it is a major tool that we will use to continue to improve our service to our kids.”

What do you think?  Is there a principal on your team who needs a do-over?

If you liked this, I bet you’d want to check this out!

Instructional Coaches And Principals Who Want to Quit Work Some Day

Instructional Coaches And Principals Who Want to Quit Work Some Day

Have you had someone from your instructional coaching team tell you that they weren’t quite sure if this is the right fit for them?

I find that those kinds of conversations usually come out of a frustration with crabby teachers…people who make coaching a real trial for whatever reason.  It’s disheartening for a coach who is enthusiastic and excited about making a big splash on student achievement by working with the teachers.

Here’s a recent question I had from a frustrated coach…I wonder if this is something you might want to share with your coaching team as they think about the new school year?

Coach: I have been coaching in a building that held a lot of resistant staff. I think I have been focusing too much on them and not enough on those that are open to coaching. I have to report to my district leaders every month about who, and how often, I have 1:1 coaching sessions.

I think I’m so worried about the district seeing that I may never have those 1:1’s with some teachers. I feel like if I’m not coaching everyone I will be seen as a failure to my leaders. So, I invest a lot of energy trying to make those opportunities happen instead of spending more of my time with those few that want coaching.

My response: I think you’re right on.  It’s important for us to think about the long-term big picture, but we have to deal with things in the here and now.  (I try to remember this is in my own life, too!)  Yes – focus on the teachers that you can make movement with.  You’ll become more and more confident in coaching while you’re helping people who really want it. 

As you build confidence (even if you’re already confident, we can always learn more tricks of the coaching trade!), you’ll be even better at dealing with those who are more unwilling.  I often tell coaches to “Go for the joy!” – go for the win, build some excitement and then tackle the tough stuff!

What do you think?  Is there a member of your instructional coaching team that needs your encouragement on this?

If this resonates with you, check out what we’re doing next!