Cheers to 15 Years! (July 1, 2005 to July 1, 2020)

Cheers to 15 Years! (July 1, 2005 to July 1, 2020)

Fifteen years ago today (July 1, 2005) I decided to quit my job and begin my own business helping struggling schools with their literacy practices.  I was already doing that work with another company (CORE), but I kind of thought, “Well, why not me?” and I struck out.

I didn’t know what I was doing back then.  I lived in an apartment and my mom was my banker and my dad was my business advisor.  And my friends were packet staplers and the staff at Fed Ex Office became my best friends because we spent so much time together.

There were major wins along the way (15,000 teachers in one day getting a copy of my third book in their hands…thank you New Mexico!) and there were major losses (thanks, economy for crashing and leaving me holding the bag on conference deposits for events we were hosting!).  There are so many stories I could tell from the hysterical (where I dragged a trash bag on my boot the entire length of the Denver airport without knowing it). To the harrowing (sleeping in a shelter in Gape Girardeau, MO because of tornadoes).

But the thing is, when I really think back over the past 15 years, not much has changed about how I do this work with teachers, coaches and principals.  What guided me 15 years ago, still guides me…maybe it’s even clearer today:

  1. Keep instruction simple
  2. Focus on quality teaching
  3. Cut the fluff
  4. Have some fun doing it

I want to thank you, reader, so much for supporting me along the way through these 15 years.  Without you I couldn’t have done what I have been able to do with my work and with my life.  Here’s to 15 more!

Cheers!

Jill

“Please encourage us!”

“Please encourage us!”

(For context if you’re reading this after 2020, I am writing this during quarantine due to the Coronavirus.  What a time to be an educator.  This email response from a kind, loyal educator just gives us a glimpse into what life is like right now.  It’s tough…but so are we.)

I received this email in response to a newsletter I sent out just asking if anyone needed encouragement.  Quite a few people responded and I was so touched by the fact that they thought I could actually help in some way.  I certainly tried to provide whatever wisdom I had (which is very small…I assure you!)…but, ultimately, I think the best support I can provide anyone right now is perspective.  Look…we aren’t miracle-workers and the last thing any of us needs is more free stuff to do on top of what was already weighing on us before this freaking virus!  Let’s slow down, be methodical and realize that all is not lost or buried even!

Email I received:

Hi Jill,

It’s Samantha (not her real name) from Michigan (but it is her real state!). We did that PD this winter with you. We just found out face to face learning us cancelled for the rest of the year….If you could share some encouraging words to the staff that would be great.

Thank you!

My attempt at an encouraging response:

Hi Samantha!  Of course I remember the PD we did together…that was fun and you guys were a great group!

Ugh…face-to-face teaching being canceled feels like a punch in a gut a bit…our governor announced the same thing yesterday and I think it makes things feel terminal like they’re never going to change.  BUT THEY WILL.

Here is my encouragement to you (and to me, too, if I am honest!):

  • Don’t try to be super teacher/super coach – you are not being judged by your output…your compassion and timing and just touching base with teachers/students is going to be what your highest priority is
  • Realize that your students received A LOT of great face-to-face instruction already in the school year…YOU ARE NOT AT ZERO….you have a whole bunch of teaching foundation that you built already
  • Focus on 1-2 things that you want kids to strengthen skill-wise and make that a priority over the REST OF THE SCHOOL YEAR.  To be honest, we are not going to do our best teaching to every single one of our kids through Zoom.  So, set out to just strengthen a couple of skills that will be a great set-up for the next grade level.  TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF OF YOURSELF
  • Honestly?  Unfollow on social media the people who make you feel like you’re not doing enough as a teacher.  I had to unfollow a woman that I really admire because I was feeling like such a loser because I hadn’t cooked some meals from scratch and itemized my day completely on the second day of quarantine.  We don’t need that pressure!  (And by the way, I’m at about Day 20 of quarantine and I haven’t done either…and I don’t need a stranger to make me feel badly!
  • Finally…daily remind yourself of this: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING SO THERE IS ODD COMFORT IN THIS! (HA!…BUT SO TRUE!)

And then some coaching advice to you:

  • Send an email out to your teachers that asks them two questions:
    • What are you most overwhelmed by right now?
    • How can I help?
    • …and then set out to help them on the thing that is most overwhelming them right now.  Helping others will make you feel so useful and will be so appreciated by your staff.

Let me know how you guys are doing…I am here!

J


What do you think?  Can you relate to Samantha?  Do you need some coaching practicality in your life?  Then, check this out.  It’s right up your alley.

My #1 Most Valuable Management Technique

My #1 Most Valuable Management Technique

So, I’ve held out long enough on you.  (Come closer…I have a secret to tell you…)

I have the magic bullet.

Yep – the holy grail of teaching techniques.

Uh huh.

The one technique that will save you time, save your sanity, help you teach more content, lessen your frustration and generally make you happier!  🙂

Actually, I might be over-exaggerating…just a little.

After visiting 1000s of classrooms over the last 13 years, I’ve realized that this one tip can save you (and this is true) a ton of time over the course of the year.  Here it is:

Avoid giving directions until you have all eyes on you.

Why?  Then you don’t have to go around and keep repeating yourself a zillion times to those students who didn’t listen in the beginning!  Try it!  It works like a CHARM!

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If you like things that are simple and work like a charm, then you’ll be like a kid in a candy store here.

I got REJECTED by Learning Forward! (Part 2)

I got REJECTED by Learning Forward! (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two part article about my rejection (ha!). If you want to read the first part, check this out!

Email I just got regarding an article I submitted…

Hi Jill, 

Thank you for submitting your article to The Learning Professional – we appreciate your interest in publishing with Learning Forward.

I am sorry to say we won’t be able to publish your article in an upcoming issue of our magazine. Reviewers read your article, “The most expensive instructional coaching mistake,” and appreciated reading your article. However, we’re afraid we don’t have a place for your article at this time.     

Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes in your work on behalf of kids.

Christy

Here’s Part 2 of the article that got DENIED!  

So, I have tried to get really practical in working around the coaching slip and here are 3 coaching questions I ask before, during and after a coaching cycle. They have really helped me button down the next step and get it into regular teaching rotation:

Question 1: Is the coaching correction/feedback linked to something that matters to the teacher?

One of the toughest parts of coaching for me is finding the exact starting point for each teacher. We know we can’t just do a one-size-fits-all approach and start everything in the same spot. I constantly ask myself is how is the teacher’s attitude toward coaching? Is the teacher open to it? I she hesitant? Depending on how the teacher is feeling about coaching, I might start slowly by going together to observe a master teacher for 10-15 minutes or we might be ready to just jump in to observation or side-by-side coaching.

Once I determine the approach for coaching a teacher, I have to get down to business and start figuring out what the content for that coaching cycle should be. I think about whether the teacher is struggling with foundational teaching skills like classroom management or engagement or simple lesson planning. If so, then starting off with a focus on high-level questioning techniques during teaching isn’t going to hit the spot.

When we coach with a carefully crafted mix of approach and content focus, we create a right-fit coaching cycle that allows for whatever support the teacher truly needs at that moment to be the thing they’re left with in the debriefing. This increases the odds that they’ll follow through on our coaching notes because it solved a real problem and hit the spot completely.

I often tell the coaches that I have the opportunity to coach that they need to “go for the immediate win” with a teacher. What does this mean and why does it matter? Well, the immediate win is something small but powerful.

For example, I recently helped a coach support one of her teachers in just working on how to start a lesson with authority (all eyes on the teacher, the teacher waits until everyone has quieted down, etc.). They worked on this for a few weeks together until the teacher felt like she really had a much stronger sense of authority in the classroom…and it was obvious in the students, too. This was something so tiny in theory, but a powerful improvement in her teaching that affected every single moment of her teaching day. This was such a simple coaching win, but grew the teacher’s confidence by miles in just a few weeks. After the teacher sees that the coach is offering next steps that really transform teaching, she is much more excited about coaching again.

The immediate, small win on something that matters to the teacher initially builds a great foundation for future coaching. And the teacher has already seen how impactful carrying through on the coach’s suggestions is, so the follow-through is a priority.

Question 2: Did I break the steps of the skill down to the –nth degree?

If I am seeing that a teacher isn’t implementing the coaching work long-term I need to determine if I was too broad in my feedback. When I was first coaching I remember saying to a teacher, “Let’s work really hard on increasing your student engagement.” Um…not helpful at all. And I bet the teacher was thinking, “If I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t need a genius like you!” To say that I had given the broadest coaching advice was an understatement! (And broad support isn’t helpful…and it certainly doesn’t stick.)

So, I have learned to walk through this little checklist in my head when I am debriefing a teacher:
• Does this thing I am asking the teacher to do give almost immediate results? (This will ensure that they want to keep doing it over and over again.)
• Is this thing that I am asking the teacher to do easily understandable given the teacher’s current professional development on the topic? (This will ensure that they can get started right away.)
• Did I have the teacher put this action in his or her own words? (This will ensure that you do any clean-up or refocusing on the spot and avoid wasting the teacher’s time.)

So, instead of giving broad advice like “let’s work on improving student engagement,” I provide very specific coaching next steps like this: I know that you’re really frustrated by the fact that half of your class is paying attention and half of your class seems to be checked out, so let’s get really practical about how we can train your entire class to engage in your lessons in a really upbeat way. I’d like to start by looking at making sure that understand what an engaged student looks like. How about I model a little 10 minute introduction I give at the beginning of every school year that outlines what I expect of a fully engaged student. I’ll teach them how I want them to act when I give directions, when I am having them take notes, when I am having them turn and talk during a lesson and, finally, how they should engage when they are working independently. While I demonstrate that, let’s have you take notes and then we’ll review the notes and determine which of the expectations you want to start with and we’ll get that one in place right away so that you see how it works wonders!

I try to remind myself that simple compliance or a nod of the head isn’t a confirmation that the teachers understand what I am talking about. I need to be talking openly with the teacher around the next steps in order for it to stick long term.

Question 3: Do I need to create a simple remind with the teacher so that the most important coaching next steps don’t get lost in the shuffle?

Throughout all of my years of coaching, I realize that sometimes the simplest solutions to big problems (like a lack of coaching that sticks) are super simple and practical. In the case of a lack of follow-through in the coaching work, sometimes I need to build-in a very tangible reminder system. (And I use the term “system” very loosely, as these are hardly sophisticated…but they work!)

So…what does a simple reminder system for your coaching next steps look like?
• It could look like a series of sticky notes that are placed in the upcoming weeks in the lesson plan book
• It could look like an Outlook calendar reminder that pops up on the day the teacher typically lesson plans
• It could even be something programmed into the teacher’s phone as a reminder to include the technique you shared as a next step during your coaching
• It could be an email reminder that you program into your email system to auto-send to the teacher each Monday for 4 weeks
• It could be a simple lesson planning checklist that you add the most important coaching information to so that the teacher can check his lesson plans to see that nothing has been dropped inadvertently

When I began to take responsibility for making my coaching stick longer than the debriefing, I saw that I was able to double down on my coaching impact. Instead of waiting for the already-overloaded teacher to follow-through flawlessly, I realized that I could increase the odds for implementation after a coaching cycle by purposely focusing on things that mattered and then giving them very specific ways to remember those things that mattered.

When we help our teachers prioritize the simple things that transform their teaching through our coaching relationships, we help secure and reinforce all of the professional development and coaching work we have done. Coaching feels like an absolute necessity to teachers when we are using their time well and they are seeing our coaching work as an essential part of their professional development. Once teachers see and feel the effects of our coaching on their long-term teaching, they are so open and ready for more. That is the sweet spot for any instructional coach.

What do you think?

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If you like what you read so far, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like this and this, too!

I got REJECTED by Learning Forward! (Part 1)

I got REJECTED by Learning Forward! (Part 1)

Email I just got regarding an article I submitted…

Hi Jill, 

Thank you for submitting your article to The Learning Professional – we appreciate your interest in publishing with Learning Forward.

I am sorry to say we won’t be able to publish your article in an upcoming issue of our magazine. Reviewers read your article, “The most expensive instructional coaching mistake,” and appreciated reading your article. However, we’re afraid we don’t have a place for your article at this time.     

Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes in your work on behalf of kids.

Christy

Here’s Part 1 of the article that got DENIED!   (I chopped it into two parts since it’s a bit long!)

Title: The Most Expensive Instructional Coaching Mistake
Author: Jill Jackson
Theme: Demystifying coaching
Month: December 2019
Word Count: 2030
Contact Information:
Jill Jackson
Jackson Consulting, Inc.
(626) 827-4469
556 S. Fair Oaks Ave 364
Pasadena, CA 91105
Fax: (888) 586-4862

Speaker and Author:
·        Get a Backbone, Principal!
·        Get Some Guts, Coach!
·        How to Teach Students to Critically Think About Text
·        How to Coach Teachers to Teach Almost Anything
·        How to Teach Students to Write Informational Text
·        The Simplified Lesson Planning Formula

Learning Forward Standards:
·        Learning Communities: Engage in Continuous Improvement; Develop Collective Responsibility; Create Alignment and Accountability
·        Leadership: Develop Capacity For Learning And Leading; Advocate For Professional Learning; Create Support Systems And Structures
·        Learning Designs: Promote Active Engagement
·        Implementation: Sustain Implementation; Provide Constructive Feedback

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Most Expensive Instructional Coaching Mistake

Do you remember that Ron Popeil infomercial from long ago?  He demonstrated how you could put a chicken in this contraption that sat on your countertop and just “Set it and forget it?”  He instructed you to put the bird in his contraption, turn it on and walk away…and voila!  Dinner is served.

Well…ol’ Ron Popeil had it right about chicken, but the “Set it and forget it” motto doesn’t extend to every part of life…that’s for sure!  Take, for example, the world of instructional coaching and the practice of leading teachers to make small tweaks and adjustment to their teaching to improve its effect on students.

As coaches, we pre-conference, find our focus and determine where we’ll head with the coaching cycle.  We take notes and debrief the teacher about what we’ve seen, we reflect and ultimately our work results in the teacher taking action. In fact, the real action begins after the coaching cycle because the teacher carries the next step from the coaching cycle to the real-life classroom.

And it’s often at this point that we make the costliest coaching mistake: We leave the teacher on his/her own to implement the thing from the debriefing…essentially “setting it and forgetting it” at the most crucial follow-up point.

This leads to one of my top 3 most-asked coaching questions:  What do I do when a teacher has been coached in a skill and yet when I get back into the classroom, they’ve stopped using the skill or strategy?

As a coach, I can take this really personally…and even chalk it up to “resistance” when it actually isn’t.  One of the biggest lessons I learned in coaching came when I asked a teacher just why she didn’t keep on doing the things that she agreed to do in response to the data from our coaching cycle.

“I forgot.”

I mean it was really that simple?  It felt to me that it was almost passive aggressive or personal…like she dumped the literacy strategy we had worked on together or had made a conscious decision to stop using it.  I even questioned whether she had used it beyond our debriefing!  Was she just playing the coaching game to get me out of her hair?

As it turns out, she simply forgot to use the technique.  It truly was that simple.

Now, as a coach, I couldn’t imagine how she could forget to use it because it is really all I am focusing on with her.  But when I stepped into her shoes, I realized that I had a lot of competition in keeping her attention during coaching!  After all, she also had a math coach, was team lead for her grade level and was also balancing both a new science curriculum and math intervention program.  She was beyond busy and totally inundated with things she had to do…and had so little time to thoughtfully take it all in.

When I asked her if she forgot to use the technique from our coaching cycle because it didn’t work she told me that, in fact, it actually DID work!  She really liked it and found the strategy helpful.  But when she went to plan for the next week’s lessons, she was overcome by the sheer amount of content she had to incorporate and the technique we worked on just flew out of her mind.

The problem with this phenomena (and I see in nearly every school) is that is costs so much time and so must loss of momentum.  We spend the time on excellent coaching content and then when it doesn’t stick, we have to go back and re-do everything.  And no one has time for that.

And here’s the deal: it fatigues the teacher as well.  The teachers feels like she spent all this time in a coaching cycle just to end up doing the same thing over and over again, even though she has full control of what is implemented in her classroom…or not!

….PART 2 IN THE NEXT BLOG.  What do you think?

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If you like what you read so far, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like this and this, too!

Why we teach comprehension skills/strategies…DUH!?!

Why we teach comprehension skills/strategies…DUH!?!

For those of you who have heard me speak in person, you know that I come from a complete place of humility about teaching.  Throughout my speaking gigs, I say, “I didn’t have a clue about this when I taught!” or “All of my former students are probably in prison because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing!”  (And I kind of mean it!)

One of the things that I realize now is that I taught stuff because it was on the curriculum map. I taught stuff because it was in the curriculum.  I taught stuff because my colleagues were teaching that same stuff.

What I missed (nearly completely, I think!) was to teach kids the WHY behind what I was teaching them.

I think we’re missing a MAJOR why as we teach kids to think deeply about what they’ve read…let me give you an example.  (For this example I’m using figurative language but you can substitute ANY comprehension strategy/skill and you’ll get the idea!)

Level 1 (I’m calling these levels, but it’s just something I made up so don’t go googling it – it’s not a “thing”)

I am going to teach you how to find figurative language in the text

Level 2

I am going to teach you to determine which type of figurative you’ve found

Level 3

I’m going to teach you how to use figurative language for comprehension

But the BIG “DUH!?” MOMENT FOR ME?

Level 4

I’m going to teach you why an author uses figurative language and that reason is because the use of figurative language helps highlight the most important points in the text.  In other words, the devices the author uses are like big red flags that say, “Pay attention to what I wrote here!” or “Watch this – this is really important information!’

So…..I didn’t do that when I taught.  I didn’t know how to teach kids to think, ‘Hey – the author used figurative language to highlight some important information here…I better pay attention.”

The structure of the text, the language the author uses, the features of the text…all of those things and many more are TOOLS that the author uses to help the read organize their thoughts and content and pay attention to the information that matters.

Well – oh my gosh.  We’ve got a whole bunch of kids running around who are able to identify figurative language but who have no idea HOW to use figurative language to understand what the author is trying to say at that point in the text.

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If you found this practical thinking article the least bit helpful, then you’ll probably like this too.