(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:
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.
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!
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.
As you probably know by now from all of my writing-related postings of late, I’m obsessively thinking about writing. It is a topic that I used to tiptoe around because I didn’t have a clue as to how to teach it. But now I’ve constructed the skill of writing, and I feel so much more confident in talking about it – phew!
One of the things that’s in the front of my new book is a roadmap (Side note: The graphic is so cool – and I love looking at it!) that shows the questions that a writer asks along the path to completing a writing project. It’s simple, but I believe that is boils the informational text teaching down to exactly what kids need to know how to do – without fluff.
Here are the questions and the relating skills that students need to know how to ask and do as they write informational text. This chart simulates the steps in the thinking of successful writers and links it to the skills that help “answer” that question.
||What do I want to tell the reader?
||Teach students how to Brainstorm and Content Map
||How do I approach my writing so that I can have the biggest impact on my reader?
||Teacher students how to Setting a Formal Tone
||How do I logically order my ideas so my most important points are obvious to the reader?
||Teach students to Organize Their Writing and Outline
||How do I grab the reader’s attention?
||Teach students to Write a Thesis
||How do I format my writing in a way that highlights my most important information?
||Teach students to Format Text
||How do I create a natural flow of ideas so that my writing is easy to read?
||Teach students to Develop a Topic and Create Transitions
||How do I make an impact on the reader and compel him to do something after he’s done reading?
||Teach students to Write a Conclusion
||How do edit my writing for ideas, connections and mechanics?
||Teach students to Revise, Edit and Proofread
If you found this remotely helpful, then you’ll find this infinitely helpful!
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.
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!
If you like things that are simple and work like a charm, then you’ll be like a kid in a candy store here.
One of the things that I’ve become really aware of lately is how much time is wasted in schools on things that really don’t have a big enough impact on kids to make them worthwhile. Some examples of things that I think take up a TON of time and don’t have a huge return on the investment:
- Staff meetings where we review things that are already written down somewhere
- Elaborate newsletters and parents notes that barely get read by parents because they’re so overwhelming and generally TMI
- Professional development where there is no expectation of anyone doing anything once they’ve attended
- Most emails from anyone about anything
- Parent conferences where we tell every parents the same thing…but just meet with them individually because it makes us feel like we’re doing something
But the one time-waster that I hear about 97.13341329480981234% of folks talking about and referring to? PLCs.
For those of you who have somehow escaped the hype, PLC refers to Professional Learning Community. When I ask what a PLC does, things start to get murky.
Here’s what I’ve heard:
- PLCs are the place where we talk about student data (My thought: So then why do you have PLCs AND data meetings? Aren’t they the same thing?)
- PLCs are the place where we don’t name kids by name (My thought: So then what on earth do you say? “Student X, who shall remain nameless, needs intervention for something that we can’t talk about.”????)
- PLCs are different from staff meetings, professional development and team or department meetings (My thought: Then why can’t anyone explain to me HOW they’re different? Or better yet…why they’re different?)
- PLCs require a lot of training (My thought: I talk to hundreds of folks who have been to PLC training for days in another state and come back and can’t answer the on-the-ground who/what/when/where/why/how questions about it.)
- PLCs are not for lesson planning (My thought: If perfecting lesson planning is a major way to improve the quality of our instruction, then why on earth would be meet not talk about lesson planning and lesson results? Or better yet DO THE WORK that prepares us to teach well?
- PLCs are the safe place where teachers can come together and talk about new ideas and try new things (My thought: I’m all for this! But I think know that trust is built while we do the work and by talking about the work, we aren’t doing the work, so how do we build a safe place for teachers to try things when we don’t get around to doing those things
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Because I’m starting to sound like I hate PLCs. I don’t. I mean, I might hate them…if I knew what they were!
Here’s the real deal: I think PLCs are the new name for something we’ve wanted teachers to do for a long time: work together to make the job of teaching kids do-able and spend a lot of time putting their heads together to think of logical ways to teach kids things so they learn them and retain them and do really well on assessments that show what they know and in life in general.
But I think that title is a little too long? We could do what us educators do really well: give it an acronym! WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG.
If all we wanted teachers to do is WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG (I’m laughing just typing that!), then why do we make it so fussy and difficult! And even more importantly, why don’t the people who have to do PLCs each week know what a PLC is and what it should look like when it’s running well?
I have added PLCs to my list of things that are huge time wasters on school campuses because I don’t see that we have consensus about what they are and why we do them. Anything that doesn’t have purpose and an outcome or something to go and do because of the meeting is a huge waste of time, in my experience. I think it’s easy to say “we are doing PLCs” or “we are having our PLC” but what I’d really love to hear is “I can’t WAIT until our PLC where we can discuss ____________________________” or “My PLC isn’t going to BELIEVE how my kids knocked that last quiz out of the part because I changed my lesson in X way.”
But I don’t hear that.
I think that PLCs have an identity problem that’s leading to a lack of meaning. And an identity problem can lead people to wonder, “Okay…but…what’s the POINT?”
I kind of wonder that when I’m thinking about how our clients and other educators I run into use PLCs. I guess that’s the real question: What are we using PLCs for? To talk about kids? To talk about teaching? To talk about school climate? To talk about assessments?
I guess what I would love to see happen every single day in schools is this:
Teachers getting together for WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG…remember that good, ol’ fashioned, simple acronym I shared above?
What does WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG look like?
- Teachers meet to talk about kids
- Teachers look at data to be able to talk about kids
- Teachers spend some time talking about how recent professional development will help them solve problems or concerns about data
- Teachers spend time talking about how implementing the stuff they learned from professional development should have impact on their kids
- Teachers spend time sketching out how they will do the thing from professional development with their kids
- Teachers set a time limit to try the new thing they’ll do to solve problems or concerns about the data
- Teachers pick a time to come back and bring their data a check-up on how it went
Why do I think that this plan works?
- Because it’s focused on the thing that we have control over (what the kids do, what we do)
- Because it’s focused on doing things, not just talking about them
- Because it’s an honest plan (we use the data, not just how we feel about things, to determine what we need to work on and what’s worked
- Because it focuses on the thing that is most important on school campuses (the quality of the teaching)
- Because it takes the magnitude of making changes in the classroom less dramatic (we talk more like, “Let’s try this thing for two weeks and come back and report how it went.” Nothing’s permanent unless it’s working and we make it permanent)
- Because it’s built upon the idea that teaching is flexible…it’s experimental to a certain degree
- Because it puts the control in teachers’ hands
I mean it’s not really about PLCs…it’s about thoughtful use of time we have with colleagues. If time is so limited (in fact, it is the #1 thing that teachers tell me about what makes their jobs challenging), then I think we have to be especially choosy about how we spend the time we do have. I think that the practice of collaboration (PLCs or otherwise!) is a great place to start analyzing.
I’d like to encourage you to start by asking your teammates this question…
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Are we talking about the right things during our meetings or are we just talking about things?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to waste time, then you’ll appreciate this!
Click here to watch the video right now
You guys. I used to SKIP TEACHING WRITING ALL OF THE TIME because I didn’t know how to do it well. It was like, “Oh, we have an assembly in 20 days from now…I better now teach writing today.” (I’m exaggerating only a little.)
No one wants to teach what they don’t know how to teach well.
And it even cropped up in my training work because teachers had a lot of questions about teaching writing, but I side-stepped them when I was really wishing I felt confident enough to help them on a real practical level. Well that all changed for me when the Common Core Standards came to be (love ’em or hate ’em, those standards forced me to learn a lot about things I should’ve already known!).
I did some digging on the writing research and how much writing instruction needed to change. Spoiler alert: how I was taught to teach writing in college (however minimal) isn’t going to serve our students well.
So…I did a lot of work to figure out an alternative! that would literally double the impact of my writing instruction. I hope this helps you as much as it has freed me!
If you’re looking for practical resources related to doubling your writing impact, then this ought to help!
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
I am going to teach you to determine which type of figurative you’ve found
I’m going to teach you how to use figurative language for comprehension
But the BIG “DUH!?” MOMENT FOR ME?
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.
If you found this practical thinking article the least bit helpful, then you’ll probably like this too.