Coaching Teaching: What your education professors didn’t tell you


Your college professors never taught you how to be taught or how coaching teaching is CRITICAL for all of us.  They only taught you how to teach. (And some of us have probably wondered whether we were actually taught THAT!) 

One thing that I never heard and wish I had is that I need on-going refinement of my teachingI’m never “there” and am constantly in the state of arriving…never arrived.

Now that doesn’t have to be a negative thing (being in the constant state of arriving or never being “there”)…it’s just something that we need to work with by building support into our daily teaching lives.  We find in education (and I’m sure countless other professions) that in order for us to be constantly refining our practice and refining the power of our teaching, we all need to be connected to a coach

Now that coach could be an instructional coach, could be a mentor, could be a peer…it doesn’t really matter what we call ‘em, as long as we call!

So, instead of the typical coaching article that focuses on how coaches can coach teachers, I thought we might look at it from a different perspective this week: As a teacher, how do I interact with and learn from my coach?

As someone who has been and is being coached, I’ve learned about how important it is to ask the right questions of my coach and be open to responses and refinement points, even when I might feel a little defensive or feeling like I need to explain myself. 

So here are a few questions to ask your coach when you’re working together – it will help you refine the roles in the coaching relationship so that you can improve your performance…after all, that’s the WHOLE point of being coached!

Question 1: What will it LOOK LIKE when I’ve implemented what you’re suggesting?  What should I be doing?  What should the kids be doing?

Question 2: Can we get together and plan for the lesson?  (All good lessons start with a strong planning session and leave nothing up to chance!)

Question 3: Can you show me what that looks like with my kids?

Question 4: Can you give me immediate feedback?  (Immediate = timely = immediate alteration of practice)

Question 5: Are there any of my colleagues that you think I should see doing this technique?

Coaches typically are highly trained, but oftentimes they take full responsibility and ownership of the coaching when, in fact, it’s a relationship-driven responsibility of both the coach and teacher.  I have seen that teachers who regularly take initiative to be coached have proven to have a better handle on how and what to teach the kids.  GO figure!

So my question for you is this: What do you need to be coached on and who will you reach out to as you improve your practice?  RIGHT NOW leave your responses in the comment section below…we all can support each other but we’ve got to get PUBLIC about what we’re working on!

URGENT: The Dr.’s Prescription for your “It would be nice if”- Syndrome

We’re suffering.  From something that’s totally treatable.  But we have to act fast.

What ails us?

It’s the “It would be nice if”- syndrome.

Here’s what it sounds like:

  • It would be nice if I had more prep time
  • It would be nice if the grade level before us would actually teach the kids what they need to know for my grade level
  • It would be nice if the kids would actually do their homework
  • It would be nice if I could have more aide time
  • It would be nice if we didn’t have to have all those walk-throughs during my teaching

Here’s the problem with the “It would be nice if”- syndrome:

  • It’s built around talking – not action!  And successful schools are all about the doing, not just the chatting.
  • It’s focusing on a dream world!  I hate to break it to you, but we work with kids.  Kids do not exist in a dream world…they pull us right into reality.  Everyday.
  • It takes the focus on what matters most: the quality of the interaction between the teacher and the students!
  • It kills our momentum!  We lose ground when we waste our time talking about things that might not happen – plus we give away our instructional power when we base our students’ success on external sources.

So….you might be wondering what the heck you DO about the “It would be nice if”- syndrome!  Well, Dr. Jackson, (I’m not really a doctor, but I play one in this blog) has just the prescription for YOU!

Prescription One: Realize right now that the return on your teaching begins with the PREP.  If you have a highly prepped lesson, you have less behavioral interruptions, more engagement and have more time during the lesson to listen to your students and see what their learning.

Prescription Two: When you are in teacher meetings/team meetings, focus the work on TASKS, not just discussions.  If you find that your team is all talk/no action, throw in one of these statements: “Ok guys…let’s talk about what we’re going to DO after this conversation” or “Alrighty – let’s focus on what we have control of so that we can get started right away!”.  Focusing on an action immediately pulls you out of the all talk/no action problem.  Sometimes we’re just in a bad habit of doing way more talking than we do acting and we just need someone to help us get pulled out of it!  Let that person be YOU!

Prescription Three: Analyze your time spent at work.  How much time is spent talking about the heart of instruction?  How much time is spent actually crafting lessons and not just prepping materials?  How much reflective conversation do you have with your coaches or your colleagues about your teaching?  These types of questions drive your time and conversations directly back to that interaction between teacher and student – – -and that’s what really matters!

If you suffer from the “It would be nice if”- syndrome, then it’s your responsibility to take steps to recover!  Here’s the cool thing: It’s actually pretty simple to recover.  You start by doing. 

Yep, that’s it!

Win Your Time Back! Five Simple Steps Make Every Classroom More Efficient

I love a good list – I put silly things on the list just so I can cross them off.  For example, instead of putting “laundry” on the list, I’ll put “Do 3 loads of laundry” and then a separate bullet will be “Fold laundry”.  I get to cross off TWO things that way!

While I might be a little neurotic about my lists, I do know that when I’m out and about working with educators, the one thing that they always talk about and don’t have enough of is TIME.  So, I’m intrigued with this idea of working more efficiently – – and how we can actually create time by doing so.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers who have their system DOWN PAT.  The kids have the system down pat.  And they don’t run around during their break like a chicken with their heads cut off and have a mental breakdown when the copy machine breaks down.  Why?  Because they are in control.

In control-ness means efficiency.  Or is efficiency in control-ness?

If you’re like so many time-strapped educators, I encourage you to stop the “I don’t have enough time” talk and figure out WHERE you can CREATE TIME!  Here are 5 spots to get started:

Step 1: Take 1 minute at the top of each day to get organized

Have a list on the board of everything that the kids need to have out on their desks in one minute.  One teacher I know draws a diagram of what she wants the desks to look like (composition book on the upper left corner, colored pencils on the bottom right, homework in the middle, science book under the homework) and then scans desks before she even starts teaching to make sure they have everything.  The one minute you spend getting organized means you save yourself the frustration and time in the long run!

Step 2: Use a timer
Figure out exactly where you’re losing time – is it transitions?  Is it morning/beginning of period routine?  Is it handing out papers?  Is it during partner work?  Then, challenge the students to beat their time.  Say to your students: “Folks, we’re losing 5 minutes an hour during transitions because we’re taking our precious time and talking with our friends too much.  Let’s see if we can make this transition under 30 seconds.  Go!”. Anything’s better if it’s a challenge!

Step 3: Pre-establish partners at the end of the day
There is always lost time and DRAMA around partners!  I don’t enter into that and I certainly don’t give the kids the opportunity to choose their partners because they’re going to switch them all of the time anyway.  So, at the end of the day I say, “Tomorrow guys and gals, we are going to switch partners.  I’m going to take 1 minute right now to tell you who your partner is so that you’re ready to roll tomorrow morning.  If you choose to be crabby about your partner, then you will stay with me during your recess/passing period because we don’t have time for that foolishness and we’re better than that!”  Then in the morning or next period, they are already SET!

Step 4: Have an exit strategy!
We do ourselves a disservice when we start the top of the day with the “this is everything I have to get through”  mentality.  No doubt there is a TON of “stuff” that we have to teach, but we have to prioritize the content so that we aren’t just getting through it while students watch.  Watching does not equal learning!                                                                                                                       

Here’s what I suggest: Go through your content for the next day and highlight in green what MUST be taught.  Highlight in yellow what SHOULD be taught and highlight in pink what can be dropped off if needed.  While we’ll be focused on teaching everything, we have to have an exit strategy if needed!

Step 5: Avoid giving directions until you have all eyes on you

The BEST classroom management skill that I can give anyone is “don’t give 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!

Becoming more efficient is about taking CONTROL.  And I find that the most in-control educators are most satisfied…they don’t feel “done to” – they feel powerful!  And I hope the same for you!

If you’re interested in finding time-saving techniques and free tools – click on the “Free Resources” tab at www.jackson-consulting.com – – I’m waiting for you there!

Interview for Education News: Helping Teachers Through In-Services and Workshops

This interview was conducted by Michael F. Shaughnessy for Education News.  The original article can be found at http://ow.ly/cts8i

1) Jill, first of all, tell us a bit about your workshops and in-services and what you try to accomplish.

We help struggling districts, schools and teachers improve their reading scores and skills of their students. Our goal is to go into a school and get our hands dirty and look at the data, look at the practices and connect with the teachers – we do this by modeling, demonstrating and coaching in real-life classrooms – we call it “getting in the trenches” with what’s REALLY happening in schools! The words that we live by are: it all comes down to the quality of the teaching. So, we work throughout a school to improve the overall quality of the teaching because we know that the student scores will follow.

2) Now, I can think of no time in the last, well 40 years, when teachers have been under such stress. What are your current impressions?

I think teachers are very stressed – but I think they’re stressed about the wrong things! On Twitter and Facebook and social media, I have lots of folks reach out and lash out about how standardized tests aren’t fair and how dare we look at students performance as a measure of the teacher and how learning is more than a test.

The way I see it, all of the time we spend fighting ‘the system’ is less time we’re spending stressing (or really putting our heads down and working really hard) about the preparation and care that it takes to design and deliver lessons that take students from Point A to Point B – and, most importantly, to long term reading skill mastery. I think that we’re doing a lot of fussing and fighting on the backs of the kids and I just can’t accept that.

3) Some teachers seem to just go about their business teaching kids, and don’t worry much about IEP’s AYP, NCLB and 504′s. Am I off on this?

You’re absolutely right…and that’s good and bad at the same time. Here’s the deal: in my experience, successful teachers are looking at their student data as a way to measure their success. These folks are putting in the real work on what matters in the end – quality teaching and all that goes into it. They aren’t worrying too much about the proverbial pendulum swinging or the latest crazy education scandal on CNN, they’re worrying about and fussing over and crunching the numbers and measuring success in THEIR classroom – because that’s their reality!

Successful teachers know that the IEPs, AYP, NCLB and 504s are a part of the work, and if they are providing daily successful teaching to kids in a highly managed classroom with lots of positive, academic based feedback the IEPs will show growth and their classroom will contribute to the school making AYP and such. I haven’t seen a highly skilled teacher who absolutely brings his best and most on-fire teaching to the classroom each day, NOT get results.

And, trust me, they are working against some pretty serious odds in the schools that we support!

The flip side of that are those educators who say that “the test isn’t valid” or that their students are successful but “the tests don’t show it”. In this case, they’re ignoring the measurements like AYP, IEPs and such in favor of gut checks and potentially random style-driven criteria in their head – obviously I think this is a dangerous practice.

4) The teachers I talk to pretty much say the same thing- they need more administrative support, do you address these issues?

Absolutely. Our goal is to not just have our clients show classroom success, but have that classroom success show across the school – and that requires serious commitment, protection of time and every day presence from the leadership. I can tell how successful a school is based upon the principal’s calendar. Really!

It’s like the more time I spend in the gym, the healthier I’ll be? Well, the same is true of principals: the more time they spend in the classrooms, the healthier the teaching system in that school is. It NEVER fails.

Whenever we visit schools or districts, we start the leadership system – we look at scheduling, non-negotiables, setting up the leadership team’s functions to look at reading practices in the school and guide the support and professional development.

One of the most powerful things we do (that initially many of our leaders are resistant to!) is practicing observations and debriefings with teachers. We work with leadership on what kind of data to gather when they’re watching teaching and then how to turn their notes into a very direct and very simple, but action-based, debriefing – the goal is to talk to teachers one-on-one and have them either stop a practice, continue a practice or adjust a practice. All designed to getting bigger impact in the classroom.

5) I have to tell you, that I observe teens and tweens and they seem to be gobbling up Harry Potter and have been hungry for these Hungry Games books. BUT, how do we get them reading other fiction, non fiction, biographies etc ?

Well – if I could fully answer that, I would retire on my private island in the Bahamas! What I see that ultimately captures kids’ attention EVEN WHEN THEY DON’T LIKE SOMETHING is the teacher’s enthusiasm. I think it’s highly underrated and undervalued!

I wrote an article recently about a Civics teacher I had in high school – I wasn’t what you would call a scholar – far from it! And I certainly wasn’t into Civics like I should have been. BUT the teacher was so enthusiastic about teaching Civics and used some fun (and embarrassing!) techniques along the way that helped my peers and me – GASP! – actually like Civics!

I find that some educators have the idea that the kids should come to class already motivated – I see that as the teacher’s job. It’s funny – I can follow a student around school all day and see her engaged in Period 1, totally disengaged in Period 2, kind of engaged in Period 3 and totally on-fire engaged in Period 4. The only thing that changes? The teacher! I have seen tons of examples where teachers have taken “boring” content and made it interesting and others have taken exciting content and made it sleep-inducing.

Also, we have to give students the skills to tackle that kind of text – oftentimes they gravitate to novels because they have the most practice in successfully reading and gaining meaning from them! We help our clients create continuity in doing this – making sure that the skills that we use to tackle expository text in science are similar to the skills we apply to the P.E. manual. I don’t ever underestimate continuity of practice across classrooms! It’s such a powerful teaching tool!

6) What is the most requested topic you get asked to talk about?

Using reading program successfully. I often say our most powerful work comes after the publisher leaves and the boxes are opened and everyone looks around and goes, “NOW what?!?!?!?” We get lots of calls from superintendents and curriculum directors who say, “You know, we were told that if we bought these materials that our kids would learn to read and learn to read better. It’s not happening and we’re in program improvement…help!”

We help folks get super focused and super organized. We help them build confidence…one purposeful step at a time. In fact much of our time is spent telling them, “No. Not now,” because they’re trying to do too many things and they’re driving themselves absolutely crazy.

7) Tell us about a few of your most successful workshops- and feedback from teachers.

We just finished up Year I with a large school K-12 school district outside of Salt Lake City and the data is looking really good – we can actually measure the success of the staff by the increase in the student scores…that’s heaven for us! We get giddy when we can see the effect of the teacher work in the student outcomes – that’s what we’re always looking for.

Two of our clients just received National Title I Awards – and a bunch have made AYP for the first time ever! We have schools who have made serious, exponential growth in reading on their state tests with sub-populations that have historically been very low performing…so we are very proud and excited for the folks we partner with – – they are walking the walk.

As far as feedback? We get lots of feedback every week complimenting us on getting in the trenches with the teachers and not just being “talking heads” – we are real. We also get lots of feedback that starts with “At first I didn’t like that you were telling me to….but I appreciate you sticking in there with me.” That’s very rewarding.

8) Are there ways for folks to connect with you online?

Yes! We just launches our “Free Resources” tab on our website (www.jackson-consulting.com) – there you’ll find tons of free video, audio and downloadables that we’d like everyone to take and use. We even have a 7-day free video series that you can sign up for there…no strings attached! There you’ll also find the links to Twitter and Facebook where I’m interacting daily with educators about the good, the bad and the ugly in education – it’s really fun to be about to connect that way and it’s bringing about some very interesting conversations and big a-has for all of us.

Most of all, while we are tough cookies when we come and work with folks, I want those who work with us online and in-person to know that we value teachers who are serious about doing the work of teaching. We don’t always have to agree, but if the bottom line for all of us bringing the highest quality of instruction that has the biggest impact on the students every day into the classroom, then we’re going to be alright!



Question…what do YOU think?  Leave a comment below…am I off track? 

On the right track?  Lost my mind????

The New Normal

I was talking with a group of teachers recently and we were discussing (bemoaning?) how much teaching has changed and how much more pressure there is now than in the past.

One of the teachers in the group was a three-year veteran and her response to the conversation was “What’s changed? It seems the same to me!”

Well, this got me thinking…

Teaching has changed – there is more transparency, more accountability, more press coverage, more curriculum and more testing.

Parents are more savvy about their children’s education, students are more savvy about their own education and there are many experts publicly telling the insiders in education how to get the job done. So where does this leave us?

It leaves us with the “new teaching normal”.

The new normal includes more observations in our classrooms, public discussion of our success in the classroom, parents asking probing questions about the nitty gritty of our teaching, experts weighing in on our performance and how to improve it.

We progress monitor, diagnose, differentiate, collaborate, write and rewrite lessons, figure out how to engage our students from moment to moment….and the list goes on.

We are living proof of what the teaching profession will be now and in the future: this is it! We can look back at the “good ol’ days”, but that is only causing us to bemoan the present and pine for the past…and that doesn’t get us anywhere!

Here’s the good news about the new normal:

  • We know more about our students and their performance
  • We know more about their instructional history
  • We know more about interventions that work
  • We know more about research
  • We know more about what happens in the classroom next door

All of these things equal KNOWINGNESS!  We know without a shadow of a doubt what works.  And that’s POWER. 

Can I get an amen??!?!?!?!!?

I am proud to be a part of an evolving profession – we can no longer just do “business as usual” when we have so much information to support past practices and new opportunities. A major professional responsibility is to evolve with the profession, not against it.

So, let’s keep the “good ol’ days” the “good ol’ days”. Let’s focus on what an exciting opportunity we have to be daily practitioners of the evolving teaching profession. It’s exciting!

Weigh in on this: What’s the biggest leap for you to “the new normal”?  www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting