Thursday, April 19, 2012

My "Coaching Hat"

Here's another cross-post of my Friday Focus post for staff, in which I openly reflect for them on how my practice impacts their reflection. I'd love to hear feedback from other administrators trying to balance between the coaching and evaluating hats.

In a previous Friday Focus posts I have shared with you my goal to get in classrooms and provide feedback and questions encouraging you to reflect. I also shared with you in this post that I want to act more like an Instructional Coach than a supervisor to help improve instruction and learning. Throughout this year, I have networked with other administrators (both on twitter and in "real life") and had conversations around evaluations and coaching. In addition, I recently joined DPI's Teacher Design Team-the committee that is developing the teacher rubric to evaluate teacher practice. Throughout these formal and informal conversations, I have struggled with trying to figure out how I can formally evaluate teachers, yet be seen as someone to give non-evaluatory feedback in a coaching manner to help your reflective process in the classroom. I have read books on instructional coaching and read books geared towards principals, though none that combine the two roles for an administrator. I'm sure by now, you're probably wondering why I am sharing my own personal reflection with you?

Because I recognize that when I come in your classroom and send you an email or talk to you afterwards, that it may make you feel nervous or worried...which is NOT my intent! As I reflect, I realize, I have probably never clearly explained (or maybe I never clearly understood myself) what my intent is as I come in classrooms and give feedback. When I am come into classrooms for informal walkthroughs I am coming in with a "coaching hat" on, so to speak. Quite honestly, I feel like I'm doing the same when I come in for the formal observations (for the evaluation process) and meet with you afterwards to discuss how the lesson went. I may pose a question to you that stretches your thinking that is not meant to be intrusive or evaluatory, but is a question to have you reflect on why you do what you do. When you are reflective and consciously aware of why you do what you do, you will continue to utilize effective strategies for students in your classroom. I can share with you from my own experience that when I had a guest administrator with me a while back, she asked me ma ny questions for her learning, but as I explained my answers to her, I realized how much it made me reflect on why I do those things she asked about. So, my key message to you is that unless I specifically say, "I have a concern..." then you have nothing to be concerned about, I am just in there wearing my "coaching hat."

In the future, I would love for us as a staff to begin collaborating even more for our learning and student learning as a result. We have had several staff members be recorded and reflected while watching their own lesson. Several staff members have o bserved each other to gain new ideas and we have even had teachers from other districts visit us. I have recently begun to read about other schools taking this even one step further and putting in the practice of "Instructional Rounds" in which teachers go together in groups to observe and have follow-up discussions. Here are some of the posts I've read on this topic:
Teachers Observing Teachers: Instructional Rounds
Walking the Learning Walk
Engaging Teachers in Instructional Rounds
Don't worry, this isn't something we're starting tomorrow ;) However, if you are interested in taking some walks through classrooms, just let me know and I'd be happy to cover your class for you!

For your reflection this do you engage in conversations with others to reflect on instructional practices and student learning? What are your thoughts on if I've had an impact on your reflection process as a result of walkthoughs (this question you can actually hold on to, because in a few weeks I'll be asking for your anonymous feedback on a survey to help me reflect).

Image by Kathy Cassidy

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Here is another cross-post of my "Friday Focus" from my Staff Memo Blog this week:

Previously, I shared with you that I planned to read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck over break, because I had heard about it on Twitter and read another educator's blog post about it. The premise of the book is that there are two different mind states from which we operate:

  • Fixed Mindset - you believe your intelligence, skills and abilities are carved in stone, or static.

  • Growth Mindset - you believe that you can cultivate your basic qualities through your efforts.

Dweck draws upon studies and examples of students, business leaders, athletes, and her own teaching and personal life as she discusses how these differing mindsets can affect how we approach anything in life. I found this book to be extremely interesting to me for myself as a leaner, as a teacher, as a principal, as a parent, and even as a wife.

As an educator, the student that stood out in my mind the most as I read this is that student that has so much potential, but just doesn't put forth the effort. Maybe he/she is even highly gifted and has excelled so easily in previous grades or units, but now that the academics are getting more difficult, he's not used to having to study or work at it and doesn't. I'm sure that you can all identify a student like this in your classroom. A great graphic I found that highlights each mindset is below (click on this link if you need a larger view):

Image by Nigel Holmes

So, what can you do (besides pull your hair out) to help these students? One of the biggest tools we have to help these students is our feedback/praise. In one of Dweck's studies with hundreds of students, they started out with groups that were equal in IQ scores, but then were given different types of feedback/praise. In one group students were given feedback that praised their ability (ex: "Wow, you got eight right. That's really good, you must be smart at this.") while the other group was given feedback/praise on their effort (ex: "Wow, you got eight right, that's a really good score. You must have worked really hard."). After praise on ability was given, they could begin to see students differ in each group. The students in the praise group were pushed into a fixed mindset. When given a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from and instead picked an easy problem that they already knew how to do. They didn't want to do anything that would expose their inability to answer a question. In contrast, the students in the other group that were praised for their effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from. When the problems became difficult, they enjoyed them and showed better performance. The effort praised kids showed better and better performance as the ability praised kids plummeted.

What does this mean for us? Kids are very intuitive to what they're being judged on and it can affect their mindset. The very tool you have to help students be successful is in your choice of words as you provide them with feedback to empower them. If you praise students for being smart or talented, in the long-run, you will be leading them into a fixed mindset. If you give praise on their effort and hard work, you will be fostering in them the belief that they can continue to work hard to learn and achieve.

It is also important to think about you have a fixed or growth mindset of yourself? What messages are you telling yourself when you find something that you don't know how to do, or you try and fail at something? Do you believe that you can keep working at it to learn it or do you give up? Do you ask others for help when you're not sure or are you afraid that they will think you're stupid?

I could seriously talk about what I've learned in this book forever, but I know you only have a few minutes to read this. For your reflection this week, please think about what your mindset is and on what type of feedback you give your students.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Disciplinary Literacy with the Common Core State Standards

Over spring break I had the opportunity to attend a one day workshop with Doug Buehl on Disciplinary Literacy with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). First of all, I must say that Mr. Buehl was an amazing presenter! I was surprised to find out that he is originally a HS Social Studies teacher (yes, you read that right) and had great, practical ways to incorporate the English Language Arts CCSS across other content area courses and make them more meaningful and engaging for students. Mr. Buehl has written several books and you can also find a variety of his articles here that provide you with strategies to implement tomorrow. Now the only thing I wish for is for him to be on twitter so I can continue learning from him each day!

I left this one day workshop with a headache...a good one, because I learned so much! I took a great deal of notes, but will now share with you what I found to be very important as I learned about the CCSS and questions I still have. They are in no order of importance.

Important ideas that I took away from this workshop:
  • The CCSS require us to teach students to read complex text independently, whereas, in the past we may have shied away from complex text due to having a variety of learners in our classrooms. We have learned ways to differentiate in our classrooms for our struggling learners (ex: teacher reading complex text to the class, rely on visuals, etc.) We need to scaffold our teaching for students to be able to learn how to read complex text and make meaning from it. As school leaders, we need to scaffold learning about the CCSS and instructional strategies for our teachers.
  • The CCSS force us to provide our students with standards-based instruction and NOT standards-referenced instruction. What's the difference, you ask? If you create a fun lesson or plan to teach your favorite unit on apples and then find standards that might fit into it, that is standards referenced. We need to start with the standards to plan our instruction.
  • The Lexile level expectations have been upped. What used to be a 10th grade reading level expectation is now in Middle School. Yikes!
  • Literacy in Math: Mr. Buehl stated that "if you have the inability to read math, then you will have the inability to figure out math." He then modeled how to read a math definition from a math textbook. He modeled his thinking as he read through the paragraph on integers, picking apart each work he didn't know the meaning of right away, but pulling his background knowledge to make connections and build his understanding of the paragraph. This took a lot of time, however, he says that if students are never taught to read this then they're basically carrying the equivalent of a rock with them when they bring the textbook home. They will come back the next day acting like you've never taught them about integers. Basically, we need to prepare our students to be able to read/learn on their own.
  • You may be a highly confident reader in one area, but not another. The longer that you are taught a discipline by hands-on and visuals and NOT asked to read/inform yourself, the lower your reading ability in that area would go down.
  • Many English teachers chose their profession, because they love literature, but can no longer continue to teach units on their favorite novels. They need to be teaching the skills for students to be able to independently read and learn.
  • Elementary teachers can't wait for students to have basic literacy skills before teaching with informational texts. The well-known phrase "learning to read and then learning to read" is a myth.
  • In the report "Reading Between the Lines" on what the ACT reveals about college readiness in reading, you will find that the 2005 ACT shows that only 51% of our high school students are ready for college level reading! What's worse is when this study looked at data on reading levels in 8th and 10th grade, students were on track for being college ready in reading, but then declined. What happens in high school?! This is why our students need the ELA standards for disciplinary literacy.
  • We cannot hide behind the "they should be able to do this by now" thinking. Especially with the gaps we will have as we implement the CCSS, yes they should be able to do this by now, but now it's our job to scaffold their learning and get them to where they need to be. Think of where our students will be after a few years of the CCSS!
  • The CCSS no longer allow us to "cover" curriculum each year. We can no longer "cover history," but teach history. No longer can we do "drive-by" teaching. The CCSS give you the permission to not have to teach everything that the book/curriculum says to cover.

Questions that I still have:

  • I'm grappling with literacy in math. Our school has been using an old math textbook for quite some time that doesn't lend well to hands-on math for younger students to develop solid number sense and also to develop problem solving skills (which our math book lacks). We are moving to adopt a new math program that has had successful results in many districts (I've never heard anything bad about it). I've been told that it is different, because it is not just "turning the page in the math book." I had this thought in the back of my mind as Mr. Buehl spoke about literacy in math and should have asked if he was speaking more to the 6-12 teachers?
  • Grading. I learned some great strategies for teachers in the content areas to implement that allow students to be actively engaged in the content and learn through reading, writing and then speaking with their peers. For many high school teachers strategies like these are going to be very different than traditional methods of read the textbook, take notes in a lecture, and complete a multiple choice test. One of the first questions I know that will come up is on grading...what will they put in their gradebook when students are engaged in a discussion? Yes, I do realize that grading is an entirely different topic that takes up several blog posts (and books), however, how do we get teachers started on implementing these practices if they don't think it will work (and then get to the grading practices later)?
  • I went to this workshop feeling like our district was far behind on implementation of the CCSS, however, I learned that we're not in comparison to other districts. We have spent a great deal of our PD time this year as a district focusing on what reading and writing looks like across the grades and disciplines and we're working on developing common expectations. After hearing from people in other districts, I am confident that this was time well spent. I would love to hear what other districts are doing in scaffolding learning for their staff about the CCSS and how are you moving to implementation?