The Right Teacher #sol18



The Right Teacher #sol18

June 12, 2018

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the idea of the ‘right’ teacher.  In a meeting last week someone said to me if this child has the right teacher, he can do well.  I stopped in my tracks right there. I’ve been thinking about what I said in response for a week.

I said and still believe that any teacher can be the right teacher for a student.  The magical components for this miracle are the right information and the right support.  Most of that is out of the hands of that hardworking teacher. Those of us who currently are working our best to help that student are responsible for assisting that next teacher in being a success.

I don’t think the teacher who received that response from me, believed me. Perhaps she believed that magically she was assigned this student and she alone was able to figure out exactly what he needed.  This could be true.  If that is the case,  then it’s quite difficult for us to make that magic happen time and again for so many students that struggle with so many different things.  Because they all struggle with something at some time.  Don’t we as well.

What I know is that there is magic sauce, but we cook it ourselves.  We examine.  We assess.  We confer.  We try out things.  Then at some moments in some situations,  things work.  We meet.  We discuss.  We plan.  We measure success.  Then suddenly that combination of teacher, class, physical space, support, and classmates is finished.

When it’s time for the next year, maybe we should think a little less about the right teacher.  Perhaps we should think about the environment,  the support to the student and teacher, and the evolving needs of that precious student.   For when a student fails or miraculously succeeds, it isn’t the responsibility of that one teacher.  It’s the village.

So perhaps you have been the right teacher or even thought you were the wrong teacher.  Perhaps you’ve seen a miraculous relationship between a student and a teacher.  Perhaps you are searching for that right teacher for someone for whom you have concerns.  I tell you in our PLC, in our school, in our teams, in our lives,  we can help every teacher be the right teacher for the students we know.  It is a miracle, however it’s a miracle we can create over and over again.



The Utility Player #sol18

12409113The Utility Player #sol18

June 5, 2018

While usually a sports metaphor is not my go-to,  I’ll bring one out as summer peers over the horizon and my principal of eight year, prone to the sports metaphor, moves up to the general manager’s office.  I strive to be a utility player.

A utility player in sports is a player that can play several positions with success,  a jack of all trades.  Commentators and fantasy league players use this term to denote a player’s versatility.  Versatility is a good trait to have when you’re a literacy coach.

Today I’m cheering from the dugout.  The special education team needed a extra player for special olympics day and yesterday I was the player to be named later.  That and a pitched idea that went a little flat with the staff made me think about being a team and playing your position.

I’ve made my own position or role on the team more versatile over the years.  It started in the earlier years,  offering to help with this or that.  These small tasks were ways to get to know people, to chat in informal ways, to show that I was a team player.  When you’re new in a school,  you tend to bat replacement or inconspicuously in the batting order.  Inconspicuous can be good in the beginning.  Doing small helpful tasks and learning builds your place in the rotation.

Often a utility player just takes practice with the team and cheers from the dugout.  You might see a move you suggested, but more likely that not, you’re there to see the team and other individuals shine.  The sun’s big,  success shines on us all.

After time,  the manager and other players begin to see your usefulness.  Your ability to help seems less like an act and more genuine.  It is genuine.  Being a part of success feels like an accomplishment even from the second row or the dugout or even the bleachers.

So today I’m going to contemplate my swing and my stance and my attitude as I put on my team shirt and say with sincerity, what can I do to help?  I’m also going to be thinking about what can I do to help us grow and change.

img_1405   Thinking and writing about it with my Slice of Life teammates.  Read more from the team at








The Thank You’s #sol18


The Thank You’s #sol18

May 29, 2018

I like to think of myself as not particularly sentimental.  I don’t have many keepsakes from childhood or special moments.  I pretend I’m ok with goodbyes and transitions.  But I have one little thing that gives it all away.

Few people know that I have a file for each year of my education career.  In this file is the usual professional development certificates,  the occasional evaluation.  The heart of these files are the notes.  I know most people keep notes from students,  notes from parents,  their evaluators,  even colleagues,  but I keep every random thank you.

What???  Yep,  on the rail above my desk is a clip with every single thank you I’ve received in writing this year.  Most are quickly scribbled thank you’s with a smiley face.  Some say a little more like Thank you for the fun activity.   Many that came were quickly stuck on the cover of a borrowed book.  Sometimes I can remember exactly what elicited the thank you,  sometimes I can’t.  But each one of them reminds me why I am actually here in this place at this time with the people.

I’m here to help.  I’m here to take whatever knowledge, time, and experience I have to make the learning, working and striving experience of those folks around me more successful, easier, and less isolated.

These little post its and longer notes remind me to keep going.  Keep going when change creeps up.  Keep going when students or teachers leave when it doesn’t feel finished.  Just keep going.

So today I memorialize those thank you’s and everything they mean.  You’re welcome.  I was thrilled,  happy, and  honored to do whatever it was that caused you to write them.  I look forward to doing so much more.


A big thank you to my Slice of Life community and Two Writing Teachers for filling my heart with gratitude about the depth and breath of a thriving PLN.  Read some amazing slices here at

Coaching for the Distance #sol18

Coaching for the Distance

May 22, 2018


Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 7.40.47 AM

Christopher Lehmann,  Foreword to Reading Wellness

In the frayed, worn edges of the school year, with the clock ticking down, our district and many others continue to do the tough work.  We are in a trifecta of growth:  adapting the curriculums,  considering assessment, and now we arrived at the third leg, coaching into these changes.

I’ve been asked in a team to consider what is valuable in coaching, what are institutional features, and where we might go next.

Listening to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher read from their 180 Days book on the Heinemann Podcast today,  it struck me what I really think about coaching.  Kelly quotes Chris Lehmann from the forward to Reading Wellness.  I paraphrase here.  Our best work happens when we align our coaching to their instructional decisions, when their work becomes the curriculum (of coaching).

I fill my desk with inspirational quotes and hope they guide my words and actions.  I believe we are only limited my the limits we put on ourselves. I believe we can’t really teach anything, just help folks to discover it within themselves.  I believe that 25% of coaching is encouragement,  25% is listening,  25% is a flood of ideas, and 25% is rolling up your sleeves and getting into the thick of it.

Encouragement comes in many forms.  My favorite form is noticing.  Just taking a photo and tweeting it out to say,  wow,  that was something that happened right there.  Much like our work with the students,  noticing and naming is strong.  When a teacher or a student is in the weeds, it’s difficult to see where the flowers are blooming. Sometimes I just notice in the moment.  I find that this encourages teachers to tell me about moments I’ve missed that were great too.

Listening… can be a challenge.  My personal favorite time to listen is at 7:30 a.m. before the rush of the school day.  Just a little chat over coffee about a particular thing or perhaps many little things.  These I schedule.  They are an amazing way for me to launch the day.  These meetings spark ideas, generate excitement, and set the tone for the entire day.  4:30 in the afternoon is good too.  These meetings are relaxed, punctuated by the personal, and can often turn into a field trip or a scavenger hunt for a book or a lesson.

Flooding the room with ideas has to be entered carefully.  I usually start a meeting, a year, a relationship with a teacher by just saying I’m going to be putting a lot of ideas out there.  Most of them come from my head, my reading, my experience, what you’re saying.  Use what you will.  Leave what you want.  It’s all good.  Sometimes this flood of ideas will help someone try something they might not have.  The comfort of a fall back ideas is that if the original doesn’t work,  I could try this other idea.  This is the power of constructing something…together.  It’s just what we hope for with the students as well.

The last and most important part of coaching to me is rolling up your sleeves and getting in there.  I spend the majority of the school day in there.  Yesterday our principal and I were standing in our courtyard garden admiring the view.   I lamented that I hadn’t taken a picture of the space before we started the transformation so many years ago.  We were both new to the building then and it was a wonderful neutral project to work with the team.  The infamous cookies and cakes just a way to say I’m here for you.  Covering for a teacher when she is in a meeting,  finding a book,  conferring with a student,  doing some running records,  there are so many ways to be there in the work.

I think coaching is best when it is student centered.  More than that,  coaching is best in the fabric of a philosophy of education.  We are all constructing knowledge:  the coaches,  the teachers, and the students.  We help create an environment for experimentation,  for learning, and for growth.  We assist in getting the tools in place and helping people learn how to use those tool.  It’s true,  we can’t teach people anything.  We can only help them discover it within themselves.


Thank you to some powerful coaches in my life including my slicing community and Two Writing Teachers.   Read more from powerful educators at

In Charge of Celebrations #sol18

In Charge of Celebrations #sol18

May 15, 2018

I’ve been neglecting my responsibility.  The person who never comes to a meeting with out cookies, muffins, or slices of cake has forgotten to celebrate success.

As a coach, there’s always a subject or subjects dujour.  One of the elements of literacy I have been deeply coaching into this year is process over product.  What I know that to mean is we don’t have to over edit writing, make a fancy laminated cover, and make sure all the mistakes are corrected.  We can celebrate what happened live.  I say that,  but I haven’t lived it.

There’s a great deal of new content in my school and district much of which is literacy based.  That is the nature of elementary school.  New ideas are coming at us at a breakneck speed.  We are rushing along with them.  We have a map and we are moving along it.

I started thinking about losing celebrations as I collaborated with a teacher in a third grade class some weeks ago.  She was bemoaning the fact that the students she worked with never finished their writing pieces.  The words were floating out of my mouth that it’s the process,  they are just learning the techniques when I examined those words as they floated into the room.   Something in the back of my mind replied, it does kind of matter if they never finish.  How will they celebrate their accomplishments? 

Those thoughts continued to rattle around across some other grades. In first grade, we were quickly finishing fairy tales and moving on to nonfiction chapter books.  In second grade we were moving from nonfiction chapter books to poetry.  In third grade, we were finishing our literary essays and moving on to persuasive speeches.   We needed a stop along the way.

I was just getting ready to say something to someone.  I copied some first grade nonfiction chapter books.  I had the kiddos read me their books as they finished.  Then a second grade teacher had her class read their nonfiction books to their reading buddies.  The third grade teacher wanted to spark her students and helped them go back and type their literacy essays for a gallery walk.

So now,  still process over product.  Not perfect products, but writing to celebrate.  Finishing still might not be all that important, but certainly celebrating is.  So in the face of a avalanche of content,  take time to savor the writing.



Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my Slice community for always giving me an opportunity to celebrate writing.

The (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

imagesThe (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

May 8, 2018

No one has ever asked me the secret to my success, but given my advanced teaching/coaching/intervening years,  I have a few tried and trues up my proverbial sleeves.  I can talk a good game.  I can make a joke at my own expense.  I can notice when someone needs a hand, an encouraging word, or a five minute pause. So here for what it’s worth are  six of the secrets to my so-called success.

The first secret to my success is that there isn’t always success but usually there is movement.  I’d like to say I’m always a success in intervention, in coaching, in picking out the right shoes, but sadly it’s not true.  However,  I do continue to keep swimming.  My philosophy is somewhere near:  Hey, we can learn a lot from mistakes, and failure is only an opportunity to give it another go.

The second secret to my success is to listen more than you talk.  This can be a real struggle for me.  Most of the time, folks need someone to hear them more than they need someone to tell them.

The third secret to my success as a literacy coach is to have an agenda, but go with theirs, meaning whomever it is that I’m working with.  They know what they need and especially what they want.  I’m prepared with some ideas, some resources, and most of the time that’s what they want and need, but sometimes it’s not.  In those times,  I have to be willing to take a detour or the long way, whichever path gets presented.

The fourth and perhaps the most important advice I have is to carry the water.  People need real things to be success:  found books, copies, a person to read the story, a person to tag off with a difficult friend, someone to sort books with.  The list is literary endless.  While providing most of these things, it can be a good time to a:  listen (see #2) and b:  go with their agenda (see #3)

The first secret to my success is one you’ve heard before,  bring gifts.  Bring ideas,  but also bring along a book,  the occasional batch of cookies, or Hershey’s kisses.  Nurturing folks feels good to you, but it also feels good to them as well.  I have been known to work years on this stage before moving on to another.

The final secret to my success is know other things about people that aren’t school related.  Maybe you know their favorite color, what’s in their Netflix queue,  birthdays, coffee addiction, their dog’s name, and even what their favorite cookie is.  You get the idea.

It’s not complicated, but it’s critical.  Several years ago,  the International Literacy Association published a research article on best practices in literacy coaching.  Level 1 of coaching is building relationships.  The article included the usual thinking:  establishing convimages.jpgersations, schedules, developing norms of communication, studying things together.  Those things are important, but in order for them to work,  real kindness opens the door.

My most successful conversations happen in three places:  at 7:30 am before our day starts,  at 4:30 pm when the building quiets down, and over the bent, working head of a student we both care for deeply.  Each of my 7:30 meetings, every day of the week, is different.  Some people have a list of things to talk about,  some wait for me to say something I’ve noticed,  some feel like the kind of conversations you might have any day over coffee.  What they have in common, I hope,  is trust.

The days are long.  The stakes are high.  A classroom of students can be isolating.  We can be the bridge,  the sounding board,  the boost.  All we have to do is take time and notice the small things. After all,  we have at least 180 days to get it close to right.


Thanks to Two Writing Teachers and my faithful writing community for being all these things for me, so that I may be some of them for others.  I’m forever grateful for you.

The Voices in My Head #sol18

main-qimg-7a46ec5dc79bcac79744edd8eaecf8f0-c  The Voices in My Head  #sol18

May 1, 2018

I have a lot of great mentors.  Some of them have never met me.   I walk among giants, but occasionally those giants are on a podcast, a tweet, or in a book.  Those giants have changed everything about the way I approach education, coach, interactive with students, conferring, and see myself as an educator.   Here are some of my favorite voices.



The Heinemann Podcast accompanies me to work each morning and sometime home as well.   I listen to mine on a podcast app.  This podcast is a great way to try out professional texts and kick the tires before you buy.
static1.squarespace.jpgColby Sharp  is how I want to blog when I grow up.  Colby’s quick patter and teacher heart can direct you to your next read aloud.   Just looking around his room in the videos makes me smile.  An amazing advocate for kids and books,  follow him on twitter and youtube.




In addition,  The Nerdy Bookcast,  The Children’s Book Podcast, The Yarn.
Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 5.28.08 PM.pngTwo Writing Teachers have changed the way I teach, I coach, and write.  Ok,  maybe just my volume has improved. 🙂

So many blogs that I follow.  Tweets that I read.  Books that I read.  They all add up to wonderful mentors that encourage me, challenge me, and teach me.

Tom Newkirk says we only have to get 5% better each year.  By the end of our career, well, amazing things can happen.  Today,  I’m just going to try this one thing I read…