Checking the Back Seat #sol18


    1. Checking the Backseat #sol18

March 18, 2018

One extremely busy day a few weeks ago, I had seriously overcommitted my time, my talent, and my resources. I was at the edge of my proverbial pier. 6:30 a.m., having gotten up to make some baked good for today’s meeting. Packing our lunches, planning for dinner, making coffee. Wait, do I have my phone?  I rush to the car,  pull out of the drive, head down the street.  When I get to nearly half way,  it occurs to me,  those cookies are not in the back seat.  I have to have those cookies.  That’s my thing.  Treats for meetings.  I pulled over the car.  During my commute.  There really wasn’t time to go back.  Whatever the outcome,  there or not,  I would still have to continue on.   And yet,  there they were.  Plain as Life.   Waiting there in the backseat.

When I first wrote down this story,  I thought it was a lesson in noticing, in being present.  Now, weeks later as I write it down,  the lesson has changed for me.  From the end, here it is plain as life.  The thing we need is often waiting there in the backseat,  in the brain spinning rush, we forget to look in the obvious place, our own reserve, the skills we carry.  Quick to dismiss them as inadequate,  we search for a bigger, mightier something.  In coaching,  we show up,  we have a plan or a halfway plan,  we start with How’s it going? and then… we have to repack the bags, stop halfway,  check the backseat.  In the quiet planning,  in the preparation,  we remember what our thing is,  but in the fray,  sometimes we forget.  Notice the forgetting.  Pull over the car.  Check in the backseat.  It’s there.  It’s always there.  If it’s not,  we continue on.


img_1716-1Writing as part of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Check out some amazing stories at Two Writing Teachers.



Shared Worry. #sol18

download-4Shared Worry. #sol18

March 15, 2018

In the dim light of my desk lamp,  I scan over my notes from the last time we met.  I consider what’s happened so far this week and since we last met.  I think about the unit their on. I wonder about things that have gone wrong and glimpses of what has gone really well.  I think about the sandwich.*

The clock above my desk clicks onto 7:30.  I gather up my conferring notebook, my phone, my pencil, and my coffee and scurry down the hall toward her room.  She’s waiting.

I can see her notebook open on her desk, writers’ notebooks, books, the units of study.  I scan the empty desks on my way over, glancing up to smile at her and say good morning.   I put down my coffee,  my notebooks, my phone.  I get down a stool from her counter and sit down.

We look at each other and exhale simultaneously.  We want to start with the trouble. The Trouble.  I inhale and exhale again.  I scan my mind wondering if I can find some amazing words of wisdom that will make me seem like I know what I’m talking about, make her feel like she knows what she’s doing, and FIX. THE. PROBLEM.

I was thinking that I would go back to Fran McVeigh’s posts from last week and tell her about them,  how Fran was working toward a solutions.  I was thinking I noticed Monday and Tuesday that when she was explicit about her active engagement and link,  that the students were more productive in the release.  But then,  I started to think about what the small group said to me on Tuesday, that I had yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  I was definitely forceful,  definitely running thin on patience… 

Now it’s been nearly a minute and I haven’t said anything.   I look up at her.  I wait.  I’ve been working on that, waiting.  She says I’ve been thinking

And that’s the start.  We share our noticings and wonderings.  We share our feelings.  We share our ideas.  We share our worries.

Just like that, we have a new plan.  A new idea.  We fill the tank.  We move forward.  Together.

Every weekday morning,  I share a 1/2 hour with one teacher.  These times are scheduled and mostly standing appointments.  I always go to the teacher’s home turf  if I can.  That gives her power in our relationship. The teachers are in all different places in their teaching careers and have varying needs/wants.  I have had these standing appointments for years, shifting teachers as collaboration needs change.  I offer them up at the beginning of the school year and sometimes it takes a semester before the slots are full up.  Preparing for these varied meetings keeps me grounded in the curriculum,  the day to day struggles, our resources, and practice.  Most of these teachers and I will work together in their literacy block daily, but some just have this time to talk over big ideas, resources, worries, and whatnot.  It is the second most effective part of my practice, eclipsed only by the in class practice.  It keeps me grounded,  learning, and listening.  

*the sandwich- the idea that you share a compliment or a good thing, sandwich in the criticism or bad news, and then end with a positive comment. A sandwich.

Nudge #sol18

trh_nudge_artwork_wide-b9839d2a82c441c2574e4ae46edcb263fc5bfc03-s700-c85.jpgNudge  #sol18

March 14, 2018

A nudge is a gentle push in the right direction. This thinking is informed by a few things.  I’ll let you in on them in the beginning.  I am a big fan of podcasts.  This podcast,  Nudge:  Ted Radio Hour/ NPR, was recommended to me by a member of our fourth grade team.  It’s a longer podcast nearly an hour, but can be broken to shorter stories.  These stories contain snippets of Ted Talks and discussion with their subjects:  Richard Thaler, the author of Nudge and Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset.  I also have been considering the change model outlined in the book Switch.

So what does the author of Nudge say about change?  If you want to encourage people to do something,  make it easy.

The authors of Switch claim change is hard.  There are two systems at play in all change for folks:  the emotional system and the rationale system.  That’s why people can make a big decision like marriage, but have difficulty with diets.

I believe I am a professional nudger and change agent.  It’s a wonder that anyone ever talks to me.  My husband says about me pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I would say,  hear that tiny voice over your shoulder that says give it a go. What’s to lose?  

It’s true I want change.  Sometimes the educators and students I work with do not.  That’s not it actually.  It’s partially that they don’t understand what change might do to improve  their instruction and they believe that what they are currently doing is working for their students.

It’s might also be about risk.  Risk is hard to take,  difficult to try.  Risk is messy.

The book Switch poses the miracle question,

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?

Two things about this.  The changers have to see a problem, something they want to change. Then the changers have to be able to envision what better looks like.    Clare Landrigan wrote in her blog a few weeks ago about her own miracle question,  If successful we will…  That envisioning, drawing the light on what we view as success,  might be all we need.  That glimpse of what is wanted draws us toward it.

Here is my formation of this question,  What is the first small sign you would see, that would make you think “well, something must have happened,  the problem is gone“.  This question doesn’t ask you to describe the miracle itself,  it asks to identify the tangible signs that the miracle happened.  I also like this question,  When was the last time you saw just a little bit of the Miracle,  even if just for a short time?

That’s what I look for,  that little bit of the miracle,  the bright spot.  My friends,  if we are going to change anything,  students’ writing volume,   reading engagement,  curriculum,   school culture,  we have to start with that bright spot.  We have to recognize them, understand them, keep them in our field of view.


img_1716To my writing community of Slicers,  thank you.  To Two Writing Teachers and all involved,  thank you for creating this community.  This day 14 of a 31 day Slice of Life Writing Challenge.  Read some amazing writing here.




The Other Person in the Room #sol18o

Image-1 (4).jpgThe Other Person in the Room #sol18

March 6, 2018

Dear Teacher,

I’m always the other person in your room.  I wish I was a small unnoticeable sprite… but I’m not.  I wish you always felt comfortable with me hanging around… but you don’t.

I made this list of what I wanted you to think.  It went like this…

I girl scout promise I’m just here for the kiddos.

Don’t notice me!

I don’t notice you.

Just between us,  in total disclosure,  none of those things are true.  I’m a literacy coach.  Sometimes I am there for you.  Sometimes you probably should notice what I’m doing with your students, what I brought with me,  what I wrote down.

Sometimes I do notice you.  Occasionally,  you make me think of something I want to bring you next time.  Sometimes I think about what I might bring your students or a particular student.  Sometimes I think about what resources I might suggest for you or your grade.  Lots of the time I think about how I can be more helpful, more genuine, less intrusive.  Lots of time I think about how I can mirror your talk when I talk to your students.

All of this being the other person in the room is a little like a dance between me and you and the students.  The more you and I communicate,  the better we get at the dance, the more collaborative we are.  It is lots better if we do most of that talk when we aren’t doing the work.  I’m pretty good on the fly, but it’s not the best way to think or react.  Quite honestly,  if we try and communicate during our teaching time,  we are not getting accomplished what we really want which I think is,  two people working with students all the time.

Two super important things I want to say, but don’t always bring myself to say.  I really, really don’t want to tell you what to do.  Often you ask me,  what should I do differently or what do you think I should do or tell me what I should change.  I don’t want to do any of those things.  I especially don’t want you to think I’m all that or for you to think that I think that I’m all that.  I know that I’ve been doing this thing since dinosaurs roamed the earth.  I know that often I could be your mom or at least your aunt.  That does not in fact mean that I’m anything but a fellow traveler.  Most of the time when I have an insight, it’s just because I can have perspective based on my travels.

What I wished you believed about me is what I believe about myself to the very core.

I’m still learning too.

I want to experiment and fail and succeed and try with you.

I believe that messing up is good for us and the students

I thrive on collaboration. I want to know what you’re thinking.

So I know sometimes I feel like a houseguests that has stayed too long or worse a spy… but try and get past that with me.

I’ll see you tomorrow.  I’ll be the one that feels like their on a first date in someone else’s house and I’m not sure what to order…


your partner, your friend,  your coach

Thank you Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life community.

Introductions #sol18

IMG_9597Introductions #sol18

March 2, 2018

Just like me to skip over introductions the first slice and dive right into whatever fleeting idea comes through my head.

So…  by way of introduction… and backtrack…

Here I am in my capacity as one of the literacy coaches for my Massachusetts school district.  One of my favorite activities,  the yearly new teacher literacy induction annual selfie.  One of these years I’ll buy myself a selfie stick and this will be much better looking but perhaps not nearly as fun.

I refer to myself as a literacy coach these days, though others might use reading, specialist, or intervention in my descriptive title.  I answer to all, but my heart is in coaching.  I want to be a coach.  Coaches are funny, inspiring, tough with a soft heart, and mostly successful.  Coaches get right in there and inspire others to their best selves.  I don’t wear a whistle, but I have been known to sneak some sneakers into my daily look.

I’m in transition.  My principal says I can’t say I’m in transition anymore as I have been in this position in Massachusetts for eight years. However,  I left at least a good portion of my heart in the Chicago suburbs.  My wagon wheels still long for the ruts that were comfortable there including some trails to amazing pizza and frozen custard and hot dogs… and people.  I left behind our family including my man-child oldest and so many educators that formed by beliefs and watched my back.

I’ve been an administrator, but my passion is kids.  I am energized by them.  I adore their talk, their thinking, and their honesty.  I have a desk in our literacy center, but you’d be hard pressed to find me there during the school day unless it’s to find you a book.

I consider myself a reader first and never until recently ever entertained the idea I could be any type of writer.  I’m not sure what scarred me in my youth, but I’m guessing it was the five paragraph essay.  I remember in my undergrad and several rounds of graduate school laboring over writing anything.  I wanted to write like I talk and thank goodness this seems to give me an outlet and a forgiving audience to do that.

Technology is my partner.  I don’t know what I did before IPads and mobile phones and laptops brought me amazing things like word press and instagram and TWITTER.   I was experimenting with text-speech this morning in my car because there is so MUCH wasted time between that commute and when I’m in the shower WHEN I THINK OF SOME REALLY good ideas.  It’s frustrating.  My handbag and book bag and desk are full of notebooks for blogging, conferring, conferring with students, planning, scheming, and generally keeping track of my day.

So that’s me in a large nutshell.  Looking forward to a month of writing with you.


Day 2 of 31 day writing challenge. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for inspiration and encouragement and to TWO WRITING TEACHERS for creating this opportunity.  Read more amazing blogs and join the writing here.

Stone Soup #sol18

stone soup 1Stone Soup #sol18

February 6, 2018

In Jon J. Muth’s beautifully written and illustrated rendition of Stone Soup, a group of traveling monks are discussing everything from cat whiskers to the color of sun when they light upon the topic of happiness.  The monks decide to do some action research and figure out what makes one happy?  They had a driving questions and a loose plan to figure out the answer.

The monks come to the place where they are going to do their research, a small village walled against the world.  From their place above the village,  the monks cannot tell that the people have been through a lot and as a result are untrusting of strangers and even suspicious of their neighbors.  Isn’t that so often the case?  We get a great coaching idea, especially if we are new to a situation, but we don’t really know all the carry-ons folks bring to the journey?   All of these villagers works very hard, but only for themselves.

Our teachers are working so hard behind their doors facing many obstacles that we know and some we don’t.

When those monk travelers reached the gates,  everyone disappeared into their houses. No one came to the gate.

In my early coaching,  I would have ‘cookies and conversation’ about topics I thought were fascinating.  Maybe they were,  maybe they weren’t.  But still few came to the party.

The monks knocked on one door,  no one answered.  They knocked on another door,  no one answered.  Again and again,  no answer.  These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.  No bull horn,  no memo,  no parade.  Just an idea about how to draw people in.

The monks make the fire,  they fill the small pot they have with water.  They put the pot on the fire…  One brave little girl comes out and asks the question… what are you doing?

The monks say…We have this plan to make stone soup, but we need some smooth stones.  The girl helps them find the stones and then she says,  hey,  this pot is small,  my mom has a bigger pot.

The monks didn’t ask the girl to help,  they didn’t say they needed a bigger pot.  They let the girl come to her own conclusions.  How is this like our teaching teams,  like our students?  The girl explains to her mother who asks,  hey,  what are they doing?  The mom says,  hey,  stones are easy to come by,  I want to see that.  Great idea, right?  Something simple.  Easy components.  Draw people and ideas in.

So that fire and that pot weren’t on a side street.  The monks made that fire right in the middle of the town where everyone could peek out of their windows and see what was going on.  Complete transparency and opportunities for inclusion.  It was a true curiosity and people as people will be,  got curious.

First the monks scaffolded.  They mentioned specific ingredients,  easily obtainable that many people might have in abundance.  Salt, pepper, carrots, onion.  The villagers begin to have and share these items as the smell becomes more agreeable.  One neighbor smells the success and wants to be part of it.  The next neighbor makes a small contribution.  Eventually, neighbors start having the ideas and the monks roll with it. As the contributions grow, something magical happens as each of the villagers opens their hearts,  the next one opens their heart a little more.  The soup grows richer and more delicious.

It all started with a idea and a few stones.

What a great plan!

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Thank you to the Slice of Life Community for nurturing my writing and my practice.  You can read more here.

The Gift of Time #sol17

IA11_Web_ArtistInResidenceGENHdrThe Gift of Time #sol17

October 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with the artist Bharti Kher  She was discussing the time she spent in residence at a wonderfully quirky Boston museum,  The Isabelle Stewart Gardner.  Bharti Kher said that the gift of living for a time at the Gardner was “the gift of time“.  She explained, “what you go away with is not immediately apparent.  Things emerge over time because as artists, we collect and build on our own libraries (in our head) over time.”

We’ve been talking a great deal in our district recently about the idea of instructional coaching. In an effort to further strengthen our tier 1 instruction, assist the transfer of discrete skills, and support the development of new curriculum, we’re blowing the doors off our old model of five time thirty minutes intervention.  On the surface,  this seems like truth, that changing our model away from a seemingly successful structure to a much more wavy one seems… well risky.

But I think of Bharti living in the Gardner,  sitting in the amazingly beautiful courtyard, spending real, real time looking at a single painting and in my core I believe, if I can create that gift of time, for myself, my colleagues,  the students,  then this new model stands a fighting chance.

When I thing about what you go away with is not immediately apparent,  I know that visit after visit, I might catch glimpses of things a teacher won’t remember to tell me in the literacy center or in a early morning collaborative conversation.  When we can talk with students together, get messy in the process in real time,  I believe we can affect real change, fundamental, practice-changing kind of change.

When Bharti says things emerge over time because as artists we collect and build things in the libraries in our heads over time,  I think of our community of artists in learning:  teachers,  students, and even me taking the time to collect ideas and experiences,  building practice and relationships through and in our experiences.

So I’m going to be there before school, having coffee and dreaming about change with the teacher in our building.  I am going to spend every spare minute, reading a few pages with a student, listening to a story, and sometimes teaching or reading aloud.  I’m learning along with the community.  Trying things out,  getting messy.  Does it seem like a free fall?  Not at all.  We know and trust each other.    So  let’s see what we can do when we give each other the gift of time.




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Always inspired by Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Community.

Read more here.