Thursday, October 9, 2008

Learning to learn all over again....

Communication is the key in forming lasting professional and personal relationships. This is another segment as I think about the work that I do, specifically in working with Academic Coaches. This is a follow up letter that I wrote after a recent professional development offering.


Hopefully the coaching conference that you are attending today will provide additional strategies to add to your ever increasing toolbox. I look forward to continued professional conversations with a focus on your roles as Academic Coaches.
Your position comes with responsibility, however, imagine all the students you will impact with every teacher you support in their professional growth and learning. I am fully aware that we are at different places in the continuum with the coaching thing, and I am personally committed, along with the curriculum folk, to hold your hand along the way; to challenge your thinking; to give you a little push into uncharted waters; and of course, to step back when it is warranted.
With this in mind, I want to highlight some key points mentioned as you step out further in your role as Academic Coach. On the last page of the book I read aloud to you all, The Geraniums on the Windowsill Just Died, But Teacher, You Went Right On, Albert Cullum so eloquently says, " Teacher, come on outside! I'll race you to the seesaw! No, you won't fall off! I'll show you how! Don't be afraid, teacher. Grab my hand and follow me. You can learn all over again!....."
In your role as Academic Coach this is so fitting and right on the money. Confidence in what you are doing is key. Believing in your skill set by showing teachers how to seesaw, not in a way that puts your knowledge ahead of theirs, but in a way that, side-by-side, you learn new ways of doing: learning how to learn all over again. And finally, I want you to think about the student who was most challenging to you in your teaching and constantly revisit those strategies that worked in making a difference. You will find that these same strategies will work for our teachers as well.
Possible Outcomes: As an outcome to the training provided, I want you to "try it on". This is what you do: first, locate a classroom teacher who is willing to have you demonstrate a shared text engagement with his/her students. This can be someone you have developed a relationship with, however, to go to the place of discomfort, challenge yourself to seek out the teacher that possibly needs a hand to hold, and learn together. Second, the way in is this: first, ask if the content lead teacher shared the information with them on Shared Reading within the Context of a Comprehensive Reading Program. Second, if the answer is yes, then ask them if they have tried some of the techniques outlined. If the answer is no, then tell them that you would like to demonstrate the strategies outlined with the training. However, it is important no matter what means that the classroom teacher remains in the classroom with you. A strategic read aloud can also be tried. I had conversations with some of you concerning options. This is perfectly acceptable and tells me you are thinking. After the demonstration lesson, reflect on what worked and what didn't work so well. Be prepared to share these at one of the next meetings for a period of time.
Coaching: feedback vs. evaluation: The way we phrase our questions, for the most part, directly impacts the outcome. Therefore in highlighting strengths, recommendations and next steps consider these possibilities:
Strengths: You might think about using ...I noticed... at the beginning of your sentence. Then making a statement directly connected to student outcome and evidence noted. Be genuine in your thinking.
Recommendations: You might think about using ... Have you thought about...? In this way, it provides options that doesn't slice or dice what is happening. Choose your words succinctly. And another tip: Focus on one or two easily achievable goals.
Follow up: You might want to think about having a coaching conference where you speak one-on-one to the classroom teacher. You might think about using... Based on the recommendations provided, what are you willing to try next time?
And as always, if you have questions, points of success or wonderings, do not hesitate to contact me. Enjoy your weekend.....until next time-Teach

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The geraniums on the windowsill just died, but teacher you went right on.....

Do you remember the exact time, place and location of where you bought a treasured book? Follow me as I reflect and rediscover one of those out of print long lost treasures that are pathways to the soul.....

The leaves were changing and falling from the branches. A few days previous a soft blanket of snow covered the hills of New England and the winter weather sweaters had been unpacked from their plastic shells. I was a few short months away from the end of my last internship and two away from matriculating with a degree in elementary education. At one of our evening seminars in late October, my professor and mentor at the time read aloud from this book and I knew I had to own it. After numerous phone calls around the area, I finally tracked it down at a store located on the cobbled main street of a northern town some 40 miles away. It was 1983 and sadly, the themes resonating from the pages still hold true twenty-five years later.

So when I re-discovered this "pathway to the soul" at the bottom of a rectangled box located on the top shelf of a rarely used closet; some 929 miles from where it was first discovered twenty-five years earlier, I knew that in some way it needed to be shared.

The opportunity arrived just yesterday when I spent the afternoon with a group of twenty academic coaches and read aloud The Geraniums on the Windowsill Just Died, But Teacher, You Went Right On by Albert Cullum. Through the lens of childhood, we discover all over again the way we felt; the way we were; and how, sometimes, we lost our way miles from the heart of the matter. Though I can't re-print the pages, these few need to be shared:

"Teacher, let me swim in a puddle, let me race a cloud in the sky, let me build a house without walls. But most of all, let me laugh at nothing things. " -page 16

"On the mornings you tell us about the night before, you're like one of us. The dress you bought, or a movie you saw, or a strange sound you heard. You're a good storyteller, teacher, honest! And that's when I never have to be excused." -page 20

"I have a messy desk, I have milk money that rolls, I have a lazy pencil, a book that won't open, a mouth that whispers. I have a zipper that doesn't want to, homework that won't work, and a hand that throws crayons. I have a shirt that's out, shoelaces that won't tie. And sometimes I wet my pants---but never on purpose." page 22

However, sprinkled within are those teachers who are our raindrops of hope. Those individuals who continue the work that they do and truly listen to the voices of children; who allow the children to lead the way; and side by side, splash through the puddles amidst this ever-changing landscape.

And finally, in the words of Albert Cullum who said it so eloquently those many years ago.....

"Teacher, come on outside! I'll race you to the seesaw! No, you won't fall off! I'll show you how! Don't be afraid, teacher. Grab my hand and follow me. You can learn all over again....."-page 62 ...until next time-Teach