Saturday, December 8, 2007

Staying Connected!

A large part of a coaches job is that of a learner. I take this role very seriously because I am a part of a high performing learning community where teachers are life-long learners and leaders themselves. I constantly have to seek knowledge and tools to keep steps ahead of those that have chosen to follow me.

To learn, I work on being connected to a larger community. I remain connected through Twitter and reading blogs of educators across our globe. This allows me to have dialogue with others about educational issues from an assortment of different perspectives. This on-going two way communication leads me to instant learning in real time without delays in getting ideas penned and published.

To demonstrate my point: I am in the middle of cleaning my house this morning. I take a one minute break (which now has become 9 minutes) from vacuuming and sit at the computer to see who in my network is twittering this morning. A teacher by the user name, langwitches has left the following message:

New blog post:The Power of Playing.Time to explore.That is how I learn too. 23 minutes ago from web

So, 23 minutes has passed since an educator has written and e-published. These are her ideas not months or years from now that I am reading, but less than a 1/2 hour after she's penned them. I follow the link and discover this a post that takes me less than 4 minutes to read. The analogy is applicable to not only students but teachers who follow coaches. I'll use this analogy in someway in my coaching. I also jump on e-mail and leave the link so the Leadership Team I am part of can read the post. How easy...and in under 10 minutes! Happy Learning

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Behold! I bring you tidings of Great Joy!"

The first Wednesday of each month, our principal, Susan Phillips, holds our monthly faculty meeting. Per teacher contract, she is able to call twelve ninety minute faculty meetings each year after school. She doesn't call any. Rather, she calls one monthly meeting, held on the clock, and it has nothing to do with the traditional dissemination of information. She uses her weekly Memo and Blog to communicate with staff, and face to face meetings are reserved for professional learning through the use of children's literature. Her meetings are not faculty meetings, rather they are Book of the Month meetings.

The Principal's Book of the Month has been happening at Chets Creek since 2001 when we became an America's Choice school. America's Choice uses Book of the Month to introduce all school stakeholders to the same piece of rich children's literature. The principal is then able to have dialogue with all learners and leaders surrounding this one common text.

From the beginning, our Principal has purchased a copy of the selected book for every teacher. Not only does she read teachers the text but she's taken it above and beyond by introducing a strategy with the text. For example, one year she took the reading strategies from Kylene Beer's professional text, When Kids Can't Read-- What Teachers Can Do and introduced each strategy at Book of the Month through the use of her selected children's text. Teachers leave Book of the Month with the text in tow and a strategy sheet which explains why she selected the text along with how to implement the strategy.

December's Book of the Month, Kate DiCamillo's first children's text, Great Joy was unveiled today using the strategy of Digital Storytelling. Susan began by walking staff through how she created the voice thread account, recorded her reading, and how she saved the pictures. Afterward, the final product, which took her only 20 minutes to create, was unveiled. The digital story of Great Joy left the learning leaders thinking about the possibilities.

In fact, it is not uncommon on a Book of the Month day to walk the building and see teachers rolling out the book or strategy that same day. Today was no exception. A 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Young, hustled back to her room and got busy having several students make a digital story from their published narratives. By the end of the day, they had the digital story posted on their class blog for students, parents, and other teachers to enjoy. Now that is rapid implementation!

Sharing Best Practice--EInstruction!

New learning for me happens everyday! I get so excited by new found discoveries because I have a natural curiosity to know as much as I can about the instruction in my building. I also can't stop until I've shared my learning with someone else. I guess that is what fundamentally tugs at the heart of a coach--sharing best practice.

A 2nd grade teacher in my building submitted a proposal to present at the America's Choice National Conference in January. Her accepted proposal was based on the integration of technology for teaching in the content area of science. So, she wrote a letter to EInstruction asking for a donation of a teacher chalkboard and a class set of response pads. Her grant proposal, too, was accepted and her new teaching tools arrived! She mentioned this to me in an informal conversation and I told her to let me know when she implemented them in her class so I could drop by. Two days later, she was up and running. Now, I've seen response clickers in the past, but I have to tell you, this technology has come a long way!

The teacher, Melissa, had the wireless teacher chalkboard resting comfortably in her lap. The students sitting in their gathering area each had a response clicker in their hand. The computer screen was projected onto the whiteboard. Melissa had programmed about 10 math questions that students had to answer. She projected one question at a time and the students used their response clicker to type in A,B,C, or D. Melissa could see on the screen who had answered the question and then went to the answer. The technology allowed her to see how many students had answered correctly and how many incorrectly. (There is also a way for her to see who it was, although she didn't do so on this day). She also can graph the results along with a slew of other options. Now this is instant assessment and a student accountability system! No longer does she have to only know how one student will respond when she poses a question, but with this tool she knows how they will all answer! No more hiding behind the kid in front of you!
This handy e system can do much more including printing a plethora of valuable reports to help the teacher prescribe instruction.

The coach in me wasn't content to just sit and watch. My wheels were already spinning... Who would love to have this technology in their classroom? How could they use it? How can this help accelerate student achievement? I immediately called another teacher (who co-teaches) and asked him to come to Melissa's room. He did. Now, he's inquiring about purchasing the technology for his own classroom. If you are reading this and you are a teacher in my building, stop by Melissa's room to see this in action. I guarantee it'll be a must have on your next purchasing list!
Getting others excited about new ideas (or old ideas that I'm finally excited about) is a real thrill for me. At the heart of my love for coaching is assisting others in making new discoveries, or in implementing oldies but goodies!

Monday, December 3, 2007

What did I learn?

A teacher, in passing today, declared, "I read your blog on 5x5's. I saw in the slides some of the things that you saw on your walk. But, what I really want to know is-- What did you learn from this walk?" I can take a hint--I realize now that I never synthesized the information, so here goes.

What did I learn?

1. All teachers on the top floor have a fully implemented Workshop Model.

2. Math teachers have embraced our new supplemental program, Everyday Counts, and their classrooms show evidence that they teach it every day.

3. Students are receiving embedded test taking strategy lessons in Reading on Wednesdays due to the extended instructional time with no resources.

4. Teachers are actively using their newly acquired Elmos and Projectors for a majority of their lessons.

5. Students in Readers' Workshop are reading on their appropriate reading levels.

6. Teachers are conferring with students in Reading, Writing, Math, and Science during the students' work period time.

7. All teachers are following the grade level's pacing guides.

What do I see as a next step?

4th grade math teachers have developed an Everyday Counts recording tool which holds every student accountable for the learning that has taken place in the lesson. They need to share this recording tool with teachers in third and fifth grade.

We need to have a data bank of all the test taking strategies for access by all teachers. I know we've had lists in the past but I'm seeing some new strategies that could be added.

I observed Elmo and Projector use in both opening session and closing sessions. In one classroom, I observed a teacher collect two student samples and place them under the Elmo for share chair. Each student could then see the student piece. We need to train all teachers to capture an image on the Elmo and create a folder in the shared file under each writing genre so we can archive student work. Think about how powerful it would be for a teacher to be able to pull a writing sample from Response to Literature before they taught that standard. It would be particularly important for a teacher new to the grade level or teachers could use it to show students before they began their own writing in that genre. In addition, grade level teachers could use each other's writing to benchmark their own instruction.

I'd like to capture some of the conferring on video and post on a blog site for other teachers to access. Many of our teachers ask probing questions that others would love to add to their repertoire. Conferring really is an art!

So, to the teacher that probed me to dig deeper--thank you! Making my thinking visible will hopefully help others in their journey at improving our craft. Kudos to you.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Virtual Boardwalk

In an earlier post, I described the standards-based bulletin board and Boardwalk. Yesterday, the 2nd grade team and I tried a new practice and held a Virtual Boardwalk. Why did I do this? On occasion, we've been strapped for time when physically walking the boards and not every teacher could get up close to the piece of student work we were discussing. The walk sometimes did not yield the deeper conversation and reflection I had hoped. So, I thought, why not try doing it differently.

Several of our coaches had developed a bulletin board focus walk form so teachers could preview the boards before taking the actual Boardwalk with the grade level. So, I stole their form and copied two forms for each 2nd grade ELA teacher. There task before our next meeting was to preview a colleagues board, fill out the questionnaire, and be ready to introduce the board during our Virtual Boardwalk. I also had each of them preview a 1st grade board to generate new ideas of where their work could go.

In the meantime, I snapped pictures of each of their boards. I took one overall picture and one picture of a piece of student's work. I pulled the student's work and commentary off the board to copy and create a packet. The packet would allow the teachers to have the work in front of them for discussion at the meeting. After making the packets and taking the pictures, I pasted the pictures in a Powerpoint in preparation.

For the Virtual Boardwalk held in the administrative conference room, I set up the computer and projector to display the pictures. We walked through each board with the visuals and the teachers introduced their colleagues board. Our dialogue was rich and focused on student work. We also talked about implications to our pacing guide for the next year, and several teachers walked away with new lesson ideas they were going to take immediately back to their classrooms.

In my opinion, this Virtual Boardwalk was a great success. The teachers now have a deeper understanding of the importance of the boards, and will be using the boards to analyze student work which is the main purpose of the board. And, can you get any better than directly impacting student instruction during a short teacher meeting?

Thursday, November 29, 2007


For a coach having a snapshot of instruction across the school is important. The information I gather is valuable in fully understanding where the school is as a whole and where our next steps should be. I assist the Leadership Team in planning professional development activities and gleam information that may help all coaches school-wide plan next steps.

To get my snapshot, I simply do a 5x5 (five by five). 5x5's consist of me taking five steps into a classroom and observing for five minutes. You can't imagine how quick and easy this snapshot is to take and how valuable the information is in keeping your thumb on the pulse of the school's instruction. The walk also lets teachers know that you value their work and are excited to see them in action.

Yesterday, I did 5x5's on the top floor of our building including stops in all third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms, as well as two second grade classrooms. The "snapshots" below highlight some of the instruction I caught in action.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Pocket Full of Mentors

I’ve given much thought to mentors recently. Often when I hear a presentation, read an article or book, or talk to a leader, they give accolades to their mentor. Usually, they mention that one person in their professional life that has given them the most support and advice; the one person that can accelerate them to the next level.

Recently, I read a blog post from Once Upon a Teacher. She had written about things she was thankful for and shared a video entitled the Last Lecture. Intrigued, I followed the link and discovered a moving and must watch lecture from Randy Pausch, a 47 year old professor at Carnegie Mellon who is stricken with cancer but has the most upbeat outlook on life. In this taped segment, he shares pieces of advice and at one point says to find a feedback loop and cherish it.

The comment got me thinking about how critically important it is to have that in a mentor. For me, the feeback loop has been a critical component of moving my work forward. I listen to the feedback, reflect, and put new suggestions into practice immediately. It also got me thinking, am I a successful part of anyone else's feedback loop? What would the teachers I coach say about my abilities in this area?

Randy mentions his mentor on several occasions which got me thinking about this whole topic. So, I spent awhile reflecting and think perhaps I have been blessed with a unique experience.

You see, I don't have a mentor, or even two. I've been blessed with many. To understand, you'd have to consider my professional phases.

I tend to surround myself with people who know much more than I know and from whom I want to learn. I had a principal who took me under her wing and continues to mentor me in the Leadership realm. I sought colleagues that had a passion for math when I needed to become a better math teacher and presenter. When I was given the opportunity to coach literacy, I latched onto two literacy pros. I’m sure I drive them crazy with my questions and I’m confident many days they think I’m apart of their shadow. When the buzz turned to Web 2.0, blogging, Ustream, and Twitter. I quickly attached, like a leach some might say, to our webmaster who tends to always stay on the cutting edge. I don’t necessary stalk them—ok, maybe they would think I do--- but I do spend as much time as I can around them, I have dialogue with them, I copy what they do (if they twitter, so be it, so will I) and I read what they read. Like a sponge I soak in all they say and take their advice for next steps. These people collectively are my mentors and part of my feedback loop, and I wouldn't be the same without them.

So, I ask, who is in your feedback loop? Do you rely on a mentor? Do you have one or do you have several? And, are you apart of someone else’s feedback loop? What would they say about your input?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Our Life as a Reader

At Chets Creek, students are expected to read one million words a year. Why one million words? Research indicates that reading frequency and volume predicts reading success and overall academic achievement. Students who read a million words a year add about a thousand new words to their working vocabulary, develop higher levels of fluency, can comprehend text on a higher level, can write better, and become better spellers. Not to mention the knowledge they are exposed to when they are reading non-fiction text.

To read a million words in a year, a first-grader will need to read four picture books a day and a fifth-grader 25 chapter books a year. All types of reading count including self-selected books on a student's independent reading level, web site and digital text, newspapers, and magazines. Reading can take place in school and at home.

Research indicates that students who read on an average of 40 minutes a day fall in the 90th percentile; students reading 12 minutes a day fall in the 50th percentile range; students who read 2 minutes a day are in the 10th percentile. So, if we know that children become better readers when they read and reading helps them learn in school, what can we do to help?

Like many schools, we have text rich environments, leveled and genre libraries in our classrooms, a Readers' Workshop model that allows students to read in their independent levels during reading, and students keep book logs. Additionally, nightly reading is required as part of student's homework.

What we do, in my opinion, that sets us apart from some schools is that we lead our own lives as readers. We read leisurely. We read professionally. We read as part of a professional book study. We discuss our lives as readers with our students. We bring with us our nightstand books, our magazines, our professional reading text, our children's picture books, or we pull up our digital text and show students an interesting website we found the night before. We know that children read more when they see other people reading, so we model by showing our life as a reader.

We make our reading visible for all students, teachers, and parents. On the outside of our classroom doors there are four plaques that hang. One of the plaques highlights the books we are currently reading, and indicates our favorite texts. Some teachers write on the laminated paper with overhead markers, some type in their reading lists, and others print off a picture of the book jacket to display. Regardless of the manner in which the teachers display theIr reading, the purpose is the same. By making visible the books we are reading we are creating the expectation of our students' reading. This promotes dialogue that many times turns to book recommendations and book talks about literature. We are creating learners prepared for work in the 21st Century and reading a million words a year will be the norm not the exception. Happy Reading!

Our Traditions

Our learning community has firmly established Rituals, Routines, and Traditions. The traditions are embedded throughout our school year and offer rich and meaningful experiences for our young learners. Some of the traditions are designed for the entire school to enjoy like the Literary Pumpkin Festival, Wreath Auction, and Cultural Arts Events. Others are designed for specific grade levels.

First Grade--Sleepover
Second Grade--Holiday Play
Third Grade--End of the Year Play

Some of the traditons are designed for parents like 4th Grade Write Night where teachers take the opportunity to share state expectations with parents.

No matter what the event, our traditions are extremely embedded in our culture, and it takes everyone from the grade level teachers, resource team, and parent volunteers for an event to occur with this type of depth. I applaud all of those participants for offering such rich and meaningful experiences for our students. These are the times they will remember for a lifetime.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Life is a Juggling Act

Amazing Juggling Finale
Ever feel like you were juggling more balls than you can handle? The life of a coach is much like that of a juggler. People expect jugglers to lightly toss balls in the air and gracefully catch and release them over and over again. The magic is the ease at which the juggler appears to gracefully be able to handle the task. Although, the task gets much more complex when the audience wants the juggler to move more quickly, juggle more than three balls, or even juggle a variety of objects. Sound like your coaching job?

Reading the article Life is a Juggling Act brought clarity to my feelings. On more than one occassion the last few weeks, I've felt like I was juggling too many balls. I felt like if I dropped even one, then the rest would ultimately come crashing down.

When I begin feeling like I am juggling too much, I try to get back to the basics and keep my eyes on the big picture. I prioritize and spend the majority of my time juggling the items that will help me get to my ultimate goal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Boardwalk: A Focus on Student Work

I caught a glimpse of the 4th grade Professional Learning Community doing their standards-based boardwalk today, and thought I’d give you a quick look into this best practice.

At the beginning of each month, excluding December, CCE teachers display a standards-based bulletin board. The boards are an avenue to exhibit student work. The boards specific elements include:
o Title
o Standards
o Task
o Circumstances of Performance
o Student Work
o Commentary.

As you stroll through the CCE hallways, it is not uncommon to see parents or students reading the work on the board. You may also catch a glimpse of an entire classroom of students sitting in front of the board as their teacher reads work to them. Coaches, adminstrators, and visitors read the work and have dialogue about the instruction that led to the production of the student work.

As importantly, teachers use the boards to read student work and benchmark their work against standard pieces. After a new board has been displayed, communities of teachers take a boardwalk. They explain to other teachers the purpose of working on the standard the board exhibits, the classroom assignment or task students were asked to complete, and the circumstances under which the piece was created (individually, in groups, after a teacher conference, during work period… etc…). Then, they read some of the student work and discuss how the work meets the standard (teacher’s commentary). In some instances, like on this board, students have compared their own work to the standard and written their own commentary. This allows for a self-assessment of the piece.

Boardwalks are a great way to bring student work to the table. Comparing student work across a grade level allows teachers to have professional dialogue about work that meets the standard. Boardwalks also allow teachers to see if the student work coming out of their room benchmarks against work from other rooms. Often, this comparing of student work leads to discussion about classroom practice and lessons. This gives entry into sharing ideas and improving instruction. Afterall, isn't that what it is all about?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fluent Readers

Second-grade teachers in an effort to ensure that their students are fluent readers are studying the text, The Fluent Reader by Timothy Rasinski. Teachers are reading to embrace and employ reading strategies in their classrooms to help every student realize their fullest reading potential.

In chapter 1, the author outlines four ways to build reading fluency.

1) Model Good Oral Reading
2) Provide Oral Support for Readers
o Choral Reading
o Paired Reading
o Using Recorded Materials
3) Offer Plenty of Practice Opportunities
o Repeated Readings
4) Encourage Fluency Through Phrasing

Most teachers know the importance of reading aloud to students so they can hear what a fluent reader who “reads quickly, effortlessly, and efficiently with good, meaningful expression” sounds like. Not surprisingly, modeling hits the top of the list, and when I visit most classrooms I see them using this best practice.

We have also studied the importance of choral and paired reading, and use paired reading quite effectively in the Readers’ Workshop. However, we could embrace more choral reading opportunities.

This week at our 2nd Grade Teacher Meeting, teachers got a videotaped glimpse into a 1st grade CCE classroom as Maria taught a shared reading lesson. The teacher modeled fluent reading of the text before beginning the lesson. Then, she concentrated on a few pages of the text having students point out the words in italics, bold print words, and punctuation. She taught them how to read these pages fluently. Then, students chorally read the pages. She was going to do this same lesson the next day and then have students chorally read the whole text. Second grade teachers responded by brainstorming ways they could put this type of lesson into their own classrooms on a more consistent basis.

The part of this chapter that resonated with me, came with the authors writing of using recorded materials. The reader can listen to a text and simultaneously read along with the recording. This helps students become more fluent, just like choral reading. In particular, the author states that “tape-recorded books have exceptional potential for improving the reading of English language learners.” Teachers can even send home an audio recorder with ELL students. In many circumstances, the ELL parent cannot provide additional practice at home, so this reading recommendation could allow them to be involved in helping their children learn to read more fluently. At our ELL evening last week, it was apparent that these parents want to be actively involved and supportive, and this would be a great way to get started.

However, there is a pitfall when it comes to recorded texts. Students need to read the text simultaneously as they listen. If they just listen to the text, there is little to no reading benefit. I’m wondering how we could monitor whether they are reading along? If you have an idea, please leave a comment on this post. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Another beneficial tip is to have closed caption on the TV as students are watching a program. This way, students read the captions while they listen. I'm thinking of ways we could possibly do this with a lunch bunch group.

In terms of repeated readings, I think we are fully implemented. We have students check books out once a week in our Readers’ Workshop rather than every day. By keeping five to ten books in their independent bags, students in the primary grades can reread texts. Rereading these texts helps them build fluency.

The author’s final point here entails phrasing and comes with this example:
The young man the jungle gym.
Are you having difficulty reading this fluently with meaning? How about now?
The young/ man the jungle gym.

Teaching students to read in phrases rather than word- to- word is important, but they must know that they have to adjust their reading to find meaning.

Another example about phrasing comes with this sentence:

The principal said the teacher is the best in the school district.

The author wants you to read this sentence first as if the principal is the best. Then, read it so the teacher is the best. These two examples demonstrate the importance of phrasing as students grapple with reading fluency.

I'll keep you posted on our fluency journey. If you have any suggested readings, please send them my way. Good luck on your journey.

Our Future... Our Dreams...

We all know that behind a great school is a well-thought out, articulated, and implemented vision. A strong vision allows schools to look into the future with focus and to set long-term and short-term goals to reach beyond the ordinary.

At CCE’s inception in 1998, teams of teachers with the principal poured over their beliefs and viewpoints to create a foundational vision that would lead Chets into the future. The team agreed on Chets Creek’s vision, mission, and learner expectations, and not much has changed in regard to these since those original planning days. Each summer, as we add new teachers, we spend a day explaining to them our history, our expectations, our vision. We hire those with the same philosophy.

Recently, I’ve given much thought to vision, and wonder if anything has fundamentally changed or if we still believe our vision aligns with where we are headed in our future. I wonder, do we still hold true to the same learner expectations or are there those we would delete or perhaps add? Much has happened in the world since 1998 especially in terms of the fiercely competitive global marketplace and technology. I’m thinking it is imperative to reflect on our vision, mission, and learner expectations to ensure our sustained success.

Where do we see Chets Creek in five years? How will we get there? When will we know we’ve gotten there? Where will our students be five years from now, or twenty years from now? Will our organization have prepared them to lead successful futures?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Memo

In a school of nearly 100 staff members, one would think that communicating the same message to the entire faculty would be difficult. I’m sure you have images of a crowded monthly faculty meeting where the principal stands before the staff to disseminate information. This is not the case at Chets.

The dissemination of information is important, especially in a school as large as ours, at approximately 1,200 students, but the principal uses the vehicle of digital communication via a weekly newsletter, The Memo. All staff members receive The Memo as an attachment to an email on Friday afternoon. And, this thematic newsletter, although a dissemination tool, offers so much more.

The Memo is a seven part document which includes the following key elements:
o Principal’s Message—a link to the principal’s blog where she leaves a message.
o Pixie Pointer—a staff initiated recognition/questioning corner.
o Weekly Events Schedule—day by day calendar of events.
o A Whole New Mind—weekly academic announcements.
o Keys to the Kingdom—housekeeping items.
o Birthday Wishes—building relationships through celebration.
o Tinkerbell’s Magical Moments—public recognition for teachers.

As you peruse this week’s Memo pay particular attention to Tinkerbell’s Magical Moments. This is a method of public recognition for staff that gives them a pat on the back for work well done. This section of the communication tool reaches far beyond the dissemination of information and slants the focus toward academic accomplishments. It opens the door to each classroom so the rest of the staff gets a bird’s eye view into the work of others. It celebrates success.

As a coach, I can assist the principal in gathering celebrations for this section. My job has a focus on curriculum and instruction, and includes the most time spent in teacher’s classrooms observing and as a classroom supporter. I assist the principal in being the positive eyes and ears of the school’s academic happenings, and debrief with her about the awe inspiring things I see on a daily basis. Other coaches in my school also share celebrations with the principal. Collectively between the coaches’ weekly observations and the principal’s direct observations, she can craft Tinkerbell’s Magical Moments. The public recognition not only pats a teacher on the back but opens the knowledge to the entire staff.

Do you want to get started? I encourage you to share this post with your principal. If your principal embraces this idea celebrate, you can help by building the academic corner and gathering snippets for the celebration’s corner. If your principal declines, move beyond the barrier, and start your own memo. You could begin with a newsletter to staff with the academic corner and celebrations. Perhaps, from there, the idea will grow. Good luck on your journey.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pangea Day

As I begin writing this post, we are 187 days 6 hours 44 minutes and 56 seconds from Pangea Day. Why is that significant? Because this is my call to my school community to unite and submit a film.

"Pangea Day taps the power of films to strengthen tolerance and compassion while uniting millions of people to build a better future." On May 10, 2008 the world will unite through a simultaneously broadcast program in an effort to assist in healing our world's conflict. They will broadcast films, speakers, and musicians that offer powerful glimpses into our lives. No longer will they rely on a few to dictate the message broadcast to millions. They are calling on citizens from across our globe, from you and I, to submit films about our lives. The films may show hope, fear, freedom, success, compassion... almost anything.

At Chets Creek, we have a story. We have a story of freedom, diversity, hope, acceptance... Are you ready to get on board? Click on Pangea Day, read about its purpose, look at the contributors list, watch their sample films, then come see me and let's make a plan for film submission. One school can help bring a better future... let's get started.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Focus on Mathematics

To become fluent mathematicians, students need to build understanding and connections in math skills, concepts, and problem solving. Chets' teachers are committed to teaching in a Math Workshop format which fosters an environment safe for students to explore multiple strategies.

Math instruction does not consist of a teacher showing students a set of procedures to solve a problem. And, does not require students to regurgitate an answer. We foster the process. We foster student's next steps. We foster understanding. This is a much different approach in contrast to traditional math education in this country, and one we embrace and celebrate for the achievement of our students.

However, we know that because teachers were not taught the way we are now teaching, professional development must take center stage. Therefore, our principal makes sure to support a math coaching position in her budget. Presently, two coaches share that one position. They share a classroom, and each have half a day of release time to coach in other classrooms. Weekly they run teacher meetings in grades 3-5 where teachers discuss curriculum and instruction, analyze diagnostic assessments, work on common assessments, analyze student work, discuss professional literature, and explore multiple strategies. They also have an entire day each quarter to spend with a grade level where they observe demonstration lessons and debrief the lessons.

In grades K-2, two math teachers who carry full day classroom loads, act as math lead teachers. They run their grade level teacher meetings and WOW Days. On occasion, they are released from their classroom to coach in other classrooms.

In addition to coaching, we embrace digital professional development. We've utilized Math Video Clips of two of the coaches talking teachers through math strategies in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I'm sure they will be delighted that I've linked you to their site :) We've used video streaming demonstration lessons, and one of our math leads, Melissa, has used her blog to begin sharing s wealth of information including linking sites to her posts that she finds useful for students to use from home. Two other sites I've found helpful include the National Library of Interactive Math and a Teacher Resource site. Also, we've used our CCE website to share math information.

You'll notice as a list on this blog, I also recommend math texts that every math teacher and coach should have in their bag of tricks. If you have further suggestions for professional development that we can embrace to move our work forward, please pen me a comment on this post. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Be Our Guest

Throughout the year, Chets Creek hosts hundreds of visitors. Educators and business people alike come from near and far to capture a glimpse inside our magical kingdom. These go-getters spend the day with us in hopes of capturing the essence of what we do and replicating best practices in their own schools.

The day consists of a focus walk, lesson observations, and debriefing. We also spend time sharing artifacts and showing blog posts or video clips in the conference room. Visitors walk away enthusiastic to implement some of their new ideas, and we benefit when they bring suggestions to the table for how best to improve our own practice. Another benefit to us comes from the reflective nature of explaining our work to others and clarifying when they ask specific questions. At the end of the day, when we bid goodbye to the visitors, you can commonly find the host team chatting away in the conference room about the day's experience.

If you are a Chets Creek teacher that would like a bird's eye view, drop me a comment, and I'll be sure to invite you to help host a visiting group. If you are an educator that would like to visit our magical kingdom, drop me a comment, and we'd be delighted to have you Be Our Guest.

It Is All About Alignment

You will often hear educators and parents who are against standardized assessment say that high stakes testing just makes teachers teach toward the test. As an educator and parent who values accountability, I say, why not teach toward the test. If the guiding standard is good enough and curriculum and instruction are aligned, then why not teach toward the test. At the very least we are holding teachers and students accountable.

With that said, I understand that some states have standards that are not strong enough or aligned enough with the assessment. This does offer a pitfall. But, rather than bashing the assessment piece, let's work toward making sure every state has strong standards, curriculum, and instruction. Let's ensure that every student can reach a high standard and that we will offer safety nets to ensure their success.

I found this article, What's So Bad About Teaching to the Test?, very informative. If you want to find out how your state's standards and assessments measure up, be sure to click on the study by the American Federation of Teachers and scroll down to page 8.

In my state, Florida, we appear to measure up in Math and Science across the board in grades 3 through high school. However, our Reading analysis is scary with only grades 3 and 4 meeting the recommendations. Hopefully, my state will take a good hard look at this data to make needed improvements.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Find of the Week

One role in coaching is as a resource provider. Coaches expand teachers' use of a variety of resources to improve instruction. They are avid readers of professional literature, surfers of the web, scouts of educational conferences, connoisseurs of children's literature, and great collegial conversationalists. They are constantly in search of new ideas to improve student achievement.

The only thing better than a coach with a great new resource is a self-directed teacher who has spent hours delving into books and searching the web for a great idea. Who hits a gold mine and immediately alerts her whole team that this great tool exists. This week's find of the week comes from a 2nd grade teacher, Eyleen. If you are in search of Readers' or Writers' Workshop Lesson Plans written using the architecture of a mini-lesson then you'll love this Denver Ed. website. Enjoy...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Significant Studies

While surfing the web tonight, I found an on-line resource for my Second Grade ELA team. We will be using the text Significant Studies in Second Grade as a book study to delve into deeper studies in dialogue and non-fiction strategies. This on-line resource includes the first 75 pages of the text and covers the dialogue lessons. Check it out if you are interested in enhance your own classroom studies.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Give me a... C-H-E-E-R-L-E-A-D-E-R

Cheerleaders are enthusiastic and vocal supporters. Their positive comments can inspire someone to go above and beyond and they always make it a point to applaud excellence. You won't find this term listed in my roles and responsibilities as a coach, but it is certainly something I take very seriously.

We all know those people we want to spend the most time around. Those that always have a sweet smile, positive word, and glass is half full outlook on life. I was not born with this optimistic carefree personality but I work to remember what it feels like to be around individuals with this gift.

I make it a point to cheer on a teacher whenever I can. Some of my cheering is embedded in casual conversation, some typed in an unexpected email, and some as I pen a hand written note on a Positive Postcard each week. There is no special occasion, no fan fare, just a pat on the back that says-- Dear Christy,

I thoroughly enjoyed watching you videostream your Writing lesson for Literacy 101. Each time I watch a lesson in your room, I stand in awe at your thoughtful and well planned lessons, your engaging delivery, and your focused closing sessions. Your students' writing shows incredible depth for fourth graders. You fuel my passion for our craft. Thank you for being you.

From me, this is not just fluff and stuff. These are genuine accolades that show evidence that I care about teachers and appreciate all they do to educate our children.I'm not the only one with this outpouring of support. In fact, at Chets each Wednesday a Positive Postcard with postage is placed in every teacher's box. Each teacher takes the opportunity to pen a positive note to a student, parent, or colleague. Then, they drop the postcard in the Principal's mailbox and she reads the note before mailing it off. What a great way for her to hear an outpouring of all the exceptional things happening in her school each week, and what a positive culture of compliments we are all share. If you don't have this same tradition, it is certainly worth pursuing.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Zealous Learner

I may not be Joe Paterno or Vince Lombardi, but I am an instructional coach on a mission. My mission is that of a learner, the most important hat I wear. My team expects me to be knowledgeable, to be on the cutting edge, and to be able to deliver the most up-to-date and valuable information. In other words, at least one step ahead of them! That is not always easy in my community of learners and leaders.

The past several weeks, I’ve participated in many activities to be a Learning Leader. I’ve gone to state conferences, attended local meetings, read a literacy text, participated in collegial conversations, and been totally involved in the world of on-line conferences.

State Math Conference
I traveled to Orlando to attend and present at FCTM, Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics. While participating I attended two valuable sessions presented by the Florida Department of Education. The first was a presentation by Rob Schoent and Todd Clark from the Math Department on the newly adopted mathematics standards. To see their Power Point presentation visit , scroll down to Oct 11-12 FCTM Power Point presentation. The second was hosted by Steve Ash of the Testing Department on the implications to FCAT based on the new standards. To view their Power Point visit the above page and click on Oct 12 FCTM Presentation.

I immediately shared my new learning with the two math coaches in my building. They are in the process of creating a plan to share the new information during their Teacher Meetings and WOW Days.

District Math Council
I went to DEMC, Duval Elementary Math Council, with six other Chets’ Teachers. The presenter was James Williams from America’s Choice. His message was about students’ misconceptions in mathematics, and how teachers can help resolve misconceptions. He presented a well researched and written intervention program, Mathematics Navigator, which targets students’ misconceptions. Chets has been using the program for the past two years and the results have been unprecedented.

I’ve been reading, Significant Studies for Second Grade by Karen Ruzzo and Mary Anne Sacco who teach at the Manhattan New School. The Second Grade Pacing Guide needs infused with new ideas and resources so I’ve turned to this book to help. I’ve found it so user friendly that I now have it on order for the whole 2nd grade ELA team. We will begin a book study as soon as it gets here. The plan is to implement the non-fiction part of the text after the first of the year followed by the dialogue lessons in early February. I’ll keep you posted about student work and performance based on this implementation.

At the same time I’m reading this text, I’m in search of what I’ll read next. I think I’ll turn to Stephanie Parsons. The 1st Grade Team has recommended Second Grade Writers which is hot off the press, because they’ve used the First Grade Writers in their Pacing Guide for several years.

Collegial Conversation
My most valuable learning opportunity comes at the hands of my talented and knowledgeable literacy colleagues, dayle and Melanie. Like a sponge, I try to absorb their every word and walk away with a wealth of information. In the past two weeks alone, they have opened my eyes to the world of blogging, twittering, social bookmarking, and on-line conferences. Their passion is contagious and I will forever be grateful!

K-12 On-Line Conference
Because of the collegial dialogue, I’ve spent countless hours listening to keynotes and presentations, and reading comments and blogs. I am astonished that sitting in the comfort of my own home, I can attend an educational conference. I hear and see the information first hand and simply send a link to my team for them to see the same message I’ve received. This has opened my eyes to a whole new world and I am ecstatic!

The learner in me is glowing!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Coaching Spills Over

What started out as a “moral obligation,” sold to us by our former beloved principal, has turned into so much more. About five years ago, Terri was charged as a Regional Superintendent to move student achievement forward in her 26 schools. Her niche in the power of persuasion helped convince the three Math Leads at Chets to embrace a Math Cohort. Two teachers from 26 schools would attend a full-day of monthly math training at Chets to learn from our best practice. The idea was to build math leads at each school so they could build capacity at their school site.

We thought, who in the world wants to come listen to us? Well, it turns out, they all did. Seldom did any of them miss a day of Math Cohort. One of the most valuable lessons we learned from the three years of Math Cohort was that math teachers were hungry to discuss professional practice, read professional literature, and watch other teachers in action. The highlight of each meeting was a live demonstration lesson in a K-5 classroom and a debrief.

At the end of three years, the county made the recommendation that this training be provided to all Duval’s elementary schools. The Chets team, which added a couple new players along the way, agreed to merge with district math coaches to offer the training to a larger audience. The Math Cohort became known as the Academy of Mathematics and over a hundred schools were invited to attend. The location changed to the Schultz Center for Teaching and Learning but the basis of development stayed the same. Each agenda would include a live demonstration lesson and debrief. To accomplish this we turned to videostreaming.

The first Academy of Math gathering of the year was held last Friday. Math professionals from around the district participated and the demonstration lessons were as valuable as ever!

A 2nd Grade Math Teacher, Melissa Ross, videostreamed her math mini-lesson, work period, and closing session. Then, she comfortably took a seat in the corner of her classroom in front of the TV to debrief with the live audience.

The math presenters from Schultz asked her to reflect on her lesson. Then, the presenters opened the discussion to the audience. They asked her questions; How did you plan for this lesson? Did you group your students according to data? Did you teach this lesson any differently this year than you did last year? How did you choose students for closing session? They also complemented Melissa on her tedious planning, impeccable rituals and routines, and use of technology in the lesson. They told her they were going to take her visual best practices during closing and implement them in their classrooms.

Changing other teacher’s classroom practice based on best practices they’ve observed, can it really get any better than that? Kudos to the coaching spilling over!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Coaching LIVE

Broadcasting live lessons through videostreaming allows the doors of Our Magic Kingdom to open to the outside world. “Why is this important?” you might ask. It is no secret that teaching is traditionally hailed as a closed door profession, and at Chets Creek we have broken that barrier. Since the school opened in 1998, teachers have been building a culture of collaboration and collegiality. They have been hosting and participating in demonstration lessons and debriefs, attending weekly teacher meetings, working with content coaches in their classrooms, and delving into professional book studies. The next evolution was sharing our best practice with the outside world. Video streaming on real time has allowed us to begin this journey.

My coaching role in this week’s video stream was an easy one. I simply observed in Vicky’s classroom over the course of a week in Reader’s Workshop, gave her a few suggestions on tweaking her practice, and pointed her in the direction of Melanie’s blog. Reading Melanie’s blog on teaching Sub Text allowed Vicky an avenue to read about a new strategy, gather children’s literature, and implement the reading strategy in her own classroom. My role was minimized with this self-directed second year teacher, and Vicky’s colleagues from around the district got to benefit by watching her lesson live!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What is an Instructional Coach?

Whether I am introducing myself to someone new at the ballfield or at church, I always say that I am an instructional coach at Chets Creek Elementary. Most times I am met with blank stares. The courageous ones ask, "What is that?" "Do you teach?" My response is yes...sometimes I teach the children and many times I teach the adults. But, that is only a fraction of what I do. As I walk away, I feel guilty that I've left them under a cloud, but how do you explain in just a few simple sentences this job...

(Most of these roles are defined in "Taking the Lead" by Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison.)

Roles and Responsibilities for
School Instructional Coaches (SICs)

Classroom Supporter – Increases the quality and effectiveness of classroom instruction.
• Model lessons in classrooms on a daily/weekly basis. Components of modeling include: planning with the teacher or team prior to teaching the lesson, delivering the lesson, debriefing with the teacher or team, and coaching/mentoring the teacher teaching follow-up lessons.
• Identify instructional strengths of individual teachers and assist in identifying lead teachers and model classrooms.
• Develop coaching plans, as needed, for teachers not demonstrating student gains.

Instructional Specialist – Aligns instruction with curriculum to meet the needs of all students.
• Assist in the development of school-based assessment tasks that promote higher-order thinking skills for students.
• Facilitate the examination and assessment of whether student work meets the standards (Assessment for Learning).
• Support and assess the levels of implementation (Look-Fors) of various instructional programs.

Curriculum Specialist –
Ensures implementation of adopted curriculum.
• Provide assistance in blending content knowledge and knowledge of differentiated instruction with the workshop model for instruction.

Learning Facilitator – Designs collaborative, job embedded, standards-based professional learning.
• Plan, implement, and follow through with training including professional learning community (PLC) sessions and Early Dismissal Trainings based on results of both formal and informal teacher surveys.
• Assist teachers complete a self assessment of their instructional strengths in literacy, math, and science.
• Survey faculty for amounts and levels of professional development/in-services attended at the district level to determine whole school content area knowledge.
• Prepare and present Parent Workshops on the Standards and/or content areas.

Data Coach – Ensures that student achievement data drives instructional decisions at the classroom and school level.
• Assist the Principal and Leadership Team in the disaggregation of student performance data, by school and by teacher; and assessing instructional coaching needs of individual teachers.

School Leader –
Works collaboratively with the school’s formal leadership to design, implement, and assess school change initiatives to ensure alignment and focus on intended results.
• Collaborate with the school leadership team to establish a school culture of trust, so that coaching is viewed in a positive light by teachers and a vehicle to assist teachers in improving their practice.
• Cultivate a culture that supports innovation continues improvement of teaching

Mentor – Increases instructional skills of the novice teacher and support school wide induction activities.
• Orienting and closely mentoring and monitoring all beginning and non-college of education teachers new to the school, in coordination with assigned Cadre.

Resource Provider –
Expands teachers’ use of a variety of resources to improve instruction.

Catalyst for Change – Creates disequilibrium with the current state as an impetus to explore alternatives to current practice.

Learner – Models continuous learning, to keep current, and to be a thought leader in the school.

Accountability – Organize and document work via monthly activity report.
• Turning in monthly time logs in a timely manner, documenting a majority of time spent in classrooms.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Demonstration Lesson

By definition a demonstration is a show or display; the act of presenting something to sight or view; "he gave the customer a demonstration." As I mentioned in my last blog, all WOW Days begin with a Demonstration Lesson. A teacher or coach from the grade level offers to host a lesson in their classroom to show/display how part of their day is conducted. This puts in plain sight the work of the classroom for all other teachers at that grade level to view.

The demonstration content is usually driven by the professional development focus of the day. For example, today part of WOW Day was based on skills-block, therefore Mrs. Mallon offered to host her Kindergarten team during her morning skills-block time. The observers quietly gathered in her room as her students dutifully gathered in the meeting area. The fast paced skills-block lesson full of ritualed activities built on phonemic awareness and phonics ran for 40 action packed minutes. The audience of teachers cheerfully beebopped to several familair tunes tweaked to teach letter sounds, blends, and rhyming words, and feverishly jotted notes as they quickly noticed ideas they wanted to encorporate in their own classrooms. Upon lesson completion, the students excitedly filed out of the room headed toward WOW Day, and the team of teachers converged on the conference room.

The lesson debrief conducted by a teacher leader on the team started with Mrs. Mallon providing a reflection of her lesson. After her reflection, teachers were given the opportunity to dialogue about warm comments...compliments to Mrs. Mallon about things in the lesson that went well and/or ideas that they could borrow from her to implement in their own skills-block. A working hum took over the room as these passionate teachers conferred about this outstanding demonstration. Dialogue then included questions that the teachers had, "When did you begin using letter blends?" "How do you know when to phase an activity out and bring another in?"

This team has built a community of learning, sharing, and collegiality. As an observer, I could clearly see that an atmosphere of trust was at the cornerstone of their work. They are truly committed to growing as a team with their focus on instruction for all kindergarten students. There is no feeling of competitiveness or isolation. Each teacher is there to improve their own practice by learning from the best practices of the group. This collegiality would be the envy of any teacher that feels they are not in a professional learning community.

To see more of Mrs. Mallon's classroom happenings, view her blog at

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Working on the Work Days

Working On the Work Days
A Chets Creek Professional Development Dream…
Every Wednesday, an entire grade level of colleagues at “The Creek” gather together to spend an entire day developing professionally. They begin by observing a demonstration lesson and debriefing the lesson, then spend the rest of the day dedicated to content knowledge learning lead by a content area coach.

Sometimes the demonstration lesson is taught by a colleague and sometimes modeled and delivered by the coach. Regardless of who implements the lesson, this tradition opens the door for collegial dialogue in an overwhelmingly closed door profession. Bringing a wealth of ideas and best practices to the forefront of our dialogue allows for the development of a collegial community built on Relationships, Risks, and Results.

After the lesson and debrief, the day is spent with the professional learning group discussing reading strategies, delving into math problems, analyzing data, spilling over student work, building rubrics together, creating units of study, or a plethora of other things. Whatever the task, our “Creek Teachers” are up to the challenge.

“Where are the students?” you ask while their classroom teachers are off learning together. Are they in their classroom with a substitute teacher learning from substitute plans meticulously pecked out on the computer by their classroom teacher? Nope! Are they at home playing their day away? Nope! Are they on a field study? Nope! Then, where are they?

With great pleasure and much anticipation, students are happily rotating on a full-day schedule to all their resources in the Magic Kingdom (Art, Music, PE, Media, Technology, Science). The learning opportunity for students is tremendous as the Talented Resource Team embraces their unique role in professional development at "The Creek" and has diligently planned a day of instruction for an entire grade level of students.

At “The Creek” WOW Day occurs every Wednesday and cycles through each grade level: 5,4,3,2,1, and Kindergarten. The Resource Team then has a Wednesday Planning Day and the cycle begins again.

The students are moved from one resource to another by volunteers that willingly and lovingly give of their time to create this special day for teachers and students. WOW Days at "The Creek" are beneficial to all.