How One Coach Keeps It All Together. A Story.

You kick up your feet and take a sip of your iced peach green tea, as you look out at the sunny summer afternoon and smile.

Oh how you love summer. Oh how you wish the summer days and land of no schedules would never go away. Ahhh…

You take another sip and decide you should probably take a look at the calendar and see what’s coming up.

As you look at your calendar you realize it’s already mid-July. And then you see it…the Back to School reminder.

Are you serious?! Already?! Where did the time go?!

OK, you think. Get a grip.

But I should probably start thinking about getting organized for the year.

K, so I’m going to keep using Google Calendar. I like how it reminds me about stuff.

Then I’ll write everything I need to do down in a new notebook. Writing helps me think, plan, and process. But last year things got all mixed up and lost with this system. Not good.

Bah!

Many of us coaches/teachers/administrators go through a “school’s starting soon, gotta get organized” revelation mid-summer.

Since we know that being organized is such a key piece to our success (and happiness!) throughout the year, when we’re freed up with a bit of extra time over the summer, those pushed aside thoughts of getting things together resurface and start nibbling their way to the forefront of our mind as we think of August quickly approaching.

Can I get a “Hey Yeah!” if you can relate?!

If so, what I’ve found helpful is to use a few of these summer days to get a solid planning system in place that will help you feel confident and prepared as you begin and move forward with a new school year.

And to help you get going, I thought I’d tell you a little story of how one coach keeps it all together. So go ahead and kick your feet back up, and keep sipping your iced peach green tea.

Meet Melissa. Melissa is a busy instructional coach, who really loves the work she does in schools everyday.

Melissa will be going into her second year as a coach. She supports two different schools, and has lots of responsibilities on her plate. On any given day, you might find her doing any of the following: planning or facilitating PD, gathering and reviewing resources, coaching up to 7 teachers in one of her coaching cycles, creating a school welcome board, or highlighting an important section on close reading in a book she wants to share with a teacher.

Melissa is a highly motivated, “can do” kind of gal and has worked hard to tweak and refine her planning system, to ensure she keeps all her ducks in a row.

Curious to get to know Melissa and her got-it-together system a bit better?

Cool. Let’s take a look:

1. Melissa has a weekly planning routine

One of the key routines that Melissa makes sure to schedule every week, is her Weekly Review. The Weekly Review is Melissa’s time to check-in, process, and plan. Her most preferred day for this weekly meeting with herself is Friday after school. She loves heading in to the weekend with her time and to-dos for the following week scheduled, and her head clear. So each Friday afternoon Melissa pops open the Iced Tea she packed that morning, grabs her Frixion erasable pens, computer, phone, Weekly Review checklist, and gets started.

2. Melissa figures out her time commitments for the week

Melissa has a hybrid planning system, using both digital and paper planning tools. She appreciates the strengths of each, and has learned that she really does prefer using both to keep it all together.

Melissa begins her Weekly Review by opening her computer and looking over her Google Calendar. She scans over all the hard commitments/inflexible events she has scheduled that week, including: personal or professional appointments, hard project deadlines, and any special holidays or birthdays. She transfers these into the weekly view in the planning spread of her Time & ToDo Planner. Melissa is a visual planner, and likes to see the time blocks of her week clearly laid out in front of her. She can also be easily distracted by her computer or phone when trying to reference her calendar, and appreciates the focus that paper provides.

 3. Melissa writes out her priorities for the week

Next, Melissa references the goals she’s set for herself this year, and uses these to set her focus for the week. This week she’s really trying to work on her three “P’s”

4. Melissa lists out her to-dos for the week

She looks through a few different locations to gather these up and identify what needs to go on this week’s plan. She starts by looking at last week’s plan to see if there were any “Upcoming To-Dos” she captured. She decides whether any of these will go on this week’s plan or if they will be put on her Master List, which she can come back to later.

Melissa’s Master List is a very important piece of her overall system. This is where she gets all of the tasks out of her head and recorded so she doesn’t get overwhelmed with a super long weekly list. She’s relaxed and assured that she hasn’t forgotten anything, and knows she’ll get to these tasks eventually, just not this week. Melissa prefers a digital tool for her Master List as it’s super flexible, allowing her to organize her list by category, rearrange, and add/delete.

She goes through the same process when going through emails, her physical inbox, and coaching notes for the week.

As Melissa analyzes her to-dos for next week, she decides to group them by Project. Super smart. This will help her batch her work throughout the week and be more efficient with her time.

5. Melissa figures out where to fit it all in

Here’s where Melissa balances it all. She checks her to-dos against her time and decides where her task-tackling work blocks will be for the week. She puts a box around these larger chunks of time on her schedule, so she can head into that particular day knowing exactly what she needs to do, and when. If she’s trying to do more than she realizes she has time for, she feels comfortable getting rid of some of the less important to-dos and transferring them back to her Master List.

She has fun with this part, as there’s just something special about writing on paper. It’s like there’s a part of her brain that gets fired up when she writes by hand, that doesn’t work as well when she tap-taps on her phone or keyboard. She can bullet, color-code, circle, star, bold, and doodle out her plans for the week. She’s not sure what the science behind it is, or if there even is any science about it. But she knows the magical-ness exists, so she uses it, and calls it: PAPER POWER!

6. Melissa maintains her system throughout the week

Things inevitably change throughout Melissa’s week, so she understands the importance of being flexible. A routine that has helped her stay on track is the 15 minutes of time she sets aside each morning and afternoon to check-in on her plan and revise as needed. Erasable pens are key here! When her days come to a close, she draws a line through the day to indicate it’s time to shut down and enjoy the evening.

Throughout the week Melissa captures thoughts and other to-do’s on the bottom of her weekly plan, or on her iPhone when she’s out walking her puppy and thoughts pop into her head. She’s determined not to let stuff float around in her head and bug her.

Relaxed, and feeling good, Melissa wraps up the week and begins again the following Friday when she’ll meet with herself for her next Weekly Review and begins her planning process again.

The end.

Hopefully Melissa’s story got your wheels turning about how you might put a similar planning system into place for the coming school year.

Have any follow-up questions? Want to talk details? Ask them in the comments below – click on the post title, scroll down, leave a comment/question in the box, submit! – Then I reply :)

And if you’d like to get your hands on Melissa’s weekly planning tool, make sure to check out the Time & ToDo Planner.

Enjoy these last few weeks of sweet summer, and I’ll talk to you soon!

6 Books on My Summer Reading List. And How I Chose Them.

During the year, I always keep a running list of books I want to read. They’re an assortment of titles I hear about on podcasts, come across online or in other books I read, or are recommended from friends and colleagues. I may not have time to read them right then, but I know I’ll want to come back to these books at some point, so I write them down.

Since I usually build up a pretty long list over the school year, and don’t have time to read every one (even with the added leisure of summer days…ahhh), I have to decide which ones I’m going to invest in.

So. Here’s what I think about to help me decide which books will really be worthy of my summer time reading:

  • What did I struggle with this past year? What felt challenging?
  • What am I feeling really excited about for next year? What’s going to motivate me to keep getting better? What additional opportunities and experiences can I create for myself and teachers next year?

I’ve found that my answers to these two questions most always steer me in the right direction.

I think this is one that all of us who have ever done any kind of coaching have struggled with at one point or another: teacher motivation, buy-in, or change.

I worked with a teacher at the beginning of the year who I just couldn’t get off ‘go’. Even though we worked together through a full 6-week coaching cycle, we couldn’t get to a place where next steps were consistently implemented and a change in practice was supporting student achievement.

And it bugged me all year.

Not the teacher, but me. I bugged myself, because I knew I could have done better as a coach.

So to support myself with the skills and tools I know I’ll need to get better in this area next year, I’m going to check out the books shown below.

Tackling tricky conversations and teacher change, here I come!

 
  

One thing I’m getting myself pumped up about for next year is PD. I know. Kind of an odd area to get excited about, but it’s a big part of my role as a coach at our school. And our PD time and structure needs some shaking up!

I’ve got some good ideas for our PD Pad in mind that I’m getting excited about (think disco balls and whiteboard tables…woot woot!). And I’ve also got some ideas for how to take better advantage of technology to better differentiate and support teacher learning. I’ve fiddled with this in the past, but there’s so much more I could be doing.

Something else I started to get more into this year was Twitter and becoming a “connected educator.” Just this year, I’ve connected with so many other amazing educators on Twitter, and have been introduced to lots of great resources. Not sure how it took me so long to get on the Twitter train, but I’m on it, so let’s get connected! If you’re just getting started, here’s a really great guide that I read to get me up and going.

And back to books. Here are two I’ve picked out that I think will really align well with my “let’s get excited” goals for next year:

I really believe in the saying that “Leaders are Readers”. So let’s choose a few books to dig into this summer, shall we?

Let me know your book picks in the comments below.

By the way, have you checked out my “Walk Through a Coaching Cycle Workshop” yet? If not, make sure to take a look!

Talk to you soon,

6 Lessons I’ve Learned as an Instructional Coach

The close of this year will mark my fifth year anniversary as an Instructional Coach. Crazy.

My journey into the world of coaching wasn’t necessarily a planned one. So when I first got started, I really had no idea what I was doing. Just keeping it real.

But then guess what?

I embraced the discomfort, learned along the way, and…I started to get better! And then a little better. To the point where these days you might even think I know a bit about what I’m doing!

That’s not to say that I still don’t have a ton to learn. Because I do. For sure.

But in reflection, I thought I’d take some time today to share with you 6 of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a coach in these past five years of practice.

I was thinking I might try to keep the list to five so the post had a better ring to it (you know: 5 Lessons in 5 Years). But I really think all 6 are important :)

Here it goes:

1. Listen. And Then Listen Some More

This was probably one of my biggest first lessons. I had always considered myself a pretty good listener. Then I started coaching.

When you’re in the thick of a coaching conversation and doing your best to guide the flow of your chat and develop understandings along the way, you’ll discover one thing quickly:

You’ve got to learn to listen like whoa.

This is the only way you’re going to get better at this next piece…

2. Get Good at Asking Good Questions

Who knew asking good questions could be so hard? Geeze.

Then I started coaching.

Through coaching, I started to learn and understand more about the difference between a question and a really good question.

The ones you think about and plan for, that give teachers space to reflect and analyze their own instruction, resulting in improved understandings that will positively impact the quality of their next lesson.

Phew. This isn’t an easy task. And to make it trickier, you have to get good at asking these kinds of questions on the fly! Bah!

This is one I just have to keep working on getting good/better at.

3. Don’t Lose Your Street Cred

I’m a coach AND a teacher. Not either-or.

So I don’t want to lose my street cred.

Staying connected to the work that classroom teachers do everyday is super important for myself as an educator, as well as my work as a coach.

With more paperwork responsibilities on your plate as a coach, it’s easy to get caught at your desk and behind your computer for longer than you might like.

I make it a point to keep my teaching skills sharp and that street cred in place through modeling, co-teaching, or even jumping in to sub for a teacher!

Regular teaching keeps me engaged, passionate, and informed about the work I do.

4. Take Your Job Seriously. But Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously

I love the way that Stacie shared and expanded on the importance of this super smart advice.

Yes, I’m a coach and a leader, and I definitely have important work to accomplish during my days. But that doesn’t mean I have to be so dang serious and buttoned up about it.

So I smile often. I laugh out loud and act silly. I don’t try to use really big words and act like I know everything. Cuz I don’t.

I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know” and I definitely mess up.

Taking risks and working through the muck of moving towards classroom and school goals right alongside teachers is what I try to do.

5. Double Down on Knowledge

Make learning a priority. Read all of the books you can, take all the classes you can, and connect with as many other educators as you can.

Invest your time, and even money, into this knowledge. It will be one of your best investments ever.

Knowledge will get you to where you want to go as a Teacher Leader faster, you’ll be prepared for future opportunities, and most importantly all this smart-ness you’re accumulating will provide great value to the teachers and students you work with.

Double down.

Check out the Walk through a Coaching Cycle Workshop
I’ve got coming up!

6. Learn How to Be a Time Management Ninja

When you’re a teacher, your schedule is all neat and tidy. I loved this part of teaching.

I knew exactly when my planning times were everyday, when our weekly PD was scheduled, and of course I had my lesson plans for each subject all lined up and ready to go.

Then…I started coaching.

Goodbye neat and tidy. Helloooo unstructured, things always change, non-tidy schedule.

Man. I’m so routine oriented, so this was a hard one for me. I had to figure out some planning systems and structures, and quick.

It was a process of trial and error, and I continue to tweak and refine each year, but I now have a pretty good system in place that helps me bring some structure to my weeks.

It’s Here! The Time & ToDo Planner, Academic 2016-17 Calendar (updated and Awesome!)

I hope these few bits of advice will help you either reflect on your own journey with coaching, or if you’re just starting out, help you with getting started on the right foot.

Talk to you soon,