Search results: coaching tools

You Asked: Principal and Coach Roles

I frequently get asked some pretty smart questions around the role and responsibilities of an instructional coach. And I always do my best to answer them all. As I was getting ready to respond to a recent question from a reader, it dawned on me {duh!} that I really should be opening up these question and answer sessions to all of you guys!

Because hey, we all want to be better and do more as coaches.

Well did you know there’s a great resource available to support us towards this goal?…each other!

We all have so much we can learn from each other’s questions and experiences.

So a big thanks to Cari for sharing her question, which is something that I’ll bet many of us can relate to:

I love your blog, your tips and tools are very helpful. I am a first year coach with a lot of PD and classroom experience. Since my principal hired me as an “extra” this year we have been kind-of winging my schedule and role. As we look forward to next school year we’d like to tighten up my schedule and responsibilities. Can you give me an idea of how you are accountable to your principal without sacrifying trust with the teachers. Do you meet with your principal weekly? Do you “hand in” a form? Are teachers required to work with you?

Ahhh….the delicate balance of building relational trust, accountability, and confidentiality.


Building relational trust is so super important. It also takes effort and time.  An important first step is communication. When we began implementing coaching cycles at our school, we dedicated one of our afternoon PD sessions {agenda and support structures handout} to the topic of student centered coaching as a form of professional learning. This gave us an opportunity to share with all teachers the why, what, and how of coaching at Tollgate. In doing this, we were able to address the question of “Are teachers required to work with you?” and more importantly begin to build a culture of coaching. Once that culture is established, and you’ve worked to show yourself as a partner in learning to teachers rather than an evaluator, things are likely to go much more smoothly.

I currently meet with my principal at the end of every coaching cycle to fill her in on the work done and reassess where to head next with teachers. This schedule has worked well for us. I would say that I’m pretty fortunate in having a principal who fully trusts me and the work that I do. So I’m not required to send her weekly updates or track my time. I’ve also shared in the past how I’ve tried out coaching data trackers and our PD site as a way of keeping my principal informed.

In addition to my experience, I thought it would be helpful to see what the experts had to say on this topic:

Diane Sweeney shares a really helpful chart in her book Student Centered Coaching that defines how both roles can work together to create a culture of learning where coaching is embraced.

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Elena Aguilar has a whole section in her book The Art of Coaching dedicated to ten suggestions for building trust with teachers, which includes how to have an initial conversation with coachees that establishes confidentiality. She suggests using a coaching log as a tool that can be used to report to supervisors. 

Jim Knight’s book Unmistakable Impact is another great resource for this question. A few key take-aways include:

  • The greater the lack of trust initially, the more important confidentiality usually is. What is most important is that principals and coaches clearly delineate what they will and will not discuss, communicate that policy across the school, and act consistently with the policy.
  • Eight researchers and I visited five of the best coaches in Florida, drawn from a pool of 2,600. In each case, we discovered that each effective coach worked in close partnership with his or her principal.

Cari {and anyone else grappling with this question}, I hope this collection of thoughts and resources above has been helpful.

If you have a question/topic/challenge that you’re wondering about please send it my way! Remember, we’re often each other’s best resource for support.

Thanks for reading,


DIY Teacher Planner/Binder

Something you may not {or may} know about me, is that I am obsessed with planners. I love them. I love creating them and using them to help manage all the daily madness. As educators a well organized planner is an essential, must-have for our line of work.


When it comes to choosing your planner for the year, you could use the standard teacher planner that gets passed out every year at school, but those are usually pretty darn boring if you ask me. So the solution for me has always been to create my own.

As a fun summer project, I worked on creating a planner for teachers and another planner for coaches to support your DIY Planner style. They have all the planner essentials you need, yet leave you with room to build out from there. You can find these different Teacher Planners in my shop.

Or if you’re interested in a weekly calendar that’s already set up and ready to go, definitely check out The Time & ToDo Planner.

Alright, now let’s take a look at how you might set yours up.

For my planner I chose to use a Discbound notebook, which seem to be all the rage these days and for good reason! They’re sleek and sophisticated, highly customizable, fold neatly in half, and lay flat when open. Love it! You can check out the Circa notebook system by Levenger, or the Arc notebook is a slightly less expensive option yet just as good.

On the inside I added a pad of gotta-have sticky notes, some page tabs, and a few paper clips. I also had my cover laminated to spice it up a bit!

The Teaching Planning Kit has three different cover options for you to choose from.


I used white tab dividers, some washi tape, and my label maker to create sections for “Calendar” and “Lesson Plans”. Two essential sections for every teacher!


Begin your calendar section with a Year at a Glance spread. Use it to note important dates for the year, goals, and/or student birthdays.

Behind the Year at a Glance, let your two-page Monthly Calendar spreads for the year begin. These August 2016-July 20147 calendar pages will serve as your Comprehensive Calendar and it is going to be one of your most important tools in your Teacher Planner. A two-page spread is a must, since this is where you will record all of your hard deadlines, events, and meetings for both your school and home life. Yes, both! If you value getting a pizza and watching The Bachelor on Monday night, you’ve got to block that time off and work around it the best you can. Not that I watch The Bachelor or anything…

Behind each month are two lined pages for notes.


In the section for your lesson plans, I created a weekly lesson plan template you can use to get all your big ideas down. There are 5 planning spreads (print as many as you need!) in each Teacher Planner, designed to be printed front-back, so you can either print for the year, or a month at a time. It’s designed to be flexible!

52 Weekly Planning Spreads in PDF


Lastly, I used some sticker paper to make a label for the folder in the back. This “Inbox” is where I’ll collect any loose odds and ends that come my way.


Now that you’ve got the essentials taken care of, the rest of the planner is up to you. You might add a section for grades, meetings, general reference, whatever you need!

A few notes on printing the Weekly Lesson Plans in your Planning Kit or Teacher Planner. For easier viewing and printing, I recommend using Adobe Reader which you can download for free here. You can also use Preview if you have a Mac.

Once you open the Planner PDF in Adobe you should see a screen that looks similar to this:

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The weekly lesson plans are set-up for simple duplex/two sided printing. If you have a duplex printer, you’re good to go. If not, no worries. I don’t either, so on my printer I first printed the “odd pages” by adjusting the “Subset” selection in the print box. The paper I used for printing is standard letter size, 8 1/2″ x 11, 98 bright and 32 lb. from Staples.

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After the odd pages were printed I flipped them over, inserted them back into the printer, and changed the “Subset” selection to “Even pages only.” Now, here’s what you need to make sure to do: print out a few test pages BEFORE printing out the entire document!  Kind of like the old adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” Or you can take a shortcut and just head to Staples.

OR don’t forget about your Time & ToDo Planner option either. You’ll save on the cost of printing, and be ready to go.

Alrighty then, let’s get this Planner party started! Here’s to an organized and awesome school year.

Happy Planning!


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I thought it would be helpful to create a handy resource page with my free printables, favorite books, resources, and tools! Use this list to help you choose a couple new titles to add to your saw sharpening list, identify tools to help you stay organized, and even a few resources to help you kickstart a blog of your own. I’ll make sure to add to this list as I read more and learn more. Enjoy!








Leverage Leadership

I heard about this one through the Coaching Teachers course I took on Coursera. The chapter of the book that I’ve gravitated the most towards, is on Observation and Feedback. Reading through this chapter, in conjunction with the Coaching Teachers course, gave me a new way to frame my debrief conversations: probing questions to ask, examples of bite sized and high leverage action steps and building in time for practice/implementation.


art-of-coaching1The Art of Coaching

As part of my summer reading a few years back, I read “The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation” by Elena Aguilar. Elena writes a great blog over at edweek that I enjoy reading so I knew her book would be a good one to spend some time with. She offers a ton of helpful information in her book, but the chapter that really caught my attention was on developing a coaching work plan. Elena provides ten steps in developing a work plan and explains that they do not have to be sequential.



Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction

I’m a big fan of Jim Knight. He knows a ton about instructional coaching and there is so much we can learn from him. This was the first book of his I read, which has some great tools and practical ideas to offer.




Unmistakable Impact

After reading Jim’s first book on instructional coaching, I was on the hunt for more! I read this book over the summer and really enjoyed it. One of my favorite chapters was on facilitating workshops for adults. I was able to apply much of what I learned from this chapter to the weekly professional development sessions I facilitate with teachers. If you’re looking for some tips in this area, this would be a great book for you to check out.



Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

I’m an introvert. A pretty big one actually. So this book totally hit the nail on the head for me and I enjoyed reading every single page. Being an introvert in a leadership role such as coaching, isn’t always easy. Reading this book helped me see I wasn’t the only one out there and helped me feel more resolved to build on the natural strengths I have.



Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

The first thing you’ve got to get straight, when you’re in any kind of a leadership role is your mindset. I refer back to this book often, to help me stay focused on what it means to have a growth mindset. It’s a great book to read and discuss with your staff, as part of a beginning of year PD series.



There Are No Shortcuts

Rafe Esquith has been a long time mentor of mine from afar. He taught in an inner city school for nearly 30 years (I think he still teaches too), and is one of the highest achieving teachers in the nation. Yet his writing style is totally approachable and practical. I love this book and continue to refer teachers to it often.


Journey Towards a Caring Classroom

This book is packed full of awesome initiatives to build community in your classroom. It’s the first book I turn to when I’m in need of a good team building activity. Each idea also includes debrief questions to cover with your class afterwards.



The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers

Holy visuals! It’s so rare to find an education book that not only has concrete, actionable strategies, but also awesome visuals to go along with each one! I’ve just started dipping into this book, but I already have tons of ideas for how I can improve my anchor charts to better support the strategies I teach.



Great Habits, Great Readers

The authors of Teach Like a Champion put this book out, and it’s great! It’s the first, and so far only book I’ve found that speaks specifically to reading instruction as it relates to the CC standards. The section on guided reading is especially good and I’ve been referring to it frequently through my coaching with teachers.



The Next Step in Guided Reading

Here’s another great book for guided reading instruction! It’s super actionable, mapping out how to work with readers at every level. I’ve found it especially helpful for working with Emergent readers.



Day by Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop

I bought this book after reading how Beth Newingham uses it to support assessment in her reader’s workshop (love her!).   It has some really great resources to work with. One of my favorites is information on using a “Status of the Class” assessment to quickly check in on all of your readers at the start of reader’s workshop.




168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

I really liked this book because it helped me take a close look at how I budget my time. When the school year starts, things can get crazy real fast and it’s easy for all of your time to get sucked up by school. Don’t let that happen! Interesting teachers/coaches lead interesting lives…that means they make time for side hobbies or passions, exercising, cooking…whatever it is you’re into outside of school. Right now would be a good time to start thinking about how you’d like to budget your time to make room for all the things that matter to you and see about making it happen!



Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity

This books has somewhat of a cult following and I’m a member. I learned so much about effective systems and strategies for managing your time and tasks from this book. As a coach, you need to be reliable, dependable, and organized…someone who does what they say they’ll do when they say they’ll do it. This helps you build trust with teachers and can’t be overlooked. Having effective systems and structures in place helps you to be that kind of coach.



The Miracle Morning: The Not So Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life

I love routines {yep, sure do} and I’m a total early bird, so this book was right up my alley. Although I’ve always had some kind of morning routine going on, this book presented a new framework for taking full advantage of your AM time. Since reading it, I’ve done some shaking up of my own morning ritual and am working on being more consistent with it. As teachers and coaches we’re giving so much of ourselves to others during the day, my vote is we give a little time to ourselves as well.




The $100 Startup

This is one of the first Entrepreneurial books I read, and the first one that really got me thinking…hey, I really could turn these ideas of mine into something special. We may not make a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the resources to get something that could make us some extra money, started. If you have any interest in monetizing your unique skills and knowledge, I would definitely say give this book a read!




I listened to this book on Audible, and it got me thinking differently about some mindset and strategy shifts for growing my business. It’s a quick read and doesn’t waste your time with a lot of meaningless info.



I love listening to podcasts on my commute. I’m driving and sharpening my saw at the same time! Here are a few of my favorites. You can check any of them out for free on iTunes.

  • Smart Passive Income: This is the best podcast for bloggers and teacherpreneurs just starting out. The host, Pat Flynn, is totally down to earth, and I’ve listened to almost all of the episodes.
  • Model Health Show: I’m always eager to learn more about how to keep myself healthy and feeling good. This is a terrific podcast that has helped me improve my health in lots of great ways.
  • School of Greatness: This podcast is great for whenever I’m looking for some inspiration and motivation. He has great guests on a few times a week, who always have terrific stories and strategies for success to share.



Simplified Coaching Planning Kit

I designed this planning kit to help us out with our work as coaches! It’s designed to work flexibly with where you’re at in your work throughout the year. I also have a Simplified Teaching Planning Kit available.


Time & ToDo Planner

The Time & ToDo Planner was designed for for busy, creative professionals…me and you! With lots of meetings and tons of to-dos each week, I got to thinking…wouldn’t be great if you could see everything you needed to do that week in one easy view? I thought so too, and the Time & ToDo Planner was born!


Discbound Notebook Travel Punch

I carry this travel punch with me in my bag, so I’m always able to print, punch, and add sheets to my notebook whenever I need to!


Frixion Erasable Pens

I only just discovered these pens this year…I have no idea what I did without them for so long! They’re the only pens I’ll use when working with Time & ToDo Planner, since they allow the ability to easily change and adjust my schedule as I go throughout the week.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means I might receive a small commission if you make a purchase. My opinions are my own and I only recommend goods and services that I believe will genuinely help you.

Professional Learning Binder

For the past few weeks I’ve been pondering how to support teachers in documenting, organizing, and reflecting on their work and learning done in coaching cycles, particularly the use of evidence and data in supporting student achievement.  I wanted teachers to have a lasting, tangible product to walk away with after the completion of coaching to support their future work.  After a conversation with my principal during which she suggested creating “Professional Learning Binders” with teachers, I thought this could be a great solution to my dilemma!

I envisioned teachers being able to use their Professional Learning Binders in a variety of ways.  First, as a model for how to organize other classroom assessments and data.  Well analyzed and organized data is so important in instruction, but many teachers struggle with the organization piece.  Using the Analyzing Assessments tool, the featured Monitoring Grid and a few labeled dividers can all help with this.  Additionally, teachers can use collected work in the Professional Learning Binders as part of a larger teacher portfolio.  Like other professionals, teachers need evidence of their growth and achievement over time.

Now with all that said, let’s have a look!

Binder Cover

***If you would like a personalized binder cover in the design featured here, send me an email and I will make one for you free of charge!

Front of Binder

Binder Spine

The first two tabs are labeled “Planning” and “Assessment.”  The Planning section includes documents that helped guide our identified coaching goal such as our school Work Plan and Expedition planning documents.   I also included a copy of our “Goals and Planning” page which outlines our student learning goal and if applicable, teacher learning goal.

The Assessment section features collected assessments for each student divided by name labels.  There is also a Monitoring Grid included for each student.  You can use mailing labels to collect information on each student tied to identified learning targets.  Then at the end of the week, just peel and stick!

Click to Download a PDF of the Monitoring Grid

At the front of the assessment section is the Analyzing Assessments tool we used to organize assessment information into a data set to support us with planning.

Click to Download Analyzing Assessments Tool

The last three tabs are labeled “Instruction,” “Results,” and “Reference.”  In the Instruction section I plan to collect a few example lessons that I observe and give feedback on during the coaching cycle.  After a post-assessment is given at the completion of the coaching cycle and we have data to show what progress was made, this will be included in the Results section.  Additionally, I plan to ask teachers to write a short reflection on their work done in coaching and their learning as a result which will also be included.  In the Reference section, I have included a few professional articles tied to our coaching goal as an additional resource.

This is a GREAT article by the way if you’ve been learning about Close Reading!  You can download it here.

I hope this post sparked your thinking for how you can support teachers in organizing and reflecting on important information tied to your coaching work.  If you are a teacher, hopefully this post gave you some ideas for how to begin a professional learning binder/portfolio of your own!

Thanks for reading,

iPad for Instructional Coaches

I’m super lucky…over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to play around with one of our school’s 30 iPads.  As I started to work with it, I focused mainly on researching and testing out different apps and iBooks to support literacy instruction.  Then I began to wonder about how I might use it to support the work I do as an instructional coach…hmmm…

After a few Google searches, I found a wealth of information on how to use the iPad in the classroom.  There was very little information however (none really!) on how to use an iPad as an instructional coach.  OK, I thought, I’ll just figure it out on my own.  Well, this figuring out piece ended up taking much more time than I thought…but I thought I was on to something.  Up to this point, I had been doing my observations and debriefs with paper and pencil and keeping them all in a binder.  I like paper and pencil because it feels much less intrusive in a classroom than a laptop and it’s also what I’m used to, so I feel comfortable with it.  On the other hand, I really don’t like it.  I wasn’t doing a good job of making my notes accessible to teachers and my notes felt more like a jumbled mess than a solid record of our work together.

By using an iPad, I had the opportunity to not only improve my efficiency and effectiveness, but to also serve as a model for other teachers for how they might use an iPad.  So I persevered and finally came up with a functional system.  I’ve been test-driving my new system for the past few weeks and I like it…a lot.  In case you’re an instructional coach (or teacher) wondering how you might use an iPad to support your work, I hope the ideas below will save you some time in “figuring it out.”

Notes Plus

Notes Plus is $7.99. There are less expensive handwriting apps also available.

I knew that I didn’t want to use a big, bulky laptop to take notes when in a classroom observation, so my first task was to find an app that would support handwriting.  After some thorough review, I narrowed my choices down to “Notes Plus” and “Ghostwriter”  I tried using consumer reviews and information on each of their websites, but I couldn’t make up my mind…so I bought both.  The plus of Ghostwriter is that you can upload your notes to Evernote.  This is one plus however compared to the many pluses in my mind of Notes Plus (no pun intentended). With Notes Plus your handwriting feels super smooth and natural.   You can also easily organize your notes into “Coaching Notebooks.”

My coaching notebooks organized in Notes Plus

Once I’ve collected notes from a classroom observation, I upload them to Google Docs where I create a folder for each teacher I work with.  Without making any adjustments, you can upload your notes in a PDF format and add them to your teacher folders for later use.  I like to do some editing of my notes before I debrief with teachers however, and I prefer for these notes I share to be typed.  In comes the “convert handwriting to text” feature of Notes Plus.  Yes, it’s an extra $1.99, but it’s pretty cool and a feature I definitely use.   During the debrief, I can easily add information from our discussion to this existing document.  This is then housed in my teacher created folder, which I share with them.  In doing this, there is no need to email the teacher your notes (which I sometimes forget to do).  It also ensures that you both have an organized system for storing, accessing, and using information collected during the coaching cycle to support your work.

My teacher folders in Google Docs on my laptop

My handwritten notes using Notes Plus

My notes after converting to text

I also use Notes Plus to take notes during other school meetings.  I store these notes in a “School Notes” notebook. (see photo above)

One last cool feature of Notes Plus is that you can take pictures during a classroom visit or walkthrough and add it straight into your notes to refer to later!


GoDocs is $4.99

As an add-on to Google Docs, GoDocs allows you to quickly and neatly manage your Google Docs on your iPad.  You don’t need this, but GoDocs leverages the iPad interface making it easier to work with your Google Doc files.   I love how well organized my files appear and how quickly I can access my docs.

My teacher folders organized in GoDocs


Evernote is free!

For keeping up with small chunks of information and taking more thorough notes, I turn to Evernote.  I have the Evernote app on my iPad, computer, and phone and it’s free!  I have one main “School Notebook” setup with different stacks, which allows me to organize my information more thoroughly than I can in Notes Plus.  While I still use Notes Plus as my primary teacher observation tool, I prefer Evernote for other teacher meetings, planning sessions, and jotting down quick ideas.

Evernote on my computer


Wunderlist is free!

Awhile back I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and because I’m always looking for new ways to stay organized and on top of things, I was immediately hooked.  I tried out his system with a paper notebook, which worked for awhile.  Then I came across Wunderlist…love it!  You can sync it across all of your devices and it’s completely free.  When I’m out and about in the building and something pops into my head, I immediately pull out my iPad and record it.  When I meet with a teacher and we discuss any actionable next steps, I can create a list and share it with the teacher so that we both remain accountable.  My lists are pretty simple, but you can make them as specific as you want.  Everything in Wunderlist is considered an “actionable” item.  If something comes to mind that I don’t need to take action on right away, I store it away for later in Evernote to reflect on when I have more time. 

Wunderlist on my iPad


Diggo is free!

Last, but not least, I would recommend adding Diggo to your collection of tools.  An easy way to think about Diggo is that it’s a smart bookmarking tool.  It allows you to highlight information on a certain web page and add personal notes.  You can the share these notes and highlights with others.  With the Diggo iPad app, you can quickly pull up your organized bookmarks to refer to when meeting with teachers.




Although the apps and ideas described above have worked for me, you may find an iPad system that works even better for you!  Please feel free to share how you have used the iPad to support the work you do as an instructional coach or teacher.