Search results: sharpen your saw

5 New Books to Add to Your Reading List

I’m always on the hunt for new books to help sharpen my saw and I’ve recently found a few worth sharing.

Here is a list of 5 books I’ve found myself digging back into on a regular basis to help me answer questions, guide my coaching, and just work smarter.


Leverage Leadership, by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools

leverage leadershipI heard about this one through the Coaching Teachers course I took on Coursera. As soon as I saw Orin {course facilitator} had recommended it, I jumped right on Amazon to purchase it! 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.

It’s been super motivating for me to continue to push myself in the area of effective feedback. With each coaching conversation, I feel like I’m getting a little better, and this book has been helpful with that. Oh, and it comes with videos of coaching conversations which I’ve watched and rewatched.

Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo


Transformational Literacy

Making the Common Core Shift with Work that Matters

transI’ve been trying to get my hands on as much information as I can related to the Common Core and close reading of complex texts. And this book nails both areas on the head! The information it’s provided on the instructional sequence of close reading {in text and on video} has been super helpful for a current coaching cycle I have going with a 4th grade teacher. We started by watching the video provided, doing some reading, and then thought about what parts would make sense to apply in the context of our work.

If you’re studying Common Core instruction at your school the book includes a professional development guide you can use. It’s more aligned to upper grades, so if you’re looking for primary Common Core, this one probably won’t be the most helpful.

Transformational Literacy by Ron Berger, Libby Woodfin


Great Habits Great Readers

A Practical Guide for K-4 Reading in the Light of the Common Core

great habitsSpeaking of Common Core in primary, this book has been a great resource for me in this area. 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. What I think I’ve especially appreciated in the book is the emphasis it places on identifying next steps and choosing texts for students based on Lexile levels or bands. We’ve relied on the traditional Fountas & Pinnell leveling system for so long, it’s a push to think about text selection differently, but a good push I think. And I’ve got a lot more to learn in this area.

Great Habits Great Readers by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, Aja Settles, Juliana Worrell


Leaders of their Own Learning

Transforming Schools Through Student Engaged Assessment

leadersIf you’re interested in learning more about student engaged assessment, this is your book. Using data consistently and effectively with students is huge! Yet, this is an approach to assessment that many of us aren’t taking advantage of. I did some work with this book at the beginning of the year when I was teaching half-day, and I wished I’d had more time to put my learning into practice, as I had only just started to dip my toes into what could be done.

If you’re coaching and working with a more advanced teacher, this book would serve as a good push in learning, maybe for you both!

Leaders of their Own Learning by Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, Libby Woodfin


The Miracle Morning

The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8am)

morningI 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. Each morning I try to include time to work on my blog, exercise, journal, and have even started doing some visualizing of my goals.

I kind of want to write a book called “The Miracle Morning for Teachers” because I really believe it’s such an important daily ritual that supports your success and happiness in lots of different ways.

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 Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

Do you have a book you would add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

How Sharp is Your Saw?


What are you doing to support your own growth and professional learning? This was a question our principal recently asked us at a staff meeting. Later that week as I reflected on my Teacher Professional Learning Plan (do you guys have these?), I noted “dedicate more time to sharpen my saw” as a next step.

So what does sharpen the saw mean? Well, it’s a saying that refers to staying fresh, or renewing in all four areas of your life — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The saw I’m referring to in this post and the one I’m going to focus on sharpening is my mental saw; learning, reading, writing…continuously improving your skills and knowledge. As an educator, you’ve got to stay on top of your game. Period. So here’s my saw sharpening game plan:

Put It On Your Schedule…(and stick to it)

If you don’t block off time on your calendar or schedule, it’s not going to happen. I like to schedule my saw sharpening time first thing in the morning. Right now I’m planning for at least 30 minutes a day (including weekends), which would come to three and a half hours a week. I know we’re stretched for time, but that’s totally doable and you’ll be 3.5 hours smarter each week!

Be honest with yourself and schedule your saw sharpening at a time when you really will be able to honor that commitment. A time when you know you’ll be able to focus and won’t have to battle distractions. Setting a timer during your study time can also help hold you accountable.

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Track Your Progress

Tracking your progress allows you to see the results of your efforts and seeing results makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Accomplishment feels good, which gives you the motivation to keep it going the next week. I like to track my progress in my notebook, marking off 15 minutes minute intervals in boxes. It looks something like this:


I also added an “Evidence” section to my coaching notebook so I can track the impact of my saw sharpening on my work with teachers and students.

Create a Stimulus Queue

Creating a stimulus queue is an awesome idea I picked up from reading The Accidental Creative. It’s a place to record resources and ideas to follow up on during your saw sharpening time. What learning is really going to help you move forward in solving a problem or doing better work? When you come across an idea or resource, write it down. My stimulus queue is also in my notebook and I use it to help me plan my time.


Alright friends, sooooo…how sharp is your saw? Sharp enough to slice through your work like a hot knife through butter? Or could it stand a little sharpening?

If you have any stimulus queue ideas or resources to contribute, please share in the comments below!

Thanks for reading,


10 Great Gift Giving (and Getting) Ideas for Educators

Happy Holidays! It’s a SNOW DAY(!!) here in Denver, which has really got me in the holiday spirit. I’ve got my eggnog latte in hand, feet kicked up, and a fire blazin’. So if you’re looking for the best gifts for your friends and family you can go to sites as to find the best products for the holiday season.

As I was checking through my holiday gift list, I got to thinking about the Gift Guide I put together a few years ago and thought, “Hey! I should do another one of those!”

So here it is, 10 gift giving (or getting) ideas for educators…


1. Time & ToDo Planner 2016

I’m planning on putting my planner together next week, and am psyched! We weren’t able to print a bound version of the planner for the calendar year, but are excited to have a digital version available AND the colorful academic planner!

We’ll print it for you on thick, smooth paper with a full color-bleed, and ready to bind on your own. No hassling with printing or forking over a bunch of money at a print shop!

If you already have a planner, or won’t be in the market for one until the next school year, we’re looking forward to releasing a bound version of the Time & ToDo Planner with some featured upgrades to the existing design.
Get the Time & ToDo Planner!

2. Tea Infuser Mug

I’m normally all about coffee, coffee, coffee, but am changing it up this year with an option for the tea lovers. I’ve just been venturing into the world of Yerba Mate, and this little guy has been a handy way to brew a yummy mug at school.

3. Frixion Erasable Pens

Oh man. When I first discovered these pens, I had no idea how I had ever gone so long with out them. I mean, you can write in pen, AND erase! So cool. They’re the only pens I can use with my planner, since I’m frequently switching things around in my weekly schedule. You’ve got to try them!

4. Gold Pen/Pencil Pouch

I carry my pencil pouch with me everywhere. It holds all my erasable pens, some wash tape, and whiteout. This would be a great, inexpensive gift for a teacher friend.

5. NeuYear Wall Calendar

I just ordered this calendar, and it’s sweeeeet! I plan to use it to map out my big goals and plans for the year. It’s large and in charge, so I’ve posted on the wall in my home office so it’s always staring me down, and reminding me of where I should be headed. No excuses!

6. Swell Water Bottle

I always have to throw a water bottle in the mix, and this one is my new fave. It comes in a great size and shape to easily fit in your bag, and the color and style options they offer are super cool.

7. Arc Notebook

How about a new Arc Notebook for your Coaching Kit and/or planner? Levenger has come out with some nice new options, and I’ve always loved this quilted one from Staples.

8. Adult Coloring Book

When Luke ordered one of these a month or so ago, I kind of thought, “Huh? You ordered a coloring book??” But then I checked it out further and they’re actually really neat. They’re supposed to be especially helpful for stress, so the next time you’re having a stressful day at school, maybe just whip out your coloring book at lunch to help you bring it down a notch or two.

9. Instacart

There may not be a better gift you can give a friend, or yourself, than the gift of time. That sounds kind of cheesy, but really it’s true! Instacart has saved me a good two hours each weekend on grocery shopping, and I love it! It’s becoming available in a growing number of areas, but if they’re not where you’re at yet, maybe you can think of another way you can do some outsourcing in 2016 and save yourself some time.

10. Audible Subscription

Give the gift of learning! I’ve read/listened to so many great books on Audible, and mostly while on my commute or walking Sombra! Listening to books is a terrific way to sharpen your saw and maximize your time.

Hope this post gave you a few good ideas.

As we wrap up this week and head into a few weeks off from school, I’m wishing you warm snuggles by the fire, golden champagne, and all the joy and happiness this season brings.

Thanks so much for sharing some of your valuable time with me this year, and I’m looking forward to a great new year!


Coaching Teachers-Promoting Changes That Stick: What I Learned

I recently finished my first MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) offered on Coursera and man oh man, am I glad I signed up! Talk about a saw sharpening experience. I had never even heard of Coursera or knew that MOOC’s existed, before a friendly reader {thanks, Deb!} notified me of the course Coaching Teachers: Promoting Changes that Stick. First of all, it’s FREE, which is pretty sweet. The teacher, Orin, is super engaging and fun to learn from. It’s packed with great videos, visuals, readings, and sample coaching sessions to observe. This recent session just wrapped up, but you can add the course to your “Add to Watchlist” so you’ll be notified of upcoming sessions. If you’re a new or experienced coach looking to improve your practice, I would highly recommend this course.

Because I really thought the learning was valuable, I wanted to share some of my big takeaways with you so you can get in on some of the learning action until the course becomes available again. And since I love a good visual and haven’t done an infographic in awhile, I thought this was a good opportunity to put one together. Take a look!


So you see, lots of learning to get excited about. I definitely did a lot of reflecting on the question: “Am I a good coach or am I an effective coach?” and I’m pumped to improve and refine aspects of my own coaching practice to be more consistently on the effective side. Need a teacher companion for better results? Good teachers use tried and tested instructional techniques. They hone their craft through professional development, try new pedagogical methods, reflect carefully on their teaching and seek to improve through lesson observations and feedback

One area I’m going to work on is the quality of my feedback. I realize that I have a tendency to talk too fast {I just get excited!} and can rattle off too many focus areas in a debrief, rather than really zooming in on one bite size, high leverage area/skill at a time.

What about you? What area do you struggle with or would like to improve in your own coaching practice? Let me know in the comments below, and please share this infographic if you like!

Getting Started with Instructional Coaching


I’m always super excited to hear from readers who are just getting started with their journey into instructional coaching. I send some email cheers (You rock! Go get em! You’re going to be awesome!) and good vibes, really wishing them all the best in their transition. It’s definitely an exciting time. But it can also be a little nerve-racking and overwhelming. Lots of us move from our classrooms, straight into coaching positions with little formal “training” or guidance to prepare us for our new roles. When I first moved into coaching, I can remember feeling very driven to be successful as a coach, but also wondering, “Where do I even start?!!”… “What can I do to ensure that I am successful?” Such are the feelings of one reader who recently wrote me:

Good afternoon,
I will be beginning my first year as an instructional coach at our alternative school. I have 16 years teaching experience in SPED. I am beginning to look around for instructional materials for myself, as the school year is nearing the beginning. I came across your blog near the top of my search and was wondering what you would suggest as the top things I should concentrate on, outside of establishing relationships with my fellow teachers. The great thing is that I have been in the same district for 16 years and many of my students have eventually attended our alternative school so I know quite a few of the teachers. Thank you for any guidance you can give me.

So, let’s chat.

Here are a few beginning of the year pieces for you to consider, based on what I’ve learned these past few years.

Clarify Your Role

Instructional coaching can look very different district to district, or school to school. You may have been hired with a broad overview of what you’ll be doing, or maybe none at all. Either way, I think it would definitely be worth your time to write out a clear job description for yourself, really clarifying your roles and responsibilities. One idea is to get online and search “Instructional Coaching Jobs.” This will give you a list of different coaching job descriptions which may help you get some traction.

I wrote up a summary of my role this past week to be shared with staff, since we have several new teachers this year. Here it is in case you need another resource:

As our Instructional Guide, my role involves serving as a facilitator and coach, working and communicating on an ongoing basis with our school designer, the leadership team, and of course teachers! On any given day you might find me doing any of the following:

  • Collaborating with teams to develop long term and short term instructional plans and quality assessments
  • Observing teachers and providing feedback based on our school work plan and individual teacher goals
  • Modeling lessons
  • Digging for or reading through resources current with best practice research
  • Facilitating groups visiting from other schools
  • Planning and facilitating professional development meetings
  • Or even designing and decorating the school hallways

This year I’m super excited to add another role to my work, which will be teaching literacy in (another teacher’s) room. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned from visiting so many great classrooms, and continuing to improve my own craft as a teacher.

Share Your Role with Teachers

Some teachers have had great experiences with a coach, others not so much. While others have never been coached at all. If coaching is new to your school, it will be important for you to plan a beginning of the year PD to communicate your role, the purpose of instructional coaching at your school, and how coaching can act as a support structure for the important work teachers do every day. Here’s the agenda we used as an example:


Then, you can send a coaching interest survey to teachers asking if they’d be up for participating in a coaching cycle. It may be helpful to provide some areas of focus for them to consider in case they’re unfamiliar with how coaching can be a support structure.


Set Goals for Yourself

Continuing to learn and sharpening your saw will make you better at everything you do. So as we kick off the year, ask yourself what one or two areas you can really commit to working on and improving in your practice as an instructional coach. Here are some areas for goal setting to consider:

  • strategic questioning
  • listening
  • facilitating small or large groups
  • planning purposeful and action oriented meetings
  • goal setting for coaching cycles
  • use of student evidence as data in coaching cycles
  • labeling high leverage instruction and assessment practices

Set-Up a Coaching System

Figure out how you’ll collect and file your observation notes. Also how you’ll share and record notes during debriefs. On your computer? Paper? Will you email teachers the notes? You’ll likely be working with several teachers and taking lots of notes, so staying organized and prepared is important.

I use my planner, file folders (on my computer and by my desk), and Google Docs to help me with all of the above.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 5.20.53 AM

Visit Classrooms

Plan to visit classrooms the first few weeks back for about 20 minutes x classroom. You can let teachers know you’re coming, or just pop-in. But don’t cling to your clipboard! The last thing you want is to build a reputation of being “the clipboard coach.” You know the coach who sits in the back the whole time, clinging to their clipboard with a serious look on their face, furiously scribbling notes. Help teachers see you as a teaching partner right from the start. So sit down with kids if they’re in a whole group lesson, work alongside them if they’re working independently, smile and show kids and the teacher that you’re a learner too.

Build Relationships

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again. Building relationships with teachers is really critical to your success. There will be no successful coaching cycles happening if teachers don’t trust you and have no interest in working with you. If you’ve already established trusting relationships with teachers, that’s awesome. But don’t let this area be something you lose focus of. Building and maintaining relationships should always be one of your primary objectives, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

Instructional coaching can be challenging.

But it’s also so great in so many ways. You’ll be pushed outside of your comfort zone, but you’re going to learn so much. Everyday you’ll have the opportunity to positively impact a teacher by what you say, do, and model. And that’s pretty cool.

I believe in you, and you’re going to be great.

Keep me in the loop, and let me know how things are going. I’d love to hear.


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.