Search results: taking a risk

Taking a Risk

Our school year has come to a close and I thought I would take some time to reflect on my first year as an instructional coach.  Last April when I considered stepping into this role, I felt very nervous and uncertain.  I loved being a classroom teacher.  My classroom was a safe and comfortable space for my students and me.  As somewhat of a quiet type, I don’t typically embrace risk-taking or being in the spotlight so the idea of doing a job that involved conducting whole staff professional development and coaching teachers was…intimidating.  If it hadn’t been for the friendly nudging of my friends and family, I may have passed this opportunity up.  And I definitely would have kicked myself for it later (thanks guys!).

This year has been just, well, great.  I have grown so much as a professional and educator.  I have had the opportunity to build great relationships with teachers throughout the building.  Maybe most importantly, I have learned how to flex my “risk-taking muscle” and step outside of my comfort zone.  My risk-taking muscle isn’t exactly huge now, but I know it’s there and I plan on flexing it more often. It’s not always easy, but it’s good for you.  It allows you to better serve yourself and those around you.

A piece of my reflection this year included creating a trailer and digital story using iMovie to summarize our work at Tollgate.  Check it out!  If you’re an instructional coach doing something similar will produce a product to help you reflect on and share the work involved in your role with others.  If you’re a teacher, you can use something like this as an end of year gift for students.  The following year you could use it as part of your back to school night to give parents an idea of what their children will experience in your classroom.  If you’re not really comfortable with “techie” projects like this, who cares!  I wasn’t either.  Take a risk.

As educators, it’s important to keep taking risks in order to grow as professionals.  What risks have you taken lately or are considering taking?

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 heard Beth Houf mention this as a lesson she learned, and I thought it was so true.

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,

5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Coaching Life

You know those giant teacher bags that are overflowing with papers, notebooks, and who knows what else? The ones that weigh a million pounds and make a serious dent in your shoulder?

I used to have one. Actually, I had three. Luke used to affectionately (I think) call me “the bag lady.”

Then one year I made it my mission to be gone with the giant teacher bags. So I went all Spring Cleaning Style up on itpurged, sorted, and consolidated – until I finally emerged and found my way to one sassy leather bag that now holds all my coaching stuff, minus the shoulder dent.

Because I have less stuff in my bag, I have less stuff on my mind. And less stuff equals less stress, which feels gooood.

How about you? Do you have a giant teacher bag?

If not, then where is all your stuff hiding?…Because I know it’s somewhere.

In this post, I’ll share the five most common places where it all tends to accumulate and some ideas for how to get all Spring Cleaning Style up on it. Let’s get started.

 

Organizing for Instructional Coaches

1. Your Teacher Bag

 

Organized Instructional Coaching Bag

I can just hear you shouting at me all the reasons why you need all the stuff in your giant teacher bag. While there may be certain days when you really do need to pack a ton of stuff with you, I’m going to present the argument that for the large majority of days during the school year, there really are only a few essential items you should be packing along in your bag:

  1. Laptop/iPad
  2. Planner/Calendar/Notebook
  3. One file folder (for catching loose papers)
  4. Phone
  5. Wallet
  6. One pen and one highlighter (a few more only if you have space)
  7. Computer charger (only one charger allowed!)
  8. Essential Beauty Stuff: one chapstick/lipstick, small hand lotion, gum/breath freshener

That’s it! If you have more than this, it’s time to purge, sort, and consolidate. For some more ideas on how to organize your bag, check out this post.

2. Your Paper Files

Does your filing cabinet look like…

Back in the day I used to have a giant four drawer filing cabinet in which I stored every lesson, extra photocopy, and holiday craft project I had. When it got to the point where I had to pull and yank just to get the drawer open, I knew it was time to…you got it! – purge, sort, and consolidate. I worked my way down to a two drawer filing cabinet, then when I transitioned to coaching, I was able to say see-ya to even more paper stuff, and I now have one nice and tidy filing box. It sits quietly in the corner of my coaching office, and is reserved for only my most needed and used paper items.

3. Your Car

Yes, your car! Seriously. If you get into your car in the morning only to be greeted by crumpled up papers, empty cups, a pile of school books and who knows what else, the likelihood of a pleasant, stress free ride to school goes way down.

Instead, let’s do this. Take your car in for a good carwash this weekend, and clean out all the stuff inside.

Then on Monday morning, open up your back car door and put your one teaching bag inside. Then grab your water or coffee and place it in the gunk free cup holder. Fire up a good podcast or an audiobook for some learning on the way to school, smile, and you’re off to a great day!

4. Your Digital Files

OK. Now depending on how deep your black hole of randomly named computer files, downloads, and photos is, this could take a while. But don’t get discouraged. The most important step is to start.

This will be my big Spring cleaning project for the year. I’ve let things go a bit too long, and it’s time to shape em’ back up.

For some strategies on how to tackle your digital files, check out this post.

5. Your Desk

Organized Desk

If you’re not careful, your desk can get really bad. Eeek! Check out this post for some ideas on how to keep yours nice, neat, and organized.

Alright, now it’s time for me to give you a gentle nudge (or maybe push) to choose one area to go all Spring Cleaning Style on.

Decluttering and doing a bit of organizing in your coaching life, will go a long way towards saving you time and energy in the long run. Which will be well worth it.

Love organizing and want more? Or maybe you don’t love it so much, but know you might need to learn more? Here are a few books to check out. I’m listening to the second one on Audible right now, and it’s awesome.

Happy Organizing, and I’ll talk to you soon!

A Day in the Life of Ms. Houser

I keep a running list of blog post topics and one that has been on there for awhile is a “Day in the Life” post. I secretly love learning about the rhythms and routines of other people’s everyday schedules. When I’m out walking my dog at night, I’ll even walk a bit more slowly past open windows so I can peek inside. Is that weird?

Anyhow, I got to thinking that most of the posts I’ve written on this little blog of mine, have been more professional and less personal. I haven’t really shared much about the gal behind MsHouser.com. And I know that one of my favorite parts of reading a blog is making a connection with the person writing it. So in an effort to get to know each other a bit better, I’m opening up my window curtains and inviting you to take a peek inside.

day-in-the-life-cover3

My morning and evening routine is pretty standard, although my coaching days are always different. This day though {Wednesday of this week} reflects a pretty typical coaching day. Alrighty, let’s take a peek.

4:30am     WAKEUP

The alarm goes off and my chocolate lab pup jumps on the bed to greet/lick me good morning. I’m a super early bird, so I don’t mind the 4:30am wake-up time. It gives me a few extra minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee, write in my journal, and map out my day. Starting the day this way, helps me get focused and organized for the day ahead.

coffee

5:15am     EXERCISE

Most mornings I’ll head out for a long, brisk walk with the puppy, Sombra {spanish for shadow}. He’s pretty much the cutest thing ever, don’t you think? And he gives me a pretty good workout.

sommie1

6:45am     DRIVE IN

I hop in my car and head off to school, which is about a 25 minute commute. I’ll usually listen to a good podcast or audiobook on the way there.

kris-pic-car

7:20am     SET-UP FOR THE DAY & BREAKFAST

I head into my coaching office, unpack my bag and get set-up for the day. I’ll have my breakfast while I check a few emails and see if there any changes I need to make to my schedule or anyone I need to get back to right away.

Setting-Up

7:45am     COACHING VISIT

I’m working fairly intensively with a kindergarten teacher right now in the mornings. So I’m in there longer than I would normally be in a classroom. We’re digging into rituals and routines. We’re both learning a ton and enjoying it! Kindergartners are pretty funny.

MEs room

10:00am     COACHING PLANNING

I always build some time into my daily schedule to review my coaching observation notes and plan for my debriefs with teachers. I think it’s important to be prepared for when you meet with teachers, just as you would be prepared for teaching a lesson. Teachers are sharing some of their limited planning time with you, in the hopes that you can help them and their students grow, so it should be worth their time!

me-working

11:00am     COACHING COACHES

This isn’t a usual event in my schedule, but it was a fun one to add in! I chatted with a group of coaches about scheduling, the tools I use, lessons learned, goal setting and some Q&A at the end. Some of my lessons learned…be prepared and always be honest with teachers! It’s ok not to have all the answers and it’s ok to honestly talk through sticky situations.

google-hangout

12:00pm    LUNCH {usually}

I always make time to eat lunch, but at what time that happens…it just depends on the day. As much as I love structure and routine, different things may come up during the day and coaching requires you to be flexible. When it is time for lunch, I’ll check in on email or do some reading.

lunch

 

12:45pm     WORK ON DISPLAY

Its’s College Friday in Colorado, and I’ve been working hard all week on creating a “college dreams” wall for our kids. This is the center of the display, and it extends down the hall. Creating different displays or walls such as this throughout our building, is something I enjoy doing, and offer to help out with on occasion.

dreams-for-college

1:15pm     FACILITATE VISITORS

A few times a year, we host groups of visitors from other schools. Today I facilitated a site visit for a group of 7 teachers, with a focus on identifying instructional practices that support the engagement and achievement of students.

visitors

2:45pm     MEET WITH CHELSEA

Chelsea and I are just kicking off our coaching cycle together and are meeting today to review her updated assessment data, so we can set a goal and identify some instructional strategies for the focus group of students we’ll be working with.

me-and-chelsea

3:45pm     DRIVE HOME

Time to head home for the day. Another podcast plugged in, a snack to munch on, and I’m home!

drive-home

4:15PM     PLAY TIME!

This is one of my favorite times of the day. Sombra is crazy excited when I get home and I’m pretty dang excited to see him too. Luke, my fiancé, hears the commotion upstairs and comes up to greet us {he works from home}. Then we all head out back for some bone throwing and chasing time.

PLAY-TIME

5:00pm     PREP FOR NEXT DAY

This time includes unpacking my bags, making breakfast and lunch for tomorrow, cleaning up the house a bit, picking out tomorrow’s outfit, mail…all that kind of stuff.

6:00pm     DINNER AND FAMILY TIME

We try pretty hard to have our meals planned out for the week and enjoy spending some time together in the kitchen cooking healthy meals. Tonight is one of our favorites, chicken burrito bowls.

dinner

7:30pm     BIZ WORK

I’ve been working super hard on my side business, so I’ve been using this time to hustle.  I’m in the process of launching a new, unique weekly planner designed for educators and other busy professionals. It’s been a long time dream in the making and I can’t wait to share it with you! You’ll hear more about it next week, but until then, here’s a little sneak peek of the logo:

TimeandToDoPlanner

9:00pm     GET READY FOR SLEEP

I like taking a hot shower before I go to bed, just to wash the day off and relax. Then I’ll do a little fiction reading to help me get my mind off work stuff. Right now I’m reading The Maze Runner, and really liking it!

9:30pm     LIGHTS OUT!

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to get to know me a little better. I hope this post also gave you a better idea of what an instructional coaching day can look like. I know that’s something I’m always curious about.

Now it’s your turn!

If you’d like to send me a note or introduce yourself in the comments below, I’d love it!

Have a happy weekend and I’ll talk to you soon.

Getting Started with Instructional Coaching

cover-blue

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.
Tammy

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:

tips-for-new-coaches2

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.

coaching-survey2

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.

What An Educator Can Learn From A Cyclist

This weekend I went for a bike ride with my friend Anne.  As we were cruising through the back roads of Boulder, Colorado I couldn’t help but think how similar cycling is to teaching.  Allow me to elaborate…

Cyclists live in one of two seasons: the on-season or the off-season.  During the off-season they take time to rest and recover, reflect on accomplishments made during the on-season, and set their sights on larger goals for the season ahead.  As educators, we experience our off-season during our summer breaks.  We walk out of school on the last day and allow ourselves to deeply exhale.  We reflect on the progress made with our students or with other teachers we’ve worked with (for us instructional coaches).  Hopefully we are honest with ourselves during this time of reflection and can clearly see what worked and what might need some shaping up next season.

After each off-season for us educators, we have the great opportunity to return to school and start fresh.  As we head into this school year, here are a few things we can learn from the sport of cycling that when applied to our teaching lives may serve to strengthen our own on-season.  Let’s ride!

Hills Make You Stronger

As Anne and I were cruising along one of the flat, straightaway sections of our ride, life felt good.  I was in my comfort zone, my body felt strong, and my mind felt focused.  After rounding a bend though, the road started to change.  It started to go up.  Before I knew it I was climbing one heck of a steep hill.  My legs started to slow down, my bike wobbled underneath me, and my mind felt anything but focused.

These moments not only exist on the road, they are also very real occurrences during our days in the classroom.  A student who you feel like you’ve finally gotten a pretty good handle on all of a sudden explodes because of an argument over a pencil and the calm in your classroom turns to chaos.  The copier breaks just when you need it most or a lesson you spent a good deal of time planning totally bombs.  Sometimes these “hills” string together and you feel like you’ll never make it to the top.

Whatever you do…don’t stop pedaling.  Dig deep and keep cranking.  Once you’re off the bike it is significantly harder to get started again.   Just when you think you can’t go anymore, guess what…YOU CAN.  When you do arrive at the top you’ll be stronger and wiser as a result.

Ride With Others

Going on a ride with others is just more fun.   Team rides can motivate you and improve your skills.  You can also be sure there will be someone there to help you out in the case of a flat tire or a forgotten granola bar.

Teachers have an enormously complex job with a crazy number of responsibilities.  Working together as a team (grade-level, administration, specialists, school wide) matters.  Our fellow educators can inspire us, support us, laugh with us, or just grab a coffee with us.  Research shows that relational trust among teachers and school leaders improves student achievement.

So this year remember to smile and say “hello” to other teachers in the hall, assume positive intent, and stop to help when you see another teacher with a flat.  Little things like that make a difference.

Set Goals, Train Hard

If you were to ask just about any cyclist who has completed a century ride how they were able to accomplish such a feat, I would be willing to bet they would say it involved goal setting and some serious training.

Setting goals for yourself and your students using all current data (formal and informal) that you have ensures that you have a clear target to aim for.  Without that do you really know where you’re headed in your day-day work or why you’re headed there?  Concrete goals inspire us and tracking our training or our progress motivates us.  If you can involve students in tracking their OWN progress towards clear learning targets, even better!

Our instruction in the classroom must be strategic, precise, and engaging to make “century ride” results a reality.

Coaching Counts

Competitive cyclists care about results.  They realize that few can sustain their best performance on their own.  This is where coaching comes in.

I recently read a great article that spoke to this truth about coaching.  In it the author discusses the importance of coaching in becoming your “personal best.”  The following excerpt from this article aptly describes the important role a coach plays in doing so:

Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in “deliberate practice”—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.

Through a variety of approaches (co-planning, demonstration, descriptive feedback) instructional coaches can help push your thinking and your practice.  Letting someone into your classroom to observe you can feel like an intimidating risk.  Taking important risks like this however can pay off greatly for you and your students.  So this year open your doors, invite in your instructional coach and see how far you and your students can climb.

Rest and Recover

Rest and recovery are essential for high-level performance.  This is true for both cycling and teaching.  One of the best things you can do for yourself after a long ride is to eat a good meal, kick up your feet and take it easy.  This is great training advice for us educators as well.

Cyclists know that when they don’t build in enough days for rest and recovery, they’re at risk of suffering from overtraining syndrome – a difficult condition to recover from.  Likewise with teaching, if we’re not careful about creating some balance in our lives, we are at risk of teacher burnout.  This condition isn’t fun for you or your students and is also very difficult to recover from.

Remember to take care of yourself this year.  Pack a healthy lunch, pause during your hectic day just to breathe, and maybe even enjoy a nice glass of red wine at the end of your day.  I’d say you deserve it.