Last week I participated in a webinar by Lori Oczkus that focused on Developing Language for Deeper Reading Comprehension. I as sat listening to the research about the power of talk in classrooms and in literacy comprehension I began to reflect on the role of talk in my position as an Instructional Coach and aspiring administrator. Just like students in a classroom need to talk, teachers engaging in coaching conversations need to talk too. A coach or administrator's role in the conversation is to listen to understand and ask questions that will promote reflection. As I continue to work with teachers, I will remember: The one doing the talking is the one doing the learning."
I came across #onesmallthing on Twitter, and loved the idea that one small change can have a BIG impact! In my building, Professional Learning Communities are being implemented, and the PLC's are drafting their norms. In each PLC I've attended this week, being a good listener has come up as something the group wants to identify as a norm. As an Instructional Coach, I rely on active listening on a daily basis, and it is a skill I am always seeking to improve. With the school year beginning, hearing colleagues identify listening as something vital to the success of their PLC, allowed me to renew my focus and goal of entering every coaching conversation with the dedication of listening to understand.
Shortly after I posted my #onesmallthing to Twitter, I was asked to explain the importance of listening to understand. I shared Elena Aguilar's Education Week Teacher blog post "Active Listening: The Key To Transforming Your Coaching, which is one that I refer to and share with other Instructional Coaches.
What is your #OneSmallThing?
This year, my building has is implementing PLCs in all grade levels. The first activity we led the PLCs through was drafting norms. To aid in this process, the following video was shown:
After watching the video, each PLC team member was given a notecard and asked to reflect on the three tasks posed in the video:
1. Brainstorm a list of norms, then share out and identify which ones you have in common.
2. Write down the commitments you need from each member
3. Identify 1-2 behaviors that have bothered you in past meetings
Together, the group then wrote the agreed upon norms in "We will..." or "We commit to..." statements. These norms will be posted on each PLC agenda, and revisited throughout the year.
As a future administrator, it has been beneficial to observe PLCs being implemented, and I know I will learn a great deal this year!
I was recently interviewed for a Literacy Today article focused on building a culture of literacy. The article can be found in the July/August 2017 edition of Literacy Today. Below you will find my responses to the interview questions:
In your mind, what does it mean to have a culture of literacy in a school?
A culture of literacy is when students, teachers, administrators, and support staff have a shared vision of what literacy is and why it is important. In addition, teachers and administrators rely on research-based instructional practices and data to make decisions and support students in their literacy journey. Finally, literacy is not something that occurs during a specific time of day or content area, but rather is infused throughout a student’s daily learning experience.
What is the coach's role in this process and are there strategies that can help to get teachers on board in creating that culture?
Coaches are there to support, model, and facilitate literacy instruction and data informed decisions. Although a coach is a literacy leader, it is important that the coach isn’t the only literacy leader, and that they are not viewed as the expert. If the coach is to be effective and the culture of literacy to be the norm, the coach must build the capacity of the teachers they support.
What practices have worked in your school? And what hasn't worked?
What has worked: Cultivating a shared vision, developing shared leadership, meeting teachers where they’re at in their understanding of literacy instruction, professional needs, etc., having a building or site-based coach, high functioning PLCs, using data to problem solve and inform instruction
What doesn’t work: Drive PD with no follow through or application time, forgetting to share the “why” behind a PD or research-based instructional practice
What is the role of a principal or district-level official in encouraging this approach in schools? Is it something that is more likely to develop if it isn't mandated, or district-led?
A principal or district-level official is there to support the establishment of the literacy culture. They are co-learners in this process, and because the culture of literacy is important, they will make sure that time (instructional and professional development wise), funds, and resources are allocated.
I think it could be developed if it isn’t mandated, but if it is done in such a way that it’s the way we do business, all stakeholders will recognize the need and rather than it being viewed as an initiative being done to the teachers, it will be seen as a collective effort to better the lives of our students.
What a culture of literacy looks like:
Throughout the day, you would see students reading, writing, speaking, listening, and creating. Teachers, no matter the content area, are engaging students in literacy.
When you enter a classroom, there's a buzz! Students are co-constructing knowledge by using available resources (books, websites, videos, experts, etc.), they are immersed in a print-rich environment, the classroom library has high interest and developmentally appropriate books, and the teacher is meeting with students individually, in small groups, and as a whole class.
Our students have access to books throughout the building, whether it's in their book boxes, the classroom or school library, or the bins of books located in the halls, office and common areas.
Students are publishing writing to authentic audiences (outside the classroom or school walls)
Teachers, principal, and all support staff model being readers and writers. I made "What is _____ (insert staff member's name) Reading. What are you reading?" posters for everyone to post outside their classroom doors. This allowed students to see the adults in their lives as readers too. Also, when students are writing/reading, the teachers are doing the same.
As a coach, what strategies have you used to build a culture of literacy:
This year I added P.O.P. teams (Peer Observation Partnerships) to our building. They're partnerships between two teachers where they informally observe one another throughout the year, noting evidence of our district's literacy framework and literacy strategies we've introduced in PD, and they reflect on what's working and discuss areas for growth.
Last year, after reading Read, Write, Lead, I had our staff write down their top 3 literacy beliefs and then we came to a collective agreement about what our building's top 3 beliefs were. Recognizing your beliefs shape your actions, we were able to further cement our culture of literacy by identifying action steps we will take to ensure our beliefs come true for our students. These actions included: read alouds at least once every day, daily providing students time to read a book of their choice, publishing writing to an authentic audience, using mentor texts and holding reading and writing conferences with each student, incorporating writing to learn and accountable talk in all subject areas, and that every teacher is a literacy teacher.
I serve one elementary building, so I am easily accessible to every teacher in the building to facilitate coaching cycles, model, co-teach, co-plan, and analyze data. I also strive to be visible throughout the day, and visit classrooms on a daily basis. During these informal visits, I am able to take note of areas of implementation, and what needs to be focused on either in a one-on-one conversation, grade level PLC meeting, or whole staff PD.
I wrote a grant to send home monthly literacy bags that contain a new book and a reading activity parents can use with their child at home. These books are kept by the families with the goal of building up their home libraries.
I also added a Little Free Library in front of our building, and love seeing children and their parents borrowing books.
I'd love to hear, what have you done in your building or district to nurture a culture of literacy?
I have been looking for ways to increase collaboration and provide teachers with authentic opportunities to lead and learn from one another. This year I introduced POP Teams (Peer Observation Partnerships), and for the first half of the year they seemed to work well. One of the biggest drawbacks of POPs was teachers wanted to collaborate with more than just their chosen parter. I also noticed the level of peer coaching wasn't where I would have liked it to be, and the number of instances where teachers went in to visit another classroom was small. One day, as I was looking on Twitter, I came across Mark Barnes' Pineapple Chart blog post. I began reading up on this, and approached you principal about possibly implementing this next year.
Recently, I was asked what I thought the three most important tasks of instructional supervision/evaluation were. The response was to be from an Instructional Coaching lens, but as I thought about my answer, I noticed it wasn’t far off from how I would respond in one of my administration graduate classes.
My three tasks: Shared Vision, Feedback, and Reflection.
Shared Vision - Cultivating a shared vision entails identifying the teacher’s (or building or district’s) current reality and together using data to inform decisions, identify and progress toward the desired state.A professor of mine once said, “If you don’t know where you’re headed, any path will lead you there” and to me, having a shared vision doesn’t do anyone any good if you haven’t thought out where you want to end up.
Feedback - Feedback should be specific, grounded in data, and non evaluative when coming from an instructional coach. If it’s from an administrator, than the feedback more than likely would be evaluative.
Reflection - Reflection involves employing coaching language, and allowing or encouraging teachers to reflect on their practice and choose areas for improvement. Reflection should be forward thinking, rather than dwelling on the past, or being content with how things are.
Those were my three tasks, and I’m curious what your three would be.
Last week I had the opportunity to model a close reading lesson in our fifth grade classroom. The classroom teacher asked me to do this so her student teacher would be able to incorporate close reading instruction into the ELA block. The fifth grade teacher asked me to use the passage "I Will Fight No More Forever" which she found in 24 Nonfiction Passages for Test Prep: Grades 4-5. Below you will see my lesson plan, a PDF of my slides, as well as a video excerpt of my lesson.
Note: I used my Swivl for this lesson and forgot to turn on the auto tilt! I promise there are 20 fifth graders in the classroom, unfortunately you just can't see them!
Close Reading Lesson Plan:
This afternoon our district's curriculum team and Instructional Coaches gathered at our district office for our monthly Instructional Leadership Team meeting. Since this is the final meeting of the school year, we began by celebrating the accomplishments we've made as first year Instructional Coaches. A few highlights on my list included:
Once we finished our list, we had to choose our top three to share out. It was difficult to narrow down my list, but it was neat to share successes. Too often I focus on what's left to work on, so it was great to focus on the positive impact I've had in my first year as an Instructional Coach.
There's still lots to do, and I have a list of hopes and ideas for next year, but for now, I'm happy to look back at the impact I've had and know that I've not wavered from my goal of positively impacting teaching and learning in my building.