Edupocalypse: A million reasons

cropped-slice.png“You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go
You’re giving me a million reasons to quit the show
You’re givin’ me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons (Lady Gaga).”

Let’s just come out and say it. It’s a tough time to be an educator in a public school. We have always been under scrutiny, but I’m beginning to see more and more signs of teachers, support staff, and administrators showing just how tough it is. We’ve all thought about pursuing a different career path fromt time to time, but I now hear this conversation on a daily basis. From cake decorating to real estate, teachers are leaving or looking to leave in droves.While there may not be a million reasons to quit the show, the list is growing:

  • On a daily basis, the media, traditional and social, is full of news and views that are not just critical of public education, but in full-on attack mode.
  • Public school districts across the nation are in financial distress. Whether due to mismanagement or broken funding formulas, the burden is most often heaviest on those on the front lines of education.
  • The needs of our students continue to grow, while supports do not.
  • The daily demands of the job are like a mass of zombies. Zombies of data, assessments, and “to-do” lists refuse to be vanquished, but seem to keep coming. Even when one task is defeated, more and more come to take its place.
  • Two words: Betsy. Devos.

With all that, it may be the worst of times, and the worst of times. So, what should we (instructional coaches, Teachers on Special Assignment, instructional leaders) do when it feels like there are a million reasons to let it go?

Take care of each other. Take care of the educators you work with every day.

Relentlessly focus on the positives.

Public Education may be in rough seas, but is by no means a sinking ship.  We will continue to sail.

No matter how many reasons we are given to quit and let go. We must remember:

“I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away.
But baby, I just need one good one to stay (Lady Gaga)”

We all have at least that one good reason to stay: to make a difference in the lives of the people we work with each day, our students.

Stay.

Guest Post: Climb Every Mountain!

Whether you’re a new coach or a seasoned veteran, data chats probably bring you mix of thrill and trepidation.  screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-42-09-pm

The thrilling part:  Seeing quantifiable data to prove our students are gaining new knowledge and skills to become proficient readers and problem-solvers.

The trepidation:  What to do with the mediocre or not-so-great news?!

Data, though immensely valuable, has taken on a larger-than-life place in education.  It has been misunderstood, misused, and abused by many.  This, unfortunately, has led to a variety of ill side effects, mainly skepticism, blaming and shaming teachers.

So how do we approach these conversations with compassionate honesty to move our students forward?  

The answer for our school was a mix of motivation, reflection, and action – and a WHOLE LOT of sticky notes.  

MOTIVATION

We try to start each PD or data chat with “positive vibes” just like we expect our teachers to do with their classes. But, it’s not just fluff.  We are strategic about incorporating “meat” in our positive messages. For our first data chat we focused on “Scaling the Summit” which has been our Superintendent’s theme.  We used inspiring quotations and added a personal message to let our staff know that our team is capable of elevating our school to “A” status.  Our guiding question was:  How can we strategically use our resources, strengths, and time to create proficient readers and problem solvers? This question sets up our focus to shift attention away from blame, shame, and deflecting and onto reflection and action.  

REFLECTION & ACTION

Instead of looking at broad numbers, percentages, or trends, we focused on individual students first.  Each teacher received a file folder with a red (at-risk), yellow (threshold), and green (mastery) section for English Language Arts and Math.  Next, they received 4am8q9uv-jpg-large-2sticky notes with their students’ names printed. They used copies of their data from our data system to sort their students on their folders.  Students on the verge of proficiency or nearing threshold levels were placed toward the top of their level.  Finally, we used a “Here’s What/So What/Now What” protocol (available here) to identify the data trends, what conclusions we could draw, and action steps to increase our class proficiency.  Everyone was able to share their reflections and brainstorm action steps.  

This data is revisited after the each benchmark assessment and teachers are able to move their stickies up/down based on their recent performance and reflect on success and identify opportunities for improvement.

About our Guest Author: Sarah Van Brimmer is a first-year literacy coach at Vero Beach Elementary in Indian River County. She is a mother, wife, teacher, and reader.  She can be reached at sarah.vanbrimmer@indianriverschools.org and on Twitter @svanbrimmer.

Guest Post: Speak up! (How to Develop Your Speaking Skills)

instructionMany of us shudder just thinking about speaking in front of other adults. There will be people listening to you and maybe even asking questions! What can be more terrifying?

However, it is important to develop this skill as you will have to use it on many different occasions. You will have to give a short speech on a job interview when asked to tell about yourself, share your values, or explain why you think you are perfect for the position. You need to give short speeches when communicating with people around you, be it encouraging your team’s productivity or talking to your kids when explaining some important ground rules to them.

It all requires effective communication skills which you can learn when creating speeches. However, since not all of us are born great speakers, you might need to develop this skill. And in this article we have gathered a few ideas for you on how to do it, what techniques you should keep in mind when creating speeches, as well as what one should avoid in order to prepare a great speech.

Tips on how to develop better communication skills

  1.    Avoid “conversation fillers.”

Most people do it: we feel awkward while thinking about what to say, so we opt for filling the conversation with annoying sounds like “umm” and “ahh.” If you are anything like this, then we are begging you to stop. This doesn’t make you a better speaker. Moreover, people you are talking to get a feeling that you are not confident enough as well as lack persuasiveness.

So, make sure to avoid doing this. Take notice of every time you do it, and stop right away. This will improve the impression you make on your target audience.

  1.    Practice giving speeches on all occasions.

“Practice makes perfect.” This could not be truer here. That is why we highly recommend our readers to train their communication skills on every occasion. If you are going to a party, propose a toast. Of course, it’s better if you prepare notes of what you are going to say. If you are having a family dinner, practice by giving thanks to the hostess and every family member. Being grateful does not hurt and can be beneficial to your communication skills.

All in all, practice, practice, and more practice.

  1.    Be specific.

Nothing kills a speech faster than the uncertainty of the speaker. Listeners try their best to figure out what the speaker wants them to learn, and the speaker gets a feeling that they completely missed their target, and it all adds up to their fear of speaking publicly.

Therefore, if you want to have influence, your speeches should have a very certain point, clear conclusions as well as a challenge at the end of the speech which will call an audience to action.

  1.    Keep it short.

Do not underestimate this point. You need to be specific but you also have to organize your thoughts in short sentences. This makes them easier to understand and comprehend. Moreover, ideas expressed briefly are more likely to be memorized.

Using this tip will leave your target audience with a feeling that you appreciate their attention and value their time.

Therefore, being brief will help you to become a better speaker.

  1.    Ask more questions.

Asking questions is one of the keys to successful communication. You get to stay focused and tuned to what the other person is talking about. When you ask questions, you show that you are interested in what they say, so you increase the quality of this conversation. On top of that, you increase the chances that the other person will listen to you too.

Finally, asking questions will help you to avoid awkwardness. Instead of filling the silence with “umm”s and “ahh”s, you can ask a question that might clarify the opinion this person has about certain things as well as stir up a new conversation on a different topic once the previous one seems to be exhausted.

So, remember to ask questions on different occasions.

  1.    Listen carefully.

Being a good speaker is equally important to being a good listener. By listening closely to what the other person is saying, you can master the skill of speaking to them in the same language. You will decrease the risk of misunderstandings as well as conflicts which they may result in.

So, a simple act of listening can improve your communication skills significantly.

To summarize all that was said above, being a brilliant speaker is a skill you can master, especially if you use our simple but powerful ideas. Don’t expect to see the results overnight. However, be sure that the improvements will definitely come soon. So, do not waste time and start practicing right away!

About our Guest Author: Jacob Chambless works as an educator at Jacksonville University. He is always ready to help students, sharing his experience and tips on particular subjects. Jacob’s passions writing articles and sharing knowledge with other people. You can read more from Jacob at his blog (https://life-underwriting.com/category/blog/ ) or reach out to him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.chambless.1) or on Twitter (@jacob_chambless).

Guest Post: The Other Ninety Percent

I have begun my first year as an instructional coach for a high school of 1300 students.conversation  Every day I walk by this poster that says “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  As I am only beginning my tenure as a coach, I find myself reflecting on it a lot.  

It’s overwhelming to join a new staff and begin a new job.   At first I hadn’t made a plan for how to manage all the challenges.  New tasks and people fill each day.  With all this newness, I am learning a lot! Not knowing what to expect each day, I seem to be off kilter.  At times like these, it’s easy to lose focus and escape in the daily minutiae.  But daily that poster reminds me that I have to control how I react to change.

So, I created a plan based on my foundational beliefs and school initiatives.  I established a structure and direction in which to filter my tasks.  Now, I define my problems, focus on solutions, then choose actions that correspond with my foundational belief that all kids can learn and grow.  That way when I get overwhelmed with new challenges, my foundational belief points me in the right direction.     

Our school is in the midst of a large shift.  Like any other community, change occurs hesitantly.  The unknown stands in front of us and we become insecure.   We all ask questions like:   How will it work?  What will happen to how I do things?  Why do we have to do this?   

In our ever-changing world of education, we cannot expect to maintain any procedure for long. Often schools focus on developing learning standards, curriculum, and systems only to reassess and establish new ones.  Although it’s exciting to implement better options, the continual flux becomes difficult on a staff.  

Instead of viewing our flexibility as a strength, often we get tired and overwhelmed.  And that’s where I remembered the poster:   90% of life is how we deal with it.  I wondered if my individual plan would work on a larger level.    

When staff get overwhelmed, coaches can help them regroup and revisit foundational beliefs.  Instead of focusing on change and challenge, coaches can help staff center its vision to who they are as a school.

So I tried it.  Through frank conversations, our staff realized our foundational belief – our dedication to our students.   So we remained dedicated to our students as we try new strategies, get frustrated with the unknown, and fail.  These things will happen, yet, we can try again because we are focused on our dedication to our students.

Grounding ourselves in our dedication to our students can help us steer our students toward owning their learning.   As our staff uses our foundational belief to filter new challenges and changes, we are more liable to shift successfully.  


When things get too much, we can revisit our foundations and use them to guide us to create new structures. It is then we will find our school stronger and our students growing.  That poster really helped: 90% of life is how we deal with it.  
About our Guest Author:  Elsa Andreasen Glover is in the middle of her first year as an instructional coach at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Illinois.  A National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescent Social Studies, Elsa taught 7th graders for 18 years.  She holds MAT from Aurora University and writes monthly perspectives for her local NPR station.  You can follow Elsa on Twitter at @elsainga.

Guest Post: Increase the Impact of your Feedback as Instructional Coach

A teacher was talking to me this week about her instructional coach. She said, “You can’t instructionjust give feedback to me. Giving feedback in the wrong way has no impact.” Wow.

You have so many delicate relationships to navigate as an instructional coach. Your principal, associate principal, curriculum and district coordinator, and teachers all require your attention, expertise, and feedback. You wear a different hat for each role. You take a different approach with each teacher.

Can we simplify just one of these relationships?

Can your impact be increased?

Your relationships with teachers are the most critical. Teachers have the most direct impact on student learning. That’s where you have the greatest indirect impact on student learning. Is there a way that your conversations with teachers can be simplified and more effective?

I recently completed a research study that discovered four different types of feedback given to teachers. The study show significantly positive results using these four types of feedback. How can this research help your instructional coaching?

Four Types of Feedback for Instructional Coaching

The instructional leaders in the study visited over 100 classrooms during a six month period and offered feedback over 1,000 times. The feedback they gave to teachers can be categorized into four types.

Factual Feedback. Factual feedback is the simplest to give and is given the most. This type of feedback provides teachers with the raw description of what occurred in their classroom.

Affirmative Feedback. Affirming those practices that have a positive impact in the classroom. This type of feedback recognizes and praises the strengths you notice in the classroom.

Reflective Feedback. You can give feedback by simply asking questions. Ask questions with no correct answer, but that focus on prompting reflection for rich discussion points.

Corrective Feedback. Sometimes feedback needs to direct teachers away from certain practices or modify good practices. This type of feedback is not inherently negative (and is rarely given). It states ways that the classroom environment or instructional practice can be adjusted to have a stronger impact.

You can be confident that your feedback will have a positive impact on professional learning and instructional climate. You can also be intentional about giving feedback in your conversations.

Examples of Feedback from an Instructional Coach

What do these types of feedback sound like in a conversation? See if you can spot the type of feedback in the conversation below.

Coach: “Hi Malia. Thanks for letting me come by your room the other day. Can I give you quick feedback on what I saw?”

Teacher: “Sure. I’m on the way to a meeting. Can you walk with me?”

Coach: “I was only there for 5 minutes, but I did notice two strong impacts on student learning. First, you have an anchor chart that the student repeatedly looked at. Second, you had the same graphic organizer from the anchor chart in your handout. That’s such an effective strategy.”

Teacher: “Thanks. That’s just something I started doing last year.”

Coach: “Well, you’re really a natural. Would you mind if I share these strategy with the team?”

Teacher: “Sure, I guess so. Thanks.”

Did you say the feedback was affirmative? Good. The instructional coach recognized two strengths in Malia’s classroom practice.

Of course, you don’t have to hold in-person conversations to give feedback. You could just leave it on a sticky note:

“I noticed the students really used your anchor charts. Have you thought about creating a graphic organizer to go with it?”

The sticky note gave the teacher reflective feedback. Did you notice the slight difference? The teacher can choose whether to act on it – or if the idea is appropriate in the lesson. The benefit in this case is that the teacher reflected. Your feedback create an instance of reflective learning. That’s coaching.

Research Findings for Instructional Coaches

I worked with over a dozen instructional leaders at three different school districts in the Houston area. I found that each type of feedback had positive impacts on the instructional climates of the campuses. Teachers didn’t express a significant difference in their perceptions of the different types of feedback.

We might anticipate corrective feedback being tough to give and receive, but no. It was no more or less effective than the affirmative feedback. We might guess teachers enjoy receiving affirmative feedback more than factual feedback, but no.

We had over 300 teachers in the study, I found that the type of feedback was only second in importance to the quantity. The major finding: teachers consistently reported a positive benefit from the feedback given to them.

Coaches as Leaders

You are more than an instructional specialists or curriculum expert. You are a leader among your peers, at your campus, and within your district. Your real impact is in your relationships – the interactions and feedback you give to your teachers.

Take a moment to reflect on your three most recent conversations. Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Did the conversation involve feedback?
  2. Who was giving and receiving the feedback?
  3. What type of feedback did you give?

Take the lead in your conversations. Listen to teacher’s needs, visit their classrooms, and give feedback. Affirm, describe, question, and help adjust their practice.

Instructional coaching is role that can have immeasurable impact! On campus, in classrooms, and in students’ lives. Feedback is a tool that you can intentionally use in your conversations to make that impact. How will you use these types of feedback this week as an instructional coach?

About our Guest Author: Matt Foster is a learner and educator in Houston, TX with K-12 teaching and administrative experience. He holds a MEd in Administration and a MS in Curriculum & Instruction with particular interests in culture, climate, and school improvement. You can follow Matt on twitter @mafost.

Guest Post: Time Keeps on Slipping (So, use it productively)!

Paying enough effort and time is a key to success. However, sometimes the effort and time are not enough to get what you want. The matter is that we get the desired result when we properly use all the resources available. In this lies the real effectiveness that can help you to achieve what you want.

There are thousands of examples when people have several spare hours per day for accomplishing their goals but they never get what they want. And there are thousands of examples when people who have almost no free time get everything they want: they combine work and study, family and business, travel and full-time job. Why does this happen? In fact, the answer to this question lies in personal productivity and ability to manage time properly.

The importance of a schedule

Do you remember everything you have planned for today, this week, this month, or even this year? You are only a human being and your plans change all the time. Sometimes you just forget what you have planned, and sometimes the plans change because of some external factors. If you want to become more effective, you need to start with writing down your plans and creating a schedule.

Schedule is the easiest way to keep in mind everything that needs to be done. Without a schedule, we act spontaneously and spend too much time thinking about what we want to do. By creating a schedule, you assess the time you have, free resources, and technical possibilities of implementing the task. At first, creation of the schedule will take a lot of time, but later on, you will understand how to do it quicker.

The key idea of using a schedule is to strictly follow the plans that you have set for today or for this week. Besides, it is better to have several schedules for different periods of time. This way, you will be able to take smaller steps to achieve your big plans and include these steps into your everyday life.

Five ways to boost your productivity

Though schedule is one of the most basic ideas for improving your productivity, there are few more ways that support it and help to create a strategy for accomplishing more tasks and getting better results.

  1. Limit the time spent on social media

Facebook, Instagram, and messengers are the best time killers. People waste hours per day just scrolling through Facebook pages or looking at photos on Instagram. But the worst thing is that they do not even understand how much time it takes. Besides, regular checking of social media distracts you from work. If you check Facebook just once in a couple of days, you won’t notice this drastic effect, but most of us do it up to 10 or even more times a day, spending at least 10 minutes answering the comments, watching videos or replying to friends. If you want to become more productive, install special apps on your laptop or smartphone that control the time you spend on social media and messengers.

  1. Eliminate unnecessary tasks

We frequently do something only because we have got used to it. Getting rid of unnecessary tasks is not easy. At first, you need to determine what exactly is not essential for your life today. These tasks may be connected to work as well. Assess how much time and effort you spend on each assignment and eliminate the ones that take too much resources but have no effect. Perhaps, it is better to stop doing these tasks or find a way to do them quicker.

  1.   Know your personal rhythm

The period of productivity is different for everyone. Some people are more productive in the morning while other work perfectly during the night. If you know exactly when your productivity reaches its peak, you can use this knowledge to create a perfect schedule that will help you to complete tasks faster. Also, you need to know the time when you are less productive. Use it for house chores, dinner or rest. It’s better to preserve your energy for the time period when you can use it more effectively.

  1. Do not forget about free time!

Creating a schedule, we frequently forget that there should be time not only for work but also for rest and family. If you do not include these points to the schedule, you can get into the situation where you’ll have no time for a supper with friends or where you’ll spend several hours visiting your parents when this time was planned for work. That is why make sure that your everyday schedule includes at least a couple of hours that can be spent with family and friends.

  1. Be careful with multitasking

Sometimes multitasking seems to be the solution for all problems. When you have no time, you can just simultaneously work on several tasks killing two birds with one stone. However, multitasking is not the best strategy for everyday use. Of course, it can be handy from time to time, but if you do it regularly, you’ll notice the drastic effect: no energy to concentrate on important issues, failure to prioritize tasks, mixing up important ideas and facts etc. So if there’s no urgent necessity for multitasking, just avoid it.

Being effective and productive is a key to success. No one can achieve the desired results if they have no intentions to put in every effort and devote all their time to what they do. However, sometimes the effort and time are not enough. We achieve our goals only when we use all the available resources well. Only this way we can get what we want.

About our Guest Author: Jacob Chambless works as an educator at Jacksonville University. He is always ready to help students, sharing his experience and tips on particular subjects. Jacob’s passions writing articles and sharing knowledge with other people. You can read more from Jacob at his blog (https://life-underwriting.com/category/blog/ ) or reach out to him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.chambless.1) or on Twitter (@jacob_chambless).