Video killed the radio star…

…but it may bring your work back to life!instruction

In the past, using video for reflection and feedback was difficult or even impossible. Equipment was expensive and less than portable. Video clips could only be shared between people using similar medium.  Much like videos on MTV, these concerns are a thing of the past.

The time is now to harness the power of video in teaching.

The power of video

Athletes from little league to the major leagues view video to analyze performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and generate next steps for their practice. The purpose is not to criticize and belittle, but to be better in time for the next game. Teachers, coaches, and administrators can also utilize video, both for private reflection and collaborative feedback.

There is no need for special equipment, any smartphone or tablet will do. But before you view, remember these points:

When using video for self-reflection

  • You are your own harshest critic. Be kind. The temptation will be there to pick out every error. Perfect instruction does not exist. Look for what’s next, not what’s wrong.
  • One handy rule is to look for two stars and a wish. Force yourself to write down two positives (stars) for every area of concern (a wish).
  • Regardless of your first result, repeat the process. By engaging in honest feedback, you will see learning and growth over time.

When using video for giving feedback to others

  • Collaborate based on a framework, rather than living in the realm of generic comments. Using a framework focuses your work and allows you to identify next steps.
  • Focus on one or two small chunks of time: The beginning and end of class, a short exchange of discourse, or a student explanation.
  • Feedback must be built upon a strong relationship and working agreements.
  • Like any coaching or supervision agreements, the boundaries of confidentiality must be set before the work can begin: Who can told about your work? What level of detail can be shared?

Above all, whether using video for reflection or for feedback, think of the coach watching game film with the team. Whether you are serving as your own coach, working in a coaching partnership, or you’re an administrator supervising a teacher, remember the words of football coach Ara Parasheghian: “A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.”

So, this is Christmas (14 personal and professional gifts I received in 2014)

So, this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun -John Lennon

In these last few days and moments of 2014, my thoughts have swirled around how blessed I have been. So without further ado, I present the 14 personal and professional gifts I have recieved in 2014.

  1. Family: I am truly blessed to spend every day with my lovely wife and two adorable daughters. Our house is full of laughter, hugs, and kisses.
  2. Friends: I have more (and better) than anyone deserves.
  3. Health: I feel good.
  4. My basic needs (and my family’s) are not only met, but exceeded.
  5. Comforts: From musical instruments, to tech and toys… I’m spoiled.
  6. Perfect job for me: I took a leap of faith to leave the school where I spent nearly my entire career for an incredible opportunity. I joined the lowest performing school in our district as part of a turnaround effort. I miss my former colleagues, but PB is where I am meant to be.
  7. Work with great administration: I’m so lucky to work for an administration team who have both their heads and hearts in the right place.
  8. Work with great faculty: Our faculty (the vast majority of whom are new to our school) are positive and energetic. We have a tough job ahead of us, but we can do it!
  9. Work with a coaching team: So pleased to work every day with my coaching colleagues, Donna and Lisa. Every day is difficult, but so fun and so worth it.
  10. Our students: While challenging and sometimes frustrating, our students are special and inspire our work every day.
  11. My PLN: Twitter and LinkedIn have both introduced and deepened my understanding of many issues in education and, more importantly, have connected me to hundreds of intelligent, friendly people.
  12. This blog: As I write my posts, this blog has provided me an outlet for reflection, fostered new connections, and pushed my thinking about coaching.
  13. Working with outside folks: I’ve had the privelige of doing good work with some great people from outside my school district. Many thanks to the folks at TeachBoost, the MQI Coaching Research Team at Harvard University, and REACH Associates.
  14. The future: All of this looking back has me excited for all the good to come in 2015!

Take it, John…

So, this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Lets hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

John Lennon – Happy Christmas (war is over)


So, watcha’ watcha’ watcha’ want?

Attention coaches: The teachers have spoken! As coaches, we are charged with the goal of working with teaccropped-slice.pnghers to improve student learning. We cannot attain that goal without understanding the perspective of the teachers we serve.

To better understand teachers’ perspectives of coaching, I recently conducted a (highly unscientific) data collection on Twitter using the following question:

What are the essential qualities of an instructional coach?

Approximately thirty responses were submitted. After reviewing the results, several patterns emerged around the need for the following: Positive relationships, Communication, Flexibility, Learning and growth.

Positive relationships: The need for strong, positive relationships appeared in the responses of nearly all teachers. Teachers described these relationships using words like non-judgmental, honest, trustworthy, and supportive. Building relationships is an essential component of coaching.

Communication: Several responses expressed that communication was essential. Teachers emphasized not only clear and coherent speaking, but the importance of the coach as a patient listener. Teachers want to be heard!

Flexibility: Teachers described the need for instructional coaches to be flexible. Flexibility in time is no doubt essential, but flexibility in approach and coaching strategies is perhaps more powerful. Teachers expressed this as support in “whatever way you need” it and not giving “cookie cutter advice.” Teachers want to work with coaches who personalize and differentiate their approach!

Learning and growth: Teachers expressed the desire to learn and grow. Teachers want to work collaboratively with coaches who build on their strengths. Teachers want to work with coaches who are resourceful, innovative, and student centered.

So, the teachers have spoken. This small sample of teacher response represents powerful feedback for instructional coaches. The challenge is to take this feedback and feed our practice forward. More importantly, don’t take my word for it. Instructional coaches, ask the teachers you work with: What are your essential qualities of an instructional coach?

The Finish Line?

“If I’d had some set idea of a finish line, don’t you think I would have crossed it yearsrelationships ago?” – Bill Gates

It’s easy at this time of year to think of our work as finished.  Teachers are planning end-of-year field trips, graduations, even faculty picnics.  Students are worried more about summer trips than tests and quizzes. Even the instructional coach just might be ready for a break.

In this rush to the finish, do forget to take a few moments to build relationships.  These last fleeting moments need not be wasted if you:

  • Reflect on your relationships’ growth (or struggles) this year.
  • For relationships that have grown, take time to personally thank those colleagues.
  • For relationships that have struggled,  design a growth plan for your work.
  • Most importantly, remember that you cannot work on any relationship without working on two people, your colleague and YOU! And this work, is never-ending.

So as we count down the days until summer break and close in on the finish line, remember this: “If you neglect to recharge a battery, it dies. And if you run full speed ahead without stopping for water, you lose momentum to finish the race.” -Oprah Winfrey


When will you get your diploma?

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”growth-Ellen Glasgow 


As a coach, you certainly have a long list of changes you are charged with implementing in your school. You are also concerned with the daily growth of students and teachers in your school.  While the development of others is always on your mind, don’t forget to move your own learning and growth forward.

You can focus on your learning and growth in both formal and informal ways. You might pursue additional degrees and certifications. You might take a class in art, music, or another interest. Continue to challenge yourself both outside and inside of school.

In your daily coaching role, commit yourself to improving an aspect or two of your work each month.  As you work to improve, seek feedback from a few trusted colleagues on your progress.  You might find it helpful to collaborate with this partner on each other’s goal.

The key to learning and growth is to never stop. As Eartha Kitt said,  “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.” When will you get your diploma?




The True Spirit of Conversation


“It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.”  — Yogi Berra

We have all been there, in the midst of a meeting that can be described as having too much talking and no conversation.  We have all been in meetings, both large and small, where people are not truly listening, only waiting for their next chance to talk.

Part of an instructional coach’s role is often to facilitate meetings, whether one-on-one with a single teacher or in a grade-level meeting or PLC.  These meetings will certainly vary in the quality of conversation. The coach must develop strategies to move the meeting from simultaneous monologues to true conversations.  Some possible strategies include:

  • Beginning the meeting with a statement of purpose and reminder of working agreements.
  • Asking probing questions (Can you tell me more? Can we hear from ____?).
  • Using a protocol (National School Reform Faculty offer many options @
  • Taking a time-out for reflection on a guiding question.
  • Summarizing and paraphrasing

These conversation strategies (and many others) can be developed with patience and practice.  Coaches must be prepared to utilize these strategies to improve the conversations in which they participate.  If coaches improve their ability to facilitate meetings, we can bring to life the true spirit of conversation.  In the words of Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, “The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.”


Changing Change?

“Change is such hard work.” -Billy Crystalc&c

Change, in the name of raising student achievement, is a constant in the field of education.  The work of the instructional coach is often closely tied to change and reform.  Goldring (2002) states that “studies of schools involved in reform intended to raise student achievement have concluded that the culture of a school is more powerful than any formal aspect of leadership” (p. 33).   It is the powerful nature of culture and its impact on real-world results that makes understanding the role of culture in the process of change so essential to instructional coaches who are working to plan and implement organizational changes in public schools.

Locke and Guglielmino (2006) also discuss the importance of understanding culture with respect to organizational change, “The relationship between organizational culture and planned organizational change is well established; change theorists assert that efforts to bring about significant change without addressing the organization’s culture will be futile” (p.109).

Noted instructional coaching expert, Jim Knight (2009) acknowledges the possibility of the strong culture of teachers derailing a planned change effort, but turns the idea from one of blame into an essential question:

“When efforts to improve student learning fail, teachers often end up being blamed.  Teachers were resistant to new ideas, say the leaders who were working with them.  Rather than blame teachers and ask, “Why do teachers resist?” perhaps those of us who lead change should ask, “What can we do to makes it easier for teachers to implement new practices?” (p. 509)

So the question is, “As coaches, what can we do?” Leave a comment below and join the conversation! In the meantime, a word of encouragement… “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead


Goldring, L. (2002). The power of school culture.  Leadership, November/December.

Knight, J. (2009, March). What can we do about teacher resistance? Phi Delta Kappan,         90(7), 508-513.

Locke, M.G. & Guglielmino, L. (October 2006).  The influence of subcultures on         planned change in a community college.  Community College Review, 34(2) 108- 127.