A Gift for Change

Have you ever coached a group of teachers who wanted to change their practice, but couldn’t seem to move forward?

I’ve been attempting to organize my files and ran across a set of slides I used to facilitate a critical friends (CF) discussion among a team of 6 teachers. The teachers wanted to engage their students in more inquiry-based instruction, but couldn’t seem to move away from their comfortable GRR/”stand-and-deliver” mode of instruction. Their principal asked if I would help them and so I did.

After some time of observation, I realized that they would benefit from a reflective-practice focused discussion. Once we established a safe space for honest sharing, the teachers admitted their concerns…and yes, their fears. Providing them the opportunity to reflect on not only their practice, but their feelings resulted in the teachers committing to the following:

  1. Creating a 2-month plan of action to engage students in inquiry-based instruction
  2. Meeting weekly to reflect on their transformational process
  3. Assuming leadership of the CF as I decreased my presence


In short, the session was a success!

Well it’s the season of giving, and so that’s what I’d like to do–give you the actual slides to the session I facilitated. All I ask in return is if you like them, or you find them helpful, please “pay it forward” by sharing the slides with 3 of your colleagues. That’s all. Consider this a gift for change.

Enjoy the slides and enjoy the holidays!

Go here for the slides.


5 Necessary Thinking Skills

It’s simple. This is the month of giving. It’s also a month of reflecting for me.

That being said, as I reflect this month on what’s important to our work, I want to share resources that I have found useful to support one-on-one and group coaching sessions.

Improving thinking is critical to our work, and so, here are 5 key cognitive strategies that are necessary for student success along with five suggestions for using this resource.



Five Ways You Can Use This Resource:

  1. Engage peers in reflective dialogue during instructional coaching sessions
  2. Share with (upper grade) students to enhance their ownership of learning
  3. Ensure common language and common understanding among staff
  4. Use when evaluating a lesson to ensure activity alignment
  5. Study for yourself to ensure your own clarity

Vantage Point or Confessions of a 21st Century Teacher

Last week I was called by one of my son’s teachers because she felt disrespected by him. Later that evening as he and I discussed the situation, in all of his 16-year old self-focused wisdom, he could not understand how simply expressing himself was him being disrespectful. Rather than beat him down into submission with my words, I stopped, took a deep breath and silently asked myself “how can I get him to see someone else’s point of view?” And then the answer came to me.

I asked him, “Did you ever see the movie Vantage Point?” He opened his mouth to respond, became silent instead, then laughed. I asked, “Why are you laughing?” He replied, “Because I know what you are going to say.” I continued, “So do you understand your teacher’s point of view?” After a brief “lessons learned” discussion, he empathized with his teacher and indicated that he would apologize to her the next day.

Life’s experiences always prepares us for the next opportunity to learn. The next day I was reminded of Vantage Point.

In preparation for an upcoming book, I was gathering qualitative data from a teacher about her classroom practices on close reading. A few minutes into our time together, it became apparent that she needed to clear her mental space in order to be fully present with me. We agreed to 10 minutes of “clearing.” Her venting created a number of insights for me, one being, I wonder how her administrators view this scenario?

With her permission, I’m sharing a Part 1 of her “space clearing” today and Part 2 next week because I want all of us to have the opportunity to reflect on a number of points she implied. As such, I challenge you to reflect with these questions after you read:

  1. Is there such an undercurrent at my school?
  2. If I say no, how can I be sure?
  3. If I say yes, what can I do about it?

As you read her thoughts, please note that she is an effective teacher who demonstrates consistent growth annually, and exceeds her targets. She’s skilled at engaging traditionally low performing students in critical thinking, and has the ability to excite students about learning. I note this because some of her comments are normally attributed to “excuse makers.” This teacher works until 9PM weekday evenings and on Sundays to prepare for her students. She is no excuse maker.

Now that we are clear about her work ethics, here are the confessions of a 21st century teacher.

“So we had this PD the other day and in this PD I was listening to these teachers talk about this new program we’re using.” She held up a teacher’s manual to show what the PD was about and continued. “That’s the book we’re using. So it’s a nice simple book, right? It doesn’t seem like too much; however, there’s another book we have to use with this.”

“With that being said, I’m listening to these teachers in the PD because they went to the workshop to get the,” using air quotes and a hint of sarcasm, “training.”  “And they’re like,

Oh, I was “trained,” again she emphasized with air quotes.

“You weren’t trained. What you got was an overview. You weren’t really “trained” [air quotes again] because I don’t know how people can go to a one-day training and now ‘I know it.’ No. You have an overview. See and that speaks volumes about these products that people are selling and pushing because” and she leaned in toward me, “if you spent X amount of time developing this  product how can a person can come into your PD and do it in a couple of hours?” She fanned the idea off and leaned back in her chair with her head turned to the side.

Then looking directly at me she exclaimed, “It’s a scam. It’s a scam!”

The teacher took a breath to continue. “Okay so with all of that being said, with [vendor product name deleted] like many other products they give you so much material  and that’s great. But these teachers were talking about,” as she transformed her voice to sound nasally to imitate her colleagues while enumerating on her fingers,

I um…well first I scaffold my lesson, then I give a question, and then the question I put it in a separate time of the day and later after lunch we come back to the question because that means we’re still talking about the book and then I give them a question at home. So that means even when they’re home, they’re still talking about the book. They’re very…”

Ms. 21st Century Teacher returned to her own voice saying, “I’m listening to all this talk and I’m like they are not doing all of this. There is no way in the world they are doing all of this with their kids. They are lying. Then I looked around and realized that both APs (Assistant Principals) were in the room.”  

She looked up seemingly re-enacting her Aha-moment for me and said, “Yep! They are putting on a show. Okay. Yeah. I get it.”

“Because I’m like at the end of the day, when do we do all this?  You pull them out of this group, and you pull them out for that group.” She characterized the pulling of students with her hands as she moved her body from side to side. “And you pull them out of this group and make them do this, and then you pull them out of that group and make them do that and you do this activity and you do that activity and then you do this activity and then you do this group activity.” She opened her arms as if to emphasize a whole group activity. “Then you do—you’re doing this every single day? Every single day? And when they [the students] do that state exam, they [the leaders] want to know can I ask your kid a question and that kid  responds to the question in a complete set of sentences? If not, you wasted time with all these other THINGS” [things emphasized].

“In my head I’m thinking why are they…but then another teacher and I were both like, ‘Im not doing all that’,” she remarked as she shook her head and slightly glided her eyes toward the top right-hand corner of her eyelids. “No one cares. No one cares when you are doing all these great things.”

“I’m just venting right now,” Ms. 21st Century Teacher sighed.

But as quickly as she took her break to indicate she was venting, she rolled out the accompanying thought with as much exacerbation as before her sigh asserting, “And the evidence and the proof of that is…” now imitating an administrator on her classroom intercom, …”Ms. 21st Century Teacher will you please come into my office?”

“Beep,” the teacher imitated the intercom in her room. “Okay, I’m coming to your office.” She replied in a pollyannaish manner.

She shuffled then gathered a host of loose papers on a student’s desk where she sat and began to point to them while looking over her glasses as if she were the administrator and I was the teacher. She continued with her issue. “And then when you get to the office,” again imitating an administrator she declared, “Your scores for your students on the state exam are…” Ms. 21st Century Teacher paused as if to imply that the scores were all that was cared about. Then she tossed the papers to the side.

“No one talks to you about what you have them doing. No one talks to you about whether or not you’re doing a think-pair-share. No one talks to me about the fact that I have them using creative transitional words, that I have them learning how to do a grabber sentence, that I’m putting them…um…having them do a 5 paragraph essay in the third grade. Nobody cares about that.” She leaned over to the side, slammed her hands on the desk, grabbed the pieces of paper she previously threw down and asked while being back in character as the administrator, “What’s your state exam results?”  

The papers landed once more on the desk scattered by her frustration.

The venting progressed. “Nobody cares what I’m doing with my kids in Social Studies, nobody cares that my kids can say ‘I know who the prime minister of England is. I know how many countries there are in Africa. I know Africa is the second largest…’ They don’t care that the kids have this new body of knowledge. No one cares!”

“I’m saying all of that to say this. When you have teachers saying all of this bull@*%# about ‘I do this with my students…’ [breath.] Uhg!”

She paused as if she were complete. Then she continued.


Close Reading In the Parking Lot

Parking lot questions–those stuck on a Post-it® off to the side of the room–are just as important as those answered during a session, but unfortunately, time does not always allow for them to be addressed. Because of this, my promise to educators I serve through facilitating a professional learning session is to extend my personal one-on-one time with them by answering their questions that weren’t addressed during our face-to-face time together. That was the case recently in one of my Designing for Close Reading sessions. As I reflected on their questions, it occurred to me that many of the principals and teachers I have served tend to ask the same questions or variations of the same. That led me to think, “perhaps there are more educators with the same questions,” and so, this week I’m sharing the most recent Q&A  I created for administrators and teachers below.

If you’d like a pdf of this document, just let me know. If you’d like to schedule a session for your administrators and/or teachers, let me know that also. I have a few slots open for November and January, but they are filling up quickly, so contact me now.


Value Creation: Focus Your Lens

Have you seen or experienced this? A group of educators conduct a class visit either for evaluative or peer-coaching purposes and the feedback generated after the event is scattered because of a vague focus or varying expectations.

Last week I was asked to serve as a guest lecturer for a class of aspiring and practicing school administrators on instructional rounds at George Washington University. I was asked to share how The Core Deconstructed (TCD) could be used with rounds. Given that I prefer to facilitate learning as opposed to lecture, I created an environment for a partially simulated instructional round.

Instructional rounds are great because they allow for thoughtful reflection on key work processes. To be clear, key work processes are,

Your organization’s most important internal value-creation processes. […] They are the processes that involve the majority of your organization’s workforce. Your key work processes frequently relate to your core competencies […] and the factors your senior leaders consider important for organizational growth. Your key work processes are always accomplished by your workforce (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, p. 51, 2013.)

Two key work processes are obvious in our field: the process of lesson design and the process of lesson delivery.

In the class I introduced the TCD elements, created three teams, released them to engage in the simulated rounds while considering only one TCD element and reflected on the process. During the phase of the rounds where the learners discussed their observations, one team was off-focus, the second was partially focused and the third was fully focused. (That was an interesting dynamic to observe.)

Focusing feedback on the key work process that requires the most change should lead the agenda. In this case the planning of instructional activities was the challenge. Students in the observed simulated classroom were asked to complete activities that were outside of the text they were reading. Higher order thinking was present, but not germane to their text. This created a host of challenges in the simulated learning environment that resulted in unfocused feedback.

The desire to address all areas of concern in a classroom is understood, but unrealistic. It becomes overwhelming for the person who is responsible for creating value for the students–the teacher. It also devalues the experience for the participants.

Focus is necessary. During the reflection portion of the evening, a twelfth-year teacher said this:

I’m glad we did this because I see now how easy it is to get off track in instructional rounds. We really need to go in and stay focused on what we went in to observe. I’m also glad that we were introduced to The Core Deconstructed because it gives us the specifics we should be looking for that impact learning the most. It helped me focus on what learning should look like and what the evidence of the learning should look like.

Note: the learner who shared this comment was from a state that did not adopt the Common Core.

By now in the school year, you are well into rounds (or whatever reflective method you embrace), so I ask you to embrace this challenge. Engage in a pre-classroom visit session to strengthen your focus. You can create your own steps, or borrow the approach we used last week.

  1. Deconstruct the standard being taught in the class you will visit using the original TCD process
  2. Select an element of the TCD  to focus on (each team can select an element)
  3. Engage in your observation methodology of choice
  4. Make individual notes on individual post-its as you observe
  5. Regroup with your team the sort and categorize post-its
  6. Discuss the strengths and growth opportunities that emerged in your categories germane to the TCD elements
  7. Generate your report and hypothetical questions germane to the TCD focus for your simulated event

As shared by the students at George Washington University, focusing your lens with the The Core Deconstructed will certainly create value for the participants, the observed teacher and ultimately the students.



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.

WARNING: Poor Lesson Plans Mean Students Learn Poorly

What’s your process for designing learning experiences? Just today I engaged in dialogue with a group of senior leaders about  processes. Their responses were filled with great output examples, but no processes. The discussion mirrored conversations I had last week about the process of lesson design. Given today’s experiences and given the fact that we are still at the start of the school year, I chose to share a post that was written almost one year ago.

Lesson design is a process. Edward Deming once stated, If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” Clear processes lead to clear outcomes. When the process is unclear, then so goes the learning. Therefore, please note (and read)  the following –  WARNING: Poor Lesson Plans Mean Students Learn Poorly.


Persepolis, House of Spirits & the Common Core

The Situation

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to her teacher delivering instruction on CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

“The Islamic Revolution affected Marjane as a female in Iran. In the book Persepolis on page 3 panel 4 it shows Marjane at a young age where she was forced to wear a veil. It affected her as a girl because the veil had to be worn by women all ages, whether they wanted or not. Marjane was forced to wear something she did not want to wear at a young age.”

Student A was a ninth grade female English Language Learner whose school population was almost 70% Latino. This student is NOT fictional.

The Task

Her teacher took on the task of deconstructing the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

The Action

Student A’s teacher explains her actions here. Specifically, a few highlights of her actions in her own words were the following:

  1. I modeled my table after a few from Dr. Brown’s book.
  2. I numbered each cell in the matrix with the idea that this would make targeted instruction for small groups easier to illustrate in my lesson plans.
  3. I tracked students’ progress towards mastery of this standard over the course of a unit.

The Result

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to the same standard mentioned above after her teacher deconstructed the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

“The government has control over individuals, but it’s not strong enough to determine your destiny. Many people think that the government controls them but in reality, they make their own decisions without them realizing. For example, in The House of the Spirits,  Pedro Tercero always made his own decision by choosing his way instead of the governments’. In page 154 it says, “And so it was the one day Esteban Treuba, who was resting on the terrace after lunch, heard the boy singing about a bunch of hens who had organized to defeat the fox.” This story, the fox and the hens, represent those people who decided to make their own decisions and go against the government, these people don’t depend on the government at all and it doesn’t influence their decisions or destiny.”

Please note that Student A’s work is unedited for the purpose of emphasizing her improvements.

As the teacher reflected on her actions and student outcomes, she noted that,

  1. I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them
  2. I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.
  3. Students were able to see their need to master one objective before they could master the next objective
  4. I was able to pinpoint exactly where students were struggling in the process of mastering a standard which is essential not only for a data-driven school, but also for students.
  5. Teaching with the deconstructed standard led to great reflective discussions in teacher-student conferences, as students were able to see their progress and reflect on exactly where they were struggling.

Finally, the teacher stated, “The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.”

Have you deconstructed the core? If not, I challenge you-as I did the teacher of Student A-to start now.