Monday, February 29, 2016

Mindset on My Mind: Chapter 5 Disco

Barb Novak contributed this post. She is reading Mindset by Carol Dweck and sharing her thinking about every chapter. Click here to read more of Barb's posts about mindset.

Chapter 5 was about the impact of fixed and growth mindsets in business. The information wasn't surprising - a leader with a growth mindset created a business that was financial successful and an enjoyable place to work.

The examples that were most stunning to me were those where the leader actually changed, learned, and grew along with their business and employees. The best examples were Welch (GE) and Mulcahy (Xerox). The director of human resources once spoke against a promotion for Welch, say Welch ". . . was arrogant, couldn't take criticism, and depended too much on his talent instead of hard work and his knowledgeable staff" (p. 127). Welch used this feedback to grow and, eventually, was selected as the CEO of GE because he "promised to develop" (p. 128).

Mulcahy - the only female executive discussed in this chapter - demonstrated her growth mindset by going "into an incredible learning mode, making herself the CEO Xerox needed to survive" (p. 131). She learned answers but also learned exactly who could provide answers she could not.

The business leaders with a growth mindset demonstrated the same "growth", "passion", and "gratitude" they wanted to cultivate within their organization.

What does this mean for education? Or for me as a leader?

It reminds me that we (whether a principal or a coach or a teacher or a parent) serve as models. Those around us internalize and act upon what they see us doing. Every gesture, facial expression, conversation, email, and action reveal something about our mindset. . . and the mindset we would like to cultivate in those around us.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Kindness - It's Not Just for Others

Artful quote from Alexandra Nelson's Instagram. Ali offers a monthly subscription of hand-drawn inspiration directly sent to your real mailbox.

I'm ending my week with an impossible list of things that still need to be accomplished and feeling a whole lot like I didn't do enough this week. I'm working hard to be kind to myself about everything I didn't get to - trying to practice some self love and self kindness.

To re-focus myself, I'm taking a few minutes to write a different kind of list this Friday:

Positive Things I Did for Myself This Week
  • Went to yoga
  • Found a mantra to focus on each time a certain stressful thing enters my mind
  • Drank no soda
  • Took a few vacation hours
  • Recognized my limits in a social situation

Every day, extend yourself the same kindness and patience and positivity that you reserve for others. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Comprehension Focus Groups: Using Reciprocal Teaching within the CFG

Heather Zimmerman contributed this post. Click here for more of Heather's thinking about comprehension focus groups.

October 2015 Hot Topics at UW-Oshkosh had Lori Oczkus as a keynote speaker.  After hearing her passionately talk about different strategies during her keynote, I was hooked and decided to stay for a session she had about reciprocal teaching.  I had heard of reciprocal teaching, but never implemented it in my classroom.  But after hearing Oczkus talk about the power of reciprocal teaching, I knew I had to implement it in my next Comprehension Focus Group (CFG).

I thought my 7th grade group would benefit from Reciprocal Teaching the most.  I decided to use a graphic organizer- though she showed us this cool way to tear paper and use a sheet of paper.  I opted for a bit more writing space for my middle school students.  This was used during the informative unit where my students did some reading on the Middle Ages (before they started in social studies class).  

Oczkus talked a lot about puppets for the different roles, which I did not think my middle school students would find “cool”. I did use the Quincy the Questioner idea though- without the puppets.  My middle school students seemed to enjoy the idea of quizzing their friends.  

I thought using Reciprocal Teaching was effective in the CFG.  It provided an opportunity to review summary writing, and also through the “Clarifying” component, students were able to capture questions they still had for further research in phase 3 of the CFG.  

For those of you who are using CFGs, what graphic organizers or strategies have you found success with?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Building on Vitality

I recently read Bob Tschannen-Moran and Megan Tschannen-Moran's "The Coach and the Evaluator", an article for a 2011 issue of Educational Leadership. Click here (if you are a Wisconsin educator) and prefer to read the full-text PDF via Badgerlink.

Several paragraphs are about approaching coaching from a strengths-based perspective. Tschannen-Moran and Tschannen-Moran suggest that, "Strengths-based coaching conversations stay within three positive questions [bullets added for emphasis]:
  • Where are the signs of vitality within a teacher's current practice?
  • What can we learn from those signs about teacher strengths and capacities?
  • How can we leverage that learning to invite new possibilities for teacher growth and change?" (2010, p. 16)
I've become a little obsessed with the power of these questions. It's not surprising because I'm also a little obsessed with the idea of approaching people as "naturally creative, resourceful, and whole", a concept from co-active coaching that Laura Gleisner introduced me to.

What do you think? How can these questions impact your coaching?

Friday, February 19, 2016

I See You, I Hear You (Part 2): How do students know we see and hear them as readers and writers?

Meghan Retallick contributed this post. It is the second part in a series. Click here for the first post.

My reflection around this question has grown in the last two months as a coaching cycle has developed into a full-scale action research project.  A few months ago, I began working with a high school social studies teacher to incorporate supports for struggling readers within in his 9th Grade Global Studies course.  We decided to try a push-in model of support by conferring with readers during the independent reading time he has incorporated into his class structure.  First, I cannot give him enough “props” for taking a risk three years ago and incorporating independent reading time into his classes.  Now all Global Studies teachers have used this model, so each freshman in our high school has this as a part of their Global Studies experience.  Our coaching goal is to refine this process and support students who are struggling with motivation, stamina, and engagement.

After reading Cathy Toll’s book on coaching, I decided that the opening conversation with students should take a similar approach as I get to know them as readers.  You can read my post from last month to find out what happened when I first introduced myself to students.  I do not have a daily relationship with them, so my questions must be ones that allow me to learn about who they are and direct our focus for conferring.  The two questions I opened with were:
  • How do you view yourself as a reader?
  • When you think about your success in reading, what gets in the way?

An amazing thing happened in the very first interview.  This student is one that has been talked about in teachers lounges as unmotivated, edgy, and sometimes defiant.  When I asked her these questions, she didn’t even bat an eye as she went into a detailed description about the differences for her as a reader outside of school vs. inside of school.  Her comments were living proof of all the research I’ve read about adolescent reading motivation.  Here was a student who has been written off by many tell me that her and her friends spend hours writing through an app, critiquing each other's work and publishing their work online.  She certainly sounded like a motivated writer to me!  

She shared her story in such a way that I could not capture in writing and do her justice, so she inspired me to take the next step in my conferring process--to audio record all my conversations with students.  This led to conversation after conversation of insights from students.  I still can’t believe how asking two simple questions opens the door to these conversations.

My work now is to put this together in a format to share with a large audience.  I was sharing my plan with a few other teachers from the high school and the assistant principal the other day.  The assistant principal asked me if most of the responses I heard from students were that they viewed themselves negatively as a reader.  I, surprisingly, have found that this is not the case.  Many students consider themselves to be okay readers if they are reading about something interesting to them.  What was clear to me from the interviews I’ve done is that many students don’t understand why they are reading what they are reading.  The purpose is unclear.  I was also surprised by the number of students that labeled themselves as lazy and unmotivated when it comes to school reading.  As one student said, “I know I could do more as my teacher tells me all the time.”  My response was, “What do you think is keeping you from doing more?”  This is the heart of what I would like to uncover with my continued interviews and research to find better ways to support both students and staff in increasing reading motivation.  

My biggest take-away from the initial start to this process is that two simple questions unlocked all of this thinking and further research.  In the first interview with students, those questions allow me to truly hear and see them as readers.  We can grow from that first meeting to set a goal and monitor their progress together.

As I continue this research, I can’t wait to see where it leads.  Look for more in my coming posts on how being culturally responsive fits into this process.

How do you show students that you see and hear them as readers and writers?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Maintaining Best Practices Through Back to Basics

Julie Schwartzbauer contributed this post. Click here for more of Julie's thinking.

As our district continues to focus on implementing best practices through a Back to Basics model, we are faced with the question of how we maintain the work that has been done.  I can say with confidence that all of our 16 elementary schools have participated in a roll-out pertaining to the various back to basics components (Read-Aloud, Shared Reading, Independent Reading, Minilessons, and Conferring).  What I am unsure of is whether or not the best practices surrounding these components are being implemented.  It makes me uneasy to think that all of the hard work our building coaches have done is not being implemented and maintained across grade levels and buildings.

I recently shared my uneasiness with our coaches.  Together we brainstormed ways to  ensure that Back to Basics are not only being implemented, but maintained throughout the year and in the future.  Some questions that arose were surrounding new teachers and how to meet their needs and support them throughout the year.  Below is an organizer we created.  Even with this chart, we all know that our crazy schedules can easily get in the way of good intentions.  How can we make the items below a priority?  I hope to revisit this topic with our coaches at the end of the year.

How will we implement Back to Basics with new teaching staff and how will we support them throughout the school year?
  • Set aside time to meet with new teachers throughout the year.
  • Review shared beliefs surrounding Back to Basics components.
  • Visit classrooms to observe student learning and engagement.
  • Create a new teacher support checklist that includes Back to Basics components.
  • Survey new teachers to determine areas of needs.
  • Use the coaching continuum.
  • Implement new teacher collaboration time during lunch and include a  monthly email regarding the topics being addressed.
  • Incorporate learning opportunities during PLCs.
  • Implement weekly check-ins.
How will we maintain the implementation of Back to Basics components in the future?
  • Survey ALL staff regarding the implementation of Back to Basics.
  • Implement classroom walkthroughs with principals, based on each building’s vision for classroom visits.
  • Provide a survey to determine needs.
  • Use the coaching continuum.
  • Use PLCs to revisit and dig deeper into the components.
  • Create checklists for self accountability.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Having Hard Conversations

Lisa's posts about coaching with kindness ("Coaching with kindness""Coaching with kindness when the truth might sting", and "Coaching with kindness when teachers feel stung")  and a few things in my personal life have really gotten me thinking about when and how I speak my truths. The universe sent me Jennifer Abrams's book to help me deepen that thinking. (Andrea wrote about Having Hard Conversations for us in an earlier post.)

Having Hard Conversations gives readers concrete steps and considerations for preparing for a conversation. Abrams begins preparing us for having hard conversations, but suggesting we identifying what might be stopping us. Reasons to avoid hard conversations include: 
  • A desire to please ("I want people to like me.")
  • Personal safety ("I am intimidated.")
  • Personal comfort ("I like it easy, emotionally.")
  • Fear of the unknown ("I'd rather live with the status quo than face the unknown.")
  • Waiting for the perfect moment ("I can't do it until I know more about him/her.")
While these reasons are very real, Abrams goes on to provide concrete ways to overcome the avoidance and actually have a conversation that will positively impact student learning. Her framework includes carefully planning the logistics of the conversation, identifying the goal, and planning for follow-up support.

While many of the examples in Having Hard Conversations are about supervision, the ideas in the book are applicable to literacy coaches and any one in education looking to speak their truths to a colleague.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Focused Classroom Visits---An Additional Opportunity for Quality Professional Development

Professional development opportunities usually make me think of inservice days, attending conferences, or participating in book clubs. While the benefits to good professional development is undeniable, the problem usually lies in the factor of time. Most teachers want to continue their own professional learning, but struggle with being out of the classroom too many days to attend a conference; other times professional development is thrust upon us in a way that doesn’t feel relevant or timely.  In an effort to explore different options for professional learning and growth with the teachers in my district, I began thinking about ways to organize and set-up Focused Classroom Visits.

Focused Classroom Visits are opportunities that I organize as a literacy coach for teachers to observe one another’s classroom. These observations are structured, purposeful, and positive. They never involve evaluation of one another or usually even feedback. Instead they are observations meant to act as a springboard for conversations. They may include opportunities to witness specific routines, procedures, or instructional practices; they may help a teacher learn about literacy expectations in grades prior to or following their own classrooms; they may even be used as a reflection tool for teachers on their own classroom techniques.  In all cases, however, the Focused Classroom Visits provide teachers with learning opportunities that promote collaboration, partnerships, and common understandings.

As the coach, I work to set up the logistics of the Focused Classroom Visits. First, I try to be very transparent about the entire process. I want both the observed and observing teacher to feel comfortable and understand the purpose behind the classroom visits. I try to communicate as much about the process  to enhance everyone’s overall level of comfort. Secondly,  I am always on the look out for best practices and individual strengths in a variety of classrooms. By knowing my teachers’ areas of strengths, I am better equipped to make classroom visit recommendations.  The relationships that I work to build also ensure that teachers are willing to open their doors to other teachers. Once a visit is initiated, I work to organize a schedule for when teachers can visit other classrooms. Usually, visiting teachers go during a prep period; I also try to attend the visit with the teacher if possible. Prior to the visit, I meeting with both teachers to highlight the purpose of the visit, establish a specific focus for what we are observing, and plan for a common way to record our observations. I have a simple form that we are sometimes able to use and sometimes not, depending on what we are looking for. After the observation occurs, I set up a debrief session. This session may or may not include the observed teacher, once again depending on the purpose. The debrief session always focuses on what are the “next steps” for the observing teacher and myself. These debriefing conversations tend to be the most productive in terms of promoting action.  

Focused Classroom Visits have allowed me to promote collegiality and learning among teachers within our own school district. For years as a coach, I have been able to see the great things happening in a variety of classrooms. Focused Classroom Visits allow me to have other teachers witness the great things going on in our classrooms. This interaction empowers us as literacy leaders and works to positively promote our literacy vision within the district as a whole. In addition, I’ve found these type of observations tend to feel less threatening for both the observed and observing teacher.

With correct implementation, Focused Classroom Visits can promote a common literacy scope and sequence for all stakeholders within the district, strengthen leadership across multiple grade levels, and empower teachers to open their doors to other teachers. For these reasons, I have found Focused Classroom Visits to be a strong additional professional development option for teachers in my district.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Reading the Reading Research: Teachers' Reading Habits & Instructional Practices

Barb Novak contributed this post. Click here to access more of Literacy Booth thinking about research.

Note. I'm sharing this study simply to give access to how I process research when I read - how I organize my thinking before, during, and after reading research. This post is not intended to be an endorsement of the research or its conclusions.

"Does Johnny's Reading Teacher Love to Read? How Teachers' Personal Reading Habits Affect Instructional Practices"
Sharon S. McKool & Suzanne Gespass (2009)

Click here to access to full record on BadgerLink. BadgerLink does not have the full-text of this article. Share the citation above with your librarian to access the full-text.

Why this article?
I read this to put some quantitative science behind something I (along with others I adore, such as Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, and Matt Renwick) talk about often - the need for teachers to identify as readers and share their reading lives with their students. To show support for this idea, we begin every month at The Literacy Booth by talking about what we're reading.

Research Questions:
This study investigated (quoted exactly from p. 265):
  1. Do reading teachers engage in reading as a leisure time activity?
  2. Do teachers who read for pleasure use more instructional strategies associated with best practice than teachers who do not read for pleasure.
  3. Is there a difference between the instructional practices used by teachers who value reading in their own lives and those who do not?
  4. Is there a difference between teachers who read for pleasure and those who do not in terms of how they motivate students to read?
A survey was distributed to 105 and completed by 65 classroom teachers (collection rate of 62%) from New Jersey, Florida, and Texas. The participants "taught reading as one of several subjects" daily (p. 266) in grades four (23 respondents), five (26 respondents), and six (16 respondents). Sites were selected based on relationships with the researchers.

Respondents, all of which were female, had an average of ten years of experience in education. 23% completed master's degrees.

The survey, completed in written form, included four sections:
  1. Descriptive data (such as years of experience)
  2. Out-of-school activities
  3. Instructional practices
  4. Personal reading habits and attitudes
There were two additional sections:
  • Three-day after-school activity log
  • Short answer question about motivating students to read
Main Points:

"The results of this study indicate that teachers who are readers themselves are more likely to engage in instructional practices that model their own passions for reading" (p. 273).
  • ". . . while most teachers value reading as a leisure time activity, only a little more than half of the teachers surveyed actually read for more than 10 minutes a day in their free time" (p. 271). 
    • "20% of the teachers (or 1 in 5) admitted that they were only somewhat committed or slightly committed readers" (p. 268).
  • ". . . there was not a difference between teachers who read for pleasure and those who did not in terms of how they attempted to motivate students to read. Almost half of the teachers surveyed in this study, regardless of personal reading habits, reported they primarily used extrinsic rewards to motivate students to read" (p. 272).
  • "Teachers reported that they only recommended good books for students to read once or twice a month" (p. 269).
  • "The teachers who valued reading in their own lives were more likely to use literacy practices associated with best practice" (p. 269).
    • ". . . it is interesting to note that only the teachers who valued reading the most in their own lives reported that they also valued having students participate in daily periods of sustained silent reading at school" (p. 271).
  • McKool and Gespass suggest fostering a love of reading beginning with teacher preparation. This love of reading should be considered in hiring and fostered in on-going professional learning, such as book clubs.
The authors suggest ". . . these data and findings should be viewed as exploratory rather than research findings to be generalized" (p. 273) because:
  • The sample size (65) was small, homogeneous, and not randomly selected.
  • Data was self-reported and not triangulated.
The article includes the full questionnaire administered for this research. It would be helpful for others wishing to administer a similar survey.

Also, this article would provide a nice introduction to reading research. It is carefully written in a traditional research format and very transparent about findings and limitations.

Full Citation:
McKool, S.S., & Gespass, S. (2009). Does Johnny's reading teacher love to read? How teachers' personal reading habits affect instructional practices. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48, 265 - 276. doi: 10.1080/19388070802443700

Monday, February 8, 2016

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Over the last few months these two words have resonated with me quite frequently. After several presentations over the last two months regarding word study and the transfer of skills (see my last blog post), I’ve found myself stopping to think about these two words quite often. I’ve said so many times in conversations that reading/literacy is not black and white and that we need to stop trying to make it that way.  I feel this ties right into qualitative and quantitative processes. At what point do we ever really stop and analyze which adjective describes the way we teach, assess, and respond to student’s learning?
Below are the dictionary definitions of these two terms.


/ˈkwɒlɪtətɪv; -ˌteɪ-/
1.involving or relating to distinctions based on quality or qualities


/ˈkwɒntɪtətɪv; -ˌteɪ-/
1. that is or may be estimated by quantity.
2. of or relating to the describing or measuring of quantity.

Qualitative referring to quality and quantitative referring to quantity. Which term would you rather have describe your teaching?

In my opinion we don’t use qualitative measures enough.  We seem to be very heavy on the quantitative side.  I think about the amount of assessment we do, the push to always do more, get as much in as possible.  It seems to always be about quantity.  I do believe quantitative measures are definitely needed, but like everything else, in balance with qualitative.  I understand why we lack the use of qualitative measures as well- they take time.  But sit back and imagine a group of teachers sitting down at a table and really analyzing the miscues on a student’s running record and making instructional decisions based on student’s use of the meaning, syntactic, and visual cueing systems versus based on a number they received on any particular quantitative assessment.

We need to push ourselves to use qualitative practices more often, in conjunction with all of the quantitative measures we already have.The qualitative practices require us to really think, analyze, and discuss students’ core needs.   We can’t afford to continue to disregard some of the best information we have on our students. It’s worth the time and effort.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Igniting a Passion for Reading

Maggie Schumacher contributed this post. Click here to access more of Maggie's thinking.

“It should be the teacher’s aim to give every child a love of reading, a hunger for it that will stay with him through all the years of his life. If a child has that, he will acquire the mechanical part without difficulty.” - E. Mayne

There’s nothing more important to me than helping to develop a culture of literacy in my school and fostering of love of reading within my students. It’s so important that teachers all feel that they have the tools they need to be successful teachers and supporters of literacy. It’s equally if not more important that students feel they have access to the resources and environment appropriate for cultivating a joy of reading and learning.

If you’ve never read Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading, pick up a copy as soon as you can. I had the privilege of seeing Layne present at WSRA a few years back, and his message and enthusiasm have stayed with me since. Layne speaks to the importance of teaching our students the value of books and reading. I work with the teachers in my building regularly on ways they can incorporate literacy strategies into their instruction and talk to kids about reading. Every teacher gets a chance to read alongside their students during our weekly school-wide “Drop Everything And Read” period. Multiple times throughout the year, teachers in the building update their “Hot Read” posters and share their personal reading with their students. We discuss why it’s important that all students view all teachers as teachers of reading and models of pleasure reading. We understand that, for many of our students, the school day may be the only time they have access to books or see adults modeling reading.

As a middle school educator of struggling readers, I often will have students come to class at the start of the school year unmotivated and self-proclaimed as non-readers. I make it my purpose each year to show these reluctant readers what they are missing. I read aloud to them; I choose books that are engaging and a little bit edgy so they feel that there is some scandal involved in what we’re reading in class. I model my enjoyment of reading in front of these students; every day when I ask them to read for twenty minutes in class, I read right alongside them and I talk to students about what I’m reading. I get to know my students and their interests and I choose books that I think will appeal to them. Any budget I am allotted for my classroom is spent on new books or reading materials, and my students get to request the titles they want me to buy.

I have also utilized technology as a means of helping reach unmotivated students. I don’t get hung up on my students need a physical copy of the book in their hands. I have one reluctant reader this year who couldn’t focus on reading a book by himself to save his life, but I gave this same student my iPod and he now listens to audiobooks that he requests. He laughs out loud at the funny parts and every day tells me what he’s reading; he gets excited about how far he’s gotten in each book, and he has asked to borrow the iPod to listen to the book he was reading on a family road trip. To me, this was a success. Some might say that this student isn’t really reading, and I disagree. This was a student who was perfectly capable of reading the words and understanding the content, but who was disengaged and unmotivated. He now views himself as a successful reader.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have this level of success with every student that comes into my classroom, but each success story keeps me energized and reminds me that it IS possible to engage the disengaged and motivate the unmotivated. Every time a student asks me to keep reading aloud or for more time to read in their own books, I know I’ve done something right.

“I may not reach everybody, but every time I reach somebody, I’m doing more than I would be doing if I were doing nothing. It’s one more thing to try, and it surely can’t do any harm.” - Steven Layne, Igniting a Passion for Reading

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Coaching with Kindness when the Truth Stings and the Teacher Feels Stung

Lisa Weiss contributed today's thinking. Click here to access more of Lisa's thinking about coaching with kindness.

I suppose it is both fortunate and unfortunate that I have had some experiences where the coaches I needed to support were not in a place to accept feedback. In my last two posts, I wrote about providing feedback with honesty and kindness, and I focused on how that looked when someone asked for the feedback, and there was nothing but good to say, but last month I shared how one can give feedback when the truth, even covered in kindness, might sting. While thinking about that post, I knew I had another entry to write. I had to write about one last set of experiences I’ve had when working to coach coaches: coaching when the teacher is defensive about the feedback.

There are three specific situations I am thinking about where it was really difficult for me to enter into the necessary conversations that had to take place. I knew what questions I was going to ask, I knew what items had to be addressed, and I knew I’d have rather gained 20 pounds than to have any of those conversations! However, the students needed me to be a big girl, and ask what I needed to ask so we could name the issues, and start planning together. This, by the way, is the scary stuff I mentioned last month--when I watched my colleagues hold these brave conversations, my stomach hurt, and yet my mentors seemed cool, smoothly moving the conversation forward. I had no idea how they could be so bold when they honestly named issues or concerns, because as I visualized myself emulating their conversational moves, the deep desire to curl into a ball and disappear overcame me. My colleagues, however, appeared calm, detached from emotion, and focused.

Being naturally curious, and intrigued by how calmly my mentor facilitated ugly conversations, one day I finally asked my burning questions: How are you able to do that? Do you feel calm because you appear to be so, but when ugly things are said to you, or things you completely disagree with, how do you stay so controlled? Are you ever worried about ruining the relationship with the teacher?

What I learned from that colleague, was that it was my role to provide the honest feedback, and it was the role of the teacher to accept the feedback and responsibility for what needed to be done as a result of the conversation. She claimed that that simple truth is what positioned her to remain calm, even when teachers were not. I believed that to be her truth, but had absolutely no confidence that that knowledge had any way of making a difficult conversation easier...until I had to have one.

The occasion for a critical conversation arose a few years after learning about how my mentor approached them. It was a conversation where I had to say things I knew were honest, but not going to be responded to favorably. As the conversation unfolded, I was thinking about what my colleague shared with me--my responsibility is to name issues (kindly), but it is up to the teacher to embrace it or not. I also remembered her sharing that the issue I name for the teacher did not belong me, but I had the ability to facilitate the thinking of the teacher, and help problem-solve the issue. What was fascinating to me, as I found myself in situations where the teacher was angry at me for naming the issue in the years that followed, was how I discovered myself  listening in ways I never listened before; I listened intently to the responses, identifying the conversational moves of the teacher I was coaching (when they were not so happy with my honesty). I noted some patterns in responses: excuses, blaming, jumping from one topic to another, questioning, challenging me: What would you do?  

As these things happened it became crystal clear how it was that people could have these conversations and do it calmly. When teachers became defensive, it was a bit like watching them twist themselves into a tightly wrung washcloth. They became so jumbled in their thoughts and emotional defenses kicked in, so I had to be the one to continue calmly asking questions, responding to what was said or being asked, and facilitating the thinking through the defensiveness. While it is certainly uncomfortable to have someone out of sorts, perhaps even yelling, and/or blaming you, you need to listen so carefully to what is being said, so you can ask another question, or respond well to what would you do? When listening that carefully, that the fears about the person not liking me seemed to disappear. It wasn’t about our relationship, and it certainly wasn’t about me. It was about students, and because they deserve the best possible teacher, I had to hold the courageous conversation. And as excuses, blame, questioning, and topic jumping were occurring, the most difficult thing (for me) was remembering the original question that was asked, so I could return to it. I’d jot down other things I wanted to say in response to things being said, but the hardest part was maintaining focus, not being honest in the kindest way possible, not controlling my emotions.

I like peace, sometimes it feels like a magnetic force. I crave peace so much that I am willing to walk away from people and situations that cause disruptions to my peaceful life. But...that is not my job, and although I want healthy relationships with the people whom I work with, I also have accepted the responsibility of my job that has to do with providing honest feedback. Even when peace will erupt…I just have to remember that if blowback comes, it’s not about me. As long as I am willing to be kind when these conversations must take place, I have to know I am doing what is right for kids, and I can help the teacher when they become ready to accept the feedback.