My Dream School

         I dream of working in a school that drips with collaboration and trust among teachers. A few weeks ago I wrote about our school’s ambitious plan for PLC’s. The plan was a collaborative effort based on the idea that professional learning communities and a school’s culture go hand-in-hand.  I still believe that one person, one teacher, can make a difference not only to children but to a school and a district. As I read Stacey's post about Peter Johnston’s book, Choice Words, I thought not only about the language I use with children, but the language I use with my co-professionals and the language administrators use with teachers. The words we say and how we say them matter. Classroom teachers need to be empowered to lead the way. In my view, the best literacy coach is always trying to work his or her way out of the job; building agency, not creating dependency. This is scary for me to say because I love my job. But it isn’t about me. It is about kids and the teachers who teach them every day. In a school that drips with collaboration and trust, you don’t need a coach at all.
These are some of the professional resources
we will be using as part of a PLC with a focus
on supporting and teaching our youngest writers.
And by the way, our first meeting ROCKED!

Informational Writing: My Messy Process

Since attending a summer writing workshop, I’ve been trying to write more informational pieces. I discovered that my process for writing expository text was all over the place. For me, it was very different from writing a narrative, or a vignette, or a poem. Writing about a memory or a moment in time seemed easier. My thought was if I kept writing informational pieces, eventually it wouldn’t feel so hard. I wanted to write an informational piece for this week’s slice but I couldn’t seem to zero in on a topic.  For example, this slice started out seven different ways. It started as a piece about collaboration, then coaching, then my upcoming PLC, then back to coaching, then literacy celebrations, then writer’s notebooks, and then back to coaching again. Purpose and audience were screaming at me, distracting me. For Pete’s sake! Focus, for crying out loud! Some of my topics were geared more to a particular audience. Audience influenced what I wanted to write about. So was I trying to choose a topic or an audience? And in choosing an audience, how would I write about my topic? I needed to determine the purpose for what I wanted to write.

In an effort to organize my jumbled thinking, I made a map of my ideas on my dining room floor. My big ideas were audiences, purposes, and topics. Under Audiences, I listed who I wrote for, other than myself, and where my writing would be published. Under Purposes I listed all the reasons I liked to write. I didn’t have anything under topic yet. With the Tuesday SOL deadline looming, I picked cards from my audience and purpose categories which finally helped me to choose my topic. There . . . now wasn’t that easy! Uhhmm, no. At least audience and purpose stopped screaming at me.

Fred decided to help me out.
Roxy joined in the effort to help me
figure out my topic.

Starting with audience and purpose helped
me narrow my topic.

My husband looked at me and said, "You're not
gonna leave that all over the floor are you?"

Supporting Literacy Coaches

A couple weeks before school started, I wrote a post about the latest version of my conferring notebook. I received an encouraging comment from a first year literacy coach named Beth. Her comment reminded me of how challenging my first few years were as a literacy coach. Let’s just say, I remember crying a lot and wondering why I thought I could do this insane job. I learned quickly that coaches often lived under a microscope. Teachers watched what I did and didn’t do both in and out of the classroom. Teachers watched if I showed up for bus duty on time. Teachers wondered if I had more planning time than they did. They noticed if I arrived for appointments on time and how well prepared I was. And teachers talked about their noticings with one another. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it still is. You cannot be a wimp and be a literacy coach.

Literacy coaching is kind of a strange job. And effective coaches need a lot of support. I’m not sure I’ve ever talked to another coach outside of my own district that had job duties identical to mine. Even among coaches in my own district, there is variation based on the needs of the students and teachers of the school we may be working in. But after eleven years of working with adult learners, the two things I know for sure is that coaching is about building relationships and coaches should never be evaluators. Coaches cannot build relationships with co-professionals if they are viewed as evaluators. I try to focus my conversations with teachers, at least initially, on their students. And it makes sense. The concept of coaching came from the idea that teachers and classroom practice have a significant impact on student achievement. If I can assist a teacher to find joy and success in their teaching, children benefit. 
A sampling of stuff currently
piled on my desk at home.
But if coaches are there to support teachers and kids, who props up the coach? Professional development and collaboration with other literacy coaches helps. But sometimes you just need someone to talk to, have coffee with, or cry with.  So, to Beth and any other first year literacy coaches out there, since I can't meet you at Starbucks or Panera and talk, here is my short list of things for you to think about as you dive over the cliff into coaching  :
·        Follow through and show up on time.

·        It is more important to present yourself as a learner than trying to act like the “expert.”

·        Spend as much time as possible living in classrooms and working with kids rather than sitting at your computer.

·        When you feel discouraged or beaten down, focus on helping children know how brilliant they are. Kids are the best medicine for an ailing literacy coach.

·        Teachers have reasons for EVERYTHING they do. Don’t make assumptions and don’t pass judgment.

·        Keep growing your own knowledge. There is ALWAYS more to learn!

My Summer Writing Retreat

Our district English Language Arts consultants, Fran and Colleen, offered two 1-day training sessions this summer to help familiarize teachers with the common core standards for writing, with an emphasis on informational writing. Both sessions provided lots of time for teachers to write. Fran and Colleen stressed that if we expected our students to write, we needed to write ourselves. Each session started off with teachers writing about a summer memory.  After everyone wrote for about 15 or 20 minutes, we talked about our process. As we chatted about all the decisions we made as writers and shared snippets from our pieces, we asked each other questions about the details in the pieces or noticed craft. Teachers then had an opportunity to learn about or review Barry Lane’s technique for playing with time called Explode-a-Moment. We went back into our summer memory pieces and decided where we wanted to slow down time.

We also read about how to create a sense of era from the book Nonfiction Mentor Texts (pages 93-94) by Lynne R. Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. Each time we revisited our pieces, we applied our new learning. The experience taught me that if I was going to help kids love writing informational and opinion pieces as much as narratives, I needed to write informational and opinion pieces. At the very least, I needed to expand my understanding of the range of informational writing. As much as I love new learning, the most enjoyable part of the training sessions for me was the writing and the talk about the writing. Maybe someday I will get to attend a NWP summer institute. Until then, I’m happy to keep writing along with my district colleagues.

I wrote about the summer I went to gymnastics
camp. I tried to create a sense of era by
including details about the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Working on PLC's

Last week I wrote a post about what our school was doing for PLC’s this year. Our large 2-building elementary campus has 1200 students from grades prek-6, and over 50 teachers. Honestly, I was worried how the new PLC model would be received. Given previous feedback, we felt it was critical to foster PD that was more teacher driven yet addressed the needs of our students. As our principal addressed the staff at one of our opening in-service days, she briefly introduced the menu of choices for the PLC’s and asked teachers to fill out the sign-up form. I heard some muffled claps behind me when she said that everyone would be able to earn CEU’s. I didn’t hear any whispers of complaint. These were both good signs. All of the sign-up sheets were turned in before the end of the day. Another good sign.

            Now the big job would be to organize the sign-up forms. This needed to be done quickly so that teachers could add the dates to their calendars. I started trying to put individuals together by first and second choice the other day but there where many factors to contemplate. We had several lunch hours and the PLC sessions were half-day. Coordination of substitute teachers would be an important consideration. Forming the PLC’s would require input from our math coach, Jill, district literacy consultant, Colleen, and our principals. Right now, my hope is that we are able to form the groups and get the meeting dates to the teachers by the end of the first day of school.
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