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To the coaches–thank you.

Making it look easy…



Have you ever cried at a wedding? I sure have. My friend still teases me about how much I cried at hers. Thinking about it, it was watching someone cross a threshold (too on the nose?) to another journey and life that wasn’t available to me. Yet, anyway. (That word, “yet,” — a prayer, a validation, a banner, and bludgeon…) A few months later I would meet my husband to be, and get a look behind that curtain. But her life and mine look very different. I’m struggling to come up with a metaphor here that’s not too cliche, but all I can think of are branches on a tree or rivers finding their paths. Ugh.

*goes to pour more coffee*

*it didn’t help*

Connections and separations lend themselves to cliches and similes, but there is truth there: once you meet someone you are connected: for this moment, I want to extend my gratitude to two coaches that made a huge difference for me this year, Michael and Vicky.

Vicky comes from my district, and Michael from out of district. Both are exemplary educators, masters in their craft, and far and away damn fine coaches. Their honest and intelligent conversations, observations and and reciprocity is what I admire more than I can say. They saw in me the talent, and the growth, and my only regret is that I didn’t get to see them enough. Each precious time they interacted with me individually I felt the clouds lift, and my vision cleared. Good coaches take a special personality, great coaches make you feel like you’re not being coached at all, but a collaborator on a masterpiece. Their generosity of acknowledging my strengths without me ever feeling a “yes-but” statement was coming is extraordinary. Vicky especially, since we spent more time together, valued the crafted curriculum and exploration I do and did on my own, and she knows I’m capable and ready to share. Just like my art education days, being in the studio by oneself is only enjoyable if once in awhile the work is shown and shared.

Some work I tried on this year (one of their favorite phrases), both on my own and through them include:

There is more, to be sure: handouts and PowerPoints and resources galore. And I know that when they do other things next year on their own journeys, I hope that we will always be connected and our paths cross frequently and joyfully.

PS I also need to thank my admin for pairing me with these coaches: as we grow together, I don’t mind being “keeper of the lessons” and sharing them.

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No rest for the wicked.


This weekend after spending nearly a full work day on lessons from outside sources, editing, and refining to suit my students’ instructional path and understandings, I then turned my attention to creating a OneNote Unit class notebook based on my ‘fear’ unit. My growth and love are curriculum and method planning and delivery: my student teacher noticed and said I would be a great methods instructor at her university.  Maybe someday. But in the meantime, I’m still honing my craft by reading, reflecting, sharing, and altering. (If you want me to share this OneNote file send me an email:

But after dealing with some anxiety since September about how things are going to work, I’m trying to balance outside directions, incorporate, and make sure my work is supportive and supported. 

No small task.  In fact, it’s kind of terrifying.


My passion is creating units: curating the choicest resources (texts, media, discussion topics) is enjoyable for me.

I realize Heinemann is a publishing company and wants to sell books. Does that preclude that the resources are somehow less credible because they’re sold? Well, you can be the judge of that. I found this article useful, especially since I’m learning about instructional coaching and some of the pitfalls and potholes one can step into. Maybe it’s my confirmation bias speaking, but I found that the “better” column included many of the practices I do all the time, and the “not good” column stems from mandated or top-down practices.

How One Classroom Teacher Improved Her Planning

Instructional Coach Jaclyn Karabinas on how to get started using her techniques

Not good:

Here, teachers’ time is spent:


One invites students to be literate, constructive, and empathetic members of the world, intellectually prepared to encounter the nonstandard, moving targets that come with it. This model depicts a learning structure where student questions are used as entry points into standards and content, masterfully guided by the teacher. It is a learning environment rooted in Dewey and Vygotsky and the experiences of master teachers everywhere. Each individual brings his or her own background and preferences as they walk through the door, yet everyone thrives on socially constructed meaning and active learning. It is a classroom where students critically read challenging text or joyfully engage with literature because they know how to define a purpose for reading. It is a place where learning is not focused solely on student individual success but also the rhythms and flow of working and functioning in society.

In this model, a teacher’s time is spent:

The article continues to quote John Hattie, a resource I will be forever grateful to my new admin for introducing me to:

John Hattie’s Visible Learning research focuses on not just what works in schools but what works best. Hattie reminds educators to base instructional decisions on the evidence from their unique classroom situations, to “see learning through the eyes of their students” and create a learning environment where “students see themselves as their own teachers” (Hattie, Masters, Birch 2016). This type of approach suggests that making a true impact on student learning requires teachers and leaders to spend time talking about what they actually see happening in their classrooms, to ask why, and to deeply consider the impact on student learning — not coverage. To plan based on real student needs, not a theoretical scope and sequence.

So, while planning, I’ll continue to ask myself these questions–it’s what I do.

Start with your district’s curricular goals: Before you move into your next, planned curricular unit, carefully reread the goals presented at the start of the chapter or in your district’s standard’s document.

  • As you work with students, make notes on not only on how close they already are to meeting a goal but also specific attitudes, thinking, and behaviors they show in relation to it.

Gather more information: When you sit down to plan the launch of the next unit, talk with a colleague about how the current unit connects to the goals of the upcoming unit

  • Launch the next unit using images or video, collaborative problem solving, listing, quick writing, or drawing so students can activate and share prior knowledge; make notes about the information that students already come to class with —yes!
  • Add this information to your prior notes and conversations, noting which goals will be important for each student (a checklist will do this quickly!)

Make it relevant for students: Work with your students to understand the broader goals you’ll be teaching toward and help them to personalize goals for themselves. Relevance is crucial for rigorous learning because, as Kylene Beers and Bob Probst say, “Rigor without relevance is just hard.”

  • Make goals visible (Serravallo 2015) for the class as a whole and as individuals; classroom charts and other learning tools like those suggested by Kate and Maggie Roberts can help (Roberts and Roberts 2016)

Provide time for student reflection: As you design each day, include chances for student reflection. This is an opportunity for learning to sink in and become sticky.

  • You might still move through the teacher’s guide lesson by lesson as you learn this method — that’s OK! Keep student learning goals in mind, and you will be on the right track.*

*I’ve never had a teacher’s guide for any lesson, and I look forward to my district’s frameworks when those are completed. 

No, this is no small task, but important…very important. All of my credentials (National Boards, NWP/PSWP work, summers of workshops and additional professional development on my time/dime, reading, reading and more reading) don’t mean squat if I’m not putting it into practice. I can’t wait to work with a coach from the district on a teacher-action research project I began years ago, and thank goodness my admin saw that the work needed to continue, and thought of me. These moments I’m so grateful for, because working in a vacuum was sucking the air out of me. 

And that’s scary.


But not as scary as not being the best teacher I can is.