I had another Slice all written and ready to go today…but sometimes life surprises you and hands you more joy than you can keep up with writing about ( the exact opposite to the situation I found myself in last week).
Lately, I’ve been struggling as a literacy coach. I recognize that everyone has a full plate and I often feel that I’m just another thing to heap on. I struggle with giving feedback-feedback that will really move our teaching and our students. I worry about pushing people too far or in directions they aren’t ready for.
This is our second year with staff developers from Teachers College. I’ve learned so much from these educators who whiz in and out of our school. They seem to be able to walk into any classroom and engage kids and leave meaningful tips for moving the work along.
A few weeks ago, Mary Ehrenworth visited our school. I love Mary. Our teachers love Mary. She has a way of making the work look effortless. She often walks in with one plan but after talking with teachers, she’ll adjust the plan so that she gives everyone just what they need. No problem! She knows just what to do and makes everyone feel like a million bucks. She’s quick to compliment and love on kids and teachers.
I studied Mary’s moves during our last session. I listened in as she coached teachers working in small groups, during mini lessons, and as they practiced read alouds. I looked over her shoulder as she jotted notes to herself.
Mary left each group with a chart of tips. Tips for mini lessons, small groups, and read alouds. Many of the same tips found their way onto each chart. More drama. More talk between students. More clarity.
I’ve been leaning on these charts. I’ve been leaning on the tips that Mary left behind. As our principal has challenged our staff to study our mini lessons, I have carried these mini lesson tips into each classroom that I visit. Somehow, having Mary’s feedback has helped me to offer my own concrete feedback and in a few instances, were I have really been in to do this mini lesson study, I feel like real change is happening.
Last Thursday, I entered a classroom where a teacher was ready to study her mini lessons. She chose to split her class in half and teach her mini lesson twice, with time to debrief in between. “Come in and tell me all that I’m doing wrong,” she joked on the fly as we made the plan earlier in the week.
“All that is going well!” I corrected her.
After the first mini lesson attempt, I channeled my inner Mary. We talked about what the teacher had noticed. We talked about what went well. I offered a quick tip, based on the tips from Mary. “More turn and talk. Less calling on individual kids. Try the phrase, ‘I heard ___ say.” or call on specific kids you heard say something worth repeating.”
Being the dutiful teacher that she is, she scribbled down notes. We talked about ways to cut down the time of her lesson. Then it was time for take two. I whispered in. She froze the lesson to ask questions. We were learning together.
As we debriefed again later in the day, I couldn’t help but to notice a giddy energy. “You’re feeling proud,” I noted. She just giggled.
Fast forward to today. I was scheduled in the same teacher’s classroom. She had stopped by my room earlier in the day to run her plan by me. We talked about opportunities to use the turning and talking we had discussed. I asked a few questions to help her consider different options for timing. I gave her a quick high five before she rushed off to pick up her class.
As I entered her classroom later that morning, she jumped right in. What I noticed this time was the engagement of the kids. Because the pace of the mini lesson was quick and there were opportunities for every kid to be part of the lesson, they were on fire. I mentally tallied all of the times the teacher used the phrases we had brainstormed together and how she cut off conversations before they fizzled out.
As I joined her on the rug as the students went off to write, she smiled at me. That was fun!” I beamed back. “Did you notice how into that they were?”
We talked for a few more minutes about how Mary’s quick and easy tips had helped with the pace and energy of the lesson. Then, we sat back for a second to watch every pencil moving…before jumping into a small group lesson.