Moving the Ball Forward

One of my favorite past times right now is watching my kids play soccer. I think there are several reasons for this. For one, the fall and spring soccer seasons are played outdoors and being outside enhances the senses of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Regardless of whether there sunny skies or drizzling grey clouds, the matches are full of positive energy and soaring skills.

The soccer season came to close this past weekend. I’m fortunate enough to be the coach of my son’s second-grade team. While they are still little, I have watched them grow from their kindergarten selves taking several swings at kicking a round object toward any location on the field to embracing the second-grade force dribbling around their opponents, passing the ball up and down, and striking from all distances. What I am most proud of is the increase in confidence, sportsmanship, and teamwork of each player. I often ask myself the following two questions:

  • How did we get to the point of being able to move the ball forward?
  • How do we continue to do so as the challenges increase and overall goals change?

As I reflect on the season, I also reflect as a educational leader. I approach coaching my son’s team in the same way that I approach any type of teaching experience. There are four components that I work through in any situation:

  • Plan with a vision of learning in mind
    • What are my beliefs?
    • Where do I want to be?
    • How do I grow/help others grow?
  • Consider the learning of each member
    • What are the strengths?
    • What are the needs?
    • What are the areas of growth?
    • Where does the boundary of potential lie and how do we push beyond it?
  • Provide feedback
    • What are successes?
    • What are areas to work on?
    • What is the plan for the future?
  • Process and reflect
    • How do I build in time for members and myself to process and reflect on learning?

These four components are repeated and integrated with one another and other aspects of coaching, leading, and teachings. The end of the soccer seasons and/or the end of the school year is a perfect opportunity to process and reflect. It is during these moments that I seek out my own professional learning opportunities or reflect on the vision of learning that I hold so dear. It is during this time that I truly consider how we move the ball forward next season and next year feeling empowered to do so.


World Cafe and PLCing

This is the time of the school year that two works tend to enter the mind of educators everywhere: testing and reflecting. Of course, educators are giving assessments throughout the year, and they are reflecting on instruction moves, assessment results, student interactions, and so forth. I often am told that in the whirlwind of the end of the school year, teachers have limited time to take a breath, breathe out and reflect. Part of reflection involves being able to process what has happened.

In recent Professional Development sessions I have facilitated, I have led teachers through a reflection process utilizing the World Cafe Protocol. My version of the protocol is as follows:

Step one: Cover tables (for groups of 4-5) using large strips of butcher paper (or poster paper).

Step two: Engage in some sort of shared learning experience such as a shared reading or lesson. For example, in my PD session prior to this activity, I had participants read an article, mark the text, and then generate a series of questions using the Question Formulation Technique ( This set a reading foundation and a session culture of asking questions.

Step three: Divide participants into groups of 4-5 and assign groups to a table. Participants will engage in a discussion using the shared experience as a foundation to reflect on student learning throughout the year. Questions for the discussions come from a PLC format. The first question groups will discuss is, “What do we expect our students to learn?” As they discuss, members will jot down notes or sketch notes capturing their conversation on the butcher paper covering their tables. Discussion time will vary, but groups should have about 5-10 minutes to discuss.

Step four: Groups will choose a “table host” to remain at the table. The remain group members will move to a different table. Once participants are settled, the host will provide a one-minute summary of the first question. Groups will then discuss the second question, “How will we know students are learning?” Discussion notes and/or sketch notes will be added to the butcher paper of the “new” table. Groups will discuss the new question for about 5-10 minutes.

Step five: The table host will remain and the groups will move to a new table. The host will review the first two questions for two minutes. The group will then discuss the third question, “How will we respond when students do not learn what is expected?” Discussion highlights will be recorded.

Step six: Groups will rotate a final time. The table host will review the first three questions before the group discusses the final question, “How will we respond when some students already know what is expected?”

Step seven: Participants will return to their original spots and review the documented conversations at their table. They will then reflect individually on the process before engaging in a large group reflection.

While this is time-consuming protocol, is provide opportunities for movement, small group discussions, multiple ways to process, and a focus on questions. Educators that have participated in this protocol have appreciated the time they are allowed to reflect on the year in an organized and focused manner. I challenge you to use all of it or part of it with your students and/or colleagues you work with.

For more information on the world cafe protocol, click here:

Purposeful Introductions: Using “As You Enter” to Share One’s Story

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Last week I presented at the Conference on English Leadership Convention in Houston, Texas. It was a great convention providing me with several opportunities to talk with other leaders about ELA instruction, practices, and teaching philosophy.

The session I presented was titled, “7 Steps to Establishing a Discourse-Rich Lead Team.” The infographic below shows the progression the 7 steps. Details of each step were elaborated on during the presentation clarifying the list of descriptors.

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Applying any of these steps will help the overall performance of a lead teacher team, but applying multiple steps, or better yet, all of the steps will promote better efficiency, trust, discussion, and opportunities to try new ideas.

There may be multiple interpretations of what a lead teacher team is and the overall purpose. If I were to boil the definition down, a lead teacher team is any group of teachers coming together to make decisions about student learning. In my previous post, I explained the Working Definition Walkabout activity.  I used this activity to define what it means to have discourse-rich lead teams.  The two working definitions the group explored were:

Lead Team Discourse refers to the communication of ideas via verbal and written interactions that occur amongst lead team members in small group and large group settings. These interactions include processing, critical thinking, interpreting, expressing, reflecting, debating, agreeing, and disagreeing (adapted from Cathy Seely).

Lead Teams can be defined as any group of educational leaders coming together to collaborate on the needs of student learners.

Neither definition is in its final form allowing participants to freely edit and share their understandings and expertise.

While I used a variety of movement activities during the presentation, the one I started with helped set the tone of the presentation.

As You Enter

For this activity, participants are given two options.  The two options offered at this convention were:

Option #1:  Using your device, select an image that represents your experience so far in Houston. On sticky notes, write three words (one per sticky note) describing your rationale for choosing this image.

Option #2: On a sheet of paper or sticky note, sketch a picture that represents a course of action you want to take when you return to your place of employment. On sticky notes, write three words (one per sticky note) describing your rationale for sketching this picture.

After a couple of minutes, participants shared their words with a partner (or in a group of three). Partner A introduced him or herself (name, position, location), showed the image/sketch, and then shared the three words. Partner B followed the same format. With the time remaining, the pair expanded understanding with questions, comments, and/or clarifications. The protocol ensures that both individuals get to share. Adding time for questions, comments, and clarification adds to one’s story.

Each person chose one, two, or all three words to post on the Thinking Wall at the front of the room.

The activity prompts were chosen to add reflection and to honor the experience of the participants. I read a few of the words out loud and asked participants to keep these words in mind as we continued to learn together. I returned to these words throughout the presentation making connections to the activities we participated in. At the end of the presentation, reflection was built in to consider these words and the experience of the participants,

While any activity asking participants to interact with one another and share their stories would help build relationships, this activity connected to the actual experience of participants and the learning taking place. Doing so adds purpose to the introduction and ultimately builds more buy-in to stories shared during future introduction activities.  Offering choice recognizes individual thinking and provides more opportunities for one to communicate his or her own story. These stories are crucial to establishing the groundwork for a discourse-rich experience.

Working Definitions for Processing and Guiding

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 5.01.38 PM.pngI recently attended the Kappa Delta Pi International Convocation in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This is my sixth time attending convocation, and each time I have attended assuming various roles such as a state delegate, regional representative, presenter, and Executive Council member. This year my role shifted to co-chair of the International Committee. With each role comes a new perspective, or lense to view the sessions, meetings, and interactions. As co-chair of the International Committee, I had the pleasure of networking with a variety of educators passionate about student learning across the globe. This year, I attended several sessions focused on sustainability supporting my own teaching philosophy as well as elements of my district’s strategic plan.  I’m particularly attuned to equity and social justice strands. Kappa Delta Pi is currently offering a free online class to members and nonmembers on the topic of sustainability. Details on the class can be found at Introduction to Sustainability.  This class is facilitated by Susan Santone, author of the book, Reframing the Curriculum: Design for Social Justice and Sustainability.

When I think about my own work related to this blog, the importance of the powerful questions and thinking needed to adequately discuss these topics as well as brainstorm a course of action becomes the impetus of incorporating movement in critical discussions. The concept of using movement with students in the classroom when stimulating discussion is applicable to adults as well.  A simple strategy to begin the conversation builds on other ideas I have posted previously.

Activity Title:  Working Definition Walkabout

To prepare for this activity, the facilitator prints out a sheet of definitions referencing the big topics to be discussed.  At the top of the sheet, the facilitator included the “Working Definition” title.  Depending on the size of the group, the number of copies posted around the room may range from 5 or more.

Step 1: Hang Working Definitions around the room.  For example, the definitions of social justice and equity might be displayed as working definitions.

Step 2:  Participants divide themselves into groups of 3-4 and position themselves in front of one of the working definition sheets.  When groups have been formed, they agree on three powerful words to highlight. After they highlight these words, they then decide on what should be crossed out, added to, or rephrased.

Step 3:  Participants move as a group counterclockwise to the next working definition sheet. Participants view highlights and review revisions to the working definition.  They then continue editing or adding comments.

Step 4:  Participants move to the next working definition sheet and repeat the process.  This process can continue as long as the facilitator decides.

Step 5:  Participants share about the process and its application to their work.

This activity is good for the following reasons:

  • It honors the voice of every person.
  • It honors the collective voice of individuals in the room:
    • what they agree with
    • what they disagree with
    • their expertise on the topic
  • It adds to the processing time
    • participants consider own knowledge
    • participants focus on the topic at hand
    • reduces stress and anxiety

The next steps of the process may include developing the group’s working definition, deep diving into the topic, and/or beginning the process of deciding the direction for the classroom, grade level, district, and so on through the generation of questions.

Generating Questions to Spark Action


Spring is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love when trees and flowers start to show their colors brightening the days and moods of people abound. Spring is a time of rejuvenation.  It is also the perfect time to bring some element of novelty to the classroom and to teacher training sessions.

In searching for a way to bring novelty into a recent teacher team meeting, I modified the Color Question Brainstorming described in Groups at Work: Strategies and Structures for Professional Learning by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman. In my version of the activity, I started off by asking the team a thought-provoking question or them to reflect on by completing a think-write-pair-share activity.  The purpose is for the participants thinking about a topic in a way that reduces judgment and opens thinking. Rather than ending the conversation at this point, the team is divided into teams of 2-4 with each team given a color: Green, Red, or Blue.

In three locations in the meeting space, a poster is hung where participants will generate questions.

  • Green Questions: Imagination, Ingenuity, Possibility
  • Red Questions: Facts, Figures, Data
  • Blue Questions: Judgments, Opinions, Values, Needs

Using the initial question in addition to any other parameters needed to focus thinking, teams generate a list of questions based on the word headings of their assigned color. For example, if team members were assigned to discuss adopting a new novel to use at a specific grade level, the following questions might be developed:

  • Green:  What might happen if the team adopted several titles for literature circles instead of large volumes of a single novel title?
  • Red: What is the data that supports instruction for whole-class novels vs. literature circles?
  • Blue:  What is the best way to meet the needs of students to experience an additional novel title at _____ grade?

After a specified amount of time, team members move clockwise to a different color. They spend time reviewing questions created by other team members and mark what they feel are the most important, vital, or interesting questions. They then add to existing questions for clarification, or they add additional questions.

After a specified amount of time, they rotate to the third set of questions and complete the same actions as they did with the second set.

The final rotation involves participants returning to their original posters to review marked questions, comments, and added questions. Teams discuss and then return to their seats.

Once teams have had the opportunity to rotate and discuss, a large group discussion occurs highlighting topics/questions that stood out. The team uses this information as a way to help direct action items for future meetings and discussions.

This activity stretches thinking and opens up the possibilities that may have been hindered with a simple brainstorming procedure.

Reflect, Move, & Shuffle

office-155137_960_720I recently presented a professional development session for high school teachers. Part of the presentation required time to reflect on previous work the teachers had completed.  Knowing there the participants ranged in years of service on the work team and comfort level with the topic, I devised a plan to reflect, move, and shuffle.

For this activity:

  1.  Each participant is given a notecard.  Depending on the number of participants, and depending on the desired size of discussion groups, at least four different colors of notecards are distributed around the room.
  2. Participants are given three minutes to write (or brainstorm a list) about previous work (since the last meeting, the beginning of the year, or some other timeline).
  3. Three areas of the rooms are marked with a number (1, 2, or 3). When the writing time has expired, participants are directed to move to a number. Each number can be prescribed, or participants can be given the direction to separate themselves according to their own, individual, criteria. This is completed without talking.
  4. In their newly formed groups, participants share with a partner, or with their entire group, why they placed themselves in the group and highlights from their notecards.
  5. After 3-5 minutes, participants are told to reorganize themselves according to notecard color. The newly formed pairs or groups discuss their reflection, as well as any other insights. When prompted, the groups discuss further work that needs to be completed.
  6. After another 3-5 minutes, participants are directed to return to their seats and a priority list of future work is developed.

This activity allows multiple voices to be heard. Movement activities help energize the reflection process and allow for purposeful processing time to be planned. Processing time is built in during silent writing, multiple times to share, and reflection time prior to devising a priority list.

Although this activity was used during a professional development session, it could easily be adapted for a classroom.  The activity could focus on prior learning, background knowledge, discussion questions, and so forth. Mixing up groups, guiding students to evaluate their learning based on their own criteria, and utilizing movement helps energize the classroom and build the foundation for deep discussions.

Moving Staff Meetings


School is starting!  For some, this is the time they have been waiting for.  For others, what they have been dreading has finally become a reality.

August is prime time for teachers to get their classrooms ready and start to attend district required professional development trainings and staff meetings. These trainings and meetings contain valuable information and necessities to start the school year and keep progressing throughout the year as a staff, a content specialist, grade level expert, and so on.

While teachers may be generally excited to start a new year, the set-up of staff meeting can be dreadful. Long periods of sitting and watching slide after slide of a monotone lecture is an ironic set-up to how the school year should start in classrooms at every level. If students and teachers are to be energized, then they need to be given a chance to feel energized, or they need the opportunity to have their energy fed.

It is easy to spoon feed information via lecture.  It is also relatively risk-free as a presenter.  Most people are able to stand and read or speak.  It can take little effort, but the rewards are limited.  By investing in a few brain breaks, or movement activities involving collegial interactions, staff meetings and trainings can be viewed as more valuable. Plus the information shared has a higher chance of being retained and embraced.

As administrative teams, and teacher leaders, prepare for the back-to-school meetings, I challenge them to thinking of ways to add movement. Below are some simple ways to add a movement or more to a meeting.

  • Instead of sitting and discussing, have teacher find a colleague to share comments with via a standing discussion.
  • Break teachers up into groups in different areas of the room to have them move to a new location for a discussion. This discussion can be a standing or sitting discussion.
  • Rather than showing data via a power point, post the data around the room and have teachers analyze it, or react to it, via a gallery walk.
  • When reviewing information, or formulating an opinion base, teachers can participate in a stand-sit response.  All teachers stand.  As teachers share, they sit (see earlier posts to modify the student version).
  • To break up discussion groups, teacher can participate in a rotating conversation gathering multiple perspectives. See the video on the Teaching Channel (
  • Take the discussion outside.  In many parts of the country, the weather is gorgeous during the summer months.  Teachers can walk and talk while being outdoors.

The options can be endless, and the rewards can be limitless. Plus, modeling ways to get teachers moving can provide teachers with the inspiration to add more movement to their classrooms.