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:

Honoring the Emotions of the Holiday Season

Balls Emotions Smiley Cute Smilies FunnyThe other day I sat in the stands at the local pool watching my kids move through the water during swim practice. There is something calming about watching swimmers glide through the water amidst the repetitive rumble of feet making waves as each swimmer moves back and forth. This serenity is enhanced as I witness the persistence of my kids wanting to improve their skills and working through the practice despite being tired or disappointed by actions or activities earlier in the day. I know they find peace as well, and a bad day can turn into a better day.

In moments like this, I tend to reflect on life in general. I think it is because the senses are being stimulated:  the faint teal paint of the walls paired with the light blue water, the dense heat of the pool house embraced by the humidity of the water, the chlorinated smell, the rumbling thunder of the swimmers, and the self-awareness as the bind centers on one thought before moving to another.

As we move through the holiday season, it is critical that students are given multiple opportunities to process and reflect. The constant stimulation from the bombardment of advertisements, music, excitement, sugary treats, and interactions can send emotions in many different directions. Building in time for students to think and find a sense of calm is essential to reinforcing and growing the relationships with peers and between students and teachers. It is during this time of year, that I recommend adding additional, or longer, processing and reflecting moments. This may be challenging as schedules are in flux and the curriculum tends to drive teaching in a rush before the holiday break. I am including a few simple ways to add processing time during a lesson.

  1.  EMOJI Shuffle:  For this activity, post a variety of emojis around the classroom. Direct students to move to an emoji that represents their understanding of the lesson at hand. Ask students to pair up and discuss why they chose the emoji they did. This activity can be repeated for different components of the lesson. A slight alternative could be to have students move to the emoji based on how they are feeling at the moment (not necessarily lesson based). Students can write thoughts on a post-it while they are standing next to the emoji. Once they have done so, they then crumble up the post-it and deposit it in the recycle bin before focusing on lesson specific topics/questions.  This honors their emotions without the vulnerability associated with sharing about their feelings.
  2. Sensory Breathing:  I attended a conference in the fall for teachers of gifted students. This activity is meant to help lower stress levels and anxiety of any student. The activity is simple. Direct students to look at something in the room. Once they have picked an object, instruct them to take a deep breath and then breathe out as you count slowly to ten.  Direct students to pick a different object to look at and repeat the breathing process. This continues with five objects. After five objects, students are directed to focus on five different sounds. After sounds, students focus on five different touches.
  3. Color Walk: Distribute paint strips to table groups with warm and cold colors. Direct students to choose a paint strip that represents a color they either like or based on their reactions to a guiding question or topic. Give students time to think about why they have chosen the color strip they have and consider actions they can take based on the number of color choices on the paint strip (some may have four, some may have five) Have students pair up and discuss their choice of paint strip. Depending on space, students can walk around the room, through the hall, or outside discussion reactions and possible actions (answers to the question, next steps to determine learning, additional questions they have, etc.)

These are only three activities, but each of these activities acknowledges current feelings and emotions. The recognition of these emotions, even if just for self-awareness, can help foster a sense of safety allowing relationships to strengthen while reducing stress and anxiety associated with this time of year.


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

exchange-of-ideas-222788_1280Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 9.05.15 AM

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.

Tableau #3 : Collaboration, Repetition, & Movement

Conflict tableau_1

Summer!  I have had the opportunity to spend time at EduFest in Boise, Idaho.  Boise is a beautiful city, and despite temperatures over 100, I have been pleasantly surprised by the beauty, food, outdoors, and friendliness of the people.  EduFest has also been a great learning experience. The audience for this conference is intended for educators and administrators working with gifted and talented students.  Most of the strategies and activities presented in the various sessions would be beneficial for any student.

In one of the sessions that I have attended, I was introduced to a variation of the Tableau Activity that I have written about in previous posts.  In a tableau, individuals use their bodies to create a frozen picture representing an object, idea, scene, etc. The frozen picture should include expression, large gestures, and different levels. The session I attended at EduFest was led by Cloyce Weaver from Ontario, Canada. The idea behind the variation described here is to reinforce understanding through collaboration, repetition, and movement. I have modified the activity, but the premise is similar to the original idea introduced in the session.

The example we used in the session was photosynthesis, which I will use here to explain the basic concept in the steps below:

  1. Students find a space in the room.  The teacher provides the initial instruction, “Be the sun.”  Students create an frozen picture of the sun.
  2. The teacher directs students to find a partner. Students pair up and are given another direction, “The two of you represent clouds and rain.” The pair creates a frozen picture, which can become animated when directed, representing this part of the cycle.
  3. The teacher directs students to create a group of three with classmates they have not yet been with. Once the groups have been formed, the teacher gives the following direction, “As a group of three, become the seed of a plant that begins to grow.”  The group performs the action.
  4. Students are then directed to form a group of four.  “As a group of four, create four tableaus depicting the entire cycle.”
  5. After the group of four presents, the teacher has students return to their original solo spots to become the sun. Next, the students find the spots in the room where as partners they became the rain clouds. They find the spot and become the clouds.  The process continues until they perform the final group tableau.

The activity can be extended to include larger groups and eventually the whole class. It can be easily adapted for any nonfiction readings regarding a type of process.  It has also can be used to summarize fiction. Students could become the setting and characters as the various tableaus move the class through the plot or storyline. The tableaus could also include the big ideas in the reading, themes, figurative language, and basic analysis. These ideas would take a more processing time, but the repetition and movement may help students recall the information later and apply it to future writing and comprehension assignments.

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.

Untie the Thinking

shoelace-2211218_960_720One of the activities that I like to do was inspired by the forced analogy process.  For this activity, students are given a shoelace. I used to use pieces of yarn, but I have found that using colorful shoelaces (I ordered some from Amazon) are better because they are more durable, and they can be easily put in the wash.  

As a hook, I often will give students the shoelace as they enter the classroom. This gives students a type of fidget, but it also sparks the curiosity of the brain.

I call this activity Shoelace Construction. This activity builds to challenge thinking, build community, and deepen conversations.

  1. Students are given a prompt:  Using the shoelace, create a visual depicting your current thinking regarding_______________ and ______________.
  2. After students create their visuals, they share with an elbow partner.
  3. Students are given the next prompt:  Now with a partner, combine your thinking into a new visual.  
  4. After they create their visuals, they share with a neighboring pair.
  5. Students are given the final prompt:  Join with another pair.  As a group of four, create a visual that represents how________________ shapes our learning of ____________________.

The level of creativity is fun to watch.  Students will often choose to get out of their seats and create a larger visual using their bodies and the shoelaces. The prompts can be used in a variety of ways as well as a formative assessment.  The visuals + body connections enable students to solidify content to their memory. Taking snapshots of the creations can also be used to remind students of connections at a later date.