Category Archives: Coaching

See Me.

Behavior is a message. When a child is being disrespectful, disruptive, rude, or otherwise not the typical kid you know, they’re telling you something. In this environment, in which we have been crisis schooling, remote, hybrid, physically distanced, masked, barriered, pool noodle-spaced, and disconnected, behavior is a big Vegas style sign with neon flashing lights.

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See me.

Gifted kids, particularly the young ones, who have all the feels and not the vocabulary to express it, need to be seen by us all now more than ever.

Seen doesn’t mean called out publicly in class or in a zoom room for chatting inappropriately.

Seen doesn’t mean reprimanded in front of the class (and probably classmate’s parents and siblings) for not turning in work or for doing an assignment incorrectly.

Seen doesn’t mean calling out scores or missing work and asking where assignments are or what’s the plan for improvement.

Negativity bias is real…and every one of us have done both of these things at one time or another…especially when we’re tired, stressed out, worried, and have an eighth of an nerve left.

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Seen doesn’t mean praised publicly either. So many kids absolutely HATE being called out for just doing what they’re supposed to…because that’s not why they do it.

To SEE a child is a very different thing. It’s more than simply being noticed for your work, work ethic, grades, or talents. It’s more than happy notes home. It’s more than praising good behavior, kind words to others, improved effort, or hard work.

To see a child is to look beyond the surface, deep below the water of all their behaviors, from acting out in class to twisting their hair to chewing their shirt (or mask…because that’s a thing now.). To see a child is to dive deep and see that the raised hand is meaningful: “I want to show you what I know and share what I want to know.” To see a child is be willing to be vulnerable ourselves and go beyond the jellyfish to find what’s hiding below.

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What seems like a spoiled brat temper tantrum is often just not that at all with our gifted kids.

It’s frustration because I haven’t seen my best friend smile in 300+ days.

It’s sadness because I can’t hug my teacher, my friends, my grandparents.

It’s loneliness because my family brings me to school and takes me home and we never go anywhere anymore.

It’s anger because I do what I’m told in class and wait patiently and the only one who ever gets your attention is the kid who says dumb things in the chat.

It’s fear because I see that you gave us an assignment, but have absolutely no idea what to do with it or how to get it to you so you can see what I know…and I’m afraid to ask you to clarify it because you’ll get frustrated because you explained it 45 times, wrote out directions, made a video, shared it with my parents, and yet I still don’t get it.

It’s a request. See me.

When a child asks you to not use a particular term of endearment because it makes them feel “insignificant”….that’s powerful. That’s a child feeling safe enough with you to make a request.

See that I am barely holding it together. See that my brow is furrowed and I’m looking at you from underneath it. See that I’m clenching my hands so I don’t smack the child sitting six feet away who will. not. stop. making. noise. See that I have something valuable to contribute and ask me to share. See that I am having a hard time with friends–they all know each other already and I’m STILL the new kid and it’s February. See that I am a social butterfly who wants nothing more to make everyone I encounter happy by making them butterflies and snowflakes while you teach–I can listen and create at the same time, I promise. I miss my friends–please see that I’m just trying to connect. See that I haven’t learned how to handle conflict with peers and teach me how…I really do just want to be friends. See that I know things the books all say I shouldn’t yet…because when you’re X years old, kids typically only know this, that, and the other thing.

See my hurt. See my effort. See my love of learning–it’s there, I promise. See that I’m trying. See that all I want is for you to see me so I can know you and you can know me….the real me, not the one who gets angry and kicks chairs or sobs uncontrollably under my table covered in my coat. Believe my parents when they tell you they are at a loss too…I didn’t come with a manual.

See them. Please.

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Most days, I feel as though I’m floundering from task to task on my to-do list, knowing each is important somewhere in the grand scheme of things, but still feeling unfulfilled and unsettled because despite knowing that all of it matters somewhere, it doesn’t feel like any of it is worthwhile and I find myself feeling resentful of everything. It’s like a never-ending game of “Wipeout” in which there is no winner.

This whole pandemic has been incredibly difficult because so much of it has simply been survival, jumping through obstacles to get through each day, each week, each month, and ending each day, week, and month deflated because goals and ideas have to be tabled in order to make room for the support of survival. So much of it has been taking on tasks and projects to ease burdens, fixing problems, figuring out how to overcome the seemingly endless roadblocks that get in the way, listening to others share their thoughts on all kinds of topics, all of it sounding like criticism even when it isn’t meant to.

And some days, despite the ever expanding to-do list of little tasks and checkboxes without checks in them, feelings of resentment and hopelessness, my bucket is filled by people who share the things that bring me joy, hope, and purpose and who share a piece of what I want my career to look like because it does make up a huge part who I am and my place in the world.

When I became a teacher, I was certain that I would remain in the classroom and had mixed feelings when I found that I wanted to do more and “more” would require me to give up my safe space where I had some semblance of control and felt confident (most of the time). I found that the “more” I sought would require being uncomfortable and unsure of myself, my knowledge, and my abilities.

I cannot afford another Master’s degree or a Ph.D. and I don’t know that either one would provide the growth I seek–the first Master’s degree certainly didn’t. I don’t enjoy formal research, nor am I eager to get bogged down in the endless stream of district level meetings, paperwork, school law, or waivers. I don’t want to be a principal when I grow up. This is as close to “admin” as I want to get, to be quite honest. And while I worry as I see so many friends who began their teaching careers around the same time as I did working toward administrator licensure that I am somehow behind and not heading in the right direction, I know that I would not be happy in a fully administrative position.

I get the opportunity to work on some level with several education-based organizations whose missions I truly believe in. Sadly, none of this work will pay a mortgage or buy food for furs who refuse to get jobs. Much of this work is far outside my comfort zone and challenges me to learn and grow in my knowledge of all that is Gifted.

I don’t claim to be an expert in gifted education and I never have–there’s so much to learn, I probably never will be an expert. Statistics and research studies don’t roll off my tongue in conversation about gifted education, but after serving and working alongside these kids for the past 15 years, I can tell you that they need advocates. They need someone who will stand next to them with guiding questions and encouragement while they try the things that make them uncomfortable, the things that aren’t typical, the things that don’t fit neatly into a Google form. They need someone who will go head to head with a colleague and say, “THIS is what she needs.” They need people who will “go to the mattresses” and fight for outside-the-box thinking to help a floundering gifted student. They need people who will provide support to educators serving them and preach challenging the process rather than quiet compliance from the rooftops. Gifted kids need something *different*in their educational experience, and doing the same thing as everyone else isn’t different enough.

Gifted kids need advocates who will focus on what’s most important, learning and growth, not checkboxes, to-do lists, and activities to prove they can regurgitate information. They need a cheering section when they take a risk and then hit an obstacle and wipeout, encouraging them to get out of the water and try again because that’s when the learning happens. And that is where I need to be, with others who will be their advocates and cheering section.

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Who, Not What

Gifted is who they are, not what they produce. ~Linda Silverman

Every year for the past 15 years, I have attended a variety of conferences, classes, trainings, and other professional development. Most have shared sessions about strategies to work with struggling learners, ways to ensure accountability and engagement, and often, the social-emotional needs of kids whether it be trauma informed, multi-generational home lives, kids in poverty, or a mixture of everything, including current situations, such as existing with distance learning to hybrid to in-person and back again through all of them.

All of these things are important to learn, and you don’t learn it all in teacher school. Teacher school shares generalities, theory, and lets you dip your toes into a variety of things, not focusing on any one in particular because every school, district, state, and population has their own way of doing things.

When I was a little girl, my report cards had letters. A, B, C, etc. I had one D ever (until college math for English Majors, when I took my D as a gift and ran) and I earned every point of that D and paid dearly for it. I was given a C in PE in the fourth grade because I still, to this day, cannot run a 12 minute mile unless it’s completely downhill and a bear is chasing me. Teachers wrote comments like, “Teri is a joy to have in class” or “Teri is very talkative (or “quiet and shy” after the 5th grade)” or “Teri reads too much in class, and should not be reading books above her grade level” and my personal favorite, “Teri should spend the summer memorizing her multiplication tables at Our Lady of the Broken Ruler summer school using flash cards.” Perhaps these weren’t the exact words the teachers used, but what’s important about them and why I remember them so clearly, is that none of them shared anything about who I was as a learner or otherwise. My parents looked at the letter next to the subject and assumed I was learning what I needed to and doing my work in class. They never met with my teachers (except that one time I got the D…poor Mrs. Morales, having to deal with my father who was a long way down the river of denial about his little girl’s science research skills) and rarely saw my work, tests, writing, or much of anything else.

I think about the comments on the report cards I received as a child and I realize that my parents had no idea, based on report card comments, what my strengths in school were, what I needed to learn, where I was excelling, or where I was drowning. My teachers didn’t really didn’t know who I was…they only knew what I produced and gave it a grade according to a point-based percentage-based scale.

Our kids’ families deserve to know that we see who their kids ARE…not what they produce. Yes, they should know that Joey is missing 23 assignments and that Janie needs to work on her math facts. And they need to know that Joan is kind to her classmates and they need to know that Jack is a wonderful helper who talks a lot in class. Those are separate conversations. Parents need to know that we really SEE their kids.

John connected with the main character of the novel. He noted in discussion that they both are passionate about skateboarding and have only one or two good friends despite knowing a lot of people. In addition, John saw himself in the main character when the character worked together with his close friends to organize a petition to get a skateboard park in the neighborhood near school.

Stephanie truly sees herself as a scientist, moving through experiments in class methodically, noting questions she has along the way, and being precise in her data collection. I notice that she does the same in her writing, developing her stories according to what she thinks a particular character might do if a situation presents itself (hypothesis) and changing things as she writes according to the data she collects about other characters.

Matty sees the world through his doodles during class. His notetaking demonstrates a high level of understanding of the content we discussed this quarter and he can explain his note-doodles in great detail, incorporating both what was discussed during that session as well as comments of others and his own thinking.

John, Stephanie, and Matty may not have turned in one assignment. They may have bombed every quiz, had their camera off during class, or typed “poop” 9,000 times in the chat just to see what would happen and who would get angry first. But the comments address who these kids are, not what they produced.

John is a leader and connector. He has a vision of what could be and brings people together for a purpose.

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Stephanie is an observer. She notices details and sees the importance of the little things.

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Matty is an artist, seeing connections between ideas through the images he creates. This child sees the world differently.

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Perhaps comments like these aren’t things you can put into your report cards (space, required format, drop down comments). But parents need to know that you truly see their kids. That you know who they are. That you recognize that they are more than a series of ticked boxes and completed assignments.

I challenge you this week, before Thanksgiving Break, to reach out to as many of your students’ parents as you can and let them know that you really SEE their kids and recognize that gifted is who they are, not what they produce.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has or ever will have something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” -Mr. Rogers

Curiosity…gave the cat another reason to nap.

We are doing a book study. We’re using Onward by Elena Aguilar and the accompanying workbook. I bought it on Audible when we started and the downside to doing so is that you lose a part of the intentional reflection. It’s something about the feeling of the pages between your fingers and seeing the actual words on the page and the ability to go back and skim for information that makes for more meaningful reflection.

This month’s focus in the book is “Be a Learner.” It’s pretty timely because February is traditionally the month in which educators across the country are seriously considering whether or not being a barista would be a better career move than remaining in teaching. We are frustrated. We are angry. We are quick to snark. And we are once again, tired. Naps shortly after arriving home are the norm, and sometimes the couch = bed because we’re so drained. February is a reminder that yes, we still have miles to go before we sleep (in June…)

Aguilar asks the reader to consider his or her experiences through the lens of curiosity and makes a challenge, of sorts, to see coaching and colleague feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow. She posted this video on the website for the book and I thought it was a good tie-in:

This time of year, much of the feedback we get is viewed as criticism and because our own criticality is high, both about our practice AND about the behaviors we’re seeing in the kids we serve, we take offense, looking for all the ways our coaches, administrators, colleagues, parents, and kids are failing us…how WE are failing ourselves and our own expectations.

She also challenges the reader to revisit the idea of time management. For many of us, Sunday is the worst day of the week. We drag through the day, putting off planning and prepping, and tackling the most mundane tasks in order to further procrastinate doing the things we need to get done to ensure we’re ready for the upcoming week, practically as well as emotionally and mentally. No other profession really has this issue. Lots of people don’t look forward to going back to work on Monday, but I think that teachers during February dread it with a special level of apprehension. Some of this stems from the eternal search for more time in the day…it’s like the Holy Grail and impossible to find. Between planning and prepping, making copies, sending reminder emails and updates to families, as well as checking in with teammates, finding more time to do the rest of it seems overwhelming.

Sometimes it seems that we begin focusing on the wrong things this time of year. We focus on “they ought to know by now,” the behaviors that drive us nuts that we are pretty sure we’ve addressed eleventy-billion times a day since August, the eternal search for more time in the day, and all the ways we feel like we’re failing when we meet with our coach or team. Why not reframe these feelings in ways that are more productive and focus on learning from them?

Instead of “they ought to know by now,” why not ask the question “What have I missed–it’s evident they DON’T know, so how can I support their learning so they can know and apply it?

Instead of focusing on the behaviors that drive us nuts, why not remember that behavior sends a message and be curious about it. Why does Joey continue to make that noise when he works? Does he even know he does it? Why is Serena avoiding a particular type of work? What is Mia getting out of the snarky comments back when I ask her to do something? Why is Jeremy incapable of keeping his hands to himself in any situation? What is it that he’s trying to get by touching other kids and things? What is this behavior telling me?

Instead of listing all the things we have to get done, why not take a hard look at how our time IS being spent? Am I putting out fires when I should be letting someone else handle it? Am I allowing (and even encouraging) interruptions in my day without thinking? Am I tackling the things that need doing in an order that makes the most sense? Am I procrastinating? I find that I have to reassess my time particularly when I feel overwhelmed and determine where I am losing time so that I can refocus my priorities, reblock time, and reschedule my day so that the most important things still get done–it might not be in the timeframe I planned, but it can get done. I have to remember too that my priorities have to change because the needs of the people I serve change. I’m still very much learning how to do my job…it’s not static and that’s part of why I enjoy it.

Instead of focusing on feelings of failure, how can we take feedback and learn from it? What questions do I have that need clarification after I’ve had a chance to think? How can feedback help me grow in my practice? What IS my Why and if I’ve lost it, how can I find it again?

I really enjoyed this particular chapter–there are lots of other good nuggets in it, but these are the ones I really wanted to reflect upon. I get to lead a conversation with our staff tomorrow about it, and I thought it was pretty important that I take time to do my own reflection…much like I would think about a lesson before I planned it out.

Some food for thought before I close. What thoughts do you have on generalizations about a big idea? I loved sharing these with kids as we begin a new unit or as we’re working through one, coming back to them to see if what we said at the beginning was still true now that we’ve learned more about a concept or topic. It made for very rich discussion and a way to come back to a guidepost as we learned together. As I think about this particular time of year, I agree with Aguilar’s big idea of “learning.” The thing about generalizations is that they are true or applicable in multiple situations. So if the big idea for this month is “learning,” do you think that these generalizations work?

  1. Learning generates both additional learning and additional questions.
  2. Learning can be either positive or negative.
  3. Learning is necessary for growth.
  4. Learning occurs over time.
  5. Learning can take many forms.

How will you reframe your challenges this month to be more curious and see yourself as a learner? Are the generalizations I proposed above true for you?

Falling Apart or Falling Into Place

This is the time of year that teachers begin to notice changes.  Some changes are easy to spot.  Joe grew what seems to be a foot over Winter Break.  Annabeth and her sister got braces.  Jed’s voice has begun to change. Kids are more gangly (or less) and are better (or less) able to recognize where they are in space.  Awkward misunderstanding-based interactions become less frequent.  Behaviors teachers are tracking become less frequent or require fewer redirections.

They can walk in a straight-ish line from the classroom to another location and it didn’t take six years to get them into a mostly reasonable line to start with.

Other changes are more subtle.  Some kids seem more mature, more responsible with fewer items lost or left behind every afternoon.  Some are suddenly more independent. The mass exodus of pencils out of classrooms slows slightly.  Angry outbursts happen less often and kids seem more mellow.  More writing happens with less complaining about how utterly awful it is.  Confidence has appeared.  The ability to make and defend arguments improve.  Random acts of kindness happen more often with no expectation of reciprocation.

Newer teachers are beginning to feel hopeful. The days become less focused on surviving until dismissal and more focused on growth, both for their students and for themselves. They don’t feel like everything is falling apart every moment of every day.

They’ve gotten into a bit of a groove.  One or two nights they stay late to prep for the week, and are starting to take more time for themselves on weekends, setting boundaries about planning and prep at home to make room for time with spouses and friends. They know where they put things in their classroom and why…and can find them again with more ease now.  Watching them teach, they seem more at ease, both with content and flow, but also with their role in the classroom, whether that’s “Sage on the Stage” or “Guide on the Side” at any given moment.  They’ve grown the eyes in the back of their heads and are now able to tell Toby to put it away without ever turning around.  They know when CJ has a cell phone in her lap to text Josh across the room and can confiscate it without a word, beginning the draft of an email to CJ’s father while giving the next set of instructions so she doesn’t forget to send it later.

Their “teacher bladder” has kicked in and their ability to consume lunch in 20 minutes while fighting with Bob Marley the copier has improved.

They’re willing to share strategies and learnings with others now.  They have more confidence in their own abilities and have a better idea as to what they need from their colleagues, mentors, coaches, and principals.  They feel more comfortable asking for what they need and brainstorming solutions with others.  They’re digging into data and looking for opportunities to challenge their kids…and themselves.

They start thinking about next year.  They see the light at the end of the tunnel…and it looks promising.

There are still frustrating moments of course.  There always will be when you aren’t working with widgets.  Some afternoons at 2pm, visions of being a barista or bartender look pretty good.  There’s gripe sessions over wine or beer with friends and spouses (and opportunities to teach their spouses and friends that griping doesn’t mean they have to fix the problem…just listen) that lead to a reset of sorts.  Sometimes that verbal processing leads to newfound determination and ideas.

And for me, it’s the time of year that I look at my growing to-do list and hope that I, too, find my groove before June arrives.  I need to find a good schedule for the things I’ve put on my plate: getting into classrooms to observe, supporting kids in the moment, and other projects that have due dates…mine or someone else’s. Another round of conferences begin next month and I want to grow in how I present sessions to teachers.  The feedback received in the fall was great, but now I need to tweak to ensure I’m not the only one having fun.  I want to create a solid induction program that makes sense for both new teachers and those new to us, that focuses on the most important practices and gets to the heart of our mission and vision. So many projects.

I had the opportunity to be with kids for a little while this week and did an impromptu mini-lesson based on an objective listed on the whiteboard. Once the kids got started, a parent volunteer in the room noted that she thought I ought to be with kids in the classroom all the time again…I was a good teacher. She was so sweet to say so. I do miss it. I miss the predictability of it all and the control I had over how my day went. There was little chaos in my world then, and I was protected in my classroom from anything else going on in the building. I had one job…and it was glorious.

I chose this. I could have said no. But it was a chance to grow and learn. A challenge. An opportunity to innovate something that we hadn’t had before. I was handed the opportunity to build my own job–few people get to do that in their lifetime. And even on the most frustrating and difficult days, it’s still glorious. Every day I learn something new and feel more confident in the decisions I make. I don’t second guess myself as often, and yes, I still screw up. I’m willing to ask for support and learn quickly what I don’t know when a situation arises. And there are lots of those.

I’m no less a teacher. It just looks different. And my tall poppies are educators, learning to navigate the field of their own tall poppies, with all of their beautiful quirks. It’s all falling into place.