Recently, one of our coaches was out for an appointment on her building’s data-team day. It was an appointment she couldn’t miss, but scheduling half-day blocks for teams to meet to look at student work and discuss next steps in learning is never easy. Not wanting to have to reschedule, the coach reached out to see if I would lead the meeting that day. How could I say no? I love the time alongside teacher teams and attend as many of these meetings as possible anyway. They’re always an opportunity to see what is working well for teachers across the district and to hear ways in which we could improve the support we provide as literacy coaches.
In our district, these half-day meetings are often scheduled for grade-level teams in a building after assessment windows. They allow teams to take a closer look at the assessment results alongside what they know about their learners to collaboratively plan next steps. They also provide opportunities for coaches to differentiate for teams and provide more responsive support. The purpose of this particular meeting was to look at student writing samples from an on-demand writing assessment. Teachers came with their students’ writing scored. Additionally, they brought a few resources we use in the district to teach writing.
As we began, I knew the main objectives for this meeting time with the team, but I wanted teachers to have ownership of the conversation. Classroom teachers don’t often have the gift of time, so I wanted everyone to walk away with what they needed. Of course, building coaches have the advantage of working alongside teachers every day. They know the teachers, they know the learning communities, and they know the students in their buildings. They know what’s happening now. Although I know some of these things, I certainly don’t have the depth of knowledge about teams that a building literacy coach would have.
To be sure I was giving the teachers ownership of this time, I decided to start by gathering a little information and providing time to reflect before we began. I handed each teacher a piece of yellow paper and asked them to fold it into fourths. Then teachers had some time to write to these four questions/statements:
|Share three beliefs about writing.||What do you celebrate?|
|What do you wonder about writing?||What do you hope to accomplish today?|
Although everyone knew the shared goal for this half day, I really wanted to know what each teacher hoped to accomplish in our time together. Answering these questions took close to 10 minutes, but it was 10 minutes well spent. It gave us the opportunity to share our beliefs about writing, which led to interesting conversations about process and product, balancing genres in our workshops, and nurturing writers. It gave us a chance to celebrate the growth of our writers since the beginning of the year (something that can be easily forgotten in the day-to-day push for improvement). It helped me understand the questions and challenges teachers were wrestling with in their workshops and to know specifically what they hoped to take away from our time together.
After discussing these questions as a team, I was able to tailor the conversation to their responses. It helped me make sure they walked away with what they needed.
Here are some other quick ways to take the temperature of a room:
- Celebration Boards: On a large whiteboard or piece of chart paper, or with sticky notes, have teachers share their celebrations from a particular time frame or topic. Celebrations are often a good way to get off to a positive start.
- Wonder Boards: This idea is similar, but consists of placing questions around a topic on the board. You can also get these responses digitally using apps such as Padlet, Poll Everywhere, or Twitter.
- Articles of Inspiration: Share an article that teachers will find inspiring. Give them time to read the article and chat for a few minutes.
- Five-Minute Writes: In our coaches’ meetings this year, we have been starting with a five-minute (more often 10-minute) reflection. This is a pretty open reflection in which coaches choose what they would like to write about. Often they write about challenges they’re facing, celebrations from important next steps, or big ahas they have had. At the end of this time, we have a shared doc where everyone shares one line from their reflection. We then spend a few minutes chatting about the lines.
- Quick Games: My personal favorite lately is to ask a group, “If you (or your class) were a type of candy, what would you be and why?” The answers to this are hilarious. Pretty soon you have a real good sense about how people are feeling. Make sure you have candy on the tables if you do this one, because everyone will be craving favorites after that conversation. This can also be done with other quick questions: “If you had a Magic 8 Ball, what would it tell you right now and why?” “Pick an emoji that tells how you are feeling right now [or describes your week, etc.].” “If your ______ had a song title, what would it be?”
- Chart It: I like to use this to measure understanding or comfort with a topic. For this, you just draw lines on a piece of paper and place a question at the top. I usually add descriptors on the two ends of the lines (for example, What is this? on one end and I could write about it on the other). Participants place their sticky note where they think they fall on the continuum.
- Quote Find: Display quotes and have each participant choose one and talk about why they chose it. The quotes can be about a particular topic or idea.
Teachers are far too busy to waste time. Taking time to reflect (which teachers rarely have) seems to also bring some calm to a room. It helps bring everyone’s thinking together and away from the other millions of to-dos likely swirling through their heads as we near parent-teacher conference night and assessment deadlines.
Taking the time to answer these questions helped me fill in some unknowns and shape the time for teachers since I don’t spend as much time beside them as their literacy coach, but it also reminded me how often taking the temperature of a group before beginning meetings, learning opportunities, and other types of work can help us spend time more effectively.