Teachers Coaching Students


Laura recently explained to me how we all are somewhat familiar with athletic coaches. Their job is to train athletes so they experience success in their sport. In the classroom, when teachers wear the mantle of coach, they are also involved in helping students experience success in an area of learning that students find challenging.  An important aim of teacher-coaches is to move students to self-directed learning. To accomplish this, the teacher taps into the concept of efficacy: the belief that all students can learn and be productive members of their education community.


Teacher As Coach

You can improve students’ performance, achievement, self-confidence, and self-efficacy when you start thinking like a coach. Through his research, John Hattie discovered that feedback on student work had the most effect on learning. Therefore, thinking like a coach means that you offer students feedback on written work, collaborative and individual projects, literary conversations, and teamwork. Here’s the rub! For feedback to be meaningful to students, coaching should occur soon after students’ work has been completed or in the midst of a long-term project. I prefer a tight timeframe—preferably within two days or the next time the class meets.

Seven Tips That Support Coaching Students

Mull over these seven tips that can enable you to successfully coach students in any discipline. It’s not about choosing two or three. All seven work in concert to develop your coaching strength. It won’t be perfect the first few times you don the mantle of coach. However, take the time to reflect, self-evaluate and learn from mistakes.

Toss red pens & listen. Let students do most of the talking. Sit on your hands if you’re tempted to mark up a student’s paper. Invite the student to jot feedback on a sticky note. You can do the writing for young children as long as they tell you what to write. The more responsibility students have, the more self-directed they become.

Sit side-by-side. This enables you to listen, to observe what students write on sticky notes, and it also advances the trusting relationship between teacher-coach and student.

Negotiate needs & priorities. Find out what the student thinks he or she needs. Then negotiate, share the process of focusing needs and prioritizing them so you both know what to discuss first.

Think aloud and model. Develop a student’s mental model of a task such as brainstorming or what strong verbs look like. Thinking aloud and modeling are two coaching tools you’ll repeatedly use.

Provide feedback. Always start with what’s working, what the student does well. Remember, learning foundations are built on positive feedback. Then ask a question—How does paragraphing help the reading of dialogue?– that gets the student thinking about a need.

Negotiate goals. First see if the student can set a reasonable, achievable goal. If the child seems reluctant, share a few possibilities and let the student choose. Make sure you ask the student to discuss and then jot what has to be done to reach the goal and how much time will be needed.

Gradually release responsibility. The goal of coaching is for the student to experience and understand the process so he or she can become self-directed learners in the area being coached.

Take the Plunge

Set a goal for the upcoming school year and try coaching students. You might have to adjust your thinking and stop seeing work in terms of a grade. Instead, view student’s work as an opportunity for you to offer feedback that can help each one move forward. Keep in mind that it’s the student’s learning and progress that trumps giving a grade!

I suggest Laura’s new book Read Talk Write

Leadership- Here’s a Secret

Okay, a catchy title! However, are there really any secrets to leadership and leading a school?  It is not an easy question to answer.  Is there one thing an educator can do to be more effective? Absolutely not. Is there one quality all effective leaders have? I think there is–belief in their ability to influence students’ achievement.


In education, the concept of belief is defined by a person’s sense of efficacy, a strong belief they can make a difference in the lives of students.  Ideally, an entire staff should have high personal efficacy. Why?  Because a collective belief in the abilities and possibilities existing for each student in their school can affect achievement, behavior, and students’ self-efficacy. Students learn better and achieve more when people believe in them. Unfortunately, the opposite is equally true.


Seven Ways to Increase Efficacy

Here are my top seven ways to increase your efficacy and to positively impact the efficacy of your staff:

Communicate:  A school leader cannot under communicate a positive belief in students or staff.  When you are around a staff member who is negative about students let them know in a professional way that it is not acceptable.  If you say nothing, you give the impression you agree. Invest time in communicating your beliefs and be visible.  Increased visibility can lead to improved relationships through active listening and communication.

Climate:  A supportive school climate sets the tone for people to be productive and positive about work.  Reflect on these questions:  How collaborative you are as a leader? How welcoming is your school to the public? Are you easy to reach as a principal? Or are there many layers a person needs to pass through to see you?  Climate, alone, does not make a school effective. However, there is no doubt that successful schools have a healthy, positive climate and culture.

Be Positive:  This is a choice that great leaders make.  In education, great leaders communicate a positive message about the capabilities of students and staff to reach their individual potential.

Safety:  Staff and students perform their best when they are not fearful of punishment or reprisal.  A trusting environment where staff and students feel safe is needed for innovation, creativity, and for people to do their best. A key aspect of efficacy is optimism, which translates into a school’s staff believing that they can positively impact students’ lives as well as their own and colleagues.

Hiring Staff:  Teachers need to know instructional strategies and content but learning will not happen if they do not believe in the ability of students or their ability to meet the challenges they will face. If you sense an applicant is not student-centered and does not believe that all students can learn and move forward, then don’t hire them.

Professional Development:  Excellent professional development gives teachers skills to be more effective.  Improve your school’s climate and build efficacy by involving staff in professional discussions of what kinds of staff development they need.  Staff appreciate being involved versus being told what to do. By doing this, you can avoid efficacy being challenged because a teacher does not have the best practice strategies needed to support students.

Create Goals:  Work with staff to create goals meaningful to them and based on data. Involving staff in goal creation is empowering and increases ownership of the goals. Resist the easy route of telling people what to do. Goals rarely work when they are delivered as marching orders.


If you have read my other blogs it is clear that I put a great deal on the shoulders of the school leader.  The principal sets the tone models the culture and communicates the story through his or her words.  You will never find an effective school led by a person who does not believe in students.  But, the leader alone will not make an effective school.  Effective school leaders also hire and retain staff who collectively believe they can make a difference in the learning and lives of students.


What the principal tolerates defines leadership.
The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

The Writing Teacher – Test Prep or Real Writing


We all want our students to love writing and write well. We all want our students to pass our state’s writing test. These two goals create a great tension, and too often, test prep wins out. And so, students write from prompts most of the year. I can’t say this enough: Writing to prompts does not develop writers!

Yes, I want students to become test-wise by experiencing writing to a prompt. If we simulate state test conditions over two days every six weeks, students will gain enough practice. However, to make these simulations benefit students, make a list of areas that need mini-lessons and additional student practice. It could be learning to write a compelling lead or introduction, paragraphing, varying sentence openings, using strong verbs, or specific nouns, etc.

When students apply craft and writing conventions to topics and genres they select, they can grow as writers. Choice leads to students selecting a topic they care about and love. The result is that students are more willing to work hard at improving their writing by investing the time it takes. So, here’s a key point to remember:

Teach students to write well, revise, and edit, and they will pass the test.

Each year that we buy into the pressures of test-prep-writing, we lose multiple opportunities to teach students the craft and art of writing. The caveat is that for teachers to teach writing, they need to do four things:

  1. Write, Write, Write. This can be objective observations about students,  letters to friends and family, a blog, a diary, or journaling about a trip. The point is that by writing, we raise our awareness of the process, and that understanding enables us to support student writers.
  2. Read professional books and articles on the writing process. Learn what published writers have to say about teaching writing. The more you learn, the better you’ll be able to support your students.
  3. Read children’s literature so you can develop a bank of mentor texts. Find mentor texts that students can study to deepen their knowledge of genres, leads, endings, uses of dialogue, or how writers handle shifts in time, etc.
  4. Organize instruction into a workshop and set aside 45-minutes of writing time at least four, preferably five times a week.

Present mini-lessons on writing craft, conventions, and genres. Keep them short and interactive. Keep the workshop authentic by offering students choices.  Unlike test-prep writing, students will be at different points in the process. To bring closure to any stage—talking about ideas, brainstorming ideas, planning, drafting—negotiate a deadline date with students.

Professional articles and books will guide your planning of mini-lessons and offer suggestions on modeling and thinking aloud to show students what writers do. Pair-up with a colleague and support each other, observe each other, and you will find that your students will crave more writing time. Most important, allow yourself to make mistakes knowing you can learn from these and give yourself the gift of time as you traverse new paths!

You can learn more about the writing process and teaching writing from Laura Robb’s Heinemann books: Teaching Middle School Writers and Smart Writing: Practical units for Teaching Middle School Writers.

Leadership: Building a Positive School Community

Creating and maintaining a positive climate can be challenging.  A  positive school climate makes work more enjoyable for staff and can improve learning!  I have always felt I can sense School climate the moment I walk up to a door. Do signs say visitors must report to the main office or do they say please report to the main office?  How is a visitor treated by office staff when entering the main office?  Is student work posted for students, staff, and parents to see? These are just a few of many ways to gauge school climate.  I propose, if the climate and culture are good, much can be credited to the leadership and modeling of the school leaders,. If on the other hand, the climate is poor, this also can be a result of less than purposeful school leadership.

Remember, what you do communicates what you believe. Your actions can make a difference! So, how do you make an impact on the climate and culture of your school?  Here are my top five ways.

  1. Be visible:   It is easy to feel tied down to a computer.  Administrative jobs have a lot of paperwork to complete and reports to write.  My goal as I move towards the end of one school year and towards a new school year is to be even more visible.  Take time to greet students when they come to school in morning, visit classrooms, the cafeteria, bus duty, and school events.  Students, staff, and families want to meet the principal, but for this to happen, the principal needs to make it a priority.
  2. Take a lunch break: Have lunch with students because it’s a great way to get to know and connect with them.  In my school, we have special lunches at the start of the year for new students.  Students connect over a  meal and can meet teachers and me.  Kids across the world love lunch time.  Lunch is an opportunity to talk with friends and relax.  It is also a great time for the principal and staff to connect with students.
  3. Talk with Staff:  In a world where people can always be off to the next important issue, it is easy to forget the benefits of small chat.  As a school leader, you need to know your staff and students, conversation has always been a great way to achieve this goal.  Conversation allows you to communicate what you believe and build relationships with students, staff, and families.
  4. Tell your School’s Story: Eric Sheninger, in his excellent book, “BrandED” notes the principal needs be the storyteller and chief for their school.  Eric also reminds us that we need to tell our story or someone else will.  Using social media allows a school to communicate information quickly to students, parents, and your community.  Facebook, video, Twitter, and Instagram are free, allowing you and your staff to inform and celebrate all that occurs in your school.  Communicating and informing in a positive way impacts how people view your school, which impacts climate and culture!
  5. Model the Standard:  As the leader of the school your actions and words communicate what is acceptable.  If staff see you yelling at kids, you give them permission to do the same.  If you’re a sloppy dresser, you give permission. If you are anti-technology, you give permission.  If you have low expectations for students, you give permission. If you communicate a fixed mindset, you give permission.  Set the tone in your school! Your words and actions communicate your leadership and what you believe.  Strive for congruence between what you say and what you do! Be an advocate and champion for learning, growth, and excellence! Most importantly, model and communicate your high expectations relentlessly.

Great school environments were not created overnight and negative environments cannot be fixed immediately. Both types of cultures are perpetuated by the principal.  The principal has the ability to shift, shape, and create a positive school climate and culture.  Lead with purpose and passion and create a school culture great for students and staff.  As a principal, you will spend many hours in your school.Make it a goal to spend time all members of your school community and realize you have the ability to make the culture and climate better.
Check out my book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook