RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: January 2016

Leadership from the Bottom Up

They say teaching is a lonely job, but I think coaching can be even lonelier. One reason that it can feel lonely is being unable to find your identity and voice. Am I teacher or a leader? The teachers see me as “one of them” (an administrator), and the principal sees me as a teacher. If I am trying to move a building by supporting growth, but it is not my building, how do I do that?

 It is not easy, but he best coaches make it work. I (Christy) have worked with Worcester County District for almost a year now, and it has been the greatest gift to me as a consultant. The district supervisor who found me and hired me is a gem, and the coaches follow her brilliant leadership style—“roll up your sleeves and get in.” At a recent principal meeting that was said with great admiration.

 Ali Giska is one of those kind of coaches. She took every suggestion I gave, and made them all better. And she is l-o-v-i-n-g her job—which is so nice to hear. Ali is an advocate for teachers and kids and principals and schools. She’s in a new position, out of her comfort zone but still giving it her all—wow. Enjoy this guest post by one great leader.

Leadership from the Bottom Up

As a new literacy coach, I value my comfort zone. I stay safely inside unless I really, really have to step out. And even then, it is only with my big toe. So when the building principal breezed past me on my first day coaching in his school, I gave him a bright smile and quickly chirped, “Today went great!” He nodded and gave me a thumbs up. I should have felt relief. No conflict, no questions, no problem. I left that day feeling nothing short of disconnected.

Three months passed before two important mentors told me, “Get close to the principal. The principal will move your work forward.” I knew they were right and I knew what that meant. Goodbye, cozy comfort zone.

This is what I learned when I started regular meetings with the building principals and took my first step towards leading the leader.

Set an agenda and send it before the meeting

An agenda lets a principal know that there is a purpose for the meeting, the work matters, and that I respect his time. I stuck to the agenda and took notes to help build a meaningful direction for the next meeting. Possible topics for the agenda can vary but here are some ideas I used to get our meetings started:

  • Artifact Share- Take charge of bringing the artifacts (student work, teaching charts, data collection sheets, photos, planning documents) and use them as evidence for celebrations and concerns.
  • Teach Content- Explain a rubric or student checklist, demonstrate a teaching point, or review the focus of your work in the classrooms.
  • Classroom Tours- Walk through classrooms and share compliments with the principal about what you see.
  • Next Steps- Where can you direct your support in the school, what goals should be the focus of the next month, and what does the principal hope to see?

Look forward and make concrete plans

I made sure I did not leave the meeting until the next meeting was on the calendar. This was as simple as saying, “Same time next month?” Highlight future plans and what you will accomplish next time you meet. I let the principal know how excited I was to reach our goals together. Before leaving, I made this very clear. “I love the direction we are going, and I would love to get more specific when we meet next month!”

Find the person behind the principal

Relationships are everything. Leading a school is high-stress, demanding work. Yet, principals have families, plans to drive to Florida over winter break, hobbies outside of school. Remembering this helped me see the person behind the desk. I asked a few non-school related questions before jumping into the agenda. It turns out, I now know who to ask for advice when my son is ready to learn how to surf. This conversation only took a minute or two, but in the end, relationships hold up all of the other work we do as coaches.

Be kind, be positive, be assertive

When I walked in to meet with my principal for the first time, there were fires going on all around him. A critical staff member was out on extended sick leave, a new teacher had resigned, and his phone was flashing urgently. I kindly thanked him for his time and I sincerely meant it. I complimented the perseverance of his teachers and the masterful scheduling he had done to allow teachers from each grade level to collaborate weekly. And then I asked for his support in areas where we could change and grow. This was the tricky, hard part. I know he is busy, and I know this is one of many items on his plate. Maybe I shouldn’t even bother him with this….

This is when I left my comfort zone completely….(deep breath)“I would love to create more opportunities for teachers to see model lessons. I was thinking of mini lab sites. Do you think we could arrange coverage and make this happen?”

Kindness and respect are paramount, but it always okay to ask for what you need if you know it is best for kids and teachers.

Dig Deep and Get Support

While there is no doubt a principal meeting can move your practice, it still takes a vast amount of courage. I was anxious and a little fearful. Would I be wasting this principal’s time? Do I have anything important to say? Will I be respected and valued by this administrator? I had to really dig deep and remind myself that I am a leader too. I also knew I needed support and validation from the people who do what I do everyday—my fellow coaches.

Through an email chain with my peers and mentors, I was able to get feedback on my agenda and many reminders that meeting with an administrator was scary but absolutely necessary. Knowing that this made other coaches uncomfortable as well somehow made it easier. This can feel like a lonely job, but a network of brilliant colleagues can create a home away form home.

Once I got that first terrifying meeting accomplished, the positive feedback from my county supervisor and literacy consultant gave me the confidence to enter the second meeting with a little less anxiety. See, that is the thing about great leaders. They show you that there is a light, and then they let you shine.

Ali Giska

Literacy Coach

Worcester County Public Schools


A Time to Teach

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee –

the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
from the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, his last before being assassinated.

To some, this is an uneasy thought: How do we address injustice, pain, and hurt with our youngest, smallest, most precious citizens? How do we teach about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Black Historical heroes without the shame, horror and ugly truths of reality? Do we teach such things? How much and in what contexts?

First, educators, you must talk about this among yourselves. If this conversation is silent in your school, organization or lives, you must bring it up. We must bring it up because today is only 50 years from Selma and 20 years from the Million Man March, and solutions are still needed. Problem solvers are still needed and will be.

I thought I’d share resources we’re using in my own school. Here are just a few to help you with the conversation…


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King.Jr


Recently I was chatting with some old friends about the topic of race. One said, “We can’t address that in school. The parents would be in an uproar.” Another said, “I mostly teach math and social studies. How could I fit racial inequality into the demands of the curriculum and the common core?” Both reasons are ones I have heard many times before from teachers. Real valid issues and concerns.

So how do we talk about racial inequality with kids in school?

A year ago Monique and I addressed this in our post Let’s Give ‘Em Something To Talk About

Let’s really talk about how this might go with a class of twenty-five fourth graders.

“The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson is one of the best books that really addresses racial differences, fear, and separation.

Interactive Read Aloud Plan: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Common Core Standards Addressed:


Book Introduction:

The book we are gong to read today is one of my favorites of all time! It is called The Other Side. It is written by Jacqueline Woodson. Let’s look at the cover and really think about the title. Why do you think she titled this “The Other Side” and what might you expect to see in this book? Turn and tell your partner

Read pg. 1: Method of teaching–Teacher think aloud

Reading Skill: questioning with inference

Do a think aloud saying: That’s weird, I wonder why the mother said that? And why would the writer mention white people? Maybe the mother and her family are black and they are afraid of white people. Look at the cover again. The girl by the fence is white and the girl on the tire is black. OR maybe she had heard yelling from an adult and was afraid. Or maybe she is simply concerned about her daughter playing on a fence.

Read pg. 2: Method of teaching—Turn and Talk

Reading Skill: questioning with inference

Have the kids turn & talk as you listen in. Say: Guys, what are you wondering about? I wonder why….how come…? And then prompt: It could be…or maybe it’s because…

Read the next page (3) stopping at maybe yes, maybe no:

Method of teaching—Think Aloud

Reading Skill: Critical reading

Think Aloud saying: Hmm the narrator’s friend Sandra has a lot of power. She makes the decisions without even asking anyone. It’s interesting that the narrator is uncomfortable with that but doesn’t say so.

Read the next page (4):

Method of teaching—Turn & Talk

Reading Skill: Critical reading

Have the kids turn & talk as you listen in. Say: Interesting line Jacqueline Woodson the author included in her writing—“That summer everyone and everything on the other side of that fence seemed far away.” What do you think that means? Turn and tell your partner.

Read the next three pages stopping after reading pg. 7:

Method of teaching—Turn & Talk

Reading Skill: Prediction

Have the kids turn & talk as you listen in. Say: Hmm…she feels brave and free….interesting. Think about the tension that has been happening the text. What do you think is going to happen and think about how the narrator is feeling… Turn and tell your partner.

Read the next three pages stopping after pg 10 after “Neither did mine,” I said.

Method of teaching—Stop & Jot

Reading Skill: Checking on your prediction (correct or should you revise it) and predicting forward

Say: Readers was your prediction correct if not, revise it and add on to what you think might happen next keeping in mind the other characters in the book in their feelings. Stop and Jot on a post it.

Read the next pg. (11) and stop.

Method of teaching—Think Aloud

Reading Skill: Synthesis (character change)

The teacher says: Hmm… Remember earlier where Sandra decided that the group wouldn’t jump rope together and Clover didn’t say anything. Now Clover is ignoring her friends when they are being mean to Annie. Clover is standing up to them in a way. This is making me realize that she is changing because she knows Annie and she likes her and realizes she is a kind and fun person not a scary one like her mother said earlier.

Read the next pg (12) and stop

Method of teaching—Turn & Talk

Reading Skill: Synthesis (secondary character change)

Say: Interesting comment from Mama…Let’s think about this page. What did we learn here? How does this go with earlier and what does it make you think?

You might prompt with: This goes with earlier because or this is making me realize…or this is giving me new ideas…

Read to the last page and stop:

Method of teaching—Stop & Jot

Reading Skill: Theme

Say: Wow, these characters are teaching us so much? What do you think Clover and Annie might be teaching us? What is this story really, Really, REALLY about? Stop & Jot:

Might Prompt: Sometimes in life people…instead they…

When finished have a whole group Grand Conversation about the text. Some provocative ideas to prompt for are:

  • Who has the power in this book?
  • Whose perspective is being heard and why?
  • Whose perspective is not heard and why?
  • What is the theme of this text? Does it go with other themes we have read?
  • What lines struck you? Why do you think the author crafted them in such that way?
  • What is the significance of the title? The ending?
  • Does the main character remind you of other characters we have read and why?


“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s have some faith, actually~

Monique & Christy