Launching into Design Thinking

As I began to think about my blog post this week, I thought I may want to refocus on the “why.” Why are we in education? Why are we teachers/coaches/interventionists/administrators?

And then I started to do my own reflecting.  What was my “why” when I started out as a teacher?  How has that evolved throughout the last 14 years?

I started to think about how my own teaching career has had so many ups and downs.  How there were days I could take on the world and felt that I could teach anyone anything, and other days I wondered if I was going to be able to reach one kid in my room.  

As I continued thinking about the multiple highs and lows in my career, I found myself reflecting on the times that I have hit the proverbial fork in the road.  Those times created situations that looked a lot like this:

I would love to embrace chaos, but that is not my natural inclination. I know order and structure; I thrive in order and structure.  Yet, at multiple points in my life, I have been hurled into chaos and my five year plan tossed out the window. (Honestly, five years ago I was a high school English teacher in Sandwich, IL now I am elementary instructional coach in Kaneland)

So where (except the inner workings of my brain) am I going with this blog post? Innovation, change, growth, personalization, and teaching can often times look like chaos.  It is hard to tell where things begin and end, just like the line in the scribble above. It is hard to figure out if we are moving forward or just looping around again.

How do we move from the chaotic scribble, to a loopy line, to a solid direction?  For me, it took a process.

I found comfort in the midst of uncertainty by jumping into something called the design thinking process.  I was first exposed to this structure at the Learning Forward Conference in 2017.  While the session in December sparked my interest, it wasn’t until my life was thrust back into a mode of chaos that I decided to really give design thinking a try.  At the end of last school year, I was in a cycle where we were focusing on project based learning. I dove into the book Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student to help me coach but at the same time I began the design thinking process for my own life.  

I quickly clung to the fact that while things were messy at the moment, the framework I was reading about and engaging in gave me an opportunity to know what step I was in the process of and give me direction to head toward.  It granted me the permission to allow the beginning to be chaotic because I was taking productive steps to figure out how to come to my solution.

Design thinking is a structure that has been used for years.  John Spencer and A.J. Juliani took this idea, which is prevalent in the business world, and shifted the focus to how we can use this process with our students in the classroom in Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student. Teachers are guided in the book to help students move through seven phases.  These phases create structure in a messy process of creation for students, teachers, or anyone trying to solve a problem or innovate.

The Seven Phases of the Launch Cycle (partnered with the Design Thinking terms) are:

Phase 1: Look, listen and learn=Empathize It is all about taking the time to step into someone else’s shoes and begin to really view the issue from their perspective or multiple perspectives.  

Phase 2: Ask lots of questions=Empathize  Students work on developing and asking those tough questions that elicit productive answers.  This is a great time as a teacher to get into the world of QFT .

Phase 3: Understand the process or problem=Define After viewing a problem/situation from a variety of angles it is time to figure out what is the real issue or problem that needs to be solved.

Phase 4: Navigate ideas=Ideate  This is where true creativity can flow and students come up with all the possible solutions that they can.  During this stage there is no such thing as a bad option. By the end of this stage you want students to gain a focus and select one or combine a few ideas to get moving on.  

Phase 5: Create=Prototyping This is the time to get hands on and actually start working on making their ideas from the phase before a reality.   

Phase 6: Highlight and revise=Test We learn best through failure and this is the place where students acknowledge those failures and figure out how to grow from them.  Phases 5 and 6 may go back and forth for a while until the student has a solution that they are ready to move forward with.

Phase 7: Launch  Have students present, share, send, etc. their work to an authentic audience for their problem.  Allow this process to move outside the walls of your classroom and make an impact on the world.


Personalized learning can seem chaotic when you think only big picture.  The Launch Cycle can help you and students find a way to structure the process of personalization with an understanding of steps to take as you/they move forward.  This can ease that discomfort that can come with change, innovation, and growth.   

Back to where design thinking led me… I started my own educational consulting company this summer. I took the process step by step until I was able to launch my idea out into the “real world.”  Now my question is where will this thinking take me next? Or maybe more important, where will you let this process take you and your students?


Spencer, John, and A. J. Juliani. Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2016

Let’s Connect!

“When we are connected to others, we become better people.”   -Randy Pausch

EC-5 Kaneland Twitter Chat Series on Personalized Learning  #PLbeforetheBELL

What a celebration that 35 Kaneland Staff members took time to experience our first district wide Twitter chat!  Kudos to KST with 15 contributing staff members! We had and incredible span of participants from experienced tweeters that have led their own Twitter chats to an individual who tweeted for the very first time.  Through this initial conversation, staff members shared topic suggestions related to personalized learning as well as scheduling options that will work best for them.



This idea evolved from the #20QPL chat that Nancy and Natalie hosted last spring.  In that chat Kaneland participants had conversations with educators across several states.  When we reflected on this process, we considered how we really wanted to be having these conversations with our Kaneland colleagues.  That is not an easy task when our school district spans over 140 square miles. There are so many questions to ask, answer and ponder.  Please consider this an opportunity for us to strengthen our understanding of personalized learning and support one another as we experience this journey together.


We will sort through all of the information provided from our launch chat and develop a series of chats that will allow all of you to connect and collaborate to grow your understanding and application of personalized learning.  We will post topics, as well as questions, ahead of time so that you can consider which chats are suitable for you.


With so many new to Twitter Chats, be on the lookout for a Lunch and Learn opportunity regarding the use of Tweetdeck, hosted by your Instructional Coaches.  Tweetdeck makes participating in a Twitter Chat so much easier. If you prefer to be an independent learner, here is a brief tutorial.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a coach for technical support!


Still on the Fence? Why Twitter?

Twitter is one of the many social media options for people to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, and beyond.  I often hear people say they don’t have time for another distraction or don’t see the value in Twitter. However, Twitter offers opportunities to explore outside of our classroom, school, district, state, and even country.  I admit, when I created my account 5 years ago, I needed some real guidance. I started following people, but really didn’t know what to do, so I set it aside and didn’t really come back to it for about 6 months. It took me a while to figure out who to follow and how to make it useful, but once I did, I was astounded at the depth of learning that I have been able to experience on my own terms.  It was through participating in Twitter Chats that I was able to discover other educators outside of my Kaneland network, which in return, helped me bring more back to my Kaneland network of educators.


Twitter Tips for Success

Twitter is what you make of it.  It is not about keeping up with others or feeling left out It is about connecting with others, finding more colleagues who are like minded, and validating the hard work you do everyday.  Here are a few suggestions that have made Twitter more effective for me.


  • Allow your activity on Twitter to ebb and flow with your mood and activity level.  There is no pressure to be constantly checking on what is out there.


  • Keep your teacher account professional so that when you are on Twitter,you are in the frame of mind to connect with teachers.  On the flipside, other social media accounts, keep strictly personal. This helps create that work life balance by not intermingling the two.  Some people even prefer to have two separate accounts on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook so that they can keep their focus separate.


  • It is okay to just follow others and digest what is there.  You don’t have to post often to benefit from an educational Twitter account.


  • There are several educational hashtags that you can search to see what people are sharing. Linked below are some recommended Twitter Chats for educators, but you can simple search the hashtag at any time and it is as if you had been there.  It is almost like eavesdropping, but no one cares!


What Other Chats can I Explore?

If you are looking beyond Kaneland, participating in a chat with colleagues at your grade level or who have a similar interest could be extremely valuable.  Here is a list  from Scholastic of some recommended chats for educators.  If you have participated in a chat that you would highly recommend to your peers, please comment on this blog….and you might just find a delicious thank you heading your way!  Sharing is sweet!


Engaging Students – Total Participation Techniques

Total participation in the classroom – – every teacher’s holy grail!  According to Persida and William Himmele in their book “Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner,” there are a multitude of techniques that we can elect to use in the classroom. But before we can get there, we first need to know what exactly is their definition of total participation techniques. They define total participation techniques as: “teaching techniques that allow for all students to demonstrate, at the same time, active participation and cognitive engagement in the topic being studied.” You might be asking yourself — how can I get my students there? First, let’s take a look at the keys to creating  total participation techniques, classroom ready techniques that can be employed and the benefits of (TPT’s).

Keys to Creating a TPT Conducive Classroom:

  • Appreciate student differences – give students multiple opportunities to participate in class, show their strengths, and demonstrate their cognitive abilities.
  • Foster student collaboration – employ numerous groupings of students based on the activity and knowledge of your students.
  • Promote peer acceptance – create a safe and accepting learning environment for all students.
  • Higher order thinking questions and prompts– ask higher order thinking questions and don’t forget to give students time to process.
  • Grow confidence – always give positive feedback to students.
  • Build trust – do you believe your students are capable of learning? How do you show your students that you trust them?
  • Follow through – be an active presence in the classroom by asking questions, walking around and participating with students, redirecting students if necessary.
  • Move away from right/wrong – ask students to justify their responses based on learned content. Never ask a student why — instead use the phrase tell me more.

Now that you have the keys to having a TPT conducive classroom, here are a few, and know there are a plethora of other classroom ready TPT’s that you can employ. One key to success with the techniques listed below – – always remember that when phrasing your questions or prompts to students, make sure they require higher order thinking skills.

Classroom Ready TPT’s:

  • Turn and Talk – have students turn to their partner and discuss what has just been asked of them. Remember circulate through the group and you too become part of the discussion.
  • Quick Draws or Quick Writes – have students write or draw their understandings.
  • Line-ups – give students a discussion question (remember to give them time to process and think). Have students line up in 2 parallel lines and discuss with the person across from them. Repeat by having students take 2 steps to left so they can discuss with a new partner.
  • Networking session – prepare prompts ahead of time for discussion. Have students locate a partner to discuss responses with. After a few minutes have students find a new partner to discuss with.
  • True/Not True – create 4 cards for each student — 1.) true, 2.) not true, 3.) true with modifications, and 4.) unable to determine. Ask students a higher order thinking question and then have students hold up their card.

And finally, here are some of the benefits that can be realized by using TPT.


  • provides you with ongoing formative assessments
  • increased student participation
  • deeper learning and cognitive engagement
  • increased social connectedness

Should you wish to read more about this, fill out a coaching request or contact me and I will loan you my book by Himmele – –Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner.


Works Cited

Himmele Pérsida, and William Himmele. Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. ASCD, 2017.

Knowing Your Learners

A couple years ago I received a letter from a former student that really hit home. I vaguely remembered this student (yes, I needed to pull out my old class photos just to remember the face) but for some reason he wanted me to know that I had a major impact on his life. This is the gist of what was shared:

“You asked me how I was doing almost EVERY day during a time when I was struggling at home. I wasn’t quite sure how you knew I was struggling, but I was. I was not getting along with my family and life for that matter……”

I was shocked and definitely a little teary eyed. I began to think more and more about my role in this student’s life. I tried to remember why I asked him this daily. Was I really that concerned?  Did I really have an impact like he had written? Did I treat all my students with this same concern? Do our students need us to know what is happening in their life? Was I just trying to get to know him? We have a major impact on our students’ lives. How do we make this impact? We talk to them and really get to know who they are.   

Image result for when they already know it

The book When They Already Know It by Mark Weichel, Blane McCann, and Tami Williams devotes a full chapter focusing on how to get to know the learners in your room.  You may have already heard of this book as it was mentioned as a book club option last week. The book takes a look at how to extend and personalize student learning. As a district we have taken the initial steps of knowing our learners with the use of the learner profile. It is a start for staff to get to know their students like never before.


What does it really mean to know your learner? Weichel, McCann, and Williams define it as “being able to identify, describe, nurture, and respond to their intellectual, social, and emotional characteristics.” When we get to know our learners we get to know what makes them tick, what excites and frustrates them, what makes them succeed, and so much more. The more that educators know about their students the more effective they can be in the classroom which allows them to guide their students and lead them to grow in their learning.

The district’s current vision is on the personalization of learning for our students. The importance of pursuing personalization in our schools cannot be effective unless we absolutely know our learners. We are in the midst of learning about our students through the use of the Learner Profile. This tool allows each student to reflect on different dimensions of who they are as a learner and create clarity on how they can advocate for his/her learning to his/her teacher. What are their interests, needs, frustrations, obstacles, and anything else that makes their learning easier? The Learner Profile allows us a better understanding of each one of our students. Weichel, McCann, and Williams reference some contributing factors in a Student’s Academic Profile that align directly to Kaneland’s Learner Profile.

Contributing Factors in a Student’s Academic Profile:

Strengths It is important that we focus on a student’s strengths and any talents they can utilize during their learning. So many times, specifically data driven meetings, our focus is on their deficits. It’s time we find the good in our students and see where that can take them. We do not have ‘average’ students- we have students that might be average in some areas, but each student has a strength that can raise them higher than others in the learning process.

Curiosities What are your students curious about? Have you ever asked them? Could you possibly share the same curiosities? By knowing what a student is curious about you can open their learning to a whole new world. Curious students tend to want much more than what is on the surface. These curiosities can grow into much bigger learning opportunities, not only for them but you as well. Do you often wonder about that?

Interests Curiosities and interests are very similar. With both you can connect your curriculum and a student’s interest and expand on extended learning. The key in finding out about interests and curiosities is to talk to your students. (See a trend forming?) Find out what drives your students, what they like to do outside of school? Can you connect your learning to their interests? The connection to students’ interests can lead you to a deeper understanding. How do their interests drive their learning?

Learning Styles Do your students require step-by-step instructions? Do they learn more when they are in control of their own learning? Do they only need guidance at the beginning of their learning? Do they work better in small groups? Large groups? Individually?  Are they a leader? Follower? Tailoring each students learning to how they learn best is essential for success. The key element is to find out how each student learns best.

Motivators Do your students need a teacher to praise them 24/7 or only when they need it? Does recognition drive your student? What about offering perks? Is their motivation personal? In many instances praising a student over and over again not only loses its luster, but can also tear a child apart. Other students that don’t receive the constant praising could somehow begin to resent those that receive praise all the time. What are your motivators? Is it possible your students could have the same motivator; or, is that what you think?

Energy Sources We are in a world where we cross paths with both extroverts and introverts on a regular basis. An extrovert will get their energy from others and will also produce energy. They like to be involved and definitely like to lead the charge! Many times they will voice their opinions with the confidence that they are right. Introverts on the other hand get their energy from themselves. They usually like to work alone or in very small groups, with people they know. They are constantly reflecting so they don’t regret their actions. As a teacher it is important to know where your students fall in this area. Making them perform a task that they are not comfortable with can sometimes harm an individual’s learning.

Many of these contributing factors are located in our students’ Learner Profile. Are we accessing this information to better improve our teaching? Are we using it to get the most out of our students? Do we continue to reflect on our own Learner Profile? Are we just using it to fulfill district implementation? It is important that we ask ourselves these questions so that we are giving our students the best learning they need. If you know your students’ profile, you definitely know your student!

A Final Thought

As you can tell, knowing your students has many benefits. Looking back on my own experience, I’m glad I asked that student how he was doing every single day. At the time I was just trying to engage a shy/quiet student in a conversation. I don’t recollect ever sensing his true feelings, but either way I am glad that I can say “I was able to be the lifeline for a student that was in need.” These students are our kids. Yes, we should invest our time in getting to know everything about them that we possibly can. If you don’t feel that you’ve had an impact, give it some time. Someday you will know when you’ve touched the life of someone. Just get to know your learners!



McCann, B., Weichel, M., Williams, T., 2018, When They Already Know It. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press


Pick Your Jersey: Identifying Personality Types

At the end of my last blog post, Get Your Whistle, I mentioned I would be coming back to talk more about personality styles and here it is! But….


Before I head into specific personality styles, I wanted to take a moment to address labels. Just yesterday I was in a meeting and we were talking about a presentation where the speaker mentioned the need to “throw out labels!”  Labels box people in! They limit expectations! They act as excuses! My heart is thinking, “Yes”! I don’t want to limit anyone! Throw them away!

Later that day I headed to a data meeting. During that meeting, each student was discussed and there was the opportunity to identify students’ need.  Here teachers,interventionists, a psychologist, a social worker, and administration talk about the life situations that have come up that may be challenging that student.  Labels are placed on students and I am thinking, “Yes”! These students are going to get the services they need because we are identifying the strengths and challenges in their lives and doing something about it!

Labels. Can they be limiting? Yes. Are they helpful? Yes.

Labels are a necessity in education.  It is important that we can identify the strengths of our students and where they need more support.  We need to know what their home life is like so we can connect and support it in the learning environment.  We need to know if a student is a struggling reader or enriched in math. We need to know so that we can reach them and teach them appropriately.  We need those labels.

On the other hand, do not let those labels limit.  They are there to inform practice not set limitations or act as excuses when goals aren’t met.  Labels help us connect our own prior knowledge and be able to address situations in a more appropriate fashion. It is vital for me to know when I am pushing s student outside of his/her label and to add in that extra support to let them know that I am aware that this is going to be a challenge for him/her but I think he/she can do it. Labels are not excuses.


Personality Types

Jane Kise, in Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Educators CHANGE, asks for the reader to take a moment and sign your name with you dominant hand.  When you finish you are tasked with signing your name in your non-dominant hand. Try it.  

How did it feel to use your non dominant hand?  You could most likely still sign you name, but you most likely found it wasn’t as simple or natural as it was with your dominant hand. People are born with a natural preference for writing with their right or left hand.  You may practice and strengthen the ability to use the other hand, but naturally you prefer one hand over the other. Keep this activity in mind as you look at personality types.

Let’s go back to the core of this blog post.  Last month I wrote about the four coaching styles and went through a quick rundown of who may fit into each coaching style.  I discussed the need for teachers to step into the coaching role for their students as we move deeper into the world of personalized learning.  Today’s post is getting into more detail and giving you a better opportunity to label your students personality type as well as your own.

Look through the descriptions below to help guide yourself to identifying which personality type you may be and to start to identify what students in your room may have a natural preference for.  These are all from Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Educators CHANGE by Jane Kise.  I highly recommend reading the book for a more in depth look at the types and to utilize a professional type preference tool such as TypeCoach, MBTI, PPI, PTI, JTI, or GPTP (avoid anything free).

If you take the initial associated with each trait you will have the overall personality type. (Use for reference below)

Can you categorize some of your students? Can you identify what they may naturally prefer? What about for yourself? Remember, you want to coach your students in a way that fits their individual styles. This may be far from your style.  Being aware of what works for you is important to know for your own growth, but is also significant to note that is the way you most naturally approach coaching your students.

So now what?  What do you do with these labels?  How do these fit into coaching styles? Take a look at the chart below.  Kise’s created this chart to identify how each types likes to be coached.  Select one of the students in your class. See if you can use the chart above to estimate what his/her personality type is.  How do they need to be coached?

*Chart 7.5 found on p. 126 of Differentiated Coaching: a Framework for Helping Educators Change

Can you use this information to connect with a student you have been struggling to coach?  Can you use knowledge of your own personality type to inform a coworker about a way that you feel you could collaborate better? Can you change the way you approach working with a team member by looking and identifying what work best for their personality and finding a way to work with that? Acknowledging our own personalities, identifying the personalities of those around us, and being able to verbalize these needs/wants creates a situation where collaboration can occur. No personality is right and no personality is wrong, they all just need something a little different and knowing that is the first step to getting everyone involved to where they want to be.


Kise, Jane A. G. Differentiated Coaching: a Framework for Helping Educators Change. 2nd ed., Corwin, 2017.


How Does Reading Shape You as a Person?

I just love this essential question.  It defines for me how I have developed as a reader.  In my earlier years of education, I may not have even understood this question or even have been able to consider a response.  Today, reading really does shape me as a person. Many of us have explored how empathizing with characters molds us into being better people.  We are able to vicariously experience situations that allow us to see new perspectives. On the flip side, with informational text, research empowers us with knowledge.  Knowledge helps us make better decisions, plan appropriate steps of action in order to optimize time and resources, or avoid some potential mistakes.

While I have grown tremendously from reading, I don’t do all of the my learning from reading by myself.  Just as discourse is important in the classroom for student growth, it is important outside of the classroom for our own development. It is with a group of critical friends that I am able to come up with some of my best ideas. The word critical can have a negative connotation, however, here it is aligned with the definition that involves analysis: seeking merit and faults.  A critical friends group is a group of educators who gather to carefully inspect, discuss and evaluate current practices in an effort to make improvements.   This group of teachers can be of varied levels or assignments, but share a common interest in education.  The bonus is that these members are not only colleagues, but friends as well.

When I am with this group of educators, we talk, laugh, and wonder as we share heartfelt celebrations and concerns.  Currently, we are delving into a shared read: From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident Capable Readers by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward.  It is in our discussion of this resource that this essential question was born. How Does Reading Shape You as a Person? Pondering this question is one that I could revisit regularly and continue to develop my answer.  If I were in a classroom today, this is a  question that would be an ongoing focus for my classroom all year long.

Currently, we work as  grade level teams, a building team, and a district team.  It is at times difficult to carve out time for ourselves and our own learning.  Maybe a critical friends group could be a way to connect on a personal and professional level with some colleagues.   We encourage you to reach out to other educators to create or enhance your professional network. It just may happen, however, that you have a potential group of critical friends right in front of you.  

If you are a Kaneland teacher interested in learning with those who support your educational beliefs, consider a book study together.  Listed here are a few sets of books that may be a perfect choice for you to get started. If you are interested, reply in the comments section of this blog post as to what title you and your group of four or less would like to read.  Also, kindly tell us how many copies you would like based on the numbers provided.  There is only one set of each title, and this is a first come, first served opportunity.  Please pay attention to what has already been claimed. In your comment, please identify the names of your group and the title you are requesting.  Your group will receive a confirmation email.  Happy reading!

When They Already Know it: How to Extend and Personalize Student Learning in a PLC at Work by Mark Weichel, Blane McCann, and Tami Williams

Students Taking Charge in K-5 Classrooms by Nancy Sulla

Building Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student Achievement by Nancy Sulla

Improving Classroom Discussion

I recently attended the Learning Forward Conference. This conference had a plethora of high quality sessions to choose from. Improving Classroom Discussion was one that sparked my interest since I felt it would be a good extension of the learning we did with Socratic Seminar last year, and to use to further our students discussions and learning across the curriculum. Jackie Walsh, the author of Quality Questioning: Research Based Practice to Engage Every Learner, and a number of other books on this subject led the session. Walsh shared her expertise in this area by leading us on a journey in the use of quality questioning for our classrooms.  

According to Walsh, in order to move our students learning in today’s classrooms, “it is necessary to move our thinking from viewing questions as prompts for the right answers to understanding questions as opportunities for surfacing and testing one’s own thinking and creating new perspectives with others.”

To accomplish this shift in the classroom, the teacher will move from controlling to supporting roles.  Below is a chart by Walsh that explains how you can change your practice and help you on your journey in making the shift.

Shifts in teachers roles will look like this:

From To (You become the . . .)
Questioner Listener and monitor of the discussion process
Monopolizer of air time Listener and facilitator of equitable participation among all students
Evaluator Advocate for student self-assessment and peer assessment of knowledge and reasoning
Hub or pivot for all classroom talk Encourager of student to student interactions

As these shifts are made, we will need to ensure that students now understand their new role in classroom discussions. Walsh conveys that a shift must take place and to that extent has created the chart for student roles below.

Shifts in students roles will then look like:

From To (Students become the . . .)
Compliant and passive observer Committed and proactive contributor
Respondent to teacher questions Generator of questions
Dependent learner Self directed learner
Isolated and competitive learner Collaborative learner
Receptacle for teacher knowledge Constructor of own understandings

The switch doesn’t happen overnight, it takes work on your part to model and coach the students through this shift in practice. Here are some tips from Walsh for modeling and coaching to put in your toolbox.

  1. Encourage all students to participate in thinking and speaking during a discussion.
  • Reinforce guidelines for equitable participation prior to all discussions.
  • Eliminate hand raising.
  • Ask for a previously non-participating student to build on a classmate’s comment.
  1. Use think alouds to model expectations.
  • Demonstrate use of think times and comment on your silence by saying, “I paused after you stopped speaking because I wanted to offer you the opportunity to add to what you said. I also wanted to reflect on your statement and decide whether I agree and if I could add to it.”
  • Be explicit: “I wanted to build on your thinking by . . .,”; “I have a different perspective that I’d like you to think about: _______.”; “I would like to understand how you reached this conclusion, so I’ll pose a question to examine your thinking.”
  1. Refrain from evaluative feedback.
  • Withhold praise, even when a student makes an “out-of-ballpark” comment. Praise to one student can shut down the thinking of others. Offer positive feedback to student after discussion ends.
  • Pose questions to scaffold student thinking instead of offering corrective feedback.
  • Invite students to consult the text or another source when a comment is based on erroneous information.
  1. Exhibit dispositions that support open and productive discussions.
  • Assume a stance of curiosity and interest.
  • Use nonverbal cues (e.g., eye contact, nodding) to demonstrate active listening.
  • Convey open mindedness by making such statements as, “I’d never thought of the issue from your point of view. Please share with us what makes you say that.”
  • Consult text to verify a statement of find evidence, and share it with students.
  • Demonstrate flexibility in your thinking: “I am going to try out a new way of thinking about this, so please be patient with me as I think aloud and work through this new way of thinking.”

If you are interested in learning more or would like to institute this practice into your classroom, please fill out a coaching request, and we would love to work with you on this journey of improving classroom discussion. 

Works Cited

Walsh, Jackie A., and Beth D. Sattes. Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practice to Engage Every Learner. Corwin, 2017.

Walsh, Jackie A., Improving Classroom Discussion. ASCD 2017

Preventing Winter from Wreaking Havoc in the Classroom

Tis the season….Thoughts of a blustery winter season full of snow and cold may be at the top of everyone’s holiday wishes; just not at the top of those working in education. The winter season brings focus to a couple of matters teachers experience every year. Educators grumble at the thought of their students cooped up inside a warm, cozy classroom all day long. When the temperatures bottom out and children are kept in from the brutal elements, they tend to lose focus and their learning drops like the temperatures outside. If lost learning isn’t enough, when students finally get the opportunity to get outside for some much anticipated exercise, time spent transitioning can limit the necessary instruction time.

Brain Breaks: One of the biggest problems that comes up during the winter chill is dealing with the arctic freeze. Once temperatures hit the low point and students are inside for recess, it is important to get them up and moving. Children, and many adults, need activity to maintain focus. Having PE available is essential, but it is certainly not enough time. On days without PE, students can be sitting for up to 3 hours with little or no breaks.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapists, states “In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.”  Movement actually does “turn on” the brain. As detailed below, a 20 minute walk can make a huge difference. 

As teachers, we need to be able to sense when a movement break is needed. As students get ‘squirrely’ it is easy to react as though it is a behavioral issue, when in reality it isn’t. Hanscom notes that “Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to ‘turn their brain on’. What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to ‘sleep’.”

Brain Breaks are necessary for students to perform at the best of their ability. These short, energy bursts of activity can boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help children retain information. These “breaks” can be as simple as 5 minutes to stand up, stretch, and even run in place. Or, since we our personalizing our students learning, why not embed it in our lessons. Students know when they need a break. Allowing them to make their own decision on when they need that boost could be the charge they need for the day.

While visiting classrooms it is evident that teachers are beginning to utilize these “breaks” in their daily routine. Most recently, I stumbled upon a classroom studying arctic animals. Students were following a learning path and a part of their “choice” was a movement break. The choices given at various stations were to “pose like their animal”, “move around like their creature”, or “create movement of an animal of their choice”. This mini-break was viewed as a part of student learning and enabled students to regain their focus and successfully complete their task.

There are so many different ways that teachers can incorporate Brain Breaks into their teaching and it allows them to get the most out of our students. Having them sit for so long, especially when indoor recess occurs frequently, is not giving them the opportunity to perform as well as they can. The winter season is upon us- plan ahead and be creative in getting your students up and moving!

Transition Time: Out of nowhere, November hit us with a snowstorm that dropped almost a foot of snow. The storm left us with a snow day and an early “dress rehearsal” full of snow pants, jackets, boots, gloves, and so much more. It left many scrambling to put together a game plan on what to do with all the gear and how to control the chaos come recess time and the end of the day preparations. To many the clutter is already a difficult concept to deal with, but the real tragedy is the amount of instructional time that is lost while  trying to get students organized.

At the beginning of the school year teachers spend countless hours focusing on academic transitions, but why don’t teachers place that same emphasis on getting our students to transition into their winter clothing? It sounds silly, but if you break it down in time, it is startling to realize the loss of instruction due to struggles because we never set guidelines concerning winter clothing. Spending time to address these transitions can cut down on wasted time throughout the winter season.

Typically in an elementary building children tend to spend more than an ample amount of time getting ready to head outdoors. There are times, especially at the primary level, that students may be taking 5-10 minutes to prepare themselves for the winter elements. Whether this lengthy transition is due to the inability to put on winter clothes in a logical order or the fact that maybe students don’t remember where that missing glove went, it is important to get organized during these transitions. Five to ten extra minutes EACH time we take our students outside adds up to approximately 1 ½ hours of instruction weekly. It only gets worse when we go past these minutes. The secret to smooth transitions during this season is modeling and practice.  

  Here are some quick tips to smooth out those winter transitions:

  • Post an Order of Operation (you’d be surprised how many kids think boots and gloves are the first to go on)
  • MODEL the process of how to put winter clothes on
  • Find a convenient place for students to get dressed and ready
  • Have students store their items in a reusable shopping bag (Store hats and gloves/mittens inside the sleeve of student coats)
  • Designate a “Classroom Specialist” to help out others
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE (after about 2 days, students should get it)




Happy Holidays!!!!!

Get Your Whistle: Coaching Styles for Teachers in Personalized Learning

A few weeks ago I had the honor of presenting at The Convening for Personalized Learning up in Milwaukee, WI with  Kirstin Murphy and Elsa Glover.  When we were preparing for our presentation I was thinking alot about how the teacher becomes the coach in personalized learning.  I kicked off one of my portions of the presentation with this slide:

This reflection made me realize how relevant that it was that I shared with you my new find.  I am currently reading Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Educators Change by Jane Kise.  In personalized learning, we are not asking you to let the students do whatever they want.  We are asking you to coach them; to get them ready for the next step and those game time moments in life.  

As a district, we have started with the student profile to get our students to be more reflective learners and begin to talk about how they learn.  Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Educators Change can help in the way that we look at our students.  Kise writes, “There are no resistant teacher, but rather only teachers whose needs during change have not yet been met.” Change the word “teacher” with “student.”  Isn’t this what we believe? All students have the ability to grow and succeed. It is our job as teachers to set those expectations high and have the conviction that all of our students can reach them.  It is why “teacher estimates of achievement” ranks first on Hattie’s list of effect sizes.

The day in, day out of this expectation can look very different compared to the simplicity of stating the belief.  It is no easy task to reach every student and help them find his/her potential for growth. We have talked for years about learners and identifying if they are kinesthetic, auditory, visual, or tactile.  We were taught how to differentiate our lessons based on these modalities. What if we need to go further? I am sure that this is no shock to most of you :). Kise goes further.

I decided a good place to start is with coaching styles.  These four approaches defined by Kise may help you identify learners in your room and the way they may want to be guided for success. I am going to look at these from the lense of a teacher and student relationship.  Below each coaching style you will see a generic description of what that coach provides, the core requirements for that type of coaching, and some indicators students may display that would indicate they would respond best to this type of coaching.


1) The Useful Resource

Definition: A facilitator that has a large amount of resources and can readily hand the student something to move them forward on a goal.

Core Requirements: bag of tricks, multiple methods, ability to tailor methods for specific subjects and situations

Student Indicators: hands on learner, needs an example before they can move forward, needs structure to begin, concrete thinker, needs to see impact quickly, detail oriented


2) The Encouraging Sage

Definition: A facilitator that can give a lot of in the moment feedback.  

Core Requirements: time, enthusiasm, and the ability to evaluate and give in-the-moment suggestions and encouragement

Student Indicators: asks for continuous feedback during class, selects to sit at the teacher table and talk through ideas/assignments, small obstacles can quickly detour student, too many options overwhelm the student, loves the “I do” (teacher does) portion of a lesson (modeling)


3) The Collegial Mentor

Definition: A facilitator that can stand back and let the student run.  The student will need them as a sounding board throughout their growth.

Core Requirements: open-mindedness to alternate pathways, patience, and listening skills

Student Indicators: likes to “do it on their own” and then check later, can often get to the “right” place but takes a different route, may come up with multiple ideas before moving forward on anything, big picture thinker and will work out the details as they go


4) The Coach as Expert Continue reading

Personalized Learning, a Journey with Many Paths

We are immersed in Personalized Learning.  The honeycomb, learner profiles, proficiency based progress, pathways, standards based grading, learning targets, and I can statements.  For some educators this is invigorating, for others it is overwhelming. It is important to recognize that although we are all in a different place, we are taking steps to shift our practices so that they are student centered.  That in itself is a celebration.

After working with a variety of Kaneland teachers embarking on this personalized learning journey and networking with educators in other districts, I have witnessed and learned about a plethora of different approaches to personalization.  Without ranking or comparing where each journey starts and ends, one common strand stood out: student discourse,  student choice, and student voice.

Student Discourse

I readily admit, this is one area where I can continue to improve.  Simply, I enjoy the interaction with students immensely and I have to remember that their interactions with others can be just as impactful.  As teachers, we often take the time to paraphrase what has been said in our class discussions. A simple move of asking another student to restate an answer from a peer in their own words shifts the learning back to the student.  The following discourse moves are from a STEM resource, but can be used in any content area.


The following prompts are excellent for teachers to reflect on the discourse in their classrooms.  The Association for Middle Level Education has shared some excellent tips on how to be sure teachers are including critical thinking opportunities for students.

  • Is the emphasis on giving the right answers rather than processes and strategies?
  • Do the verbal interactions follow the teacher-dominated initiation-response-evaluation pattern?
  • Is discourse carried by the voices of a few where the others are reluctant to contribute?
  • Do you often provide opportunities for students to lead the discourse?
  • Do you model and insist wait-time be used as a key component of dialogue?
  • Do you send non-verbal signals to students based on your perception of their ability to give a quick or correct response?
  • Does your lack of comfort with content lead you to pose more close-ended questions?

Student Choice

Choice motivates students, there is no question.  As we move from choice menus to allowing students to propose how they will show their learning, the possibilities are endless.  By creating and implementing learning targets and having a clear understanding of what proficiency is, students have the opportunity not only to be more involved in constructing knowledge, but to attain life skills.


Just this past weekend, I had a long list of what I needed to accomplish.  Each day the tasks I completed were based on multiple factors related to what was happening around me, my energy level, and interest.  Is it possible for students to have choice in this manner as well? Absolutely. Time management is such an important life skill that can be practiced at a young age.  Author Nancy Sulla discusses this in detail in her book Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner Active Technology Infused Classroom. She gives suggestions for elementary students through high school students and breaks down how to get started.  Just this past month, she released a second edition of her book with a 

Student Voice

After interacting with students while visiting classrooms this past month, one thing is clear.  Students don’t hesitate to explain why having choice matters in their learning. Students appreciate the ability to work at their own pace, whether it is slower or faster than the norm.  More emphatically, students appreciate the ability to support and mentor one another rather than sit quietly.  They are eager to share their reflections on their learning and are developing their learner profile as they begin to advocate for themselves.  I witnessed kindergarteners asking to work alone at a table so they can concentrate and a fourth grader advocate for change in a learning situation where she didn’t feel that her needs were being met.  It is a celebration that our students are learning to advocate for themselves.

As we continue to give our students rich opportunities for discussion, choice throughout their day, and clear learning expectations, we are well on our way to personalized learning for our students.  We can’t use a GPS, Maps or Waze to get there; there is not an optimal route. Some of us find that frustrating!  What matters is that we are learning along the way, and adapting to what works best for our students. Enjoy the journey and don’t hesitate to reach out to an instructional coach to travel alongside you.