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One-on-one Feedback Conversations

One-on-one Feedback Conversations

The most valuable feedback I have received has always come from one-on-one conversations. Plus these build stronger relationships and connections as I model vulnerability. I started these as a routine when I first began working as a Literacy Coach. I talked through my thinking with my principal and highlighted my desire to model and build trusting relationships where we could give and receive critical feedback. She suggested I collate the feedback, connect my goals to that feedback, and share these with the team at the start of the next school year. Her point was that this would demonstrate to the team that I valued and used their honest feedback to revise my coaching practice.

Two months before the end of the school year, I sent calendar invitations to all the teachers I had coached to join me in a reflective feedback conversation. Here is a sample note:





I can’t believe we are approaching the end of the academic year already. I value your perspective and would like to reflect on our work together this year. Specifically, in my role as Literacy Coach, I would love to hear any insights you may have on my strengths, areas for growth, or ways I could revise my coaching with you. I trust your honest feedback as I work to grow. Please let me know if there is a better time for us to meet.


During the conversation, I used those same prompts to guide our conversation: insights on my strengths, areas for growth, and ways I could revise my coaching practice. After the first year, I started simply using the more simple prompts: Stop, Start, Keep. One piece of feedback I received the first year was that this conversation felt late and the teacher asked that we instead reflect at the mid-year point. From then on, we had these conversations mid-year and I was able to apply the feedback during the second part of the year. 


Once I gathered all the feedback, I sent out a team message sharing my takeaways and how I would be revising my coaching practice. Here is a sample:


At the end of the last term, you generously helped me reflect on my work as a coach, and from those conversations I have set some goals for myself Some of those goals are about being deliberate to keep doing the things you’ve found helpful and supportive. These include differentiating our coaching work based on your goals, giving you time to practice new skills and strategies, planning together, asking probing questions, classroom visits and coaching work with students, and a shared openness and vulnerability in our learning together. While the other goals are to change something in my practice such as being more clear and marking deadlines in our work together, regularly sharing coaching work in team meetings, providing condensed reading to support the work we are doing in a coaching cycle, making more use of video recording to support our work together, facilitating more teachers visiting each others’ classrooms, making connections from individual goals to our work together, and looking for new ways to collaborate during planning with other departments.


Thank you so much for helping me to better understand how I can support you. My biggest takeaway is the importance of differentiated coaching. The above goals come from my notes of all our conversations and I will attempt to tailor my applications to your individual needs and feedback. I will keep working hard to build trusting relationships and hope that you will continue to let me know how we can best learn together. 


By sharing my goals from their feedback, I found that teachers appeared more comfortable sharing critical feedback. It certainly helped build trusting relationships. Once I started working with teachers outside of the Middle School English department, I had to be strategic about the number of these one-on-one feedback conversations I was having as I balanced my time. First, I prioritized new coaching relationships. Second, I reached out to teachers who were doing new types of coaching work with me. Finally, I offered an open invitation to anyone else that would like to share their feedback with me. There were always a few teachers who took me up on this. 


When I shifted roles to K-12 Head of Digital Learning and then Middle School Vice Principal, I brought this same feedback structure to my new collaborative relationships. Again, I have seen that over time, with a few conversations under our belts, people share more feedback. My hunch is that my principal from years back was absolutely right. People see that I value their honest feedback and trust me with more specific feedback over time. 


I am preparing for my first move in eleven years and starting to sort through my classroom, office, and home looking for those treasures worth bringing across the Pacific to my new home. As I flip through my stacks of notebooks, it’s been so encouraging to see my scribbles from these one-on-one conversations. Insights on my strengths and critical feedback points have been building blocks to my continued growth as a coach and leader. 

What structures do you use for one-on-one feedback conversations? What prompts help you gather open and honest feedback?




Writing in Middle School Art – Part 2

Writing in Middle School Art – Part 2

This year, the MS Art teachers have been investigating how they can better support their students as writers about art. We worked together in the first part of the year by looking at how students learn how to write other text types in English classes with the workshop model, the writing process, and the use of mentor texts. At the end of April, they invited me back to share some work they had tried and to think through some questions.

My messy, coded notes


As a coach, I find these kinds of conversations fascinating but also challenging as I work to balance consulting and coaching. My school has done a lot of work with Cognitive Coaching and we have a culture of using those tools to help each other reflect and plan. But as a MS Literacy Coach, I have expertise that they are seeking to tap into as they work with their students. I have found using a notebook to jot notes and code those notes as I listen helps me sort the elements of our conversation that I should support with consulting or doing some background work for them and the elements I should support with Cognitive Coaching to allow them to find their own next steps. It can be easy to slip into all consulting, but my notes become a nudge to pause my busy mind as it pulls up ideas and solutions. I can then ask a probing question and move the conversation toward coaching. 

As they shared the work they had done to write their own pieces as a mentor text for the students, I was thrilled to see they were thinking about differentiating this work for their more fluent writers and art thinkers by providing some high school student samples. I was then able to paraphrase and ask probing questions to help them identify additional strategies to support those students who might find this work challenging. Some of their ideas included creating additional teacher models with simpler text, marking up mentor texts with highlighters and labels for students to refer to when they are writing, planning for small group instruction, and creating charts to hang in the room with steps and key terminology.

That is a lot of new thinking! I ended our meeting by summarizing the key points, naming my next steps and the new ideas that they wanted to consider. I look forward to seeing how these creative and thoughtful teachers take the strategies we use in English and revamp them for their art students.

The Literacy Exchange: One Model for Collaborative Professional Learning

The Literacy Exchange: One Model for Collaborative Professional Learning

Our Middle School English department recently joined two other international Middle School English departments for our 3rd annual Literacy Exchange. Our mission: To facilitate sustainable, meaningful, and affordable professional development designed for teachers by teachers.

It all started over four years ago when our three department heads met each other in NYC at one of the amazing Reading and Writing Summer Institutes put on by Columbia Teacher’s College. They began meeting online a few times each year to share and collaborate. Eventually, the idea to bring our departments together for a two-day-home-grown learning experience was born.

Because we were designing the learning for our teams, we were able to create relevant learning experiences for our teachers based on their strengths and areas for growth – much like we do for our students. The first year we had a strong focus on conferring with readers. We had a day of study and then a day of practice mixed in with reflection and sharing tools. The second year we focused on nonfiction reading with the framework of text sets. Once again, we had a day of study and then a day of practice in classrooms and study. As we prepared for this year’s Literacy Exchange, we all felt our teachers were ready to be pushed into more hands-on practice.

Modeling a Mini-lesson

So this year, we had a “Lab-site-palooza.” Day one we had three lab sites: one to model a read aloud and small groups, one to model a mini lesson and small groups, and then finally one for teachers to practice either the read aloud or the mini lesson and small groups. The next day, teachers had two more lab sites to practice.

We wanted to make sure that each teacher was able to practice the skills that built on their strengths but also pushed them to their next steps in revising and refining their practice. One of our team members, Scott Riley, drafted a self-assessment learning progression for teachers to use to reflect on their skills and practice as literacy teachers. As a team, we revised the document so it better matched the work in each of our schools. Teachers used this to reflect and then set a goal for the two days of the Literacy Exchange. They found a goal partner from their own school to share and coach each other into how they would work towards this goal.

Then, throughout the Literacy Exchange, teachers used their goal to frame their observations and their practice. Before each practice lab site, they named their goal to their team and asked them to watch for specific skills or behaviors to give feedback on afterward. We framed our feedback conversations on the structure of a research-decide-compliment-teach conference.

We wrapped up our time together with some independent, reflective writing and then brief celebration with a popcorn share. Each teacher shared out with the group a specific compliment for their lab site partner. It was so fun to see teachers’ smiles as their partner named their intentional work toward their goal and how they had grown in their practice.

The team is now looking to next year and coordinating school calendars to choose dates. But we are also wondering how this model could be transferred to other departments and other schools. Our conversations are focused on asking, “What are the elements that make an exchange like this work?” We are still thinking about this, but here are some of our initial ideas:

  • Having most or all of a teaching team participate builds momentum and increased application into daily practice. What would this look like in Elementary/Primary school?
  • Having a common starting point in our learning across schools allows the learning to be relevant to all participants.
  • Having common pedagogy rather than common curriculum allows the learning to be practical and hands on. What would this look like for Math or Science?
  • Having coaches who can facilitate the exchange creates a clear, focused learning experience.

While these common elements seem to be important for an exchange, we have also recognized that the diverse voices and experiences each school brings are equally important.

What would an exchange look like for your team? Who might you connect with to investigate potential shared starting points?