Monthly Archives: February 2009

Special Guest Blogger: Penny Plavala

Through my work with the Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), I’ve had the pleasure to meet extraordinary literacy coaches from across the country. One of those individuals is Penny Plavala, who serves as a School Improvement Specialist for the Multnomah Education Service District in Portland, Oregon. With eleven years of classroom teaching experience in English, speech and drama, Penny provides statewide professional development training in literacy instruction and assessment. She has agreed to be a guest blogger and share her experience from our recent Coaching Institute:

In January, I had the pleasure of attending CEL’s Promise of Coaching Institute, spending two rich days with literacy coach and author, Katherine Casey.  In company with literacy coaches from across the country, I followed Katherine on a journey to discover the art of purposeful coaching.

I came away with numerous valuable “take away” concepts from the institute that I have immediately applied to my coaching work. Here are just a few:

To build leadership capacity, have two or three other teachers in the classroom whenever you are coaching or modeling a lesson. Teachers can join you during their prep period and will greatly benefit from sharing information and expertise.

• To scaffold teacher learning, demonstrate lessons in one teacher’s classroom three days in a row, rather than one day a week over three weeks.  This model strategically builds teachers’ knowledge.

• Whenever you demonstrate a lesson, find ways to actively engage teachers who are observing. They should stay close beside you in order to script your teaching, and when appropriate, navigate the room and check in with students.

Another benefit of this conference was the time given to process key concepts: individually, with a partner, and with my table group.  The time to reflect allowed for deeper thinking and future planning. I came away with fresh ideas and strategies I can use right away, as well as clearly established coaching goals. CEL is offering an expanded, 4-day Coaching Institute this summer in Seattle, and I highly recommend that you attend!


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Writing Workshop: Where Instruction and Leadership Meet

met leaders pd 83.jpgIn recent months, I had the privilege of providing literacy staff development for educators from across the state of Wyoming. With vast, snow-blanketed prairie land as our backdrop, I guided teachers, coaches, and principals on an exciting expedition through the writing process as a means of studying elementary writing instruction. Outfitted with notebooks and pens, we embarked upon the same writing journey we ask of our students—we set out to collect and nurture our ideas, which over a period of days were developed into drafts, edited and revised, and finally, honed to become final pieces of work.

I must commend my Wyoming colleagues, as such an endeavor is far from easy. Good writing requires considerable thought, vulnerability and risk. As participants began to confront their own insecurities as adult writers, I invited them to consider both the task set before their students, as well as the writing instruction they received as children. We concluded that the majority of us were assigned the task of writing, but were rarely taught how to write.

I believe that great writers are made, not born. Grounded in the core belief that every student has the potential to achieve when provided high quality instruction, my colleagues and I examined the pedagogical and day-to-day practices that ensure it is our students’ strengths and needs that drive instruction.

Our journey, however, did not end there. We engaged in an equally important conversation: that every teacher is responsible for providing high quality instruction, and possesses the potential to do so when leaders at every level share a common vision and language. While this may sound idealistic, our dialogue about instructional leadership was grounded in practical ways in which writing instruction might be supported by teacher colleagues, coaches, principals, and central office administrators.

The week in Wyoming culminated in a “Writers’ Celebration,” where participants were invited to share their final or “published” piece of writing. Educators who had never considered themselves as writers read with passion, humor, even tears.  Although our journey together had come to an end, we left with renewed hope in our work and in ourselves as instructional leaders.  We left knowing how to intentionally support and nurture the capacity of each and every child we teach.  What could be more important?


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