Saturday / April 13

Reflections From Teaching Learning Coaching 2015

This post was originally published on Pauline Zdonek’s blog.

I was afforded the amazing opportunity to attend the 2015 Teaching Learning Coaching Conference in Denver these past few days. To say I enjoyed the conference is an understatement. As I sit here in the Denver airport (flight delayed, of course), I am reflecting upon all the amazing speakers I saw and information I took in. I wanted to write this blog for two reasons: 1) to encourage others who might be thinking of attending this conference in the future to do so, and 2) to synthesize the mass amount of information I put in my brain. There was A LOT more information than what I have written about.  I’m just choosing to put down some of the major ideas that resonated with me.

 Jim Knight on Better Conversations

First off, the conference was worth it alone just to hear Jim Knight speak. He’s such an engaging presenter, he could present the dictionary and I would sign up.  Knight presented on the basis of his new book, Better Conversations. After watching him present I was half tempted to buy the book and make my husband read it with me for marriage book club. Knight laid out six beliefs and ten habits for having better conversations. The one thing I really connected with is the idea that others are equal in conversations. Too often “conversations” are about getting our message across and getting people to buy-in to what we want them to do. Instead, conversations are aimed at building a message together, and there is autonomy for each member. I’d really like to read more in his book about controlling toxic emotions and redirecting toxic conversations.

I followed this up with a smaller workshop with him (the original speaker fell ill and he was the stand-in – what a great stand-in!), which went into more depth on the habits of better conversations. Some takeaways:

EmpathyJim Knight

  • Empathetic responses never begin with “At least”. (This is SO true.  Last year I broke my wrist when I was 7 months pregnant. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. And you know what people told me? “At least you didn’t break your foot.” I wish I responded, “At least I’m not punching you in the face right now.”)
  • Our knee jerk reaction when people tell us something difficult is to respond in a way we think will make them feel better. “Rarely can a response make something better. Only a connection makes it better.”


  • When the phone comes out, the conversation is over.
  • Advice is a bad idea – it’s really to end the conversation.

Redirect Toxic Conversations

Develop a strategy for to stop toxic conversations, and use that strategy (reflective turns).

Rick Stiggins on Assessment

My major take away here was: The true measure of an assessment is the impact of the score on the learner. Do they use that information to improve, or does it demoralize them?

Stiggins argued for beginning a movement to blow up the whole assessment system as it was.  Some great questions to ask in designing and using assessments:

  • For teachers: Why are we assessing? What are we assessing? How are we assessing?
  • For students: Where am I going? Where am I now? How do I close the gap?

Randy Sprick on Behavior

This was one of my favorite speeches of the event. I can’t even begin to list out everything I wrote down from his speech, but here are some of my favorite lines/ideas:

  • Not continuing to monitor behavior because it’s no longer an issue is like not vacuuming because the rug is clean. You’re going to have to do it over and over.
  • Students who have chronic absenteeism in 8th and 9th grade are 7.7 times more likely of dropping out of high school.
  • By day three, call every kid by name.
  • Teachers can hit any achievement target their can see and will sit still for them (accredited to Stiggins).
  • As a teacher, before you make a joke about a student, consider whether you’d want your principal saying that about you.
  • For teachers who don’t think they should have to teach behaviors to older students, think about how many teachers that student has had, and how different all of their expectations might have been.
  • Develop a common language for enforcing good behavior. (i.e. “Please honor school name’s policy of…”)

Ann Hoffman on the Coaching CycleAnn Hoffman

Hoffman laid out Jim Knight’s High-Impact Coaching Cycle.  I was familiar with the cycle from reading his book and getting some training through my school district, but Hoffman’s presentation was clear and helped me refocus my energies on where I can be really productive.  Some takeaways from her that resonated with me:

  • Unless people care about the goal, they are unlikely to work on it.
  • We (coaches) want to be a choice, not a mandate.
  • If you don’t have a goal (with a teacher), you’re having nice conversations, but you’re not moving students.
  • While you can’t lead a horse to water, you can salt the oats.  🙂

Pedro NogueraPedro Noguera on Equity

You cannot come away from listening to Noguera without feeling completely pumped up about wanting to help students from poverty areas succeed.  That’s why I got into education in the first place, and Noguera simultaneously inspired and excited me.  Some of my favorite ideas from him:

  • If you wanted to lose weight, would you just buy the best scale, and weigh yourself as often as possible?  Or would you focus on diet and exercise?  So why do we focus so much on assessment in teaching, and not on instruction????
  • What we do as a society outside of school, affects what happens in school.
  • Think about how kids learn to play a video game (highly engaging) – through trial and error, making mistakes, and only advancing with mastery.  Why don’t we teach students in this manner?
  • Homework is an equity issue!
  • Constraints on teachers are real, but there are opportunities of freedom.
  • The more you know about the students you teach, the more you’ll know how to teach them.
  • The real learning is not in the first submission, it’s in the revision.  The real teaching is not in the grading, it’s in the feedback.
  • We have a tendency to blame students and/or parents rather than accept responsibility for raising achievement.
  • Expectations – It’s not just about telling students to jump higher, it’s about showing them how to get there.
  • The best teachers teach the way students learn, rather than expecting students to learn the way they teach.

If you went to Teaching Learning Coaching 2015, anything you want to add? (There was so much!)

Written by

Pauline Zdonek (@PaulineZd) is a certified elementary, middle grades, and special education teacher. She is currently a math coach in the western suburbs of Chicago. She’s taught in the city and suburbs, students of all different backgrounds, grades 2 – 8. Read her blog at

No comments

leave a comment