The Three Tenets of Difficult Conversations

Oh the dreaded difficult conversation! The thought of engaging in one makes even the most vocal of coaches cringe. The conversation could be needed because a teacher is not implementing a strategy with fidelity, or lacks enthusiasm and energy for the profession. Perhaps a teacher is not pulling his or her weight at work. Even heavier are situations where students are not being treated fairly, or a teacher’s behavior becomes borderline unethical. It’s easy for coaches to overthink the “what-ifs?” of the difficult conversation. What if the teacher loses trust in me? What if someone reacts angrily towards me? What if this person quits? However, the biggest “what if” with which to contend is this: what if I stand idly by and do nothing while students don’t get what they need?

While we do not necessarily like them, difficult conversations have to happen if we are truly working in the best interests of the students. Change rarely happens without a catalyst, and these conversations can be the igniting factor. The teacher on the other end of the conversation may be unaware of his or her actions until they are brought to light by a trusted colleague. Remaining true to the following three tenets of difficult conversations may elicit a non-threatening and productive experience for both the coach and the teacher.

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Claims, Evidence, Reasoning: Integrating Art & Science


Antoinette Pippin teaches fifth grade at the Dr. Theodore T. Alexander Jr. Science Center School in Los Angeles. Antoinette’s school is the result of a collaboration between the California Science Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Antoinette’s students have the opportunity to dig deep into science, but when we take a look into her classroom, we get to see how using the arts allows students to express and strengthen their science learning in new ways.

In this lesson, Antoinette’s students compare and analyze paintings by evaluating their scientific and artistic qualities. Students begin by discussing paintings as a whole class. After the discussion, they work in small groups to analyze more paintings. Students apply their knowledge of science and art as they fill in T-charts of the scientific and artistic qualities they notice in the paintings. Though they work together to fill out the charts, students are given different color markers. What a great way to monitor their participation!

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Observation Challenge: Scaffolding for Student Success

Scaffolding_Observation Challenge

By looking closely at video together, we can all learn and improve our practices. In this Observation Challenge, we’re focusing on scaffolding as a strategy for moving students toward understanding a complex concept.GetStartedButton

We hope this exercise helps you to hone your observation skills, and helps you translate and adapt what you’re learning on Teaching Channel to your own teaching practice.

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Opening Classroom Doors With 1,000 Videos on Teaching Channel


Over the past four years, Teaching Channel has crisscrossed the United States to film in classrooms. We’ve made it a point to capture great teaching, emerging teaching, tough moments, triumphs, and illustrations of kids caught in the act of learning.

At our recent TeamsFest, an event where districts and professional learning organizations who license our Teaching Channel Teams platform come together to learn, collaborate, and share ideas, we overheard one anecdote that captures the essence of why we built our video library: “I have taught for 17 years. In that time, I have seen ten other teachers teach. Since having Teaching Channel in our district, I have seen 100 teachers teach during the first four months of the year. Unbelievable!” Every day, through video comments, Q&A posts, and emails we hear statements like this, and it drives our work.

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Sustaining Strong Classroom Culture Throughout the Year

For too many years, I used to think my classes would either have good chemistry, or they wouldn’t. Sometimes there was a group of students who just clicked, but more often than not, students don’t know each other when we begin together. And even though my department offers our students many courses to choose from, they are always filling a requirement when they come to one of my English classes. Some bring their natural enthusiasm, others their implicit skepticism, and at least a few always have to be won over. Finally, I decided to get honest with myself, to take a step back and look at why some classes just “had it” and others didn’t. That honest look taught me some careful lessons about class chemistry.

First of all, it wasn’t about chemistry at all; rather it was about culture. And when I realized that difference, I realized why some classes clicked and others didn’t: I was counting on it to just happen, rather than setting out to create it. Over time I learned that culture is something learned, that we have to work at it, that I have to speak it in order to live it. This week we’re highlighting a series of videos that take a look at the lessons I learned.

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Help All Readers Access Complex Texts

You’ll notice that text complexity is an important part of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). (You can read more about this in this my previous post.) The “staircase of text complexity” will give students more opportunities to learn from complex texts, and the hope is that by setting a benchmark for students to read grade level complex texts “independently and proficiently” by high school graduation, students will be ready to read college and career level texts.

However, I know from my own time in the classroom that many students struggle with grade level complex texts. Teachers ask me every day about how to help such readers. “I give them complex texts like the standards say, and they can’t do it!” is a common refrain. I always begin by asking them about their approach to planning, because thoughtful planning holds the key to student success with complex texts.

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#TchLIVE: All The Way To The Finish Line! Maintaining Strong Classroom Culture

Building classroom culture is something we tend to think a lot about at the beginning of the year, but it’s just as important to maintain and nurture it throughout the year. For this month’s chat, we want to talk about how you set up your classroom culture, how you maintain the things that are working, and how you change the things that don’t.

This #TchLIVE chat will be on Thursday, March 26th at 4pm PDT.

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Compassionate Coaching: Support and Encouragement Go a Long Way

Teaching is an intellectual, cognitively challenging job. It’s an emotional one, too. The myriad emotions that come with being a teacher is a real part of the profession. According to this article by the New Teacher Center, first year teachers have an even more intensified emotional experience and this chart from the article outlines the roller coaster of emotions that come up during a teacher’s first year like this:


Image from New Teacher Center

When I first saw the chart, I found it enlightening and used it as a tool to help me understand where my teachers were coming from. And I recognized that even with years of experience under my belt, I sometimes experienced the same rollercoaster of feelings. I’ve come to discover that offering emotional support is as important as offering instructional support.

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Exploring the Puzzles of Teaching

Teaching is a set of puzzles. An obvious one, for example, is the hook puzzle: How do you get students to want to learn the stuff you’re teaching? A less obvious puzzle is what I call the deal puzzle. Dan Hudder and I just published an article about this one (see the October 2014 Kappan issue on classroom management). It’s about showing kids that you’re sure you can deliver something of value in exchange for good behavior. Both of these puzzles require that teachers draw on individual resources – their own knowledge of “the stuff” for the first puzzle, and their capacity to project confidence for the second.

But there is another even less obvious puzzle – one that I think requires some collegial resources to manage. I call it the black box puzzle. This is a puzzle about what kids know. This is less obvious because so many people believe there is no puzzle when it comes to knowing what kids know. What they know shows up on the tests they take, doesn’t it? Or in the homework they did or didn’t do last night. And isn’t it codified in their grades and their standardized test scores? Most parents, for example, think there’s no puzzle. And virtually all policy makers agree. Sadly, many kids come to think that their intellects are defined by performance metrics: “I’m a level 4, but he’s a level 2.”

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The Next Generation Science Standards: Standards with a Purpose

Few things are more inspiring than watching a student ask “why?” — except, perhaps, seeing that student use their skills and knowledge to confidently and effectively seek an answer to their own questions to make sense of the world around them. Scientific literacy provides students with the tools to explain and evaluate the things they see, touch, and hear every day. A strong, coherent science education from grades K-12 where student engagement drives learning can help unlock their curiosity and foster science reasoning and problem solving skills, along with a life-long love of learning.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are standards with a purpose. The NGSS shift expectations of students from memorization to understanding, and from recitation to application, providing teachers and students with the tools to transform science education into something that students can use to make sense of the world throughout their lives. The standards require shifts in both student learning and classroom instruction. Such shifts will help create opportunities for all students to meet the expectations set forth by the NGSS.

This suite of videos functions as a primer to the NGSS — a first step toward preparing for the instructional shifts to come. The videos provide an overview of the vision for the NGSS, as well as in-depth descriptions of each of the standards’ three dimensions. For the purpose of introducing the innovations in the standards, each of the three dimensions are described separately here, but in the NGSS, the integration of all three dimensions is fundamental to enabling students to shift from passive observers to active participants in science.

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