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This website contains ideas that are "in process." Simply put, what you read here may be just some random thoughts, rather than validated and final procedures. Mind you, aren't most ideas "in process?" The bulk of what you'll read here are answers to questions I am emailed or asked during presentations, or summaries of excellent ideas others share with me.

Of course, you can add to this blog by leaving your own comments, too.

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Video and coaching

This year the coaches I work with in Kansas and Oregon are experimenting with video to support a variety of approaches to coaching.  In most cases, the coaches use Flip Cameras, iphone3Gs, or other micro cameras. These cameras are used to (a) record teachers as they try out new practices so that the video can be used for coaching conversations, (b) record model lessons that can be downloaded right onto a teacher's computer so they can review them when they wish, (c) record coaches, who then watch their coaching practices to see how they can improve.  

My friends and colleague are using video in other innovative ways.  Jean Clark in Maryland has coached teachers to record themselves teaching and then to edit the video using iMovie to create clips showing a good teaching practice and a teaching practice that could improve. The teachers then share the clips in PLCs and everyone constructively discusses what they see. Jean has found that teachers find it to be extremely powerful to edit their own video--the multiple reviews of the video, she says, are highly informative.

Lynn Fuller, an instructional technology coach, uses the iSight video camera on her Powerbook to record herself during facilitation sessions.  She just opens up her laptop, turns on the camera, and records away. Lynn says she finds reviewing the recording to be extremely educational, and she now records herself all of the time.

Watching yourself is a revelation, and it is not for the faint of heart.  Having watched myself way too much recently, during my workshops, I now know I need to diet and maybe tuck my shirt in a little better.   But watching yourself, aside for challenging your vanity, reveals information that you have no idea about until you see it. I now know that I could do a better job of providing advance organizers during, and I'm going to be working on that starting tomorrow. In fact I'm going to ask someone to tape me tomorrow, so I can see how I do. 


Next year's instructional coaching conference

Our plans for next year's coaching conference are already shaping up, and I'm excited to share some of the news.  Michael Fullan, my long-time mentor, has agreed to present on the topic of "What Coaches Need to Know About Change."  Steven Barkley, who was a real hit even though he could barely talk, has agreed to return, and, we hope he'll be in good health.  We also hope that Nancy Love will present on Data Coaching.  Right now we're gathering data on other presenters. I was so pleased with everyone who came to Lawrence this year, and I hope we can do as well next year.  So, I have two questions: (1) who would you like to see at next year's coaching conference, and (2) where would you like it to be.  We want to finalize our location very soon, but we would like to explore all options before we make that decision.  If you've got any ideas, please let me know.  Thanks, Jim


How do I improve as a presenter?

A good friend of mine, whom I consider a great presenter, recently emailed me the above question.  Reading her email, I was struck by the fact that perhaps the question itself is what separates the good from the great; great presenters never stop trying to find new ways to improve.

Indeed, I saw this up close and personal a few years back after Tom Guskey presented at our national CRL conference.  Tom gave an outstanding presentation; he was entertaining, highly engaging, moving, and he based his presentation on solid research. Tom had an important message to communicate, and he did it in a way that kept our attention from start to finish. When his time was up, he received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

I had the pleasure of driving Tom back to the airport after his talk, and I asked him how he became such a great presenter. I’ll never forget his response.  He said, “I’ve read every book on presenting I can find.  I’ve done everything possible that I can to learn and improve.”

From that day on, inspired by our conversation, I’ve also made it my goal to read as much as I can about presenting.  In this post, I’ll comment on a few of the best books I’ve read, and include some of the most useful ideas I’ve discovered over the years, either conducting research on Partnership Learning, my next book, or reflecting on my own presentations.  If you haven't done it already, you can download a copy of the Partnership Learning fieldbook free, here.

1. Be Passionate: Carmine Gallo, who interviewed many of the world’s greatest presenters, describes passion as one of the most important secrets of great presenters. Of course this makes sense. If you don’t believe in what you’re sharing, you can bet your audience won’t. 

So how do you make sure you’re passionate about your topic? In my case, when I talk about instruction or coaching, I remind myself of why I think the topic is so important. Improving instruction is a powerful way to do good in the world. Coaches have an impact not just on teachers but on every student those teachers ever teach.  Coaches help us to communicate better with each other, help bring diverse groups together.  I believe these ideas deeply, and on those days when I think present well I think it is at least because my passionate commitment to those topics comes through.

In any presenter there must be some powerful reason for talking. Dig deep, remind yourself of the reason, and then make sure your audience sees your passion for your subject.

2. Be Prepared: Bert Decker, Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, and Cliff Atkinson have all written great explanations about how to plan and organize presentations. I recommend any of their works on this topic.  Let me note a few ideas they all suggest.  (a) Use pen, paper, and post-its to map out your presentations ahead of time. Nancy Duarte suggests using sharpie markers to write on post-its because it forces us to write only a few words for each thought. (b) Bert Decker has this great idea of identifying trigger words, simple words that capture an entire concept, story, anecdote or idea. The goal of preparing is to get all of your good ideas, learning structures, stories and anecdotes out, and then organizing your information into a tightly put together presentation.

A second form of preparation, however, is to review books and notes about how to be an effective presenter. Taking an hour or so to skim through high-lighted sections of Carmine Gallo or Bert Decker’s books, prior to presenting, will remind you of the many communication strategies you want to use while presenting.

3. Make Sure You Are Presenting, Not the PowerPoint.  Duarte and Reynolds give great advice on how to create great slides that compliment your presentation. Cliff Atkinson clarifies that when our slides have too many words, the audience has to choose between reading the slides or listening to us.  Since you’re presenting, you likely want folks to listen to you, so you should put as few words on the slides as possible.

You should give the design of your slides a great deal of attention. I believe that in the next two or three years poor quality slides will be seen as a real presentation weakness. Audiences will no longer tolerate slides that are ugly or that have too many words or distracting images. Both Reynolds and Duarte have great books on this topic. You can follow Duarte’s blog here.  You can follow Reynolds' blog here.  Both authors are also on Twitter at Reynolds and Duarte.

Also, good presenters should use slides only as an aid, and focus on connecting with the audience.  Forget the notion that you have to talk about each slide and cover every planned idea. If you start to rush through your ideas, you’ll lose your audience. A better idea is to take the time you need to cover key information, and if you have to cut info, do it for the sake of keeping people engaged.

4. Use Simple Language.  I don’t mean you should speak simplistically. What I mean is you should find the simplest way to say exactly what you mean.  As Einstein famously said, “make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”  I've read two books about simplicity and both are worth reading. Bill Jensen’s Simplicity is one of my favorite books with many applications far beyond communication.  John Maeda, the former MIT professor who is now the new director of the Rhode Island School of Design, has also written a great book, The Laws of Simplicity, and he also has a blog I visit frequently.

Part of looking for simple language is finding the precise, correct phrasing, or wording that is memorable.  Steve Jobs is a master at this: when introducing the iphone at the MacWorld conference in 2007, he said, “today, Apple reinvents the phone,” and the iphone “puts the internet in your pocket.” Short, punchy phrases that capture the essence of your message are memorable and engaging. Good presenters are on the look out for just the right turn of phrase.

6. Recognize the Power of Non-verbals.  Be sure to turn toward your audience and make eye contact. Bert Decker suggests making no more than 5 seconds of eye contact, but being sure to sustain eye contact.  Everyone suggests stepping out from behind the podium or desk, making sure nothing stands between you and your audience. Everyone also suggests paying attention to your clothing—dressing down suggests either your don’t care enough to look your best, or you’re so confident that you can’t bother to dress up for the session—and neither message is one you want to send to your audience. You can link to Bert's blog here.


7. Speed Up/Cut back.  As Anita Archer has said, presenters are most effective if they maintain a “perky pace.”  If you’re speaking too slowly, you’ll lose your audience, so it is important to monitor the energy of your presentation style. To do that, you need to record your presentations and take a hard listen to your pace.

Also, even the most engaging presenters will struggle to maintain an audience’s attention if they don’t provide some process time for their audience. Build in activities that will keep your audience engaged. I find more than ten minutes of talk without some process time is too much.

7. Get Feedback. This is the hardest and yet probably most important method of improving.  Bert Decker talks about the power of watching yourself on video tape, and I can testify that video feedback is very useful.  But every presentation, whether or not you’re taping it, is a chance for feedback.

Every time you speak you should read your audience.  Are they engaged? Are people resting their heads on their hands?  Are people taking multiple bathroom breaks? Are people drinking a lot of water or pop? Are there side conversations?

Facing the brutal facts during a presentation can be tough on self-esteem and some situations are beyond our control, but the best way to improve is simply to monitor what works and what doesn’t work.

These are only a few ideas, and, probably not the most important, but I did want to point out the several excellent books I mention here. If you’re looking for one book on how to present, you can’t go wrong with Bert Decker (and you can follow him on twitter ).  If you’d like a book about creating slides (an essential skill), both Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynold’s books, mentioned above, are outstanding. 



Are workshops a waste of time?

My colleague Jake Cornett and I recently wrote a chapter included in Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives, which summarized more than 200 publications discussing research on coaching.  The one most obvious finding buried in all of those articles was that workshops without follow-up do not lead to implementation.  The research we reviewed suggested that the best implementation rate you can hope for after a workshop is about 15%. In one study that I conducted, I found that the after-effects of a workshop can be negative if teachers leave sessions frustrated or disappointed. (If you'd like to read the study feel free to email me at, and I'll be happy to send you a summary)

My recent experiences at the NSDC conference further eroded my faith in workshops.  Again and again I heard educational leaders say that stand alone workshops are simply not good professional development.  So what does this all mean? Should we stop leading and offering workshops?

This summer, when Michael Fullan was a presenter at our CRL Summer conference,  I asked him this question.  I was quite interested in his answer, especially since I am in the midst of writing a book about how to lead workshops.  Michael said that workshops are still important because "they are a mechanism for introducing new ideas into a system."  But, Michael explained, they have to be part of a broader systemic approach to school reform, one that might involve other approaches to professional learning such as instructional coaching, Professlonal Learning Communities, Japanese Lesson Study, focus, continuity,and principal leadership.

Given these concerns about stand alone workshops, I've started asking several questions when I am invited to work with a district to provide support for their development of a coaching program.  If I just lead workshops about coaching (kind of an ironic thing to do, actually), my fear is that I may actually be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. However, my hope is that if I advocate for high quality PD, my colleagues and I can make a real difference.  

My questions are listed below. Let me know if you think we need to add or subtract any from the list or if you have any additional thoughts about whether or not workshops still matter:

1.     How many schools are being served by this project?

2.     How many coaches do you/will you have in place?

3.     What are your students’ major needs?

4.     What are your teachers’ major needs?

5.     On which teaching practices and other interventions do your current professional development efforts focus?

6.     Which teacher or student needs are/are not addressed by your current professional development?

7.     Do your teacher evaluation methods and walk-throughs target your professional development focus?

8.     Do you have too many, the right amount, or not enough teaching practices being implemented in your district?

9.     What do your coaches know about coaching?

10. What do they need to know about coaching?

11. Do they deeply understand the teaching practices they share?

12. Do they need to learn more about the teaching practices they share?

13. Do they need ongoing coaching to develop their skills, or will workshops be sufficient?

14. What do the principals know about the teaching practices, the methods of evaluation, the coaching practices?

15. What do they need to know?

16. Is there some one to coach the coaches?

17. If yes, what support does that coach of the coaches need?

18. What do we need to do to ensure that coaches, administrators, teachers, and students learn what they need to learn to make this project a success?

19. What other issues need to be addressed to create an effective professional development plan for your coaches, administrators, teachers, and students?




Instructional Coaching Conference 2009

The details for next year's Instructional Coaching Conference are coming together.  The conference will be hosted at the Eldridge Hotel and Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas on October 12, 13, and 14. So I thought I'd share some information here.  First off, I'm thrilled to share (in no particular order) that Stephen Barkley author of Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching , Gary Bloom  author of Blended Coaching and Powerful Partnerships, MC Moran author of Differentiated Literacy Coaching ,and Mary Vreeman and Cheryl Jones authors of Instructional Coaches and Classroom Teachers  have all agreed to present at next year's conference. Additionally, we plan to include a track of presentations called Coaches Sharing with Coaches, where the Pathways to Success coaches will share their experiences using the the Big Four Comprehensive Model for Improving Instruction (my next book after Partnership Learning).  Beta versions of all the tools will be given away at the conference; many are already up, and more will be posted as they are created.  The formative assessment tool manual is going up next week.  If you check back soon, you'll be able to download it.

Other topics to be covered include Culturally Responsive Instructional Coaching, Research on Instructional Coaching (if you are interested in presenting your research please let me know), Twitterpalooza (where Twitter folks from around the country share ideas and talk about expanding our network of coaches through Twitter ) as well as a series of Pecha Kucha presentations given by coaches. Pecha Kucha presentations are ones that where the presenter is allowed to use 20 images each shown for 20 seconds. You can learn more about Pecha Kucha here, or see a Daniel Pink Pecha Kucha here.  If you'd like to give one of these presentations, please contact me, as the Kansas Coaching Project will waive the conference fees for all presenters.   

There will be more news soon, but I am very excited about this information and wanted to get the word out. I should add that each year our conference sells out by August, and we will get the application up online by next Friday.