How Instructional Coaches Can Help Teachers Focus: A Review of Stuart’s These 6 Things

Professional Development

I read a lot of PD books and blogs and Dave Stuart Jr’s blog has been on my feed for several years now. One of the main reasons: we have similar philosophies about teaching, but he has found a way to focus in spite of all the noise of education (and he explains things so eloquently!). We also like many of the same “names” in education: Mike SchmokerErik Palmer, and Kelly Gallagher are among both of our favorites. So when he asked if I’d read These 6 Things, there was absolutely no hesitation. I was psyched!


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Because I will be serving a new role this year, I read the book differently than I’ve read other PD books. This year I will be a full-time instructional coach. This is a new(ish) position as I was a part-time coach last year and the first at our school. So as I’ve read blogs and books this summer, I’ve been reading them all through a new lens, that of a coach rather than an English teacher. Now that I’ve finished These 6 Things (T6T), I want to share some of my takeaways from a coaching perspective. I believe the ideas Dave presents in this book can help me help our teachers find focus in their teaching.

Let me begin by sharing a “big picture” of what my role will look like this year:

    • Support PLCs and facilitate as necessary

 

    • Work one-on-one with brand new teachers

 

    • Help with PD in an informal way 

 

    • Support all teachers as needed and with their improvement plans

 

  • Serve as part of the instructional rounds team

As I read, I divided the ideas I collected into three categories: PD, PLCs and New Teachers. Rather than “review” the book in a traditional sense, I will first list the pros and cons, and then I will share how I plan to use ideas from the book in each of the categories listed above.

Pros

    • Well-researched– Dave has done his homework. He has been researching and testing the ideas presented in this book for a couple years. Not only that, he has shared them with other teachers who have also tested them!

 

    • Real— I don’t think people would read this book and think “oh that’s great, but it would never work in my classroom.” It’s too real. Dave points out the challenges, the lessons he’s learned, as well as common student and teacher hang-ups and how to address them. There is nothing unrealistic about this book.

 

    • Big picture— I’m a “big idea” person, so I oftentimes gravitate towards books that have great, big ideas. But then as I’m reading them, I think “okay, but how?”. What I love about These 6 Things, is it covers both. I love the big ideas but what’s even better, is the practical how-tos.

 

  • Practical– You can walk away from this book with ideas, strategies, and activities to do in your class right now. Who doesn’t love that??  He also breaks down how to increase quantity AND improve quality as two separate strategies, which I find extremely helpful and doable.  

Cons

  • The chapters are kind of long–That’s it. That’s my one con. When I read, especially a PD book, I “assign” myself one chapter at a time so I can digest what I read. I had to break this up into smaller chunks because it’s a lot to digest–thankfully, it was totally worth it!!!

focus these 6 things

An Overview

A word on the organization of the book. Dave has divided the book into eight chapters. Besides the introduction and conclusion chapters, each chapter relates to one of the 6 Things from the title: Long Term Flourishing, Knowledge, Argument, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. I love this about the book because it made sense to me as I could see how each of these are related and how each is vital.

Long-Term Flourishing–

I often quote A.J. Juliani and John Spencer’s book Empower, in which they write “Our job as teachers is not to prepare students for ‘something’; our job is to help students to prepare themselves for anything.” I believe in this so much, I even put it in my back-to-school welcome email to parents. Dave strongly believes in this idea, which is another reason I’ve been a loyal reader of his blog for several years. In this section of the book he addresses core believes that students need to have in order to flourish: Credibility, Belonging, Effort, Efficacy, and Value. For each one, he explains how to develop these beliefs in students throughout the year. And he refers back to them throughout the book.

Knowledge–

There has been a big push recently to forget about knowledge–that’s why we have Google, right??–and focus on skills.  And, to some extent, it is understandable why people have taken this view, but they’re missing the big point. Dave does an awesome job of explaining the continued importance of knowledge. He says knowledge “is integral to high levels of thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and listening. […] The flourishing life is a knowledgeable one.”  He goes on to explain the significance of knowledge in all the content areas, especially when it comes to reading.

Argument–

Again, Dave and I have been on the same page about this for a while. We both love Erik Palmer’s book Good Thinking, and in this chapter, he explains how to include argument in every subject. I LOVE IT.

Reading, Writing & Speaking–

These all have their own chapters, but I’m lumping them together for the sake of word count in this post. In each of these chapters, he lays out a convincing case (I mean, I’m already convinced as a former English teacher, but I think I could convince some other teachers with this stuff) for a focus on these three things. He also explains how each one can be addressed in different content areas, how to increase quantity and improve quality.

 

How I plan to use These 6 Things to help teachers focus on what matters

Now let’s get to what I really want to talk about–all the cool ideas and how I plan (hope) to use as an instructional coach in the areas of PLCs, PD, and New Teacher support. You’ll have to buy the book to get the details though because I just touch on my ideas here (did you read above where I said I’m a big ideas person, yeah, that’s how I write too. <insert shrugging emoji here>)

PLCs

My goal with PLCs this year is to help them function in such a way that they’re actually beneficial. While there are many things we could use from T6T for now, I’d like to focus on these three:

    • Everest Statement- Dave takes some time in the beginning to discuss Everest statements (He also has a blog post about it). I love the idea not only of personal Everest statements but having PLCs create an Everest statement. What is your goal as a PLC? This might help some of our PLCs focus on what they’re real job is as a PLC. What do they want to accomplish? They can keep coming back to this statement–are you reaching it? Are you working towards it? What steps do you need to take to get there?

 

    • The 5 Beliefs- What a great use of time for PLCs: hopefully part of their Everest statement is to grow well-rounded and flourishing students, so it would be logical to study the five beliefs and brainstorm a list of how they help kids get to them. Dave offers some great ideas, but I know my colleagues have many more. It would be beneficial if PLCs came up with lists and then we compiled all of the lists! Imagine the flourishing that would happen! And of course, we would reflect regularly.

 

  • Writing- In the writing section, Dave discusses many ways to increase quantity and quality of writing across the curriculum, but I love that he explains how first teachers should figure out how much writing they already do.  From there they can come up ways to increase that. I think just seeing that number would be a convincing way to encourage teachers to increase writing. PLCs could work together to determine how and when to implement more writing opportunities. 

PD

I do not have an official role in PD implementation, but since I am so passionate about it I’d like to provide some opportunities for our faculty to grow in a manageable way beyond the school/district mandated PD. These are some of the areas:

    • AoW- I am a huge believer in AoWs (originating from Kelly Gallagher) and while consistency wasn’t my strength, I definitely saw many benefits of using AoWs on the occasions I did. I’d love to share these with the faculty so they can start implementing them across the curriculum. I love the idea of graphs in math, and charts in science, and maps in history. I might be able to help teachers by providing resources for all of these things on my coaching website. When I think of the knowledge our students would gain from an AoW in every class, I’m blown away!

 

    • Article of the Month for PD study- I am super excited about this idea! I plan to share an article each month with the faculty and then invite them to come discuss during a “lunch and learn” experience at the end of the month. I will (hopefully) find some high-interest and useful articles to share so teachers will want to join me! 

 

    • Literacy Strategies- This is an ongoing need at our school (and everywhere else), but I don’t know if I’ve ever read in another book such a convincing argument that I might actually be able to use with my colleagues in the math and science departments. I’d like to do some mini-PD sessions on reading, writing and speaking. Perhaps a couple for increasing quantity and then a few for increasing quality. 

 

  • Pop-up Debates- Once again, Dave and I agree on the awesomeness of argument, and he’s been sharing his pop-up debate technique on his blog for a while now. I would love to share this with interested teachers across the content areas. Just imagine if kids were arguing in ALL of their classes?! I mean, I can’t even imagine it because it would be so awesome. And I love the idea of having pop-up debates in faculty meetings, but I’m at a huge school, so I’m not sure how that would work.

New Teachers

Being a new teacher is hard. It’s all about survival.  One thing I love about this book is that Dave doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He has just taken the HUGE things we have to accomplish as teachers and condensed them into completely doable, manageable ideas. I think with the new teachers, I’d most like to share ways to make surviving a little easier while highlighting how they can address what matters most with their kids.

    • Work / Life Balance- If you’re a teacher, then you can remember the days of staying at school for hours after the day has ended, maybe stopping by your classroom on the weekend, and carrying three bags of papers and to and from school every day. Ugh. Even worse, you might still be living this way.  But Dave states “there’s a way to be both a strong teacher and someone who has a life and interests outside of school.” I would like to help our new teachers discover this so maybe they’ll stick around for a while.

 

    • The Five Beliefs- It’s hard to discern where to focus our energy as teachers, but I think sharing Dave’s well-researched ideas about the five beliefs that drive student learning behaviors, then teachers (new and experienced) can plan through the same lens to determine if what they’re planning will help kids flourish. Obviously, they need to become familiar with their school’s/district’s/state’s curriculum maps and standards, but they also need to be critical about what and how they’re teaching.  

 

  • Argument- Yes I think reading, writing, and speaking are vital, but I feel like with our new teachers in different content areas, I can better “sell” the need for argument. Plus, as teachers incorporate more argument, they’ll naturally be increasing the amount of reading, writing, and speaking their students are doing. Win-win-win!

The Gist

Dave ends each of his chapters with a “Gist” paragraph, so I thought I’d steal it to end my post. Here’s the deal: this book is excellent. I can definitely see the potential value of its use by individual teachers, but wow would I love to see our school do this as a book study. There’s really nothing to not like about this book.  Dave is a regular (but awesome) teacher from Michigan. He is trying his best to balance good teaching with happy living, and he wants to help all of us do that too by focusing on what is really important in our classrooms.

I will check back in throughout the year to share what we’re doing and how this book is shaping my work as an instructional coach.

This review doesn’t even begin to do the book justice, so please go order it and check it out for yourself. I promise you will not regret it!


What I’m Reading

If you’re looking for some great book recommendations, check out the list on my “books” page. I only recommend books I truly think are worth it! 🙂

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