May Reading Update [2019]

I feel like I barely read anything this month, but I do have a small list here to share. I think I needed to catch up on some TV and podcasts after vacation, and then I began taking Pilates classes, so my reading time was shortened. This month I read…

  • Naked Greed by Stuart Woods- Normally I dislike reading books in a series out of order, but since this book is around 30 of 50 with my favorite character Stone Barrington, reading it out of order wasn’t confusing for me. Each novel in this series stands alone as a fun mystery and the plot of Stone’s life moves slowly forward throughout the series. When I realized I had missed this one, I wanted to go back and read it, knowing a few life plot points might be out of order! This story ended up being very “pulpy” and full of more mob-like killings that a usual Stone mystery, but I still enjoyed it.
  • Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan – I always enjoy Fullan’s professional books, because they are full of research and his interactions in the field, mostly in Canada but also across the globe. I appreciated his ideas around joint determination, adaptability, and culture-based accountability. I wish the examples provided had been more practice and actionable, rather than big picture theory-based.
  • In Pieces by Sally Field [audiobook]- This was my first celebrity-read autobiography in awhile and I enjoyed it. I had no idea that Sally had such a complex and difficult childhood, nor how anxious she was throughout her career. I have enjoyed her as an actress in a variety of movies and shows, and I wish she had talked more about some of that work. The book focused a lot on her childhood, her complicated relationship with her mother, some of her relationships and her children, and a few key roles she’s played. The story focused more on her mental anguish as an actress and the relationships that hurt and shaped her.
  • Time for Change: 4 Essential Skills for Transformational School and District Leaders by Anthony Muhammad and Luis F. Cruz – I’ve enjoyed other professional books by Muhammad and I appreciated the way they took big ideas (how to create change in schools) and broke them down into 4 skills – the why, who, how, and the do of the work. I appreciated the scenarios they shared at the end of each chapter, and I believe these would be great conversation starters for a book study.
  • P3H: Pilots, Passengers, Prisoners, & Hijackers: An Educator’s Guide to Handling Difficult People While Moving Forward by Trish Hatch, PhD – A colleague who is a school counselors gave me this book. She knows and respects the author, who is well-known in the school counseling world. I appreciated the perspective she offered on the different types of people we encounter in school, and how to deal effectively with them. Looking back on my time as a principal, I can picture who the hijacker on my campus was, and I wish I had worked with that person differently. This is a quick and easy read, good for teacher/counselor leaders, those aspiring to become administrators, and new administrators learning the ropes.
  • Professional Learning Redefined: An Evidence-Based Guide by Isabel Sawyer and Marisa Ramirez Stukey – This professional book comes from Learning Forward, an organization I respect for their professional development materials and resources. The main ideas in this book are about how we redefine professional learning to take place where student learning takes place – in classrooms with teachers.  The authors go through learning structures such as PLCs, lesson study, learning walks, and 1:1 coaching, all of which I believe in and have participated in as a teacher, a coach, and an administrator. There was also a strong focus on protocols, which I also appreciate as a way to provide structure and support for adult learning. My only complaint was that most of the examples were elementary, with only 1-2 being relatable for secondary educators.
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Busy or Engaged?

I have recently hit a wall. It’s the beginning of May and I’m realizing how busy I have been for the last 4 months. Since January 1, 2019 I have taken 7 plane trips, attended at least four musicals or concerts, finished a year of weekend classes, signed my book contract, and worked my full-time job!

Being “busy” doesn’t necessarily mean that what I was doing was good or bad, it was just time-consuming. Obviously there is a lot on my abbreviated list above that was fun for me (see some pictures above from my trip to Grenada!). But returning from an international trip on a Monday, unpacking, doing laundry, worked 45 hours in four days, and repacking for a trip on Friday was exhausting to say the least.

This made me think about the difference between our students being busy versus being engaged. I visit hundreds of classrooms each year (412 so far this year!) and see students in many stages of learning. Some days students spend a large portion of their day listening to teachers, other days students spend their time talking to and collaborating with peers, and still on other days students are completing written tasks silently. Each of these can contribute to students’ learning.

My wondering today is whether we plan lessons to keep students busy or to engage them in their own learning. I know that as a teacher myself, I have been guilty of “busy work” as well as thoughtfully-planned engaging tasks that pushed students’ thinking. When I am coaching leaders after classrooms visits these days, I hear leaders step out of a classroom and comment on how “the students were engaged”. I also push back, asking the leader what exactly the students were doing. I think we use the word “engaged” a lot in education, but I don’t believe we all have a common definition of what it means.

To me, when a student is engaged, he or she is doing the thinking work, taking on the cognitive load by writing or talking about their thinking.

What does engagement look like in a classroom to you? 

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Building Resiliency: May

In January of 2019 I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.

May’s habit is celebrate and appreciate and the disposition is trust.

As we near the end of the school year, it’s a natural time to celebrate. Appreciation, or expressing gratitude, is a way to make connections, enjoy our life, and focus on the positive. I appreciate Aguilar’s message to celebrate the small things, and find ways to be grateful in our daily lives.

“How you tell the story of your life matters.” Onward, p. 290

I go through phases where I am focused on expressing gratitude, whether through a journal practice or by telling others what I appreciate about them and their work. Until I was rereading this chapter, however, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I slowed down and reflected on gratitude. Pausing and thinking about what I am grateful for, in big and small ways, always puts a positive spin on my day and my outlook.

I have been working on making public and private appreciations as well. I recently just wrote a number of hand-written notes to be delivered to colleagues who work in other locations across our district, expressing that I appreciate them and their work. I know that I always love receiving messages like that, so I build in time to give them as well. I like all of Aguilar’s suggestions for appreciating yourself and others.

There are many examples of how to cultivate a habit of gratitude in the Onward workbook. This reminds me of making positive phone calls home early in the school year as a teacher. I’ve also taken this idea and written notes to the families of my employees. It’s so nice to be able to tell someone you appreciate their child (or their parent/spouse!). Aguilar mentions something that reminded me of an activity I recently saw one of our schools do at an assembly. I did this activity at a staff meeting early on as a principal. I called it, “Talk Positive Behind My Back.” Each staff member was given a piece of construction paper. They wrote their name at the top and then they hung the paper on their back (with a safety pin or a string necklace). The staff then got up and began walking around the room, writing positive notes about each other on the papers. When we finished the activity, everyone had a chance to read the nice notes their colleagues had written behind their back. You could literally feel the energy shift in the room, as people smiled, and some even cried. If you’ve never experience this, I encourage you to try it at a meeting soon!

Trust is such a critical part of leadership, of building relationships, and school culture.

“Resilient people trust themselves, and they trust a process.” ~ Onward, p. 309

I love Aguilar’s message that when you need support, trust in the process, trust in yourself. I’ve been thinking about why she chose to make this month’s disposition trust, and what the link might be between trust and celebration. I believe that we are more comfortable to celebrate our big and small moments when we are working or living in a trusting relationship. Trust allows us to feel more comfortable recognizing the work of others without competition or animosity.

I recently read The Power of Moments. The authors share specific ways we can create impactful moments in our lives, for ourselves and more importantly for others. This reminds me of this month’s habit, to celebrate and appreciate. I want to intentionally create more moments that matter.

And for those of you who read last month’s update, I DID get to see the Underwater Sculptures that Elena Aguilar writes about in Onward! Below are two of my favorite pictures from my snorkeling adventure. These sculptures end up being a place where coral can grow and develop, supporting the oceanlife. It was such a fun experience and I wouldn’t have known these existed if I hadn’t read this book. For that, I AM GRATEFUL!

Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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April Reading Update [2019]

This month I didn’t read as much as I have been, at least not in the beginning of the month. As I think back on the month, I realize that I’ve been very busy every weekend, and I got into a few good podcasts recently, which took up some of my reading time. I also binge-watched a few new docu-series! However, the last weekend of the month was a beach vacation for me, during which I did a total social media detox, which gave me plenty of time for reading!

So this is what I did read this month:

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – I put a hold on this e-book through my library app months ago, after a number of people I knew raved about it. I happened to read it over a long vacation weekend and I loved it! While there were some major sad points in the story of Kya’s interesting life on the marsh, there was so much independence, resilience, and nature to enjoy along the way. What a beautiful first novel by this author!
  • The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – I loved this book! I loved reading about how we have the power to make small moments that can have great impact on ourselves and those around us. The authors break down the four elements to moments: elevation, insight, pride and connection.  Not all moments have all four elements, but all moments have at least one of these. When I came to an example about the Sharp Experience, I was reminded of reading an entire book about that during my doctoral studies. Then, and now, I was fascinated by the scope of the company’s work to transform their employee and patient experiences across all of their hospitals, which I now use! I love this advice at the end, “Stay alert to the promise that moments hold”.
  • Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus – I read the first book by this author last month. While this wasn’t a series, it followed the same format. A YA mystery where each chapter is narrated by different characters, as a mystery is unveiled. This story involved missing girls from three different times, unknown parents, suspicious people, and lots of intrigue and Ellery, one of the main characters and a spy-buff, tries to figure out who is guilty of what in this bizarre small town.
  • Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – I love this author and knew I would enjoy this book, especially after a few friends recommended it. Nine people show up to a 10-day wellness retreat, looking for mind, body, and spirit transformations. They get more than they bargained for in this funny, twisty, weird, story. I loved the snippets at the end!
  • Run Away by Harlan Coben – Heading out for a beach vacation I stocked on e-books, paperbacks, and e-library books, including this one by one of my favorite authors. I loved that this was an independent story, not part of a series, but that some Coben secondary characters appeared (like the lawyer who helped the family!). This was a sad tale of addiction and lies as people hid parts of themselves from their families. Great story to follow, as it kept twisting and turning!
  • Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – Once Shelley recommended this to me, I knew I would enjoy it! What a beautiful, sad, story of adoption (and kidnapping and deception and abuse) and family love. This was based on true events from the 1950’s, when some adoptions were full of corruption. I loved following the flashbacks and forwards as we learned about unknown family connections along with the characters, especially modern-day Avery.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell – This was an impulse buy in an airport bookstore. It was a mystery, which I usually love, but it was full of dispicable characters. I liked each person less than the next, from the selfish, entitled Kate, to her adoring love Griff, to her roommates Jenny and Aubrey, with their own issues. These women met in college and claimed to be lifelong friends, but they were actually awful to one another. This was such a poor representation of female friendship and I was disappointed throughout the book. I did keep reading to find out how it ended, and I appreciated how the author chose to end the story.
  • Quick and Dirty by Stuart Woods – I love my Stone Barrington novels, and this was one especially fun. Stone was roped into helping solve the mystery of a missing painting. I loved the information about how forgeries of famous works of art are often mistaken for the real things, and why people have fakes made.

*This month I abandoned The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll.  I’ve read at least one other book by this author, but I just couldn’t get into this one. The writing was not enjoyable and I figured it wasn’t worth my time to fight through it!

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A Vacation from Social Media

There are lots of books, articles, and blogs popping up about people taking a digital detox – stepping away from so much screen time. I just returned from a 4-day trip to Grenada, in the Caribbean, for a quick girls’ weekend. I decided this was the perfect time for a vacation from social media.

Before my trip, I was feeling overly stressed out. The stress was coming from a number of sources, and I was finding myself mindlessly scrolling through social media any time I had a free moment or just needed a break. Unfortunately, my social media feeds do not always help alleviate my stress.  I don’t tend to suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when looking at others’ pictures, but I do judge myself when I see things I want to do or know I should be doing. Those feelings often lead to additional stress, which fuels the never-ending cycle.

In order to avoid temptation, I moved all of my social media apps (for me, it’s mostly Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) on my phone and my iPad to a separate folder, on a secondary screen that I wouldn’t even see. I already had notifications turned off for these apps, so I was hoping that out-of-sight, out-of-mind would apply. Once I was on vacation, I was able to use my devices solely for taking pictures of the gorgeous island (see below!) and for reading various e-books. I didn’t look at my social media at all, and after the first few hours, I didn’t even want to check them. I was happy to live in the moment, soak in the sea air, enjoy every sunset, and time with my friend.

Thinking about my word of the year, SHINE, reminds me that sunlight shining on water always makes me smile – it’s my happy place! My vacation from social media was a good thing for me because I was reminded that I don’t need social media to entertain me 24:7 and I don’t need to be constantly connected. The face-to-face connections with friends and family (and nature!) are more important to me. This is not to say that I’m going to quit the socials permanently. But I am going to make a more conscious effort when and how I use social media. I prefer reading a good book or relaxing in front of a sunset over mindless scrolling through stranger’s posts anytime. Don’t you?


Grand Anse Beach, Grenada



Grenada sunset



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An International Virtual Interview, Part 2

This is the third in a series of posts co-written by myself and Kristian Still, an educator from the U.K. with whom I connected on Twitter.  You will learn more about each of us and why we connected as you read the posts. He will be posting our writing on his blog as well. 

After Kristian reached out to me, we exchanged a few DMs on Twitter, and then decided to expand our conversation in a Google doc. We each wrote down a few questions for the other person to answer. In this third post, you will be able to read the questions that he asked me, along with my answers. Stay tuned for future posts that include our reflections and more!  

Questions for Amy:

  • Can you describe your instructional coaching journey? Where did you begin and how did you end up where you are?

When I first began blogging, I wrote about my entire educational journey, which you can read about here. I got into instructional coaching as a teacher. I was fortunate that my principal was a mentor who supported by growth and development, and who recognized that I was a strong teacher able to support my peers. From them on, with each job change, I have continued to carry with me a coaching lens. I find that the best way to make an impact on teaching and learning is through personal relationships with individuals; coaching comes in when you have built those trusting relationships and can have honest conversations about successes and challenges in the classroom/school. Throughout my career, I moved from coaching my peers, to coaching teachers as their administrator, to coaching school-based coaches from a district-level position, to now coaching the administrators (assistant principals and principals) of a large district.

One coaching highlight that stands out in my career, was when, as a new principal, I was assigned a coach. This experience taught me that everyone can benefit from a coach, when it’s the right relationship. The first coach assigned to me was not a good fit for my needs at that time, and I was luckily able to request a change (because my entire district was receiving coaching at the time). My second coach was exactly what I needed, even when I didn’t know what I needed! She and I are still friends, over ten years later. It was through her coaching that I learned to be more reflective and purposeful in my leadership and in my own coaching.

  • What do you see as the main professional growth opportunities for:

Teachers – In my current system, we are facing significant budget cuts, so we are limited in what we can and cannot offer in terms of professional growth opportunities. I’ve worked to encourage opportunities such as monthly district Twitter chats, annual Edcamps, and quarterly teacher leadership book studies. Most teachers are also part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) with peers from their school and department, so they have that time built in to their week or month.

School leaders – We prioritize the professional growth of our leaders. I facilitate monthly workshops for all 71 of our assistant principals (APs). In addition, the APs who are in their first three years on the job attend an additional monthly workshop with their smaller cohort; we’ve hired 30 new APs in the last four years!  I also spend two hours a month coaching each of our first year APs individually, as part of their work they have to do to clear their credential. Our principals participate in monthly leadership development workshops and quarterly Learning and Equity Walks. In addition, each principal is part of a smaller network (up to 6 principals and a district level facilitator) which means monthly for smaller site visits, learning walks, and collaborations.

Site Leadership Teams (SLT) – Each of our school sites has an SLT, made up of a group of about 15 staff members representing the various departments and roles across the school (including a counselor and a Classified staff member). We bring the site-based SLTs together at a district meeting three times a year to further our team learning work.

  • Now that you are coaching the ‘change gatekeepers’ in schools, the Principals, what do you perceive as the core aims of coaching?

I believe my work can help bring coherence across our district. It’s also important that we are shifting the role of principal and assistant principal into more of an instructional leader, responsible for observing, supporting, and guiding the teaching and learning of their school site. I want to empower our school leaders to build the capacity of others, so that the work can grow exponentially. For instance, if the principal empowers the assistant principal, the AP will then be able empower the teacher who is the leader of the department he or she oversees, and that teacher leader can actually coach his or her peers.


  • Can you put your finger on the impact that ‘open to coaching Principals’ exert over those that step back from coaching?

This is an interesting question! I find that when a coach has success with one person (often one who starts as being open to coaching), he or she will share the success with others. When a more resistant educator (whether a teacher or a principal) hears a trusted peer say they found value in a coaching experience, some of that resistance crumbles, and the coach is often able to make inroads. The word of mouth stories can have a great impact on a coach gaining access to more people.

  • What does professional-personal coaching (for teachers, aspiring leaders and Principals even) has to offer that superseded our UK Performance Related Pay, Performance Review model?

Until we started chatting on Twitter, I didn’t know anything about your model. Across the US, there has been much debate about performance related pay. Some states have versions of this, but I live in California and we do not have anything like it in education. We do have required evaluation systems, and all teachers in my district are evaluated on the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTPs).While these standards are a great framework for high quality teaching, I have found that evaluations, which are done based on one classroom observation every other year, are very limited in terms of their impact to improving teaching and learning. This is why I’m so passionate about coaching.

A teacher can set his or her own professional goals for the year, ideally based on wanting to grow in 1-2 areas of the CSTPs, and a coach can work alongside that teacher to help with growth opportunities. This can be driven by the teachers current strengths and the areas he or she identifies as wanting to grow in, which builds in buy-in and personal investment.

  • Have you ever encountered the work of Dr Jill Berry? I think she would be #yourkindofleader?

No, I haven’t. But now I want to know more! I just found her on Twitter so I can start to follow her and learn more. On that same note, do you know the work of Elena Aguilar? She is one of my coaching heroes and a virtual mentor, through her amazing books!

  • As we both seem to invest in reflection, how is this helped your coaching develop?

I write to reflect, which led to the creation of my blog and my to-be-published book on instructional coaching. I think this written reflection has helped me learn to slow down, to listen more, to practice my reflective questioning skills, and to be more mindful of presuming positive intent. My coaching has also helped developed my written content, as I write about experiences. Coaching new leaders led to my blog series on time management, which is something many coaches and leaders struggle with on a daily basis.


Posts in this series:

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Building Resiliency: April

In January I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.

April’s habit is to ride the waves of change and the disposition is perseverance.

“The range of experiences we have with change can be seen as a continuum that extends from defensiveness on one end to leadership on the other. When we are defensive about change, we are focused on mitigating its disturbance in our lives; when we are leading change, we are inviting the turbulence.” (Onward, p. 268)

I love this quote as an introduction to change. In my 22 years in education, I can remember changes that I was defensive about (budget cuts, friends moving on to other job opportunities, retiring mentors) and changes that brought a welcome element of turbulence into my life (choosing to change jobs, accepting new responsibilities, finding new mentors). I love change when I am leading it. I respect and support change led by others when I understand the purpose, and am clear on the message.

While I am a creature of habit and I love my routines, the older I get, the more I can roll with the changes that come my way, whether planned or unexpected. As I watch some of my colleagues struggle and fight their way through change, I am reminded of Aguilar’s message, and really the entire point of her book and my deeper study of it – we need to be more resilient. Change is not going away. The more resilient we are, the less change affects us negatively. Spring often brings changes to educational settings and this particular spring is full of change in my current context.

Aguilar’s reminder to identify the spheres of influence in your life is valuable. I also love this essential question:

Where do I want to put my energy?

I find that when others begin to stress out about change around me, I have two choices. I can jump on their complaining, defensive bandwagon, making myself miserable in the process, or I can accept that change is inevitable and work to communicate the purpose of the change and the power we have within it. I can also follow Aguilar’s advice and encourage others to do the same:

  1. Slow down
  2. Evaluate and analyze the situation
  3. Use your energy where it counts
  4. Be open to outcomes

This advice is so important. Beginning with a slow down allows us to breathe, rest, and wait for our initial feelings of hurt, anger, and stress to dissipate. Getting clear on what you know and what you still need to know is important. So often, we jump to conclusions without all of the correct information. Using energy where it counts is how we can retain our resiliency. In my younger years, I wasted too much energy spinning around with stress over things beyond my sphere of influence, and not making enough of an impact in the areas where did have influence. Being open to outcomes also gives us permission to choose where, when, and how we accept change, fight change, or make a different choice.

I have recently taken up a fight against a change with which I disagree.  In the President’s recent budget proposal, he has eliminate funding for a variety of educational programs, including Title II. I have overseen the Title II budget in my current district for the last two years, and in my previous district, for four years. Title II supports teacher recruitment and hiring, new teacher induction, teacher leadership development, and transformational school leadership by supporting administrators. I am very passionate about the value that Title II brings to our work. I have made a choice to fight this budget cut by advocating for Title II at the federal level. Instead of running around stressed out about the possible cuts within my district, I am reaching out to my elected representatives to share with them how we use Title II, how it impacts our staff and students, and why I encourage them to vote to continue to fund Title II. I have written emails, made calls, and participate in a Twitter storm (see #TitleIIA). I see this as a resilient way to fight a change that I disagree with, in a concerted effort where I feel that my energy is being well-used.

As I continue to reflect on this chapter, I appreciate that Aguilar discusses that change often brings about fear and learning. One of the realizations she coaches a new principal to in the chapter is that change, especially one that involves long-held personal beliefs, takes time… as in years! This is a hard pill to swallow, especially for an educator like me who has such a sense of urgency to support all of the students who are not being successful in our current system. Aguilar addresses this as she writes about patience as an emotion and a skill, one that we can practice and develop. This is something that I continue to work on!

The disposition of perseverance fits so well with the habit of riding the wave of change. It’s easy to persevere through something you choose to do, such as as welcome new job change. It’s much more challenging to persevere through a change you didn’t choose or welcome, and one that brings fear and uncertainty. This is why building up resiliency is so important.


Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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