Author Archives: Kenneth McKee


The Coaching Cycle: The Link Between Coaching and Student Achievement

Instructional coaches are tasked with many responsibilities. Leading and developing workshops, collaborating with PLCs, facilitating school-wide assessments, organizing learning walks, analyzing student achievement data, and various other activities all contribute to  positive change in schools. However, in the proceedings and productions of these large-scale activities, oftentimes, the heart of coaching, the one-on-one coaching cycle, can fall to the wayside.

Why? To some people, the coaching conversation seems so small. Facilitating workshops and school-wide activities seems important and can make the coach feel important. Activities like these might provide justification for his or her job to wary teachers and administrators.  Let’s face it — big activities look good.  Also, it feels like we are accomplishing more (faster!) when we have lots of people involved. The coaching cycle just doesn’t seem time efficient, right?

However, much of the available research about coaching suggests that change really happens one collaboration at a time, through the use of one-on-one coaching.

So, what do I mean by a coaching cycle? Although there are many interpretations of what constitutes a “cycle”, I categorize a cycle as a professional learning sequence that includes a pre-conference, classroom instruction, and a post-conference reflection.

The classroom instruction and reflection can play out in three scenarios.

  1. The coach observes the teacher teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the teacher.
  2. The coach and the teacher plan and teach a lesson together. They then reflect together.
  3. The teacher observes the coach teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the coach.

There is still much research to be done, but studies that suggest that coaching has a positive impact on student achievement describe collaborations that I would characterize as coaching cycles.

Some studies show that teachers implement more literacy strategies in their classrooms when they work with literacy coaches (Feighan & Heeren, 2009; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Teachers especially give high praise to one-on-one coaching when compared to traditional off-site professional development (Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Of all the possible ways coaches work each day, teachers report that significant coach and teacher collaborations have the most impact upon the learning in their classrooms (Campbell & Sweiss, 2010; Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Most studies show that teachers report increased student engagement and on-task behavior as results of coaching collaborations (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Coaching cycles help teachers make changes in their instruction because coaches can tailor data collection, planning, and advice to the individual teacher’s situation and needs.

A three-year study of elementary schools tracked the amount of time spent coaching and resulting student achievement.  The researcher used alphabet letter recognition and scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (PPVT-III) to measure student achievement.  A significant correlation between time spent coaching and student achievement was found in the first year, but weak correlations were found during the following two years.  The first year both coaches and teachers had a strong focus on particular content and techniques.  They also had well-defined consultative and reflective conversation cycles.  Teachers and literacy coaches had little focus and fewer structured coaching cycles in years that yielded weak correlations.  The author suggests that more time is not as important as the “type and quality of the interaction” (Shidler, 2009). Thus, the use of structured coaching cycles and a school wide focus likely explains the greater student achievement results in the first year of coaching.

In a study of four middle schools where literacy coaching was implemented for one year,  teachers reported much higher student engagement levels, and student scores made modest gains. Baselines from the state reading test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) from the prior school year were compared to scores on both assessments after the year of literacy coaching.   Classrooms with the treatment (individual literacy coaching collaborations) increased an average of five points on the state test and seven points on the ITBS (Feighan & Heeren, 2009).

According to available research, structured coaching cycles yield a significant impact on student learning.

Lasting change happens one conversation at a time. Let’s not allow the elaborate productions of meetings, workshops, and high-stakes data blind us from what we can do that really helps teachers become better for their students: one-on-one coaching.


Campbell, M. B., & Sweiss, C. I. (2010). The secondary literacy coaching model: Centrality of the  standards and emerging paradigms. Journal of Reading Education, 35(3), 39-46.

Feighan, K., & Heeren, E. (2009). She was my backbone: Measuring coaching work and its impact. CEDER Yearbook, 67-93.

Gross, P. A. (2010). Not another trend: Secondary level literacy coaching. The Clearing House, 83, 133-137.  doi:10.1080/00098651003774844

Kretlow, A. G., & Bartholomew, C. C. (2010). Using coaching to improve the fidelity of evidence-based practices: A review of studies. Teacher Education & Special Education, 33(4). 279-299. doi:10.1177/0888406410371643

Shidler, L. (2009). The impact of time spent coaching on teacher efficacy of student achievement.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5). 453-460.

Five Ways To Battle Burnout-4

Four Ways to Battle Burnout


It’s common in the world of education.

The long hours, the steep workload, the complex relationships, and the political environment can wear down even the most bright-eyed optimist.  Overextending ourselves is an easy trap for educators, generally people who like to give to others. However, the toll of doing too much leads many of us to harm relationships, dread work, or quit our jobs.

I went through a period in the last few months, where I realized that I was beginning to fade. So, I knew I needed to do something. In my goal to come back from the brink of burnout, I found a few practices to be extremely helpful for refreshing my mind. I share them with the hopes that some may benefit you too.

1. Realize you can’t do it all.

It’s OK to say “no” sometimes. Sure, you want to be a team player. You want to take every opportunity to learn something new. You want to look good in front of your administrators, your students, and your colleagues. But, you will eventually crowd out the important aspects of your non-work life. Do you remember your spouse/friends/children/parents/siblings/neighbors? They would like to spend time with you. You could write tons of comments on every student paper for hours, or you could provide one or two focused comments and then catch a movie or read a book. There are Twitter chats you can join every night, and you might miss an awesome lesson idea if you miss one. You know, it’s OK. You can’t do it all. Say “no” sometimes. Take care of yourself. Realize that you will have to take work home, but set a limit on how much of your free time you are willing to commit to it. Stick to the limit.

2. Meditate

If you are like me, you fall asleep thinking about a million things, and as soon as you wake up, your mind speeds up again. Our world is a chaotic, fast-paced place. For those of us who work in schools, things can feel like they move even faster when we’re at work. Each second we are confronted with new people, problems, and needs that we have to evaluate and respond to almost immediately. This frenetic pace takes its toll on our minds. Many people have found that practicing mindfulness meditation can alleviate their scattered minds. Some people believe meditation is the act of clearing the mind. That’s actually not true. It’s more of an opportunity to notice your thoughts without judgement, and then let them float away. Finding time to practice meditation is difficult, but I find that even meditating a few times a week enhances my mood, energy, and focus.  If you are new to mindfulness meditation, I highly recommend the book, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. It explains the process well. In addition, it provides a link for you to download guided meditations in iTunes that can help you if you are a newbie.

3. Recognize Your Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are tricks that our minds play, which keep us in a negative headspace. For example, I am often guilty of filtering, a distortion where you magnify a small negative event until it eclipses all positive events in my mind. For example, I may have taught an amazing lesson, had no traffic on the way to work, and received a positive e-mail from my boss, but one sarcastic remark from a colleague becomes the only thing I focus on when I go home that evening. That’s a distortion. My day was actually quite good. Check out this list of common cognitive distortions. Almost all of us will see a distortion we often have The key is to consciously recognize that these thoughts are distortions of reality, which enables us to more easily let them go. Once you aren’t listening to your own negative self-talk, you will feel your stress begin to lift.

4. Exercise

Seriously, just make yourself do it. When I get busy, exercise if the first thing I cut from my schedule. That is a mistake. Stephen Covey knew that great leaders must “sharpen the saw” in order to keep it working. If we don’t take care of our bodies, it will affect our self-esteem, productivity, and relationships. Every time I dread working out, I have noticed that I feel better once the workout is complete. Right now, I have a goal to work out five days a week. I want to become stronger so I am lifting weights three days a week. When the weather warms up, I plan to integrate running because I like being outdoors, and I find running to be a great stress relief. Find something you enjoy doing, and plan when you will do it at the beginning of each week. Putting exercise on your schedule will make it more likely that you will follow through with doing it.

So, I have found these four strategies helpful for battling burnout. What strategies do you use?

Top 5 Posts-3

Top 5 Posts of 2014

2014 was the year I finally decided to seriously blog. After reading so many amazing posts from other educators’ blogs on Twitter, I resolved to become brave enough to put my own voice and thoughts out there. I am happy to say that it has been an amazing experience so far. Blogging has been clarifying for my own practice, as well as becoming a way to connect to other educators.

I have to give credit to two people who inspired me to become more serious about blogging in 2014. After some great conversations about the book Digital Leadership during an #educoach chat last spring, Kathy Perret, Julie Bauer, and I met to talk blogging during a Sunday afternoon Google Hangout. Kathy had been blogging for quite some time, and her advice about developing ideas for writing and finding your audience were invaluable. Julie, who was brand new to blogging, helped me feel like I had a partner in this new venture, as we both believed that we had much to say — even though we weren’t quite yet confident about sharing our ideas in such a public way!

When I reflect upon my venture into the blogging world last year, I must admit that it has changed me as an educator. I feel more connected to my colleagues around the world. I feel that I have experience, knowledge, and ideas that other find valuable. I feel more reflective about my own practices as a teacher and instructional coach, making me more aware of my successes and areas for growth.

If you wonder about whether your voice has value, I assure you it does. We need you. Start a blog this year. Top

Without any further ado, here are my five most popular posts from last year.

5. Five “A-Ha’s” from ISTE 2014

ISTE is a huge conference. It was my first time attending, and to say it was a bit overwhelming for me would be a understatement. I decided that reducing what I learned into five take-aways would help me reflect and take action.

4. The Vocab Games: Talk a Mile a Minute/The Pyramid Game

This is a simple post about one of my favorite easy-to-use vocabulary-building activities. Making vocabulary acquisition engaging for students is a passion of mine, and this post was the first in a series of 6 posts about fun vocabulary activities. I also mention how this strategy can make word walls “interactive.”

3. Establishing Partnerships as an Instructional Coach

I received a lot of positive feedback on this post. It seem like there is such a wide variety of preparation that teachers receive when they take on a coaching role. Some have absolutely no knowledge of effective ways to build partnerships with colleagues. I feel passionately that instructional coaching only works through positive partnerships, not pseudo-principal evaluations. This may be my most personal post of the top five.

2.  Five Movement Strategies for the High School Classroom

In my district, we have begun an instructional framework of daily strategies for all classrooms. One of those is movement. It seems that movement in every class every day is a trending topic right now, so I am proud that my district has been “ahead-of-the-curve.” Many colleagues wanted practical ays t incorporate movement in their lessons, so this post recounts five movement strategies that I used or observed during the course of a work week. Just yesterday, an adapted version of this post was published at TeachThought.

1.  4 Ideas for Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

Male readers are struggling across this nation, and many teachers are unsure of what to do. This post combined my own experiences with what research says about male readers in order to promote motivation. I originally posted this piece at ASCD Edge (a great place to post if you would like the potential for wide readership!). Since then, the post was adapted for TeachThought, and it was included in the resources section of NEA’s website.


Reflecting on these five posts, it is apparent that passion drives my most popular (and possibly best?) posts. So, again, I encourage you to write about your passions. Begin your blogging journey.

If you are a brand new or emerging blogger, please share a link to your blog in the comments, so we can learn from you!

Blogging for ASCD

If my blog has seemed a little quiet lately, I have been contributing some posts for ASCD as part of my involvement in their Emerging Leaders program. As part of our program, each Emerging Leader participates in a coaching cohort around a specific topic. I am participating in the Writing for ASCD group. I’m really excited about having this opportunity to grow as a writer.

I have written three pieces for ASCD recently.

My first blog post was written on ASCD EDge, a social network for members. If you are interested in writing a blog post with ASCD, any educator can join EDge.  I tied my post to the Educational Leadership theme for September, “Motivation Matters.”  So far, “Four Reading Motivators for Teenage Boys” has been my most viewed blog post yet!  If you want to share your ideas with other people, ASCD EDge has great potential for reaching a wide audience.

I also had the opportunity to write for the Eight Questions series. ASCD asks each Emerging Leader to answer the same questions in order for members of the ASCD community to learn about our experiences and stances on education. Check out “Eight Questions for Emerging Leader Kenneth McKee.”

ASCD is leading the Educator Professional Development and Learning theme for Connected Educators month, and I was fortunate enough to be able to write a post for the ASCD In Service blog on PLCs. My post, “In it for the Long Haul: Four Strategies for Beginning a Virtual PLC,” explores how educators can establish sustained virtual groups who will help them grow professionally and meet the needs of students.

I will continue to update occasionally to share what I am writing for ASCD, in addition to all of the topics I regularly explore here on my blog.

Please let me know what you think of my posts. Also, please leave links for any blogs that you’ve written that you’d like to share. I learn so much from reading other people’s blogs, and I’m always looking for new ones.


The Power of Generating Words

One of the most powerful methods for improving vocabulary is morphological instruction. Morphemes (more often called roots, prefixes, and suffixes) are meaning units that help students develop the word consciousness to determine the meanings of words. Even more exciting, morphological instruction can be generative, meaning that students can control their learning rather than the teacher controlling it.

Generative vocabulary instruction builds upon and expands students’ current vocabularies. It operates on the belief that students have background knowledge that we can build upon and use.  Check out an example of student-generated words from a mini-lesson I taught on the roots “pend” and “pens” last winter.


In this example, I explicitly taught the word independent. Then, I showed students how pend or pens mean “hang” or “weigh.” Students generated words in small groups. Then we discussed how the words related to the meanings “hang” or “weigh.” Sometimes they didn’t — a situation referred to as “false roots.” However, most do. Then, I teach a few new words to students, relating the meanings of new words to “hang” or “weigh.”  Students report that this helps them improve their word-solving skills as well as their understanding of vocabulary in every subject area.

Students move from “the known to the new,” or they identify words they already know which contain the target morphemes. Once students can connect the meaning of the morphemes to their current vocabulary, they are better able to connect and remember new words that integrate the morphemes (Bear et al., 2012; Flanigan, Templeton, & Hayes, 2012; Stygles, 2011). In addition, generative vocabulary instruction emphasizes the spelling-meaning connection (Flanigan, Templeton, & Hayes, 2012). Consistent spelling of morphemes helps students make connections between words, even when they are pronounced differently. For example, the words category and categorical are pronounced differently, although the spellings of the words demonstrate that they are closely related in meaning.

I am currently integrating this approach into a language learning framework I am using in an action research study for the Governor’s Teacher Network. My new study incorporates similar mini-lessons to the pend/pens one, yet now I am having students connect morphemes to words in their native language. The participants in my study are in an ESL class, and they all share Spanish as a first language. I’m excited about how improved morphological knowledge will affect these students’ vocabulary as whole.  Below I’ve included a photo from our first mini-lesson on the prefixes com-, co-, con-, col- and cor-, which all mean “together” or “with.” Students have already generated great connections between words like concert (concerto), company (compania), and coordination (coordination).




Do you use morphological instruction into your teaching? Have you used generative vocabulary instruction before? What types of lessons and activities have especially benefitted your students?