Never Forget! Capture Your Thoughts (Excerpt from The Together Teacher)

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Chapter 4 of "The Together Teacher," by Maia Heyck-Merlin. Available here:,descCd-buy.html


<p>CHAPTER 4</p> <p>Never Forget! Capture Your Thoughts</p> <p>Learning ObjectivesIdentify the various Thought Catchers you may need in your current role. Determine how to utilize your Thought Catchers in the middle of a busy day. Ensure that you return to your Thought Catchers to help create meeting agendas or written communications.</p> <p>79</p> <p>SETTING THE SCENEIts 2:00 pm on Thursday and you have just taught your social studies lesson and transitioned your kids to physical education. While teaching the American Revolution, you had an idea for an end-of-year field trip. After class you walk over to your colleagues room and notice that she is also on her prep period, while her students are at music. Although she is engrossed in grading tests, you stop in to see what she is up to and to share your idea. She tells you about her interest in an end-of-year trip to Boston. You discuss the possibility of taking your kids biking on the Minute Man trail to Concord. By the time you check the clock its twenty minutes latertime to pick up your kids. What just happened here? Despite your best intentions, you killed someone elses desperately needed prep with an important but nonurgent brainstorming session. You also lost a good chunk of your own prep period.</p> <p>Reflection Question: What do you currently do when you have a thought you want to share with someone? My guess is that you do anything you can to get that thought out of your head. You shoot them a quick e-mail or immediately pop by their classroom for fear that the thought will otherwise be forgotten. The downside of this approach is that it leads you to interrupt colleagues or to launch ideas into cyberspace with no guarantee of getting a reply. If you are</p> <p>80</p> <p>The Together Teacher</p> <p>disciplined enough to write down your idea, it often lands on a to-do list in a notebook that is never reviewed. So, what is the alternative?</p> <p>A CLOSER LOOK AT THOUGHT CATCHERSNow that we have discussed how to manage time through the Comprehensive Calendar and how to outline tasks via an Upcoming To-Do List, its time to deal with another set of things that can clutter our brains and litter our in-boxesour thoughts. What do we do with those great ideas about teaching fractions that pop into our heads while were in the shower, or that fleeting lightbulb that goes on about a book we want to share with our grade team when were walking down the hall? For most of us, these things are either scrawled onto the agenda of a professional development (PD) session or found later littering a to-do list. Or we forget about them all together. This chapter is about a third tool, the Thought Catcher, which is designed to help you capture your thoughts so you can return to them at the appropriate time without creating unnecessary urgent matters for others, firing off a half-baked e-mail that may or may not come back to you, or forgetting your good idea. We will see how some Together Teachers note these thoughts in various locations so they can return to them as needed.</p> <p>Thought Catchers:</p> <p>Provide you with a space to track nonurgent ideas that you can</p> <p>refer to whenever you have sufcient time to talk them through or take action. You can also have Thought Catchers for things you need to write regularly, such as parent updates, team updates, or a student newsletter. Lets look at a Thought Catcher template (Figure 4.1). You will notice that this is a very simple template organized with boxes to categorize your thoughtsnothing more!</p> <p>Figure 4.1 Thought Catcher in Microsoft Word</p> <p>Never Forget!</p> <p>81</p> <p>So, how would this work? Lets say you meet with a literacy coach once per week to help design lessons to support your struggling readers. You frequently have thoughts youd like to share with her when you are moving around the school or even while you are teaching lessons. You do not want to barrage her all day long by busting into her office or firing off ten e-mails to her per day. Instead, you should create a Thought Catcher for her by writing her name in the top of a box on the template (or if you use a Web-based system, at the top of a section in an electronic tool) and then write down your thought for herwhich in this case is, More resources to test fluency. Throughout the week you may catch more thoughts for your literacy coachpotentially as many as six to ten discussion items. When you sit down to meet with her at your appointed time, you simply pull out your Together Teacher System andvoila! You have a neatly created agenda and the meeting time is used productively. You can take a similar approach by having Thought Catchers for notices or memos you write, clustered ideas for the future, or even fun personal items. Each of those approaches is discussed later in the chapter. The overarching point is that you should have a separate location to capture those good thoughts, ideas, and brainstorms that pop into your head throughout the day, and a way to refer back to them later. Lets move ahead and look at some examples from teachers who use Thought Catchers in a variety of ways. As in the previous chapters, a number of tools are presented from which you can choose, but the practice of recording your thoughts in a different place than you record your time and to-dos holds firm.</p> <p>TOGETHER TEACHERS THOUGHT CATCHERSIn this section we will look at a variety of Thought Catcher samples. Remember: currently these are just thoughts you will return to later; your return will be triggered by a meeting you need to attend coming on your Comprehensive Calendar or something you have to write or plan showing up on your Upcoming To-Do List. As you review the various samples from Together Teachers, please note the following: Are the Thought Catchers paper, electronic, or Web-based? Are they typed in advance or handwritten on the fly? What categories of Thought Catchers are used? Thoughts for Colleagues First lets look at some sample Thought Catchers from Kate, a third-grade teacher, that she uses to jot down nonurgent thoughts to share with her colleagues when the opportunity arises (see Figure 4.2).</p> <p>82</p> <p>The Together Teacher</p> <p>Annie</p> <p>1</p> <p>Gerrie</p> <p>2</p> <p>Tracy</p> <p>3</p> <p>Figure 4.2 Kates Thought Catchers for Her Co-Teacher, Principal, and Instructional Coach</p> <p>Kate has Thought Catchers for three people with whom she interacts regularly: 1. Annie is her co-teacher, with whom she shares a classroom. Kate wants to mention something to Annie about grit (character) rewards for their students. 2. Gerrie is Annies principal. You will notice Kate had a thought for her about Smartboard clickers and Moving Funtastic Fridays to Thursdays. 3. Tracy is Kates instructional coach. You can see that Kate has important topics to discuss with Tracy, such as support for guided reading classroom management and questions about student reading levels. When Kate has a thought for one of these people in the midst of her busy day, she writes it in the appropriate box on her Thought Catcher and saves it for the meetings she routinely has with each of these people. As you can see, her captured thoughts range from straightforward questions about her shared classroom, such as where a good place is to put up the FDR assignments, to deeper conversation topics such as shifting a choice chart. Teachers are often guilty of inundating their school leaders with one-off questions that would be more easily addressed during face-to-face time. If Kate wants to ask her principal, Gerrie, about getting a Smart Board clicker, she is going to wait until they have a regular meeting, or she is going to compile that clicker inquiry with a few other quick questions in an e-mail so that Gerrie can review all of Kates thoughts at once.</p> <p>Never Forget!</p> <p>83</p> <p>What if I do not have standing meetings with some of my administrators or colleagues?If you do not have a regularly scheduled meeting with some of your colleagues, you have a few options. The rst option is simply to ask for some regular time with your instructional coach, co-teacher, or other individuals. If this is not possible, then consider saving up ideas until you have three or four and then set up a time to meet, or bundle those ideas into a single e-mail.</p> <p>Lets look at another example, from Nilda, a middle school writing teacher and teacherleader. Nilda uses her Thought Catchers to capture notes for other teachers she coaches at her school (see Figure 4.3). Her Thought Catchers help her keep all of her observation notes in a single location. While she was observing in Esmes classroom, she took two notesStrong Voice and Marathon Mile Pushabout Esmes lesson delivery. (The first is one of the techniques for effective teaching in Doug Lemovs book, Teach Like a Champion.) She wrote these thoughts in her Thought Catcher for Esme, and then, when she sat down to meet with this teacher, she used the Thought Catcher to guide their discussion. The benefit to this approach is that Nilda did not have to search through various notebooks or just remember what she wanted to cover with Esme. After Nilda discusses each item on the list with Esme, she simply crosses</p> <p>Esme 1</p> <p>Figure 4.3 Nildas Thought Catchers for the Teachers She Supervises</p> <p>84</p> <p>The Together Teacher</p> <p>them off. If you are wondering what happens when your Thought Catchers fill up, we will discuss that after we review additional samples. Now lets review a third example of a teacher coach. Anna uses electronic Thought Catchers to write instructional feedback for other teachers at her school (see Figure 4.4). As you can see, Microsoft OneNote is an electronic notebook (often packaged with the Microsoft Office suite of products), and Anna keeps a tab for each person she coaches (see the horizontal tabs across the top) and a list of all past interactions (see the dates that run vertically down the right-hand side of the page). In this way, her notes for all of the teachers she supervises are all in one place and she is easily able to refer to them. Of course if she promises one of her coachees a resource, she makes sure to get that action where it needs to go in either her Comprehensive Calendar or Upcoming To-Do List, mentioned in previous chapters. The benefits of keeping her Thought Catchers electronically is that Anna can maintain a running record of conversations over the course of the year and easily refer back to them over time.</p> <p>Reflection Question: Who are some individual colleagues with whom you meet, speak, or interact regularly?</p> <p>Thoughts for Groups of Colleagues Thought Catchers can also be an effective way to prepare for group meetings or to capture thoughts for entire groups of people. Lets look at how Nilda records thoughts for her writing team in her Thought Catcher for that particular group (see Figure 4.5). Nilda was in a PD session about assessment when she realized she had a thought for the writing team about aligned scoring and rubrics. Although she could have just scribbled that thought on the agenda of the PD workshop, she instead noted it in her Thought Catcher. The benefit to this additional layer of intentionality is that when Nilda goes to plan her writing teams meeting agenda, she can refer to her Thought Catcher and have half the work completed already!</p> <p>Reflection Question: What are some groups with whom you regularly meet? Departments? Grade levels? Committees?</p> <p>Never Forget!</p> <p>85</p>