“I notice” …. Now what? by Jeannette Corey. Written with Amy Dombro and Gabriel Guyton.

As her first year directing the Bank Street Family Center/Home & Community Based Program comes to a close, Jeannette Corey looked back on using “I Notice” statements.  This Think Piece shares some of her insights and lessons learned about using "I Notice" statements to link teachers' decisions to outcomes for children.  We invite you to reflect on Jeannette's reflections as you think about your own practice. 

Amy and Judy

Reflections on Using "I Notice" statements to Link Teachers' Decisions to Outcomes for Children.

 As Jeannette explains, “The year before I came to Bank Street, staff had been introduced to ‘I notice’ statements by Amy (former head of the Family Center and author of Powerful Interactions) and Gabriel Guyton (Instructor/Advisor Family Development and Early Intervention Program at Bank Street). We decided to continue this work and next year plan to use “I Notice” statements to focus on curriculum decisions in all domains.   I hope some of these insights will be helpful to other program leaders and their teams.” 

The power of “noticing” and articulating what works:

  • Focusing and describing moments of effectiveness gives people words for what they are doing that works.  They can then think and talk together about their practice and are more likely to repeat and build upon what they do.
  • Noticing contributes to relationships and to building team.  I always used to think staff members know that you notice but I have to think about it more now. I was a little surprised that each time I shared statements with staff members, they reacted by saying something like,  “I’m glad you noticed.  People felt seen.
  • Noticing is about being curious, not about judging.  One day as I watched a staff member trying to help a child clean up, I wondered how it was going to turn out.  Having been a teacher I know about feeling anxious when your boss is there.  I also know how quickly things can go wrong.  This work is not about “catching someone out”.  Rather calling attention to what they do that is working.

Using  “I notice” statements:

  • It can take time to get comfortable with saying: “I notice”…….  “It matters because….”   It felt awkward at first but you don’t have to say those exact words. For example, you might say: “When you kneel next to Jeremy at the sand table and watch, your focus helps him focus on his play.”
  • Articulating the connection between a teacher’s decisions and outcomes for children is a skill that program and classroom leaders need to develop. Even though I know that a teacher’s words or actions matter, explaining “why” was a challenge.  It did become a little easier with practice.
  • Incorporating “I notice” statements into the culture of program requires commitment and ongoing modeling from leadership.   Given the demands of my first year directing this program, I was not able to give “I Notice” statements the focus I intended.  We are going to regroup in the fall.
  • Social-emotional outcomes seemed a little more comfortable and easy to articulate as we used this strategy.  Next year we will work to also include cognitive and physical domains.
Mike, I noticed how you stopped your teacher work and turned to face R (15 mos) when she came over to you. You offered her a smile, a hug and engaged her in a conversation even though you had been busy in the office. This matters because children need to know that the adults they are connected to will always make time to re-fuel them emotionally. Being able to rely on a caring, consistent adult makes children feel safe.

  • Consider doing “I notice” statements with all staff members.  Our original plan was to focus on Head Teachers and that they in turn would use “I notice with their team members. The reality was that once in a classroom – or even in the hallway – there were things to notice about other staff members as well. 
  • Use photos when possible.   We all want to see ourselves being effective.
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     Channing, when friends wanted make a boat, you said,  “Friends want to make a boat.  We’re going to have to move our bodies off the steps so we can turn them over.  Do you want to help?”    Your language gave children the steps to reaching a goal. You also invited them to work together building community.

Channing, when friends wanted make a boat, you said,  “Friends want to make a boat.  We’re going to have to move our bodies off the steps so we can turn them over.  Do you want to help?”  Your language gave children the steps to reaching a goal. You also invited them to work together building community.

  •  Give teachers statements about their work on the spot or within a short time.  Incorporate them into coaching and professional development conversations whether one-on-one or in a group.   Receiving feedback in a timely way keeps the conversation going and builds momentum.

 Writing “I notice” statements:

  • Be prepared by keeping paper or sticky notes and pen handy.  Moments you notice can happen without warning.  It is hard to remember details if you don’t jot them down.
  • Write short statements. One line telling what you noticed.  One line telling why it mattered.  We got a little too long and complicated.  Think “a moment”.  That way you’ll be likely to capture more moments.
  • Go for “good enough” and often rather than trying to write the perfect statement.  There is no such thing as perfect.  Over time writing I notice statements will become easier.  Doing them often matters because it lets people know that noticing moments of effectiveness is part of the culture.

 Next steps include:

  • Be more intentional as we build upon our work of the past year and include “I notice” statements around curricular goals in all domains. This year most of our statements were about social-emotional learning.  Next year we will broaden our focus to include “I notice” statements that reflect the concept of ‘extending the learning’.  By reflecting on how we intentionally create an environment and choose the materials that support children’s explorations of the world, we will be better able to articulate the rich cognitive learning that is embedded in their play
Robin, on the day you came to Room 1 for a visit, I noticed that you said to Liam, “I see 1, 2, 3 zebras going up.” This matters because you seamlessly integrated counting and one-to-one correspondence –important cognitive skills - into Liam’s play.

  • Begin to use “I notice” with families.
  • Continue documenting our work to identify lessons learned and new insights.

Reflections on an organized classroom closet ... By Jenny Levinson with Amy Dombro

As the new school year begins, many of us are focusing on creating engaging learning environments. Spaces where teachers can become learning partners with and extend the learning of children and families through Powerful Interactions.

In this blog posting, Jenny Levinson, Preschool Teacher at the Wintonbury Early Childhood Magnet School in Bloomfield, CT, offers her insights and experiences with an often unrecognized yet vital element of the environment that is usually found behind closed doors:  the classroom closet.

In this Think Piece, Jenny explains how being intentional about closet organization over time has created ripples of positive change making it possible for her and teaching partners to be even more intentional as they plan and make decisions about displaying materials and interacting with children.  This in turn has had positive impact on the way in which children view themselves, each other and upon the classroom community.  

Amy and Judy

This doesn’t happen overnight ...

People come into my classroom sometimes, look in my closet and say, “I want this.”   

I tell them, “It didn’t happen overnight.” I tell them it is something to work on and that it is a work in progress.  An organized closet impacts both teachers and children.  It adds to the sense of calm in our environment, creates a sense of respect for materials and each other, and helps focus thinking.

I remember when our school first opened and we received an abundance of materials but no storage containers.  That first year, I scrambled to find anything.

Year two I decided there needed to be a change.  That summer I bought at least 20 plastic shoebox containers.  I started putting things into them labeling each with a photo and label.  Over the years, it has been a continual process as we have switched out and replenished materials.

Having an organized closet means that my assistant and I both know where to get a paintbrush in the middle of a busy morning.   We know what is available when we plan lessons.

Being able to find and put away materials easily helps us think more clearly about the displays we create in the classroom each day.   We believe that how you display materials influences if and how children use them.  The great part of teaching is comparing your ideas of what children will do with materials to what actually happens, then following their lead to learn more about their thinking and extend their learning.

When children see the organization, it helps them to feel a sense of respect for the materials.  They feel confident in being independent as they choose and take items, use them and put them back where they belong. 

Have you ever had the experience that you set up a table and when children leave, others come over and set it up again:  one mat with materials for each person?  I have witnessed children setting up displays, just like their teachers.

It speaks to the respect for materials and each other and how a classroom community are all supported by an organized closet.

Coaching with Powerful Interactions: Ideas for a Book Study

Just recently we were asked about a study guide for Coaching with Powerful Interactions. Our initial thought was  - yikes, we haven't done that yet! And then, after pausing, we realized that we've been having conversations since the book first came out last year as an iBook. 

Although we don't have a formal study guide, this blog post offers a few suggestions for having professional conversations using the book as a starting point. We hope you'll share the ideas you come up with as comments on this blog as well as on our Powerful Interactions Facebook page.

Judy's been using conference calls and Webex for small group coaching and book study groups during the past year. 

Sometimes we've read the book together, chapter by chapter and then we use our gathering as an opportunity to focus on what we've read. I begin by asking: What resonated for you in the chapter? What words, phrases or ideas build on what you already do?  In this way we are using a strengths-based perspective (principle 1). Then we might focus on one of the reality checks or a reflection box. Other times, people volunteer to facilitate a chapter and in this case, they choose the focus for discussion. When we do this, I encourage the facilitator to send the focus in advance because this fosters the idea of principle 4, learning partnerships.

Group discussions are an opportunity to discuss and practice the PI strategies, link the ideas in the book to people's experiences in the field, and allow each member of the group to learn from colleagues. These tips have helped:

1. Incorporate the three steps as part of your framework for the group. I start the meeting (whether face to face or on the phone) with thanking people for coming and acknowledging that everyone has made a shift from something else. Whether it is my group at 7:00 am or 6:00 pm, they are coming from somewhere. A reminder to pause to be present by quieting the static always helps us focus. Then we do a brief connect. If we're in the same physical space, it might be a short partner share. On the phone a brief round robin to say hi, hear each person's name and voice, and a nugget related to common focus: perhaps something you saw recently that put a smile on your face. If you are working remotely, revisit step 2 connect each time someone talks by remembering to say your name.  And then, the group is ready to use our connections to extend learning. 
2. Practice listening to learn during the study group. This key PI strategy can be especially hard to do on a phone call. After each person speaks, whether offering an idea or sharing a personal story, allow time for people to think about how they want to respond. I always have two or three people offer "I notice" statements to the person who shares. Examples might be:
o    I heard you say the "Reality check" helped you think about teachers who don't see eye to eye with you about early childhood. That's an important insight because it can interfere with us forming effective working relationships. I'd be interested in talking more about that.
o    I notice that you spoke about how you are intentional about your schedule of connecting with teachers by keeping track of who you connect with each week. That's important because it is easy to lose track and it ensures that you are touching base regularly with everyone.
3. Encourage the use of note taking. By inviting everyone to take notes, the group practices documentation. Jotting notes before sharing (either when reading the book to prepare or as you the facilitator poses a question for discussion) gives people a chance to pause, quiet their static and think. In this way comments are more intentional. It also means that everyone can share their thought rather than simply responding to the first person that speaks. As each of you listens to others, jot down key words of what they are saying. Here again, you are practicing documenting and active listening.
4. Identify goals to focus on during the study group. At the outset, and before we begin talking about the book,I ask people to think about a strength they bring to their work as coaches (regardless of their defined professional roles.) I invite them to think about why that strength is important to their work. This is articulation. Then, I ask: What is a skill you want to strengthen and why is it important to your work? I invite them to think about moments of effectiveness in relation to that skill they want to strengthen. Then I suggest that as we go through the study group together, they notice ideas they are thinking and learning about that relate to the skill they want to strengthen. Each session we end with a brief reflection question: How, if at all, has this discussion offered you guidance about your goal? Please jot it down. Then we go around and share. 
5. Use the book with coaches and directors? We've had discussions with groups of coaches and others that are only directors and some that are comprised of people in diverse roles. If you are working with directors or a mixed group, invite people to listen to and discuss the video clip #5, referenced on page 15 in the paper book and on page 27 in the iBook: The Challenges of Being Both Supervisor and Coach. 

These are a few ideas that can be helpful as you begin using Coaching with Powerful Interactions to guide discussion groups. As we said earlier, you'll have more! Please share them so that we can all benefit.

I don't have time... by Darcy Heath

This blog comes to us from Darcy Heath, an early childhood education facilitator at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute in Nebraska. Darcy is leading a book study and offers us an important perspective.

“I don’t have the time.” That was the first statement I heard from one of the preschool teachers as we sat down to begin our Powerful Interactions book study.

“I don’t have time to be present because I am too busy thinking about lesson plans, and IEPs, and behavior. I have to figure out whose pickup plans have changed and what materials I need for small groups.  I have too much static to be present.”

Do you know what?  She’s partly right.  Educators have a lot on their plates and that leads to static.  A lot of static.  The question to consider is this:  How do you set aside all of that static so that you can be present and have the powerful interactions that students need to learn and grow? 

I invite you to begin by pausing and quieting your static about static. Put aside for a minute how much you have to focus on and do as an educator, as a parent, as a spouse, and as a friend. Take a breath and reflect upon your day.  During what part of the school day do you have the least amount of static?

Is it first thing in the morning when the students get there, after you’ve had your coffee
and a chance to chat with your colleagues? Is it right after lunch when you’ve had a few minutes to decompress and are energized? Perhaps it is during station time when every child is engaged in a different activity and you feel like you can pause and focus on one particular child. Whenever it is that you determine your static is the least – start there.

As I shared with the preschool teachers during our book study, don’t start with the expectation of having powerful interactions all day, every day. That idea can be daunting and overwhelming.  Instead, think about an entry point and start small.  When can you effectively calm your static and have one powerful interaction with one student?  

After you determine when you might best be successful – commit to starting there and having one powerful interaction per day. You’ll be surprised at how achievable that is!   And when you have mastered calming your static and having one powerful interaction, commit to adding another one, and after that another one.  Just as any other skill takes practice, so does the skill of being present.  It will become easier with time and intentionality. 

Getting back to the teacher who lamented she just didn’t have time; she is finding that she does have time after all and is having meaningful, powerful interactions with her students, every day.  And it all started by pausing and reflecting upon her own static and making the intentional effort to pause and be present.

I invite you to do the same.