The (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18
May 8, 2018
No one has ever asked me the secret to my success, but given my advanced teaching/coaching/intervening years, I have a few tried and trues up my proverbial sleeves. I can talk a good game. I can make a joke at my own expense. I can notice when someone needs a hand, an encouraging word, or a five minute pause. So here for what it’s worth are six of the secrets to my so-called success.
The first secret to my success is that there isn’t always success but usually there is movement. I’d like to say I’m always a success in intervention, in coaching, in picking out the right shoes, but sadly it’s not true. However, I do continue to keep swimming. My philosophy is somewhere near: Hey, we can learn a lot from mistakes, and failure is only an opportunity to give it another go.
The second secret to my success is to listen more than you talk. This can be a real struggle for me. Most of the time, folks need someone to hear them more than they need someone to tell them.
The third secret to my success as a literacy coach is to have an agenda, but go with theirs, meaning whomever it is that I’m working with. They know what they need and especially what they want. I’m prepared with some ideas, some resources, and most of the time that’s what they want and need, but sometimes it’s not. In those times, I have to be willing to take a detour or the long way, whichever path gets presented.
The fourth and perhaps the most important advice I have is to carry the water. People need real things to be success: found books, copies, a person to read the story, a person to tag off with a difficult friend, someone to sort books with. The list is literary endless. While providing most of these things, it can be a good time to a: listen (see #2) and b: go with their agenda (see #3)
The first secret to my success is one you’ve heard before, bring gifts. Bring ideas, but also bring along a book, the occasional batch of cookies, or Hershey’s kisses. Nurturing folks feels good to you, but it also feels good to them as well. I have been known to work years on this stage before moving on to another.
The final secret to my success is know other things about people that aren’t school related. Maybe you know their favorite color, what’s in their Netflix queue, birthdays, coffee addiction, their dog’s name, and even what their favorite cookie is. You get the idea.
It’s not complicated, but it’s critical. Several years ago, the International Literacy Association published a research article on best practices in literacy coaching. Level 1 of coaching is building relationships. The article included the usual thinking: establishing conversations, schedules, developing norms of communication, studying things together. Those things are important, but in order for them to work, real kindness opens the door.
My most successful conversations happen in three places: at 7:30 am before our day starts, at 4:30 pm when the building quiets down, and over the bent, working head of a student we both care for deeply. Each of my 7:30 meetings, every day of the week, is different. Some people have a list of things to talk about, some wait for me to say something I’ve noticed, some feel like the kind of conversations you might have any day over coffee. What they have in common, I hope, is trust.
The days are long. The stakes are high. A classroom of students can be isolating. We can be the bridge, the sounding board, the boost. All we have to do is take time and notice the small things. After all, we have at least 180 days to get it close to right.
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers and my faithful writing community for being all these things for me, so that I may be some of them for others. I’m forever grateful for you.