Coaching for the Distance
May 22, 2018
In the frayed, worn edges of the school year, with the clock ticking down, our district and many others continue to do the tough work. We are in a trifecta of growth: adapting the curriculums, considering assessment, and now we arrived at the third leg, coaching into these changes.
I’ve been asked in a team to consider what is valuable in coaching, what are institutional features, and where we might go next.
Listening to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher read from their 180 Days book on the Heinemann Podcast today, it struck me what I really think about coaching. Kelly quotes Chris Lehmann from the forward to Reading Wellness. I paraphrase here. Our best work happens when we align our coaching to their instructional decisions, when their work becomes the curriculum (of coaching).
I fill my desk with inspirational quotes and hope they guide my words and actions. I believe we are only limited my the limits we put on ourselves. I believe we can’t really teach anything, just help folks to discover it within themselves. I believe that 25% of coaching is encouragement, 25% is listening, 25% is a flood of ideas, and 25% is rolling up your sleeves and getting into the thick of it.
Encouragement comes in many forms. My favorite form is noticing. Just taking a photo and tweeting it out to say, wow, that was something that happened right there. Much like our work with the students, noticing and naming is strong. When a teacher or a student is in the weeds, it’s difficult to see where the flowers are blooming. Sometimes I just notice in the moment. I find that this encourages teachers to tell me about moments I’ve missed that were great too.
Listening… can be a challenge. My personal favorite time to listen is at 7:30 a.m. before the rush of the school day. Just a little chat over coffee about a particular thing or perhaps many little things. These I schedule. They are an amazing way for me to launch the day. These meetings spark ideas, generate excitement, and set the tone for the entire day. 4:30 in the afternoon is good too. These meetings are relaxed, punctuated by the personal, and can often turn into a field trip or a scavenger hunt for a book or a lesson.
Flooding the room with ideas has to be entered carefully. I usually start a meeting, a year, a relationship with a teacher by just saying I’m going to be putting a lot of ideas out there. Most of them come from my head, my reading, my experience, what you’re saying. Use what you will. Leave what you want. It’s all good. Sometimes this flood of ideas will help someone try something they might not have. The comfort of a fall back ideas is that if the original doesn’t work, I could try this other idea. This is the power of constructing something…together. It’s just what we hope for with the students as well.
The last and most important part of coaching to me is rolling up your sleeves and getting in there. I spend the majority of the school day in there. Yesterday our principal and I were standing in our courtyard garden admiring the view. I lamented that I hadn’t taken a picture of the space before we started the transformation so many years ago. We were both new to the building then and it was a wonderful neutral project to work with the team. The infamous cookies and cakes just a way to say I’m here for you. Covering for a teacher when she is in a meeting, finding a book, conferring with a student, doing some running records, there are so many ways to be there in the work.
I think coaching is best when it is student centered. More than that, coaching is best in the fabric of a philosophy of education. We are all constructing knowledge: the coaches, the teachers, and the students. We help create an environment for experimentation, for learning, and for growth. We assist in getting the tools in place and helping people learn how to use those tool. It’s true, we can’t teach people anything. We can only help them discover it within themselves.
Thank you to some powerful coaches in my life including my slicing community and Two Writing Teachers. Read more from powerful educators at twowritingteachers.org.