I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I cringe just a bit when I hear coaching referred to as a lonely job. The job requires nearly constant collaboration, and so I’m talking with someone most of the day. Really, teaching can be a lonely job too. You spend the day with your students, none of whom can collaborate with you on the professional level, and at the end of the day, you’re faced with all kinds of things to do.

This is where I feel like the power of the coach comes in. No one wants to be wrong or treated as though they were being fixed. But many of us want someone to talk to who will be focused on our problems. A teacher colleague next door might be helpful, but s/he has their own problems that may take over the conversation. A coach comes in and is focused on you and your needs. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, and has helped me overcome some guilt over leaving the classroom. I spent my first six months on the job haunted by this meme as I pondered my role as a coach:

Now I know better. I spent time yesterday talking with a teacher who is investigating guided reading. Now there is an overwhelming task to take on without formal training (yet…it is coming soon…). So, we worked on breaking it down. Why do guided reading? What are you hoping your students will get out of it? What information do you really need to make that happen? How do you get started? There are so many birdwalks to take in this area that talking it out with someone who can paraphrase your thinking, and help you sort through your thoughts, can be exactly what you need. Sure enough, the five minute planned conversation about a running record procedure turned into a 45 minute coaching conversation, and at the end the teacher said, “sometimes it helps just to talk it out.” Exactly!

So who coaches the coaches? It would be unfair to turn around on those teachers we coach and expect them to reciprocate – that’s not their job and they haven’t been trained to do that. They already have more than enough on their plates. Fellow coaches and I have organized a job alike afternoon once a month, where we join together and share out celebrations, ideas, new learning, and challenges. I’ve come across several articles on the power of these coaching get togethers. I was first inspired by the idea of the Mastermind group from the Cult of Pedagogy. But, when talking to other coaches, we thought we might keep it more loose at first – no specific agenda. No one in our group had done this before, and we didn’t want to formalize too much at first. I suppose this is the “forming” part of our group, but I’m not sure that it fully fits that framework, as we don’t have a “performing” goal at this point.

We looked at some coaching models in our first meeting. Although at this point our district has focused the coaching training on Cognitive Coaching, we talked a bit about other models that are out there. Student Centered Coaching is one that we started to investigate briefly, based on an article one member of our group shared.

But the best part was how the group organically shifted into sharing challenges while staying focused on solutions. Venting is a part of any job I suppose, but it doesn’t solve problems. TeachBoost says,

Coaches must keep in mind that they need to restore themselves first before their work of restoring others can happen.

In a job alike group, we can certainly do some venting, and empathize with the challenges each other faces, but we also know we can brainstorm solutions. We didn’t formally do a Problem of Practice protocol, but we did end up investigating one of the challenges in more depth. In the process, I came up with my own new ideas for our guided reading book room while taking into account the pitfalls described by my colleague.

It was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. A reminder that we are not alone in this work. That no one has a perfect gig, nor does anyone expect perfection. No one “fixed” a coach, nor did anyone need “fixing.” Sometimes we just need to talk it out. In the process, we are validated, we are understood, and we feel like problems are not insurmountable.

How do you stay connected with colleagues and avoid the feeling of isolation?

Author:

I'm a K-6 Instructional Coach, supporting school sites in ELA and Math.

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