Before I started coaching full-time, I used to wonder what the value of coaching light could be. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms coaching light or heavy, I suggest you check out Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives and other works by Jim Knight or […]
Today, I had a teacher tell me she “always feels so supported” when she gets feedback from my visits. That is an incredible compliment. It made me wonder why instructional coaches don’t receive feedback like that more often. I don’t have all the answers, but […]
Coaches have a vital role to play in teacher self-care. That statement almost sounds counter-intuitive. Honestly, I kind of hate the term ‘teacher self-care.’ I worry it puts the onus of caring for teachers only in their own hands. As coaches, as schools, as districts, I believe we should share responsibility for the care of teachers.
Perhaps, instead of encouraging teachers to learn to say no, we ought to focus on not asking too much of them. As coaches, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to take an active role in caring for teachers. There is always too much to do in schools; however, there are steps we can take to support teacher self-care.
Coaches can establish a culture of shared accountability. We can learn our teachers strengths, weaknesses, and boundaries. Instruction improves when we can help teachers divorce responsibility from blame to focus on student growth. We can clearly establish our own boundaries and stand firm in support of reasonable expectations. Mostly, we can avoid some common pitfalls.
We are, or at least I am, often guilty of asking those we know will say yes. In a pinch, when I need help, I ask teachers who are willing. The unfortunate side effect is that we unintentionally contribute to the overburdening of certain teachers. Partly, we do this out of desperation. Partly, we do this because it is easier. And partly, I think, we do this out of fear.
Not unlike our teachers, we as Instructional Coaches are frequently overworked and overwhelmed. When last-minute tasks with impossible deadlines loom, we are often desperate for help. We reach out to those we trust. We depend on those whose abilities we trust. It feels impossible not to depend heavily on the dependable.
In addition to desperation, asking those likely to say yes is So. Much. Easier. It is difficult to confront the insecurity of asking someone for help when we are unsure of the answer. It is hard enough to ask for help. Pressure makes it infinitely harder. Formulating a plan for approaching those who are less apt to pitch
Asking for help is also terrifying. It makes us vulnerable. How can we balance being an instructional authority with needing to ask for support? We fear the potential loss of respect or authority or validity. It can feel like we are sacrificing our standing instead of standing on our own. We are worried about appearing weak at nervous about failure. Compounding those issues is the fear that the help we seek may be inadequate.
Despite all those issues, we can care for our teachers and ourselves by creating a culture of shared responsibility. A culture of collaboration as a positive choice that leads to success rather than a mandate. Taking the time and effort to invite every teacher to participate in shared tasks builds confidence, respect, and success. It can lead to the sharing of ideas.
Of course, teachers have different skill sets and levels of contribution. Knowing and respecting those strengths and limitations is part of the job. Accepting each other, even as we push each other to improve, is a vital part of a healthy school culture.
Teachers who fail to care for themselves eventually fail to care for others effectively. Coaches have a role in ensuring teachers take care of themselves and each other. Just as we encourage students to develop shared accountability and mutual respect, we need to encourage teachers to do the same. Maybe it would be fair to say that the coach’s role in teacher self-care is coach self-awareness and coach self-care.
It seems like things are slowing down a bit during this time of year. It never fails. Teachers are finishing up last minute to-dos before finals, crafts are being created, and the school has turned into a sea of red and green. All the while, […]
In the life of an Instructional Coach, we are there to support teachers. We love seeing teachers continue to grow. We want to be there for them, provide feedback and do all we can to help facilitate their development. However, we often put our all […]
How soon is too soon to visit classrooms? Maybe that is the wrong question. How soon is too soon to start observing teachers and providing feedback? This is my struggle.
Of course, as a coach, I want to get into classrooms as soon as possible. But I am fearful. If I push too hard, I run the risk of damaging the relationships my job requires. The start of the year is an overwhelming, busy, stressful experience and it takes time to establish a routine. Teachers are skittish and visiting too soon can seem pushy. For insecure teachers or in schools with a poor culture, it can seem like the ultimate gotcha. Then there are the schools where 1st week, five-minute visits are the only time anyone comes into classrooms. As you can see, most of us have a lot of baggage from bad experiences when it comes to classroom visits.
Even the terminology is problematic. ‘Observation’ has a connotation of formality and evaluation. And ‘walk-through’ was always a junk term. ‘Learning walk’ can be better depending on the implementation though it doesn’t really mean anything to most teachers. Like, who is learning? The walker or the teacher or the students? I try to say “visit”or pop-in”…and I am still not satisfied with those either.
Anyway, how soon is too soon? If I wait too long, a whole different set of problems can arise. Teachers won’t find me visible and will wonder what exactly I do all day. Administrators will want immediate data I won’t have yet. I run the risk of allowing questionable practices to go unchecked and allow my staff to feel complacent. Teachers are myopic. If it seems to be working from their own perspective, and I am not there to offer another, they are too busy to dig deeper to improve.
Teachers hate feeling judged. This is cultural–societal. We are everyone’s favorite scapegoat and most convenient target. We also push and punish ourselves for factors well beyond our control. The thought of another teacher being sanctioned to judge our teaching is unlikely to be eagerly anticipated.
So I keep wondering: How soon is too soon? My current compromise isn’t ideal and I hope time will help me develop more strategic ways to handle this question. For now, I simply pop-in to offer assistance and ask how things are going for each teacher. I don’t sit down or hang around unless I am asked to help. I don’t take notes or send feedback or do any of the anxiety triggering things that set teachers off.
Week three, all that must change. Two weeks is enough to get it together. The start of the year excuses centered around teaching rules and establishing routines have mostly expired. Students and teachers are easing from the first date to honeymoon and the instructional patterns set now will likely echo across the school year. Out comes the note-taking, questioning, feedback, and formal conversations. Well, for most teachers. A few will need an extra week or two, or perhaps another tactic.
I don’t know the answer, but I constantly wonder: How soon is too soon to visit classrooms?
People talk. They gossip. They gripe about their colleagues. As a coach, I feel like I hear it all. To be successful, though, I can’t participate, no matter how tempting. It isn’t because I don’t enjoy gossip. And certainly, it isn’t because I have no […]
Remember your college days, where you were assigned to a group of peers who did not always have your work ethic or attention to detail? Did you carry that group to an “A” or mourn when they brought your grade down? The outcomes were important […]