This will be my first official year as a certified instructional coach. I received my certification in May after nine months of training sessions and coursework. Though it was a lot of work teaching full-time, while wife-ing and mommy-ing once I got home each day, I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of my training and looking forward to incorporating my learning as I coach and teach in the upcoming school year.
Having said all of this, there definitely is some apprehension and mild anxiety as summer speeds its release of my days, passing the baton to fall. (Well, let’s be real. I live in central Florida. “Fall” is just another term for “summer” fighting occasional sniffles.) In a matter of a few weeks, I’ll be packing my lunch, bringing the kiddos back to daycare and giving my husband a quick peck and hug before we drive to our places of work. The more I think about it, the more the butterflies’ wings start fluttering inside me, seeking an escape. Yep, I’m excited, nervous…and a little intimidated.
I have been re-reading Jim Knight’s book Instructional Coaching to refresh my mind and help me focus on what is key in coaching. One statement he makes about coaching is pretty powerful: “A good coach has high expectations and provides the affirmative and honest feedback that helps people to realize those expectations. A good coach can see something special in you that you didn’t know was there and help you to make that something special become a living part of you.”
The phrase, “something special” reminds me of my first coaching interaction. However, I wasn’t the coach, or the teacher. I was the student. In particular, I was a ninth grader trying out for the varsity basketball team. Coach Slade was known to be a tough, but good coach. Being on his team meant you really had the desire to work hard, to win, to be a great basketball player and team player. I made it to the last round of tryouts, but he needed to make sure of one thing before he was fully convinced. He told me right before the tryouts that day, “I want to know that you can hustle. After practice, I’ll give you the nod if you’re on the team.” Oh man! No nerves that day, huh? I remember that practice very well. I remember running the usual layup drills, dribbling drills, passing drills, wind sprints, etc. I remember feeling that I’d pass out at any moment. I remember trying not to look his direction every time I dribbled by or made (or missed) a shot. And I also remember that I hustled. I knew what was being asked of me, and I gave it all I could. I wasn’t perfect yet, but I was better than I previously thought I could be.
In the end, I received the “nod” I wanted from Coach Slade. But more than that, I received the nod I needed from myself, for myself. I gained confidence with every step from that practice on. My coach had carefully, skillfully but firmly tugged on a hidden cord of confidence he saw glimpses of inside of me. He shed light on it, untangled it a bit, tested its strength, and placed the unattached end in my hand…Not only did I have primary access to the cord, but I’d play a major role in joining it to others (teammates, for example), increasing its usefulness and flexibility, and extending its reach and impact.
While instructional coaching is not entirely like team athletic coaching, I believe the essence of both is the same: identifying and developing ability, skills or talent to empower and improve the lives of others. So many teachers pass through hallways of schools year in and year out. Sadly, many do not have a coach. Well-meaning peers, yes, but not a coach. Many are not aware of what’s expected of them.They did not or will not hear the code word “hustle” and will completely miss the purpose for their work. Others lose heart, never catching a glimpse of the nod of encouragement or recognition. And still some are misdirected, misinformed or miss the boat completely. These too need a coach to help guide them in a way that best suits their abilities.
Another lesson to be learned from this is that teachers play a major role in how they develop their ability to facilitate learning for students. They are holding the loose end of the cord, but some are not sure what to do with it. And why is this so critical?
It’s because of all that the “need tos” that come with the teaching territory.
Teachers need to:
- Have the know-how and use resources to deepen their professional insight that may wane from time to time.
- Delve into creative strategies and ideas that complement solid educational research.
- Correct any oversights and habits that may inhibit student learning.
- Relinquish those comfortable but sometimes unproductive strategies to which they may be clinging.
Good teaching incorporates a reflection of its practice. However, teachers need to know not only how to reflect upon their practice, but also how to incorporate what they’ve learned in a tangible and useful way for the benefit of the students.
WIth all that’s expected from teachers today, they need individuals who will:
enable and empower creativity,
help highlight and repair errors, and
Teachers need a cord detector, a cord whisperer, a cord revealer. They need someone to help them see that “something special” cord, often hiding inside. They need someone who will tug on and pull those cords that have the potential to connect with each other and to create a community of both teachers and students …a strong network of lifelong learners and learning leaders.
Teachers need a coach.
So this is the hat I will soon be gladly wearing…coach. No, I won’t be wearing a cape. (“No capes!”) Instructional coaches are not perfect and are not heroes. At least I am not. There’s a lot of work ahead, a lot of discoveries to make, and some steps to retrace, I’m sure. But when I am able to see one cord start to connect with another, my confidence too, will grow while the butterflies are put to rest.