P’s and T’s of Coaching: Pronouns

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A couple weeks ago I was at a meeting and a teacher asked me in front of a group of about 60 educators, “How do they–the district–define a curriculum?”

I paused and then said, “I want to address your pronoun because they–the district–is us. We are going to determine what is meant by curriculum through our work this year.”

In my work I’ve discovered just how much pronouns can include or exclude, invite or discourage, tell or teach. Pronouns are one of our big clues to consider the stances we are taking in coaching. Stances are ever-changing for me. One conversation starts in a coaching stance, moves into consulting for new curriculum territory, shifts to collaborating stance when we decide how to do the instructional work together and then closes back in heart of coaching.

“I”

“In my experience I…” and “If it were me I would…” are likely used in a consulting stance. In this stance the consultant’s experiences and ideas are the focus. Some coaches will shift to a consulting stance with beginning career teachers and educators who are brand new to a skill or strategy being taught.

“We”

“When we get ready to plan…” and “let’s reflect on how we approached…” are likely used in a collaborative stance. This is the coach-as-colleague position where a coach might be carrying an equal load of the planning, teaching or reflecting work. I used this a lot when I had a role as part of the professional learning community team.

“You”

“I heard you say…” and “what other ways are you already achieving this?” are likely used in a coaching stance. This is the place I want to start every coaching conversation. I want the person to know I believe they have the knowledge and skills within themselves to navigate whatever is in front of us. It’s also the place I want to end every conversation with that vote of confidence in my colleague that they already have–or know how to build–what they need to grow as a professional learner.

Who is I?

In my job shift, I’ve been struggling with my pronouns this year. I hear myself starting sentences like “As a teacher, I…” and then I think, but I’m not a teacher currently as I have no class to call my own; I’m an administrator now. Or “As coaches, we…” and then I wonder, is that fair to call myself a coach even though I’m not coaching like I have been in the past seven years? I picture myself as a collection of nesting dolls. Right now I have the administrator doll as my outside role, but right inside that are nested shells of coaching, teaching and at the very heart of it all–a learner. I realized it’s true to call myself a student, coach, teacher or administrator depending on the work before me.

And I never want to use the disingenuous “we.” I caught and corrected myself recently using “we” to describe a planning process when really I needed to say “you” because I wouldn’t be part of the work. I’ve seen people in leadership use that word loosely and it’s been an irritant for me. If I say “we” it means I’m contributing more than a budgetary nod. I’m advocating, I’m researching, I’m gathering support, I’m presenting. I’m rolling up my sleeves in some significant way–not a wee one– if I’m going to offer myself as part of the we.

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