P’s and T’s of Coaching: Paradox


Full moon, post-Halloween hangovers and the time change seemed to increase the feelings of being overwhelmed this week. It wasn’t the kids so much as us educators. Between frustrated emails, heads-up phone calls and professional development blow-outs, I felt spent when I left work on Friday. Luckily my day had started off with a leadership meeting that put me in a good headspace.

We opened with a quote from Palmer Parker:

“The contradictions of life are not accidental. Nor do they result from inept living. They are inherent in human nature and in the circumstances which surround lives.” 

As we went on to read an excerpt from Leading Every Day I was struck by this reminder. “Paradoxes stem from conflicting polarities: the existence of two opposing attributes, tendencies, or principles that are interdependent…Successful leaders recognize and work through both sides of paradoxes…Your role as a leader is to balance both sides of the polarity and not allow one side to dominate to the exclusion of the other.”

These were some of the paradoxes we face:

Think abstractly                    Act Concretely

Have direction                      Retain flexibility

Initiate change                      Maintain continuity

Achieve goals                       Endure Criticism

This was the frame that helped me understand the complexity of the work in front of me and why I was feeling so tired. In literacy, we are working through all of these paradoxes. We are working to figure out what to do about “curriculum” so we need to think abstractly and out of the box, but we need to act concretely as we go through the process. My job is to offer direction and firm guidance while being soft and flexible as we encounter obstacles. Because there is a timeline, I have to prioritize and keep us moving forward with transparency while enduring criticism and questioning of the process.

When words like “messy” and “muddy” come to mind related to my work and I hunger for the weekend to rejuvenate, I recognize the tug of contradictions and the delicate balancing of those paradoxes. This is the work.

One thought on “P’s and T’s of Coaching: Paradox

  1. This is a great post, Heather. It’s a much-needed reminder that it’s okay to feel conflicted a lot of the time. These are all paradoxes that weigh on me: As a coach, I’m half teacher/half administrator-ish, which can be a paradox in itself. I’m not the teacher in the classroom, but I’m still teaching. I’m facilitating with an open-mind, but there are points I know have to come up “naturally” in the conversation.
    So, thanks for the reminder that this is, indeed, the work.

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