Being On

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It was the second week of school and I was about to leave one of the four classrooms I was coaching in when the teacher admitted to me, “I feel like when you’re in here I need to be on.”

I didn’t know exactly how to take the comment. You’re welcome? I’m sorry?

It’s not until I reread Joellen Killion’s piece in Teachers Teaching Teachers called, “Are You Coaching Heavy or Light?”that I got a different perspective. Killion wrote, “I am asking coaches to shift from being liked and appreciated to making a difference.”

In all honesty I want both: I want to be liked and appreciated AND I want to make a difference. I want to improve student learning and be invited out for beverages on Friday like any other staff member. But if I had to choose one? Deep breath. I’d rather make a difference.

Why? For years I’ve committed to transporting my three children to my school district. As long as I was spending that much time focused on education, I wanted my children to benefit. In one class I’d envision my inquisitive and accurate son in the boys I met. In another room, I’d picture both my wise, old-soul daughter and my social, organized youngest in the girls with whom I worked. I’d ask myself, “What do I want for my own children? What do all children deserve?” And I would go about collaborating with teachers to make changes to benefit all learners. When it took more time or patience or resources or communication than I thought I had in me, I’d picture my kids. It was worth it.

I’ve been mulling over what “being on” means. Word nerd that I am, I even looked it up to deepen my reflection. It said, “On: physical contact with, supported by a surface.” Many teachers aren’t accustomed to having the ongoing physical presence of another adult educator in the classroom. One teacher put it this way, “If there’s another adult in the room, I’m either being evaluated, being helped by a parent…or I’m in trouble.” But teachers who work with coaches aren’t in trouble, they are being supported to make the most of curriculum and instruction for improving learning for kids. And that standard of the isolated I-close-my-door-and-do-what-I-do teacher is changing.

I asked friends what they thought “being on” meant. They told me, “Being on means being prepared, being present, being at your best.” Aren’t these are the same things I expect of myself when I enter a colleague’s classroom? They are. So I’ve decided to embrace it. I’ve posted a note that sits next to my computer that says simply, “Be ON.”

What does “being on” mean to you?

9 thoughts on “Being On

  1. To me, “being on” means I’m hyper aware of how the audience is responding (students in a classroom or teachers in a training). I’m anticipating next steps, and adjusting my facilitation to meet their needs. To do that, I really need to listen to them, mind their body language, and be aware of what they are doing/saying. I’m also paraphrasing what they say to check my own comprehension, but also to clarify for them what they are saying, while asking clarification and probing questions to help guide them to next steps.

    Thanks for writing this post, and for asking a question that causes me to stop and think.

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

    • Tracy, I think hyper aware is a great way to describe it and all of the small things like “minding body language” that really do make a difference. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

  2. Hi Heather,
    I love this post and all its layers: personal decision to make a difference, viewing each class through the eyes of what you want for your own children and being ‘on’. I found this refreshing as well since often times I think of being ‘on’ as having to be someone who I am not at that moment. Your friend’s idea of being in the moment, present and prepared shifted my thinking as well as your filter of what would I want for my own children. Thanks! –Joan

    • Joan,

      I always love hearing your thoughts. Now that I think about it I always wanted to ‘be on’ when I was with you and Gail because I respected you personally and professionally.

  3. I can so relate to this posting. Once I was walking down the corridor in a school and heard someone shout, “Shari’s here!” Then all the teachers scrambled. I suspect they were rushing to get ready for instruction. Being on is a good thing. I found that I did my best classroom teaching when I was co-teaching or working with an intern. Having a witness present calls on us to do our best. Having a coach present reminds teachers of all the lessons that they have learned with the coach.

  4. “Being On”….I love it. This is a really important article for all teachers, coaches and administrators to read. So many people who enter the role of “support” educators, even those who mentor, struggle with the idea that they want and need to be liked. That desire can really interfere with making a difference. It is a risk- and the decision to make it “for the kids” is an excellent reason.
    In order to make a difference it’s so important to develop relationships, but I believe that can be done with time and building trust. I will never suggest that a teacher try something without being willing to do it myself. I show that even I can make mistakes. We learn so much from those opportunities, because we learn how to be better next time. As teachers who want to improve and hone their craft, it is helpful to put egos aside and work in the same manner that we expect our students/learners to behave. It feels a little vulnerable perhaps, maybe even a little bit pressured to Be On…. but it can also be a place where improvement is made and habits are formed.
    In order to not worry about “being liked”, I try to think about “being respected”. And I hope that teachers always feel like they have to “Be On” because it is our job and responsibility to “Be On” in order to be effective and make a difference in our children’s education. Maybe if you are “Being On” often enough- it will become habitual and turn into who you are. Being On=Being You!
    Thank you!

    • “I will never suggest that a teacher try something without being willing to do it myself” is so important. Great points all. Thank you, Angie.

  5. I’m late to the convo, but I love this post! I’ve never thought of “being on” as something so positive as what you describe here. In all honestly, when I think of being on, I think of my time student-teaching in a kindergarten classroom – I quickly learned that this wasn’t the placement for me. While my kids were incredibly cute, they wore me out! I remember going back and commenting to my cohort about how impressed I was with my supervising teacher and how she managed to be “on” every minute of the day. Mrs. K. had a song for EVERYTHING and happily sang them all when I struggled to keep a smile plastered across my face after hour 3 (I was just so tired!). I began to wonder how on earth she was able to do what she was all day and if she spoke in that voice (specific to K teachers), in her real life and at home. I was relieved when I ran into her at Chopsticks, a dueling piano bar in Tacoma in a context so unlike the one I was used to seeing her in.
    Ms. K. seemed to have mastered being on in her classroom – a skill that I came to associate with performing, in a way, and as something that I knew I was unable to sustain. I had not thought of it as being the best I could and offering that best to my students nor had I thought of it as my responsibility as an educator to properly serve my kids. It’s really nice to think of it this way – as something that I CAN do on a daily. Thanks, H!

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