Go-ers: teachers who are willing to revise their practice and/or try something new when they see the potential benefits for their learners. They are veteran, beginning and midcareer teachers and they spread new learning like a healthy virus. (Heather’s definition)
The exciting thing about blogging is the opportunity to have conversations across schools, districts and states. In this manner, a new literacy coach named Diana got in touch with me and said she spent her first year working with go-ers. She knew going with the go-ers is highly recommended for a firstyear coach and for many new initiatives. Starting with the educators who are most ready is a great way to get traction. You typically have teachers with the deepest content knowledge and most positive outlook on board. As a result, coaching tends to go smoothly because the goers don’t expect perfection and they are flexible problem-solvers working with you.
But going with the go-ers left Diana wondering what to do in her second year. “What happens after you’ve gone with the go-ers?” she asked. What a question! The educators who are not go-ers can end up receiving less professional development because they come to the work later. Often they are the ones that need the time and resources most. Without that support, they may be reinforcing habits that don’t improve student learning while the go-ers forge ahead. It’s also exciting to be part of fresh, new work with an opportunity to build community. Those left out of the launch can feel behind and forgotten. It can be difficult to bring them into the conversation later.
Many instructional leaders find themselves in Diana’s shoes. They work with the dream team of Jan, Katie, Maria and Thomas and now it’s time to focus on Bev, Char and David. The opposite of go-ers aren’t the slowers or even the stoppers. We might call them the step-backers, which, let’s remember, in many cases is very smart. I’m a step-backer when it comes to technology. Does this work better than what I have? Will it help me be smart with time? Who else is using this? What do they think? What problems have they encountered? Is the benefit worth the cost? In the end, is it good for kids?
Go-ers might be willing to jump in with some ambiguity because they trust the process. Step-backers? Not so much.
So consider these tips when working with step-backers:
1) Remember that we are all step-backers in some area. If coaches see legitimate reasons for holding back instead of resistance, it helps us stay open.
2) Some step-backers like research and statistics, but not many. A few want to see how it’s worked for their colleagues. Most want to know why it’s good for their practice and their students. Appeal to the heart and mind of the step backers. Find out what will help them commit to the work.
3) Be sure to enact your confidentiality clause.
I’ve had step-backers say to me, “I don’t want you judging my teaching and having my principal on me about it.”
I’ve said, “First, I’m not here to judge your teaching. I’m here to work with you to improve student learning. That’s the same purpose I have in every classroom. I hope that my behavior as we work together will demonstrate that. And second, everything that we say and do stays here. I let your principal know my schedule and the subject matter we are working onand that’s it. That allows us to be honest with each other and know that our professional conversations aren’t about evaluation.”
Then stick to the confidentiality promise. When the principal asks, “How’s it going?” with that knowing look, you say, “I’m coming in three times a week working on writing. I love working with your staff.” If they press beyond that response, encourage them to ask the teacher how it’s going. You can say, “I’m bound by my promise of confidentiality. It helps me earn the trust I need to do this work.”
4) When entering the step-backer’s classroom as a coach or beginning to look at student work, it is imperative to honor what they already know and can do. You may say things like, “Since you already know so much about reading instruction, you’ll be able to add this strategy to help improve students’ comprehension of new vocabulary.”
5) Know the signs. Early on, step-backers may cancel when you are supposed to be collaborating. They’ll forget a planning meeting or you’ll find the lesson/focus changed at the last moment. In that situation, I’ve found patience and honesty are my two best tools. After one cancellation or interruption I keep my positive presuppositions that it was necessary. When it goes beyond that I state, “I noticed we’ve tried to collaborate three times and you’ve had something come up. How can we move forward? I want to make the best use of our time.”
6) When teachers see a difference in students’ learning or the efficiency of a curriculum or pacing, these early wins can turn a step backer into an enthusiast and prime supporter of coaching.