I do not like
I do not like them,
I’ll admit I feel Sam-I-am-ish this week. The concept of educators having coaches like business professionals and athletes have had for years is a good one. Most people agree that two heads (and hearts) are better than one in professional collaboration. In my own experience, I’ve never worked with an educator who was meeting 100% of kids’ needs in 100% of the content areas, 100% of the time so it makes sense that coaching can benefit everyone.
And this is a big but.
It doesn’t mean that teachers want to work with coaches. Not in a box. Or on a train. Or here or there or frankly, anywhere.
Some don’t want to because they don’t trust us. Their experience of having another adult in the room might be closely linked to evaluation. Myths about coaching can be rampant. Teaching is personal and they are unwilling to be that vulnerable. Others don’t want to because they don’t think it will improve their practice. Their thoughts range from, “What do you have to teach me? I’m twice your age.” to “It would be nice to reflect, of course, but there’s no time.” A few may have had bad experiences with other coaches or consultants where they felt judged instead of empowered in their work. Once bitten, twice shy. Finally, there are educators in crisis. Their husbands have left, they can’t get pregnant, their children are experimenting with drugs or their parents have early onset dementia. Personal stress impacts learning and memory, which in turn affects an openness to collegial collaboration.
The natural instinct of a coach would be to not work with these individuals. And in the beginning, there’s some wisdom to that idea. If coaches only work with early-career or struggling teachers as they begin their role, that’s how colleagues will brand coaching: you work with a coach when you need fixing. So in the beginning of any coaching initiative it’s wise to work with a variety of teachers including the strong teacher-leaders. Then when you say, “Every teacher deserves a coach” your colleagues will see your actions match your beliefs. After the first few months or the first year of coaching though, you will need to begin working with those who lack trust, time, positive presuppositions and openness.
How do you get someone to try green eggs and ham when they don’t want to?
You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Sam-I-Am was on to something. He was so positive about his colorful breakfast foods. Look at his face on every page–smiling. He had moxie. He knew that green eggs and ham were tasty so he kept offering them in different ways. When a tray didn’t work, he tried an extendo-hand. He asked many questions, Could you, would you,
with a goat? Could you, would you, in a boat?
Here are some things I’ve tried or learned from transformative coaches:
After hearing from a colleague that the person I was to begin working with in a couple weeks was already complaining about coaches (shouldn’t those coaches be back in the classroom if they are such good teachers?), I decided to be upfront. I started in, “I know that some teachers aren’t excited to work with coaches in the beginning. For me, this is all about the kids. If we don’t begin to see improvements in students’ writing then I will understand if you choose not to continue our work. But we’ll need a couple of weeks to give it a shot. Are you willing to do that?” She was.
Don’t Take My Word For It
“I’ll be honest with you. I’m pretty nervous having you here while I’m teaching.” I nodded as the new teacher stared at the table.
“I don’t feel comfortable being watched,” he said. I nodded again.
“I hear you and I don’t think you’ll feel watched. You should notice me paying attention to what your students are doing and saying. My behavior should put you at ease once you get used to having me in here. If it doesn’t, please tell me.”
My husband once shared a business adage: under-promise and over-deliver. I keep that in mind as I coach. I don’t promise teachers will always feel at ease, but I work toward making them feel that way with what I say and do. I don’t promise that our collaborative work will be career-changing, but I also stay open because it has that potential.
Stay In Your Role
In the variety of coaching experiences I’ve had, sometimes I’ve coached in the context of a teaching guide or resources and other times not. Working within curricula, there are educators who think any curriculum kills teacher autonomy. One such teacher told a colleague of mine, “You aren’t going to find fidelity here if that’s what you are looking for. I haven’t even opened the resource.” My colleague responded, “I’m not the curriculum police. Maybe we can find some ways to make it fit better for you. Let’s start where you are at.” My colleague knew that the conversation about whether or not it’s OK to ignore the core curriculum was between that teacher and her administrator. Her job was to support efficient and effective curriculum and instruction which can happen in many ways.
Watch for Red Flags
One time he said, “The parents of my students are very concerned about you being in here.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“They want their kids learning from me.”
“Did you reassure them that teachers often work together in classrooms in our district?”
“I think they are still uncomfortable. You should probably not confer with kids.”
Another time he said, “I don’t want to teach children this lesson on arguing against another’s perspective. My team is against it.”
“What did they say?”
“They say we are encouraging disrespectful behavior.”
“Is that what you thought when you read the lesson?”
“What I thought? What I thought was I don’t want to step away from what my team is doing.”
The last time we met he said, “This coaching is taking time away from my test prep. My principal is going to be very disappointed if my scores drop.”
“Your principal has been in full support of our coaching work,” I assured him.
“That what she says…” he trailed off.
I knew when I left his classroom that would be the end of our work for the time being. He’d given me three red flags waving in unison to say, “I won’t work with you.”
I emailed later that day to say, “I appreciated the chance to work together this month. I’ve learned a lot from you. Hopefully there will be a time in the future to collaborate that’s a better fit.” I encouraged him to share the decision to pause coaching with his principal along with the obstacles he was facing. Then I let go. I’ve learned to trust if I let go, future collaboration is more likely. Meanwhile a slot opens up for a teacher who is hungry to get to work.
While not all coaching cycles end with, “I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am,” many of them do. Like teaching, it’s the good, hard work that pays off when you see students reading powerful books whining when it’s time to stop and students writing poignant pieces pleading for more time after recess and teachers stating, “This is exactly what I needed.”
Thank you Kurt for the delicious image. We’re a good team.