Teaching writers' workshop is the best thing I do all day. It is powerful to help young children to become writers. Great books, intentional instruction, high expectations, and wide open spaces. Think Katie Wood Ray. Think Ralph Fletcher. It all comes together here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ten Things I did not Expect to Happen in my First Year as an Instructional Coach

Today’s blog post is inspired by Ruth Ayers’s post on her Two Writing Teachers blog. My own blog has been sorely neglected over the past year, mostly because I changed roles--from classroom teacher to instructional coach--and it’s taken me the better part of this year to even understand myself what the scope of my new work is and how I might write about it here. When I read Ruth’s post, it inspired me to try the same exercise as a reflective tool to think about my first year as a coach and to jumpstart writing on the blog again.
So. . . here goes.

Ten things I did not expect to happen in my first year as an instructional coach.
  • I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in feeling effective in the classroom every day. The shift from being the center of  my own little crew to suddenly being on the outside--and on the outside of a new building where no one knew me or had any idea what I could do--unsettled me to my core. I no longer had those million little moments throughout the day that let you know that what you’re doing is working--and that all the effort is worth it. Some critical piece of myself that makes me myself was missing, and I knew that it was not going to come back in a hurry. I had a lot of work to do to rebuild my own professional efficacy in this new role, and I had to be patient.

  • I didn’t expect to have to think so hard--all the time. I found myself speaking more slowly, pausing more often--and I started to worry that people were going to think I wasn’t very bright. But teachers ask big, thoughtful questions, and they deserve the most careful responses I can give. As a coach I have to think about more than my own classroom and my own grade level. I have so much to learn about grade levels I’ve never taught and a building that is new to me. I’ve had to consider a more global view of the school and the system. And what I’m finding is that people don’t mind a few pauses in the conversation when they can tell the conversation is being taken seriously.

  • I didn’t realize all the work and intention that goes into every staff meeting.

  • I didn’t realize the baggage that comes with terms like “staff meeting.”

  • I didn’t expect to end up in such an ideal place to grow and learn. I think change always brings opportunities for new learning, but this particular change has been so positive. I learn something new every day. I have an opportunity to work with motivated teachers and an exceptional administrator who is truly an instructional leader. I’ve had to jump into so many new challenges this year, but I have felt supported every step of the way--both inside my building and from mentors inside the district. I can only hope that as I get better at this job, I can foster that same feeling of support for all the teachers in my building.

  • I didn’t expect that when I failed in front of someone it would actually build trust. The first time I cried in front of a teacher (out of absolute frustration), I was mortified. How unprofessional! What would she think? Well, it turned out that she thought I was overwhelmed in a new role in a new school (just like her). Imagine that. And that moment of vulnerability gave sea legs to the professional relationship we were building.

  • I didn’t expect some of the windows that opened. I learned to keep an open mind, because some of the teachers most ready to work with a coach might not have been who I predicted. Windows opened suddenly and unexpectedly, and I had great experiences when I just jumped at any opportunity that presented itself. For example, I had a chance to co-teach writing in a grade level I had never taught before. This was not a teacher I expected to initiate collaboration. But then she did. And it was magic. There was something about teaching in front of each other that built trust like a bridge, and everything changed. She and I collaborated and engaged in reflection about writers’ workshop that led to significant growth in her use of conferring and feedback with kids. It was not a perfect collaboration (especially since it was my first real go at it), but it demonstrates the value of persistence--and the power of asking just the right question. Because of teachers like this one, who took a risk and invited me into the work with her, I learned so much--and I’m so ready to keep getting better at this!

  • I didn’t realize all the different ways that people think--and how important it is to pay attention.

  • I didn’t expect to have to run so many things past others before acting. I don’t think I appreciated the power I had to make unilateral decisions all day long in the classroom. As a coach, I am constantly making decisions in collaboration with others (principal, teachers, committees). When I get a great idea, I shoot it past my principal first, and then it goes past Instructional Leadership Team or another committee, whereas as a classroom teacher I hardly ever checked in with my principal (at all, let alone first thing). And while this was initially pretty uncomfortable, I’m realizing how lucky I am to be in a place that values true collaborative decision making. In the grand scheme of community culture and trust building, it’s much better to work as a team player than a lone ranger.

  • I didn’t expect to be so inspired by what’s ahead!