Listen to Podcast on Coach Approach & download first chapter here
Join my co-authors Jessica Johnson, Kathy Perret and me with host Justin Baeder, talking about one of our favorite topics – using instructional coaching techniques as school leaders.
The heroic human journey is to function as you are supposed to function, to achieve your personal best
Several years ago in preparation for a school lockdown drill, a large, muscular, uniformed and armed police officer leading the drill shared that at 3 AM he can be downtown with the range of unsavory characters present and not be afraid. “But,” he revealed, “were you to leave me for a day in a room full of elementary school students, I’d be terrified. You guys are heroes.” We smiled and applauded, surprised and pleased by the recognition of the challenging, even heroic work of teachers. It’s not recognition often received.
Heroism is a topic that has long been of interest to me. For well over a decade, I’ve delved into biographies and research on the lives of Holocaust rescuers. I’ve been transformed as an educator and a parent by the insight that among the very few factors that distinguished these moral exemplars from others was the presence of an influential adult in their early lives who held the consistent expectation that they help others. Also vital was a community of individuals who supported their efforts. Works such as Samuel and Pearl Oliner’s Altruistic Personality and Eva Fogelman’s Conscience and Courage opened my eyes to the impact of modeling in specific ways on the development of individuals who later transcended tremendous adversity in order to help others. I also learned about the importance of a supportive community. Over the years I’ve grown to admire more and more, not only these exemplars, but also the parents, teachers, and other adults who guided them to develop into the remarkable individuals of character they became as well as the friends, family members, and colleagues who lent their practical and moral assistance, approval, and encouragement. I’ve come to hold in the highest esteem the heroism not only of the exemplars, but of the mentors and guides who supported them.
Beginning Jim Knight’s newest book High Impact Instruction as part of the February #educoach book chat, occurring Wednesday nights at 10 PM EST, I anticipated insight on learning and teaching. I hadn’t imagined that from the very first chapter my notions of heroism, happiness, meaning, struggle, discomfort, and tension would be so positively challenged. Could it be, as in George Sheehan’s quote shared above, that striving to achieve one’s personal best is the essence of the heroic human journey? I read the words, was moved, and wondered. I pondered and reflected. While the answer for me remains “no”; aspiration for one’s personal best is not heroism, I have gained and expanded my thinking. For me, heroism is not about doing one’s best in any area of human achievement, but rather heroism is making a positive impact in the lives of others.
My thinking has been deepened by Sheehan’s perspective. Knight quotes Sheehan describing running as much more than exercise.
My end is not simple happiness. My need, drive, and desire is to achieve my full and complete self. If I do what I have come to do, if I create the life I was made for, then happiness will follow. (George Sheehan, Personal Best, 1989, p. 21; quoted by Jim Knight, High Impact Instruction, p. 2)
I embrace the notion that happiness follows the striving for one’s personal best. Even more, I embrace the notion that combining a meaningful act that has a positive impact on the lives of others such as teaching with striving to do one’s personal best can be both heroic and joyful. I imagine that the joy Jim Knight finds as a runner, striving to get better and achieve his personal best, energizes the heroic efforts in which he is engaged as a father of seven children (thanked in the books’ acknowledgements) and as an instructional coach of instructional coaches, helping to improve the quality of learning for so many students. I recognize the intersection of joy, heroism, and personal bests.
With perspective on heroism and happiness; we can broach the messier topics of school change efforts: the struggle, the uncomfortable, and being discontented. “It’s more comfortable not to try. But life is, or should be, a struggle: Comfort should make us uncomfortable; contentment should make us discontented.” (Sheehan, p.30, Quoted by Knight, p. 9). It’s not easy to stretch beyond our comfort zones. Knight sensitively shares, “For many of us, the journey toward a personal best, although highly attractive, can feel overwhelming, especially if we feel we are embarking on the journey all by ourselves.” (p.8) Seeing teacher resistance as a sense of being overwhelmed by the struggle enables us as colleagues, coaches, and supervisors to support one another to face the discomfort and to find within that struggle both joy and meaning.
Add tension to heroism, happiness, meaning, struggle and discomfort and the need for robust support alongside high expectations becomes ever more evident. Knight quotes Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline (1990), saying:
The juxtapolisiton of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are realtive to what we want) generates what we call “creative tension”: a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution. The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives. (Senge, p. 132, quoted by Knight, p. 9)
How might we reframe stress in schools in the context of creative tension which does not overwhelm but instead energizes? What are possible ways of responding sensitively to the complex emotions, including joy, meaning, discomfort, and tension, that administrators, instructional coaches, teachers and students experience in the course of striving to achieve our personal bests? How can we support one another to constantly strive toward achieving our personal bests?
As we continue reading High-Impact Instruction, and as I strive to share my reflections on the reading, I hope to find together some answers as well as many more questions. Looking forward to the learning!
Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.
Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.
I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.
It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!
I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.
Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:
My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.
We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.
While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?
Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul? Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?
What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.
cc licensed image shared by flickr user ell brown
The past six months co-moderating educoach on twitter with Kathy Perret and Jessica Johnson, interacting with a growing number of wise and creative instructional coaches, principals and teachers, has helped me move a quantum leap forward in my thinking about professional learning in my school. During this time I’ve also been blessed as an educational leader to work with my own instructional coach who has helped me to stretch my thinking and reflect on challenges and successes, nurturing my own professional learning. Complementing my journey into the potential of instructional coaching I’ve learned along with mentors in our school, trained to coach new teachers by the New Jewish Teachers Project. I’ve begun to immerse myself in literature about instructional coaching, seeking ways to support faculty in my school. The impact for me has been powerful.
My learning has led to action. I’ve been planning with educational leaders, both administrators and teachers, brainstorming ways of creating a team of instructional coaches for our school. Tomorrow in a blog post on my school blog I’ll be sharing our plans with the school community.
While much is in place, a tremendous amount of planning remains and I feel grateful for the thoughtful collaboration of my educoach colleagues. I share with you in the hopes that you can continue to help me think through ways of designing and supporting a team of instructional coaches.
By transforming existing positions, we are creating a team of seven individuals who will work as instructional coaches. Most have additional responsibilities in the school and over time, by developing the capacity of our teachers, we hope to support our instructional coaches to focus more of their time on enhancing professional learning in our school.
Our Coaching Positions:
Singapore Math Coach: As we implement aSingapore math curriculum in the school, we will benefit from an outside coach providing five days of intensive training for teachers as well as a workshop for parents, alongside a full-time in-house coach to provide ongoing professional learning and training for our teachers and support for our parents. We have had a math enrichment specialist and over time have begun to transform this position into an instructional coach. Our math coach is the “purest” of the instructional coaching roles we have been able to create, focusing almost exclusively on math instructional coaching for our faculty. An additional responsibility will be communicating and partnering with parents to help them become knowledgeable about our math curriculum.
Hebrew Instructional Coach: We are a K-12 dual curriculum Jewish day school and we teach Hebrew language from Kindergarten. For several years, we have had a K-12 Hebrew coordinator who functions as the Hebrew Department Chair in our Middle and High Schools. This year, in ourLowerSchool where I serve as principal, we have shifted her role from department chair to instructional coach. She spends 1 ½ days per week in theLowerSchool and we hope to extend that to 2 full days weekly next year. During her time in theLowerSchool she functions exclusively as an instructional coach; supporting teachers to develop units and lessons, modeling lessons, observing and providing feedback, developing student assessments and supporting teachers to analyze assessment data, and reflecting with teachers on teaching and learning in their classrooms.
Science Instructional Coach: Our science instructional coach began her position this year, replacing a science enrichment specialist. In the past, students benefitted from supplemental science instruction in our lab most times supporting curriculum but at times stand alone science experiments. Our science instructional coach teaches students as a means of modeling science instruction for our teachers. Lessons occur in our lab, our classrooms and our outdoor labs – walking trails and our vegetable and butterfly gardens. The science instructional coach assists teachers develop science units and lessons and models many lessons. Over time, she will take on additional coaching responsibilities as our teachers gain confidence providing more of the direct science teaching to students.
Educational Technology Instructional Coach: Technology can no longer be relegated to a lab, but must be infused within classroom experiences. An educational technology coach will provide students with a comprehensive technology curriculum, but even more significantly, will support teachers to infuse daily learning experiences with technology in order to enhance and improve the quality of learning at our school. We have had a computer lab teacher and our educational technology coach will continue, for the foreseeable future, to provide direct instruction to students. However, substantial time will be devoted to coaching faculty. Even when providing direct service to students, the educational technology coach will simultaneously be modeling technology learning for our teachers.
Enrichment Instructional Coach: An enrichment coach whose role will be to support teachers to design enrichment experiences for students will join our department of student services. This educator will work directly with students who, based on assessment, demonstrate the need for enrichment or acceleration exceeding grade-level learning. The enrichment specialist will be able to teach students in their classrooms and, as needed, pull students out of class to provide an enriched curriculum. Our enrichment specialist will also serve as a coach to teachers, assisting us to design enrichment experiences that will challenge and nurture the talents and passions of all our students. We have created this position by a redesign of our student services department so that we can manage with one less learning strategist.
Library/Media Specialist-Research, Media and Literacy Instructional Coach: Leading the process of shifting our library into a twenty-first century library/media center is vital to our efforts to prepare our students for success in our rapidly changing media-rich world. We will be welcoming a library/media specialist to our faculty who will support our students to develop research and media literacy skills. Our library and media specialist will also coach our classroom teachers in more skillful integration of research, media, and literacy skills into educational experiences in the classroom.
Literacy and Learning Strategies Instructional Coach: The role of the chairperson of our student services department will shift to focus far more on instructional coaching in literacy and learning strategies. She will work in concert with a number of other faculty leaders highly skilled in literacy instruction to provide our teachers support. While we would very much like to hire a literacy instructional coach, we do not currently have funding for this position and will therefore create a team of faculty leaders, led by the chairperson of our student services department, who will spend much of her time on instructional coaching.
Instructional Coaching Team:
Our instructional coaches will work together as a coaching team, supporting meaningful professional learning designed to meet the specific needs of our teachers. We hope that the sum of that instructional coaching team will be greater than the parts and a creative energy and collaborative learning spirit among our coaches will both support their effectiveness and spread throughout our faculty. While in most cases our instructional coaches also have teaching responsibilities with students, we hope to transform that challenge into a benefit, as coaches will speak to colleagues from the trenches, experiencing daily the difficulties and rewards of teaching children during times of rapid change.
In these initial stages of our thinking on creating an instructional coaching team, I turn to colleagues for insight and ideas. How can we prepare our instructional coaches? What challenges can we anticipate and how might we proactively address them? What professional learning will be valuable for our coaches? How might the roles of principal and assistant principal shift in order to enhance the momentum produced by instructional coaching? What other questions should we be asking?
Thanks for your input!
Cross posted at connectededucoach.wordpress.com