Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gearing yourself up for a challenging semester of instructional coaching

Recently, someone told me, "You make your job look so easy." 
I blinked. 
"Really?" I asked. 
"Yeah! From what I see on Instagram, it looks like you know what you're doing and that you do everything!"
I cocked my head to one side and I blinked again. 
"Lies!" I shouted. "It's all lies!" And then I laughed like a maniac. 
Ok, maybe I didn't laugh like a maniac, but I did say that thing about lies. 
You see, it's not easy. And I don't do everything. And sometimes I feel pretty crummy. 

This is a tough job. After that conversation, I realized, maybe I'm not doing a good enough job of conveying that to my readers. I would hate for anyone to think that I have it all together and that they don't. The truth is: neither of us knows what we're doing. 

HAHA! Kidding. Sort of.

Let's step back a bit.

This last semester has been a challenge for me. We've been going through some personal challenges and we've been struggling in some professional contexts too. In my particular arena, these are questions that invade my thinking at all hours of the day:
  • Am I making a positive difference on my campus?
  • Am I providing the appropriate support for my teachers?
  • How do I differentiate teacher support based on need?
  • How should I change the type of support I'm providing to my teachers based on my campus' changing need?
  • Are teachers gaining the best practices they need in order to support student learning at higher levels?
The list goes on and on. I spend many hours wallowing in self-doubt and worry. I spend hours talking about this with my colleagues, trying to make adjustments in my approach to best suit teachers' needs and the needs of my school as a whole. I debate within myself and aloud to my husband about the pros and cons of different types of campus support.
And I still feel like I don't have all the answers.
You see, much like teaching, coaching is about doing the metal work. Read the books, scour the blogs, ask the questions, and try to arrive at some answers. Try something out, see how it goes, adjust, and try again. There isn't a "right" way. And that's what makes it so hard. 
So, back to the intent of this post: How do you take that uncertainty and use it to gear yourself up for the next semester? (In my opinion, the more challenging semester.)
Well, here are a few things I do that help me move forward, even when I'm swimming in a sea of doubt and dread.

1. Choose a passion project.

We know that passion projects matter. Great things come out of the work we love to do. So give yourself something to live for! What's your passion project? Make a little time for it every week. Last spring, my project was the Reading Lounge. This past fall, I spent all my choice time on Mentor Texts. The year before that was my Book Buddies program (big kids reading to little kids) and before that it was my book study on Whole Brain Teaching. 
In the spring, I find that I'm pulled in 8,000 different directions (testing, administrative support for state/federal mandates, supporting classrooms where teachers are out with babies or medical issues) and sometimes it's easy to get lost in all of that yucky work and forget that there are things to life that I actually enjoy. So these passion projects motivate me to find the joy in my work, even when I'm charting (disappointing) data or having challenging conversations with teachers or administration. Having something to look forward to is great for motivation!

2. Find a coaching community. 

This position can be very isolated. You may be the only coach on your campus, depending on your district. You may be the only one with your job description, in your spot between administration and teachers. In a recent conversation with a new coach, we talked about this challenge. "I feel like I don't really have anyone else on campus who understands my job." 

She's right. Administration, coaching, and teaching look very different from each other on a day-to-day basis. If you've struggled to interact with someone on your campus, it can be hard to figure out who to talk to about it. You don't want to vent to your administrator, because that can violate the trust a teacher has in you. And you can't talk to other teachers about an experience with one of their colleagues. 

So find somebody to talk to! This can be a coach at another school in your area, or find an online coaching community to discuss your experiences with. Or email me at! I love to hear from other coaches! I'd love to hear from you!

3. Remember you're a human being.

I know, I know. You're superhuman. You can pee in under 28 seconds, wash your hands, and make it back to your room before anyone knows you've left the meeting! You can heat up your lunch and eat it standing up at the same time. You can plan a family night event, email your administrator, and refer teachers to your favorite blog, all while make a new spreadsheet to analyze data.

But don't do that all the time, please. It will make you crazy - I promise. I've been to crazy and back (partway back, anyway) and it's not fun. 
This is what happens when you haven't had a hair cut in four months and you've lost your minds a little.
You have to give yourself time to do things like eat, go to the bathroom, and see sunshine. This can come in the form of leaving work thirty minutes earlier than normal and taking a walk. This is what I plan to do each year that I hardly ever do. But when I do, I am far happier. And a happy coach is far more effective than a coach who's forgotten what the sun looks like.

4. I have one more tip, but I don't think it's completely appropriate. So I'll just leave this right here...

How do you get through the tough months? Do you have any tips to share? Please leave them in the comments below!

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  1. Hello, dear MsB. I am happy to read your colorful and joyful blog. Just to think how many great tips you can give to the teachers who are just beginning their careers. I love that you are so positive about everything that you do in the classroom with the kids and I think your good mood also gives them the boost to try harder at home assignments that you give them. A talented teacher like you will surely help the learners to order your essay online help and teach them how to write good essays.

  2. Great post! I've been in my coaching position since 2012, and I'm still struggling with finding my balance and feeling as if I've done enough. Love the passion project idea, and I'm definitely going to incorporate it. :)