I spent one day back at school with my students before I was off to two days of Student-Centered Coaching training with my district's Teacher Leadership team. While it's agonizing to be away from my classroom for two days in a row, especially after a long break, we haven't had a single day of this training that didn't leave me with a flood of thoughts, ideas, and reflections. Julie Wright, a "coach of coaches" with Diane Sweeney's program, is a master.
On Thursday, she wrote three words on the white board at the front of the room:
An oversimplified explanation of this is that when Julie works with teachers, she wants to make sure that she's coaching and not rescuing them. She thinks about what she can do for other people: what strategies or structures can she provide to help with their success? She considers what she can do with them: can they co-teach or co-plan a lesson? And then she designates what can be done by the other person on his/her own to ensure that they are still developing their own independence while being coached.
I'm not an instructional coach, but this easily applies to how I work with my colleagues. While Julie was talking about this from the perspective of making sure she wasn't rescuing people, I knew from the start that's not my problem. I'm not a rescuer. I don't do things for other people because I want to save them, but I'm still guilty of doing too much on my own.
I've known for years that I do too much for myself and others. I am a control freak about the way my classroom is run, and how my practice aligns with my beliefs about teaching writing. A major character flaw in (and outside of) my life as a teacher is that I have a hard time trusting other people's competence. Even just writing that sentence makes me cringe, because I don't think that I'm superior to other people; there are so many ways each day in my classroom in which I feel inferior or not quite good enough. But I also have a hard time trusting other people to care and know as much as I do about writing, developing writers, and providing the right balance of structure and feedback that encourages young writers to thrive and grow. Instead of placing too much trust in my highly competent colleages, I do it all for anyone I might work with so I know it's done the way I want it to be. (Shout out to all the other kids who despised group work in school because you wanted it done "right" so that meant you did everything.)
That doesn't mean that I'm not capable of allowing people to do things by themselves. I can delegate tasks and responsibilities like nobody's business. When I have a plan for the day, I never hesitate to tell my special ed co-teachers and support staff exactly what I want them to be doing during the class period in order to maximize our efficiency as a teaching team.
The laughable part of that, of course, is that we aren't performing as a team at all. I'm not allowing us to be a team because I'm not doing anything with them. With was the preposition that made me cringe. Because I know I'm not good at honestly working with people.
This isn't some kind of confession to being a tyrannical monster, although there are plenty of times when I've allowed myself to slip into that role. And I don't think my colleagues hate working with me; I know they respect my skill set and ask for my opinions and advice.
But I'm not genuinely working with people as much as I should. My tendency has always been to work in isolation, pushing myself to learn and grow on my own terms and time, sharing my ideas after I've already formed them. Even when my principal and my instructional coach work with me during evaluations or coaching cycles, most of the time is spent with me thinking and reflecting out loud, talking myself through my strengths, weaknesses, and goals as an educator. Over the years, my principal has learned to master the art of asking me just the right questions to push me in new directions without making it seem like he's taking away any of my control. When Julie Wright talked about for, with, and by he knew exactly which preposition was my problem. It stuck with me for the next two days of professional development.
I told my instructional coach that I need to let go and learn how to genuinely work with my special ed co-teachers instead of taking control. I can't do this on my own, so I asked her to put us in a team coaching cycle. I am not the only adult in my classroom for five periods out of my eight period day. I need her help to give me permission to trust others enough to work with them as equal partners through the planning and delivering stages of a lesson instead of delegating their roles after I've already predetermined them.
I spend a lot of time focusing on how I can improve in how I interact with my students to provide a more successful learning experience for them. It's also time to throw that same amount of time and energy into how I can improve my work with other teachers.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.