During the week I was sent this photo (above) from our Comms team as a little bit of nostalgia. In it, I am in my first year of coaching, and I’m working with the HS Science department. They’d asked for coaching as a group with the goal of being able to better support students through the new IBDP Group 4 Project. It was an exciting task, but I was nervous too. This was the first time I’d coached so far out of my curriculum-comfort zone: was I up to it?
I joined the team over the course of a few weeks and clarified goals, prepared protocols, and listened hard. They spoke with the richness that subject specialists can, discussing forms of scientific communication, using examples of students’ work to illustrate how they had interpreted criteria in the past. I asked questions that sought clarity between members, sparking conversations where presumptions were challenged, and from teachers’ individual knowledge and experience grew collective understanding. I grabbed at these, and soon the teams’ goal started to materialise in the form of rubrics and work samples that could be used to support teaching of the criteria. And just as exciting was the cohesion felt among the team members: they’d made time to really talk about the subject they love, to listen to each other, and it was clear to all that each teachers’ expertise was seen as integral to achieving their goal.
They weren’t the only ones winning here: the HS Science team had busted misconceptions I’d had about my coaching and helped me to discover something powerful. They’d trusted that I would maintain my role and not sway into consultancy, even though I wasn’t sure I could do my job well without sharing their subject knowledge. It turns out that, for this work, my curriculum-deficit was actually my strength, freeing me to focus on the teams’ goal rather than being charmed by the content (which is hard to avoid when it’s content you know well). And I felt effective: the look on my face in that photo says it all. I am being effective for a team of high school Science teachers, and I don’t have to have intimate knowledge of IBDP Science. To be effective, I have to have an intimate knowledge of coaching. I was watching their professional exchange, and my expertise was to watch the matrix of professional conversation and push into those moments where I saw the path to the goal set by the coachees.
I'd discovered a little coaching superpower, and it felt good.