The Curious Coach
Wrapping-up a Messy Year
I've offered something a little different to faculty in the closing weeks of our school year. This time of year I would be tying bows on coaching cycles and partnerships, sending out feedback forms to those who had worked with me, and working with my team to prepare for the next year of professional growth. This year - not so much - so this simply doesn't make sense. To be honest, at times, this year has felt like a bit of a mess. Cycles - at least those that were student-centered - almost all got dropped when we went home. It wasn't anything personal; teachers had to move quickly to create parent and student-friendly plans and their own personal inquiries into student learning (which is what cycles have looked like this year) became more 'important' rather than 'urgent'. I took heart when I read the results of the survey circulated to coaches by @jimknight99 in April, which revealed that my experiences were fairly common among coaches: according to the Instructional Coaching Group, I had spent a lot of time in the surface-zone.
But I'm not sure I agree with the label 'surface', and this is what got me thinking about how to reshape the end of the school year. Surface, by definition, is the outer layer of something; it implies a lack of depth. Have these conversations been surface? I recognise the definition offered by Knight reflects the stance that "...Professional learning does not truly happen until it is being applied in the classroom," (ICG: What is instructional coaching?). I have firmly believed that to see the impact of coaching, we should look to growth in student learning, yet over the years I have found this to be really hard to measure with consistency and longevity. What has been clear has been the impact coaching has had on the professional growth of the teacher. And I'll take this further in a future post.
Many teachers have felt tested these last few months, and that has lead to incredibly deep conversations around values - about children, about classrooms, about community, about education. During these conversations teachers have either reaffirmed their commitment to, or reevaluated how they teach. This has not been easy work. And now that we are back in the building, many of those intentions have had time to take root.
So in light of this very personal work, I offered all teachers an opportunity to reflect on their school year and plan for the next. Many, including some who hadn't worked with me yet, took up the offer. These teachers all came prepared to nut-out a personal-professional action plan. They all wanted to take control of what they could and face the ambiguity that hangs over the commencement of the next school year. I intended to lean into the Cognitive Coaching maps as our primary vehicle, yet almost all conversations saw us partnering in the thinking, often drawing on a third point; an article, data, an image, a resource to push our thinking and make meaning together. Perhaps worthy of note was the power of a single question I asked in each conversation, that I haven't used much before:
What's worth keeping and what's worth letting go?
This question seemed to draw out connections between values and practice. Teachers used it, in a way, to give themselves permission to select what is going to have the most impact with students and our school. Interestingly, all teachers who have talked with me have had in common their desire to declutter, to find cohesion with colleagues, and develop consistency in their practice. It seems stability is top priority - a goal which, if achieved, has to be a positive move for our entire community.
Out of this shift has come a 'first' in my coaching experience: a request from a number of teachers to forward their thinking to our principal. I've phrased this (with permission) as a summary of the commonalities I noted above, and actions that arose during conversations to move closer to these goals.
I am excited about what might come of these end of year conversations: for coaching, for professional growth, and for our direction post-COVID. Is this the beginning of the new-normal in our school? Whatever it might be, inviting teachers to make space for these conversations has given me valuable data. Many teachers:
Are united in their hopes for next year
Are hugely experienced, talented, and eager to begin the work to realise these hopes
Are seeing coaching as a valuable resource to leverage in their pursuit of their professional goals.
Perhaps the year wasn't so messy after all?