Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!
The best collaboration occurs informally. Despite having a lot of meeting time in our weekly schedules in my district, it seems like it is difficult for quality collaboration to occur if the setting is too structured.
When I meet with other coaches, so many of them have been required to adopt a method of instructional coaching that requires them to model a lesson in each teacher’s room once a week. They often talk about how their teachers “don’t do it” unless they are shown how, or “don’t follow through” if the coach isn’t there to monitor. I know that their administrators probably need to justify the expense of a coach and some administrators (and coaches) have to regulate those schedules for their own comfort level with the position. But that is not helping the teachers they are coaching to gain independence with using the strategies in their own classrooms. Modeling can be an effective way to get people comfortable with changing their teaching, but the primary goal of a coach is to make teachers independent enough that the coach is no longer needed at a certain point. I am fortunate in that my administrators have allowed me to set my own rules and go at my own pace with instructional coaching. I am much more comfortable in my role as coach planning lessons with those who want to try new things, rather than having it mandated that I invade their classrooms and that they follow my lead.
I have found my colleagues to be very receptive to trying out new strategies and adding a literacy focus to their classrooms. Everyone I work with is doing great things with kids, and I am trying to use coaching to enhance and add consistency to what we are already doing. Most of this collaboration has started incidentally through conversations about frustrations people are having with specific students, or exchanges that occur between classes when we are on hall duty and talking about what we just did or are getting ready to do in our classes.
The same is true of teaching students in the classroom. When given a little guidance and a lot of room, students can come up with amazing things. When I try a new assessment task for the first time, I always approach it with unclear expectations, because I can very rarely foresee the great directions students will go if given loose parameters and the support they need. That is also what I have tried to do with teachers as a coach.
It has taken me until now to realize that there really shouldn't be that much difference in how I approach coaching teachers and teaching students. In a student-centered classroom, teaching is really just collaboration with students, and instructional coaching is best accomplished with collaboration at the heart. Great collaboration can occur when people are willing, where the culture of trust and collegiality has been established, and if support is provided for those who want to participate. But more importantly, just being available at the right moment can make all the difference.
I have not always been a successful coach this year. More times than not, I have doubted my ability to enhance literacy in my building, and it is because I am not giving myself credit for having capitalized on those moments of informal collaboration. Right now, in March, I feel a lot like a first year teacher who just wants the year to be over so I can start fresh and “get it right” for next year. But if I look at the small achievements teachers have had because I was there at the right time with the ability to help, I see the beginnings of a foundation that I think will help us continue to build a culture of literacy in our building and our district…one collaborative opportunity at a time.