My teaching career (former English teacher) and my career coaching teachers (now Instructional Coach) seem to be converging lately. Of course, this must be: they’re narratives, intertwined, leading me to learning. Keep learning was the theme of the Teaching Learning Conference I attended in October, facilitated by Jim Knight and the Instructional Coaching Group. I used theme intentionally; in Knight’s Keynote opener, he spoke to the power of story. Knight anchored this in words from Barry Lopez: “The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.” With these words, I realized I am still helping others to write their stories and to learn from them. And, it’s why I believe teachers–in all stages of their careers–should share their stories with their instructional coach (or literacy coach or data coach, etc.). This is a powerful way to stay alive in the classroom, full of possibility.
The most recent intersection of story and coaching occurred as I shared stories with a former student; I cared for the stories he shared but a question he asked of me about my new coaching role caused me to pause and reflect. He asked, simply, “How many of the teachers have been coached (in sports, or music, or something else) at some point?” He followed this with “Because if they’ve ever been coached, then they know.” Yes, teachers would likely know–they would know that coaches see what can be and guide toward that possibility. And, if teachers didn’t know, then there’s opportunity to learn all the ways a coach can act with the compassion necessary to differentiate according to teacher needs, ultimately helping to shape the story.
Coaches can ….
- Help teachers imagine new realities. Coaches (in many places) aren’t there to tell you what to do. In fact, some coaches would love to collaborate on co-writing a new story for your classroom. Recently, I spent time working with a teacher to shift classroom practices so that play anchors the work and intentional grouping will lead to enhanced collaboration. Together, we imagined a reality where her students took the kinds of risks as learners that lead to rich learning.
- Help teachers see the story of their classroom from different perspectives. In working with a world language teacher, I tried to, in Jim Knight’s words, “whisper a different narrative.” For this veteran teacher with perfectionistic tendencies, articulating and affirming where the teacher was already successfully making the moves she desired encouraged her to step back, reflect, and start to shift the story she was telling herself.
- Help teachers determine which story is most important AND help them own a story. Just as when I was in the classroom, I find myself taking note of what I hear or using visuals to help provide structure to thought. As I listened to a teacher share her story of a particularly difficult class, I took note of every strategy she tried, categorized them, and then used this to help her prioritize her challenges. We not only uncovered which challenge mattered most to her to address but also referenced that long list of strategies as a story that shows her strengths of persistence and problem solving.
- Help teachers continually revise and edit the story–even of students. Sometimes this means working together to problem-solve for one student. When working with a teacher whose student struggled to write an argument research paper, we imagined a different approach for this student, improving the likelihood the student could complete the writing.
This is not an exhaustive list. I’m still uncovering all the possibilities, but I do know that I’m learning to listen better for the story as I work to support teachers. And, as words always have, this keeps me alive in learning.
Kristin Jeschke is a former high school English teacher turned Instructional Coach in Waukee, Iowa. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke.