The Perpetually Uncoached :Coaching Reflection

I was having a discussion with a teacher yesterday reflecting on his reading lesson. The conversation rolled around to his plans for today. He pulled up his SMARTboard notebook to show me the lesson, and commented that he was worried about it. The lesson was so complex, he said. He wasn’t sure it was going to work, let alone trying to shorten the time the kids were on the carpet as we discussed. I started to offer to take a stab at teaching that lesson, hoping I could model how to get to the heart of the lesson and keep it streamlined, when he said he wasn’t going to be in school today–it would end up being a lesson for the sub. Noting the complexity of his slides, I hurriedly assured him, I’d handle the lesson. (He’s getting married today, so the least I could do was to take a tricky lesson off his plate.)

I stopped by the classroom before school to let the sub know that I’d be coming in after lunch to do the reading lesson. I like to roll up my sleeves and try out the tricky lessons myself, I told her, so that I can have real conversations with teachers about how to do the hard work of teaching brand new units in the workshop. She stood up and hugged me. She had been reading his slides, too.

I appeared after lunch, multiple mentor texts in hand, to fire up the hover cam and get situated before the class walked in from the cafeteria. (How grateful am I that I have the luxury of gathering my thoughts and materials instead of walking around the building to pick up students?!) I didn’t use his slides. I thought that I had simplified and condensed the lesson down to its heart. I used all the management strategies in my deep toolbelt.

The lesson was complex. It was not my best lesson. I was secretly relieved that I hadn’t recorded it, like I’d considered doing, so I could show the teacher later how I’d managed to modify the lesson for success. I was relieved not to have any witnesses.

And then the sub walked over to me and thanked me.

“Thank you! It was so great to watch you do the lesson. Wow.”

“Oh, thanks, but I kind of bombed it.” I started to note things that hadn’t gone according to plan.

“You don’t understand,” she explained. “As a sub, I never get to see another teacher doing a lesson. And you usually don’t come when I’m in the class, unless you need to take a student, because the teacher isn’t here.”

This woman is in our building almost every single day. She’s deeply committed to our school community. Sometimes she’ll come in on a day she’s not working to help a teacher. She’s done everything from kindergarten to 5th grade, from PE to math.

So in addition to reflecting on how I could have better adapted the lesson, or better managed a class full of strong personalities and learned behaviors, I’ve been thinking about those ever present but perpetually uncoached members of our school communities.

Substitutes, especially the ones who are frequent contributors.

Tutors who deliver interventions.


Our intern.

These people work alongside students every single day, sometimes in small or individualized settings. Their potential impact is tremendous.

This lesson was not one that anyone should have left for a substitute. If it’s hard for us as experts with professional support networks like a team, a literacy coach, and professional development throughout the year, how can we expect someone to walk in cold and deliver it with finesse? And yet, on those occasions (like midweek weddings) when we can’t help being out of our classrooms, we hate to leave a throwaway lesson. Time is precious. And let’s face it, skilled teaching involves preparation, yes. But it involves more on your toes thinking and adjustment than we can easily explain. You can’t leave plans for that.

And more than that…

If we, as a school, are committed to doing everything in our power to benefit students and maximize the potential for learning, then we need to build the capacity of all our team members.

What’s left is to figure out how.

I’m certainly willing and able to invite them to any professional development sessions when students aren’t in the building. However, I’m not the decision-maker when it comes to figuring out if they can be paid for that time. That would require a district commitment.

And professional meeting time can be valuable, but nothing replaces being in the classroom with students and a coach. How do we relieve the people who usually relieve us to make these kinds of experiences possible?

As so often happens, today the coach became the learner. Anyone out there available to coach the coach?


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