A Day Full of Ups and Downs (or Sometimes Coaching Is About Surviving & Thriving Rather Than Technique)

“Oh, Ms. So-and-So, isn’t it funny that we both have our coats on right now?” I inquired with a sly grin.

“Mrs. Gordon, we have our coats on because it’s cold in the art room today.”

“What do you know? I was feeling a little cold as well.”

We smiled over the heads of her kindergartners. Mine was a touch ironic. Hers was tired.

It had been an up and down…and down…and down day for her already. The team had rallied, but it was taking its toll.

I checked the time on my phone surreptitiously. Three and a half minutes.

The art teacher greeted the class at her door. Upon hearing about the cold art room she apologized with a wink and a nod.

As the students filed in through her door I said, “Come on. Let’s get a change of scenery. How about a coffee?” When I signed us out in the front office, our secretary was already holding the walkie talkie. We slipped out just ahead of the ruckus.

For the next 20 minutes, my unofficial mentee and I chatted about anything and everything but school. Where we grew up. Our weddings–one past and one on the horizon. Friend outings. We sipped coffee (or cocoa) and strolled around the green in the sunshine.

It was lovely.

There’s never a bad time for sunshine, and after a couple of gloomy weather days it was especially welcome. Not to mention the stormy conditions in her classroom for a few days.

I’ve been in classrooms almost continuously this week (and before the crazy conference week), but I’d been reflecting recently that it didn’t feel like I’d done much literacy coaching. Rather in this room, and one other, I’ve been making regular appearances as a support to make the day to day work possible. I’ve conferred with students and provided proximity influence for restless kiddos to extend the reach of an adult so teachers could take on small groups or conferences of their own without interruption.

It’s not, as one colleague shockingly announced to me in frustration, that these teachers have poor classroom management. (Really?!?) I’ve been a firsthand witness to their calm demeanor, clear and consistent structures and routines, obvious rapport with students, and truly admirable patience and appreciation of the little people in their charge. I have also been witness to the sudden and repeated outbursts of certain little humans in their care.

So while I’d intended to be coaching hard for small group work and new units of study this fall, lately it’s been looking rather different. I’ve been sharing resources about mindset work and teaching into self-regulation. (Thank you Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz!) I’ve been stopping by more frequently regardless of whether it’s a workshop block, and in addition to conferring with kids and sharing impromptu class read aloud breaks, I’ve been doing wellness checks on teachers.

Today that took the form of an emergency off-site coffee break. Being loving and patient in the face of physical, verbal, and emotional outbursts is taxing. If we’re going to provide a classroom that’s safe and nurturing for our kiddos, we need to feel safe and nurtured. We also need to know that we’re not in this alone. We celebrate together and we back each other up when it gets tough. That might look like: in the moment triage, post-game reflection and problem solving, or recovery strategies.

I’m not going to say the afternoon was easy, but something about basking in the sunshine and breathing the fresh air together made it approachable.

Tomorrow is a new day. A new week, new month, and new trimester are just around the corner. Teaching is a profession of many fresh starts. They are a gift. So soon I will get back to intense, focused literacy coaching. For now I will coach kids through tough words or confusing paragraphs until they have strategies of their own. I will coach teachers through difficult classroom dynamics until new patterns start to emerge, or new plans are formulated.

My Revised Plan:

  • De-escalate.
  • Look through an admiring lens and recognize strengths.
  • Offer choice and ownership of the type of support or strategies to receive.
  • Provide strategies and support.
  • Invite reflection.
  • Allow for a fresh start.

That’s funny–it looks a lot like coaching.

 

 

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