For the past five years, I have been honored to work as an instructional coach in Albemarle County. Throughout these years, I have listened, reflected thoughtfully, provided support, and posed questions to build relationships and help teachers achieve their goals. The conversations, the learning – the work – have resulted in amazing professional and personal growth for me. As a result of delving into these rich, rewarding experiences, coaching has given me a valuable gift. The coaching interactions I have experienced and the different (and wonderful) schools in which I have had the honor of working have formed this gift. My dynamic, delightful fellow coaches and teachers have shaped this gift with their wisdom and professionalism. With this gift, I transition from coaching to classroom teaching so much richer and inspired. What is this gift? It is perspective.
As an instructional coach, I have been thrilled to see new and engaging tools deployed with skill and enthusiasm. These tools enhance communication and collaboration in powerful ways. Students create a variety of exciting products while reaching a larger, more interactive audience. These tools also help learners create these products by providing access that allows kids choices. And while this shiny array of affordances promises great learning experiences, the gift of perspective helps me focus upon three important questions:
- What is the purpose for deploying the tool – how does it best advance learning?
- How can teachers structure the learning experience to make the best use of these tools?
- And perhaps, most importantly, how do teachers put the choice of these tools squarely into the hands of the learner? After all, it is their learning, and they should be given the power to make these important choices.
I have worked in six different schools over the course of my coaching experience, and each one possesses a unique personality that is shaped by the people who work there and the community of learners that they serve. The norms and procedures these schools have developed reflect the needs and populations of learners. And of course, the teachers, administrators and staff members who engage in the challenging work that facilitates learning contribute essential facets to the cultures that describe these schools. The perspective that working in all of these buildings has given me confirms that the needs of learners are the highest priority. Some schools might focus upon Responsive Classroom structures, others might emphasize maker spaces, and still others might be developing one of the Seven Pathways: They do this for the learners.
The many teachers with whom I have worked as a coach have strengthened my sense of perspective through their willingness to work hard to get better. They have endeavored to adopt new structures and strategies, and they have reached across grade levels, schools, and even geographical boundaries to make learning happen for their kids. Through the lens of a coach, I have observed how brave and determined teachers are as agents of change on behalf of learners. By frequently demonstrating an openness to new ideas and professional growth, teachers regularly prove to me that they value creating amazing learning experiences for their kids. When I have choices to make as a classroom teacher next year, I trust that my coaching perspective will support the student-centered, learner-friendly choices that I witness teachers making daily.
Of course, the members of my immediate professional learning community, my twenty-two fellow coaches have contributed significantly to my perspective. They have strengthened my questioning skills, challenged my thinking in positive, expansive ways, and they, without a doubt, have planted thousands of seeds in my perspective “garden”. I will certainly view my future professional interactions with a coach’s perspective: I will always search for and ask the questions that elicit my best practices. I will always value the process of thinking about learning. This perspective confirms for me that the purpose of my coaching, ultimately, is about the learners. With my skills and strategies enhanced with a coach’s perspective, I am truly ready to share the gift of learning with every student in my future classrooms.