On Being a Tendon (Anthony Smith)

As an instructional coach, I see myself as connective tissue, sort of like a tendon. For those of you who aren’t quite sure what a tendon is or does, it’s the flexible but non-elastic cord that connects muscles to bones. If we extend the analogy and adhere strictly to the definition of a tendon, then I suppose the Albemarle County Public Schools are the bones or framework (curricular or instructional expectations) while the teachers doing the hard work within the schools are the muscles. Teachers make the curriculum come alive in much the same way that muscles animate a skeleton. As a tendon, while I’m certainly connected to the bones, my purpose is to help the muscles grow (while hopefully not untethering them from the county or state expectations).

Fortunately for ACPS teachers and instructional coaches, the skeleton itself is flexible. Though research-based instruction is the expectation and the norm, there is no mandate to teach this way or that way. New instructional practices and ideas, both low- and high-tech, are more than welcome, and teachers are encouraged to learn from each other. It is the fostering of this teacher-to-teacher (muscle to muscle) connection that I, as a tendon, find most energizing (technically, I know that a tendon doesn’t connect muscle to muscle, but few analogies are perfect). The beauty of these teacher-to-teacher connections is that all of the teachers grow from the experience; the teachers we observe or borrow ideas from feel valued and validated and the borrowing teachers have new, proven techniques and strategies to implement. And because I work across different schools, grade levels, and content areas, I’m able to connect teachers who otherwise would have no real way of connecting with each other.

What does this look like in real life? In my work over the past year, I connected a Kindergarten teacher with a 2nd grade teacher at another school to see how the latter incorporates learning stations as part of math instruction. I connected Response to Intervention (RTI) and Special Education teachers at four schools to help them embark on a sight-word project in which images help to anchor words in their students’ long-term memories. I connected a 3rd grade team with a 5th grade team at another school who use interactive notebooks and Marzano’s strategies to improve student comprehension of non-fiction texts. I connected an elementary teacher interested in entrepreneurship for her students with a middle school teacher who is piloting a class with 8th graders. The list goes on.

In none of this work was I the focus. I was simply the tendon, listening to what teachers need and what they are good at, inviting myself into their rooms to see them in action, and spreading the word (with their permission) when I see something shareable. Tendons know that it is not about us. At the gym, nobody is going to ooh and ahh over good tendons, no matter how good they are. It’s all about making the muscles look good.