Education Opinion

Coaching Requires Us To Slow Down

By Elena Aguilar — December 09, 2013 3 min read
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This week I have a guest blogger for you--Laurelin Andrade, an instructional coach in Oregon's Salem-Keizer Public Schools. This year, Laurelin has taken on a coach coordination role in addition to the support she offers teachers. Here's her wise and insightful reflection on the pace of coaching. Read on.

A Reflection on the Pace of Coaching, by Laurelin Andrade

Recently, a coach I work with asked me the following in an email:

How much of your time is spent researching/reading/reflecting? I'm having some weird guilty feelings about my "learning" time in my office. I feel obligated to be out in the classrooms, talking to teachers during their prep periods or observing. But that doesn't give me much time to read my professional materials. And just to clarify, those guilty feelings are coming straight from my own head...

While this colleague happens to be new to coaching, the sentiment she expressed in her email - those “weird guilty feelings” - is a common one in my conversations with fellow coaches. In fact, I would venture that most coaches experience some measure of self-doubt about how they spend their time. I have a few theories about why this might be the case and a possible response when such feelings arise.

Most coaches enter the role directly from the classroom. As teachers, especially at the secondary level where I work, we have very little say over how our day is structured. We all know what it’s like to live by the bell. I remember in my first days of coaching, once I had set up my office and introduced myself around, sitting down to my desk and wondering aloud, “Now what?” While my schedule quickly filled up, I found myself frequently questioning, like my colleague, whether I was striking the right balance between the different aspects of my job. I wasn’t used to making those decisions for myself!

Within the question of balance lies the nature of the job itself. Teaching is primarily an active process; we spend most of the day in action, facilitating instruction, working with students, prepping materials, sprinting to the bathroom during breaks. Coaching, meanwhile, is primarily a cognitive process; we spend most of our day observing individuals and systems, analyzing what we see, planning strategic solutions, and only then acting on them. That looks different.

After years as teachers, most coaches feel they must be continuously on the go to earn their keep. In districts such as mine, where funding for coaches has been notoriously unstable and budgets have been repeatedly and aggressively cut, many coaches feel they must be even more busy than the typical teacher to “justify” their FTE. Another colleague recently showed me her calendar and I was shocked by how many balls she was trying to keep in the air while maintaining back-to-back appointments all day long. This pace is not sustainable and explains why most coaches, in my district at least, leave the position after 2-3 years. Sadly, the experience and expertise they developed along the way leave with them.

I’m concerned that we still need to justify the role of coaches in our schools. An ever-growing body of research points to the fact that coaching is one of the most - if not the most - highly effective vehicles for developing the professional capacity of our teachers and administrators. While schools are designed to teach students, we must be equally attentive to the learning needs of our teachers and administrators to ensure they keep pace with a changing student body in an even faster changing world. With the increasing demands placed on our schools, from the implementation of the Common Core to ballooning class sizes, someone has to ferociously advocate for adult learning in schools. Someone has to foster a culture of continual improvement. Someone has to create the conditions for effective collaboration and careful reflection. Who better than coaches to take on this critical role?

The longer I work as a coach, the more I have come to recognize the insanity of a system that expects real learning to occur for anyone in such a frenzied environment. I believe with increasing conviction that the coach’s role is not to match or maintain the harried pace of the typical school, but to create opportunities to slow down, if even for a 30-minute coaching conversation. It is in slow moments that the thinking necessary for meaningful and lasting change takes place. This is true in developing ourselves as coaches as much as it is true for developing our teachers as expert educators. And so, in replying to my colleague’s email, I advised her to savor those “learning times” in her office. In an institution of learning, they are an investment of the most worthy kind.

You can reach Laurelin Andrade at ANDRADE_LAURELIN@salkeiz.k12.or.us

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