Education Opinion

November 4: National Coach Appreciation Day

By Elena Aguilar — November 03, 2013 6 min read
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Did you know that November 4 is National Coach Appreciation Day? Well, it is! Since I have no idea how Appreciation Days get started, I’ve decided to just declare it as such--and name this day as The Day. So if you work with any coaches--share a few words of appreciation with them. If a coach has supported your learning, let him or her know. If you are a coach, appreciate yourself! And share this exciting news--that from now and forever forward, November 4 will be National Coach Appreciation Day.

But I want to back up a bit and tell you the story of how I came to this decision.

Transformational Coaching

In the coaching model that I’ve cobbled together, what I call Transformational Coaching, I argue that the starting point for this practice is the coach herself. We cannot engage in Transformational Coaching, nor can we effectively use any of its strategies, without first--and continuously--attending to our own transformation. This can take many forms and includes regular reflection on our coaching practice, beliefs, core values, identities, and ways of beings. Without ongoing reflection (which obviously takes time) we probably won’t get the most out of Transformational Coaching thereby decreasing our impact on schools, teachers, and children.

Every Friday, I meet with my team of coaches in Oakland. We spend the day reflecting on our work, practicing coaching skills, supporting each other in thinking through coaching dilemmas, and planning for upcoming coaching sessions and professional development. When I designed this coaching program for our district, I was adamant about holding this time--yes, twenty percent of our work week--for our own professional learning and reflection. It has paid off in the quality of the work delivered by coaches.

The Personal Transformation Day

In addition to this weekly reflection, we start and end our school year with extended retreats and twice a year, I schedule “Personal Transformation Days” when each coach individually explores what personal transformation means for him or her. Last year my coaches engaged in all kinds of activities for themselves on their Personal Transformation Day to explore the connection between who we are and our work in schools.

Friday, November 1, was our fall Personal Transformation Day. I decided to spend mine reflecting on appreciation and gratitude--and what this means for me in my work. I began my day by doing some writing on this topic (which will soon be posted on Edutopia.com) and I was reminded of how much I need to write. Writing is the way I learn.

I had scheduled a variety of relaxing activities for myself and as I engaged in these throughout the day, I reflected on all that I am grateful for. I began with myself (I am a strong believer in practicing self-appreciation) and this took many forms. I appreciated my heart for its work since before I was born, for my eyes which allow me to take in physical beauty, for my spine which holds me upright. My appreciations began with what I usually take for granted and extended out into appreciating other aspects of my being--the commitment and passion with which I do my work, the balance I’m finding between work and home, and so on. We’re usually our own biggest critic and it really feels good to appreciate yourself and recognize all that you do and have done. Try it.

Then I extended my reflection into an appreciation of others, both living and dead, who have contributed to my life. And that’s was what led me into a long reflection on my team of coaches and to my decision to declare November 4 to be Coach Appreciation Day. My coaches have worked incredibly hard since August 1: they’ve led huge retreats and delivered exceptional professional development; they’ve formed trusting relationships with new clients and deepened those with continuing clients; they’ve taken on new challenges and leadership roles this year; and they’re building new partnerships with site administrators. I’m constantly impressed with the quality and caliber of the work they do, as well as with their abilities to reflect on their work and always strive to do better. It feels like it’s time to really acknowledge what they’ve done this fall.

Throughout the day, I wrote cards to my coaches expressing what I appreciate about them. At one point, I was sitting under a redwood tree in a park (and it was a gorgeous warm day) and I closed my eyes and thought of one of my coaches. I thought about what she was like when I first met her, and how much she’s grown and expanded and unfurled into a radiant, powerful being, and I was overwhelmed with awe. I thought about each member of my team and couldn’t believe I was so lucky, so truly blessed, to be working with them. I felt a little dizzy and giddy and elated. Engaging in this process was so rewarding for me--that was enough.

Assets-Based Coaching

By the end of my Personal Transformation Day, I felt like I’d experienced a surge of energy from reflecting on the many blessings in my work and life, and this was a visceral reminder of the power of appreciation. As I’d engaged in the activities I’d planned for that day--activities designed to help me relax and unwind, take a step back from my work, and see the bigger picture--I shifted into a contemplation of assets-based coaching.

This practice is so deep within what I do as a coach that I often don’t recognize it until others comment on my coaching--every time I do a role play during a training session, other coaches notice that I “find a positive spin on whatever someone says,” or that I can reframe a challenge into potential strength or asset. I am going to write more about this in the coming days--what it means to do assets-based coaching and how to do it--but for today, what I want to highlight is that this understanding and awareness of my practice did not become clear until this Personal Transformation Day. It only came from allowing myself the time to step back and unwind and think about work from that place. And it was a big understanding about myself in my work.

At that point I was sitting alone in hot tub, my mind feeling very mushy and sloshy, and as I gazed up at the blue sky fringed by a few yellowing leaves, I felt like I had an epiphany about my work. And once I’ll mulled over what this meant--that my coaching and leadership emerges from an assets-basis--I had another brilliant brainstorm and planned an entire day’s training that I’m doing at the end of November. It was one of those moments where all kinds of things connected effortlessly in my mind and it all seemed so clear and easy, and also so clear that this would not have happened had I not intentionally relaxed my body and mind. I don’t tend to have deep understandings or epiphanies in my office.

Celebrate Coaches on November 4

Back to Coach Appreciation Day. If you are a coach, take some time to appreciate yourselves today and acknowledge your hard work. If you work with a coach, or have a coach, or if there’s a coach in your building or in the vicinity, find a way to express your gratitude to him or her, to share the impact he or she has had on you, and to name how he or she is helping your school and its students.

On November 4, I will arrive at our office early in the morning and leave my cards, a sunflower, and a little gift for each coach on their desk. While I hope these tokens convey my appreciation for them and their work, I also recognize that this process was a tremendous gift to myself. It feels good to appreciate it others.

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