Monday, May 30, 2011

Coaching/Real Estate

I learned a lesson about coaching from my real estate agent. It wasn't a lesson about coaching as much as it was about relationships, which of course is at the heart of coaching.

Our real estate agent, Shannon, helped us buy what we consider to be the perfect house and piece of property several years ago. While I'd like to think we weren't as demanding or self-absorbed as some couples she might work with, we still wanted to see a range of houses and get a feel for the market, and so she patiently drove us from house to house for weeks. When we found a place we thought we loved, she toured it with us for hours contemplating the pros and cons, and suggesting options without ever pushing her opinion. She was an exceptional listener, really looking at each of us as we spoke, weighing our comments before responding, and never interrupting.

But the biggest thing she did was making us feel like we were her only clients. I know for a fact that, in a market that was very depressed, she was closing on more houses than most other agents in the area - that's why we'd chosen her. So she obviously had quite a lot of other deals going on simultaneously. And yet she never mentioned them. She didn't leave us with, "I'm off to attend a closing" or say, "I've got to take this call from other clients." We felt like the center of her world.

As a coach juggling many teachers, it's tempting sometimes to join in the general complaints with others about how busy we all are. I've caught myself rushing a conversation by explaining where I needed to be next, or apologizing for not getting to an email because I was working with someone else.

Teachers don't want to know that. They want to feel like they're the center of our world. And they deserve to be, just as kids deserve to feel like they're the center of their teacher's world.

It's a basic human need, to be listened to and truly heard. We all value it when someone is looking us full in the face, considering everything we're saying, and not simply juggling multiple ongoing thoughts in their head as we talk. Someone said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "In America, we've lost the ability to have a true conversation. People no longer listen to each other. Instead, they reload."

Shannon taught me the value of setting everything aside and truly being wherever you are. For coaches, the teachers we work with deserve to feel like our number one priority

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Guilt of Teaching

Lately I’ve been conferring with lots of teachers about their literacy practices and their instructional goals for next year, and I’m being reminded just how much guilt factors into teaching. It seems like everyone begins with apologetic statements about how badly they feel about their _____ (trouble fitting in conferences, long mini-lessons, lack of closing/sharing on workshop, need to differentiate literacy centers, etc.). No one has come to me and said, “I feel great about all I’m doing! I think I’ve got teaching down pat and I’m really beginning to think it’s getting a little too easy.”

It’s natural to want to do the best you can at any job, but in education the responsibility of knowing a child’s self-concept and future is on the line causes us to be more critical than perhaps some other professions. As teachers, we’re expected to do it all and there’s simply no way we can. So we feel guilty.

Show me a teacher who doesn’t feel guilty about at least some part of her teaching and I’ll show you a teacher who’s not being reflective. But as I said – my guess is you can’t show me that teacher because she doesn’t exist…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The future of reading?

I keep seeing online references to a book entitled “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr and so today I checked it out via the “look inside” feature on Amazon. The author argues that the internet is changing not only what we read but how we read and also how we think. We know this about children because of the Digital Immigrant/Native article.

Mr. Carr, however, notices a change in his own reading processes, and he’s definitely a digital immigrant, having been born in 1959. He found, after a decade or so of spending the majority of his reading time online, that he is no longer able to concentrate on longer spans of text, such as books. He gets distractible and impatient after 2 or so pages of text, and feels much more comfortable scanning and skimming for important information instead. He cites other bloggers and digerati who have noticed and commented on the same phenomenon.

This inability to read books, or longer more meaningful texts, also came up in a futuristic book I read recently: “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart. Set in the not-so-distant future, it’s a funny-yet-sad commentary on the direction our culture is heading. One scene in particular made me cringe – the protagonist reads aloud to his girlfriend from one of his collection of books (she initially, like everyone else, doesn’t recognize it as being a book and thinks its pages smell bad), but she is unable to follow the narrative because her only exposure to text has been web pages and texting friends. “I never really learned to read,” she says, “in school, they only taught us to skim and scan for important information.”

I wonder – is that really where we’re headed? I thought it was just the exaggeration of a novelist until I read Nicholas Carr’s book, but now I wonder whether people of the future will actually read long sections of connected text? Even a full webpage seems like too much text to a populace used to short blog entries, quick status updates, and even shorter Tweets. Our communication is getting shorter and quicker, not longer and more thoughtful. The irony is that with all the information available to us, you think we’d have more intelligent, thoughtful things to say about all that we’re learning. Instead, we barely pause between scanning websites or posting our locations on our smart phones to digest the information swirling around us.

There is a definite skill in reading connected, more difficult text. I find myself stopping to think, stare at the ceiling, filter the information as I receive it and decide how it fits with what I already know. My digestive pauses while reading are integral to my final comprehension of the text, and the longer and more difficult the text, the slower I read. That, unfortunately, doesn’t fit with the speed of today’s world. Will today’s budding readers learn how to read longer texts and digest them fully? Or will they end up like the girlfriend in “Love Story”, back to texting on her smart phone while her boyfriend finishes the book alone? Will those of us who enjoy books be freaks? If you’ve stuck with me this far, perhaps there’s hope for you.