Sunday, October 30, 2011

Elevator speech

Business people say that everyone should have an elevator speech ready to explain what you do at your job. By elevator speech, they meant a short synopsis of your career that could be explained to a stranger in the time it takes to rise a few floors on an elevator.

I’ve tried for a few years to come up with my elevator speech and when people ask what I do I’ve said such things as, “Well, I’m a coach, but not an athletic coach. I sort of cheer teachers on.” But that’s not right. Or, “I’m a teacher of teachers – I help them find the best instructional strategies for the classroom.” But that implies that I’m the one with all the knowledge, when in fact I’ve learned as much from other teachers as I’ve taught them. It’s certainly not, “I walk the halls and make sure teachers have what they need and do what they should” or “I basically wait around in my office until someone comes to ask me a question or cry on my shoulder.” Describing coaching can be hard.

But then the other day we had a business associate of my husband’s over for dinner and rather than ask, “What grade do you teach?” when he found out I was in education, he asked, “What do you do?” I surprised myself by saying, “My job is about change. I offer teachers support as they change their practice.”

That’s about as succinct as it gets. Coaching is about change. It’s about nudging change to happen, supporting it as it does, questioning when it doesn’t, and celebrating when it succeeds.

What’s your elevator speech?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Possibility of Being Wrong

A while back I read an email from a teacher about an issue that I thought had been taken care of by a third person months ago, only to find out that appeared it hadn’t. Student well-being was at stake, and as I read and reread the email I found myself getting more and more upset. I vented to my office-mates and talked myself into a frenzy before vowing to “go take care of it right now!”

However, upon talking to the third party in question I quickly realized that I’d misunderstood the entire task, it HAD been taken care of months ago, and I’d just made and a** of myself in front of her, and possibly burnt some bridges I’d need later on.

This doesn’t happen to me too often, but when it does it causes me to sit back and re-evaluate my impulses. I should have counted to 10 (or 200) and waited to calm down before addressing the situation. And I should have entertained the possibility that maybe I was wrong in this case. There have been so many times that I have been wrong, you think I’d be used to it by now.

Too many times as coaches, we feel like we know the right way of doing things, the right instructional technique, the right materials to use, the right person for the job, the right solution to a problem. But the best coaches, in my experience, are the ones who approach a situation with an open mind, a questioning stance, and a willingness to entertain others’ ideas. Yes, you may feel that there is one “right” way to do guided reading, but what if this teacher’s adaptation is what works for her students? Or what at first appears to be a hallway display of very convergent, narrow thinking may, upon deeper inspection, be a truly creative way to teach inferential thinking.

From now on, before I make judgments, I vow to take stock of the situation and ask myself, “but what if I’m wrong?” If I ask questions and stay open-minded, perhaps I can build more bridges than I burn.