I remember the first time I worked my way into co-teaching in a classroom with a teacher because it happened completely unintentionally. When I began coaching I was naïve enough to believe that if people wanted help, they’d come right out and ask. It only took the first few months of aimlessly waiting to realize that I could gather cobwebs and dust before someone might trust me enough to outright ask for help.
Instead, that first opening came as so many since have – in the form of griping. A third grade teacher came to our coach’s office to complain about all the demands being asked of her and the stress of trying to make writing workshop work with “these kids”. I nodded sympathetically, but my colleague – the experienced literacy coach – recognized it for what it was: an opening to coach. “Heather just came out of teaching 3rd grade,” she commented, “she’d be glad to help out during your writing workshop and lend a hand”.
Sure enough, once I was in her room I found I could offer solutions and help her problem-solve the issues her kids were running into. But if my colleague hadn’t helped me see her griping as an invitation, we both still be in our individual rooms, each frustrated with our particular situations.
Most of the time, coaching openings are just as subtle as this one was. I learned my lesson that time, and became much more adept at hearing pleas for help stated in different languages – sometimes it came in the form of tears of frustration, or bursts of anger, or confusion about testing results. Sometimes teachers came at me sideways, asking for one thing when they really wanted help with another. And after quite a while, a few people began to trust me and started asking outright if I’d come assist with particular kids or instructional situations.
No matter how long I’ve been coaching, I’ve always got to be ready to respond to openings. Sometimes the best openings are camouflaged in subtle ways.