This week, I had the opportunity to present literacy coaching as a professional development model, and in preparing to do so, I realized that like all good things in education, much of its value rises out of the fact that it simply makes sense. When I think about how I learn, it often looks a bit like this:
The process seems to work the same way whether I’m attempting to teach myself how to cook a meal worth eating (I have a long way to go here) or my daughters how to organize their bedrooms (they do too). There is a time for defining things, to be sure, but once the definitons are clear, putting what we learn into practice becomes our next task, and it’s often a far more overwhelming one. This is where a bit of modeling can often help. Or feedback. Or time to reflect. Or added resources. Learning doesn’t really happen in a single block or two of time. It also doesn’t happen in isolation.
Educators from every corner of the earth are calling for four thousand different kinds of change all at once it seems, and some get rather frustrated over the fact that it isn’t happening fast enough. I count myself within that population as well I guess, but I can also understand this perceived lack of movement. Decisions need to be made, and priorities need to be re-examined, and there are consequences that none of us can take very lightly. Every action generates a reaction, and of course, it’s this awareness that frightens us most. We need guidance, support, resources, and time to assess what we’re doing. Thoughtfully. Good teachers act with intention, after all, right?
Unfortunately, traditional models of staff development tend to overlook this. They place the trainer at the front of the room, charged with the task of inspiring followers or defining things for their audience. Again, there is a time and a place for this, but what happens afterward? Coaching returns teachers to their classrooms and provides them with the support that they need to begin putting their inspiration to work for their students and their new definitions into practice. Again: I’m not suggesting that we simply scrap workshops and meetings. These venues achieve objectives that coaching cannot. What I am suggesting, though, is that coaching might help to promote change in more sustainable ways by providing teachers more of what they need in order to move forward.
We are all confronting rapid change, and there is no doubt about it: we are afraid. We are resistant. We are unwilling to dive headlong into a world that we don’t understand, that we weren’t prepared to navigate all that well, and that we currently lack tools for mastering. These are facts, and in light of them, it would make sense that change isn’t happening. It doesn’t feel safe.
Good professional development providers make teachers aware of sharp changes in altitude. We arm them with sturdy parachutes, and we show them how they function. Many times, though, we aren’t around when these folks are urged to jump and find themselves free-falling. We know that this is how teachers often feel—as if they’ve been shoved out of an aircraft, high above the ground that once laid comfortably beneath their feet.
I’m discovering that coaching is very much like tandem-diving. In my experience, it’s a bit more frightening than remaining inside the plane, but landing each dive is incredibly rewarding. It feels like teamwork, in fact. With any luck, teamwork might make change a whole lot less overwhelming in the end.