Last week, I had a chance to catch up with Andrea Hernandez. As we began debriefing the Skype session I participated in with her students a while back and what has happened since, I found myself connecting to her professional experiences in ways that I didn’t expect. Her honesty and her willingness to reveal the challenges that she faces in her work impressed me more than she probably realized in that moment, and all of it is compelling me to do the same here.
Even though I work independently, Andrea’s day-to-day experiences mirror mine in many ways, as she functions very much like a coach. She’s eager to inspire real change within her school, and while she’s excited and hopeful about the shifts that are beginning to happen, that isn’t what she’s paying attention to most days. Most days, she’s noticing where things aren’t working as well as she’d like them to be. She’s assessing her position within her system, she’s thinking about her sphere of influence, and she’s trying–really hard–to give people what they need in order to facilitate some critical transformations.
And sometimes, this works. Most of the time? It’s not working as fast or as well as she’d like though.
I think I can speak for all instructional coaches when I say that there is nothing more frustrating than investing yourself in learning, work, and instructional approaches that fall apart as soon as you exit the room. When teachers consistently expect you to “do” writer’s workshop, comprehension instruction, conferencing, or tech integration for them, chances are pretty slim that they will ever learn more about how they might plan for or implement these processes themselves. When they expect you to articulate a vision for them and tell them what to do and how, capacity shrinks along with the change.
This is why I prefer to use a gradual release model in my own work as an instructional coach. It’s why I’ve grown to value collegial learning models (thank you Theresa), the work of communities that last, and layered support systems for professional learning. We all know that when teachers, for whatever reason, are unwilling or unable to assume greater levels of responsibility for their own learning and work, the coaches who are doing it for them tend to take it all with them when they leave. In my experience, this happens far more often than most people are willing to admit. So when Andrea touched on her own experiences with this reality last week? My heart bended toward Florida a bit more. Here’s someone who knows what I wrestle with, I told myself.
Sometimes, I really do forget that I’m not alone in facing the dilemmas that I do. Is it any wonder that the people I value most in my network are the ones who encourage me to keep it real and lead by their example?
Over the years, I’ve learned that avoiding the sort of fate I describe above requires an awareness of how likely it is to begin with and a willingness to advocate for high quality professional development models that are less about delivering anything to teachers or students and more about facilitating real learning.Because this is often a slower road to change and one that is far more collaborative in nature,it’s forced me to increase my own tolerance for significant levels of discomfort. It requires me to stand by the teachers and administrators and kids that I serve as they grapple with their own as well.
What I found refreshing about my conversation with Andrea was her willingness to reveal and explore the dilemmas she’s facing with me, as well as the discomfort she is experiencing in her own work. In doing so, she created a safe space for me to do the same, and a conversation has begun about how we can change what we do in response to what we’ve learned. I know I’ve rambled a bit here, and if you hung in with me, I thank you. The point of today’s post is this: I hope that some of what I shared with Andrea might be helpful to her, and I hope that as she continues shifting her work in response to the challenges she faces, she’ll keep sharing what’s working for her too. More than that, I hope she’ll share what isn’t and how she’s dealing with that. In our current climate, I know that few people are willing to talk about the problems they face, and I think this is dangerous.
I’m all for assuming a positive stance and focusing on what works. Conversations like the one I had with Andrea work for me because they help me get better at what I do and provide me some much-needed support too.
Experiences like these are further refining my understandings of what a PLN can offer me, and I’m grateful to Andrea for prompting this discovery.