Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Question of Coaching Responsibility

I love the idea of collegiality, of gathering with my co-workers to discuss all aspects of teaching.  We have many such discussions at school and they are both challenging and inspiring.  But when we teach, we are behind the classroom door with our students, and it can be a lonely place.

I’ve been wondering about something that caught my attention in these past weeks of beginning conversations with the staff members.  I wrote about the conversations earlier, how rich they were and how exciting to begin the year that way.  However, I’ve also thought about these kinds of talks in a different light, that they fill a void in teachers’ lives.  Despite the talks that occur in staff meetings, teacher workrooms, hallways, and playgrounds, teachers can still remain lonely.  It’s rare to have someone actually ask to watch students with them, to discuss instructional strategies or to offer resources they might find useful.  The few visits from the head of school each year have different goals of evaluation and feedback for the record.  It is sometimes not collegial, often something just to be completed.   With the rather recent advent of teacher coaches in schools, conversations with a colleague that focuses on one’s teaching and the improvement of student learning can help a teacher feel less alone.  Using a term that’s collegial, as a coach, I am certainly there for them!

And so, my wondering is how to continue to help the loneliness that lurks in the classroom for teachers.  They wonder if what they are doing is the right thing.  They wish perhaps to talk only about themselves and their questions about students and teaching, along with worries about having enough time, enough knowledge, and enough stamina to get through the week.  They are lonely. 

I’ve had conversations with my own students about loneliness and used poems to unearth feelings that hide underneath smiling faces.  Now, with teachers, my job is to do that same thing, to encourage feelings of loneliness to emerge, and then to swirl them away through observations and conversations, to let them know we’re all in this teaching work together, that they are not alone.  Naomi Shihab Nye wrote “The Rider” about a boy roller-skating his loneliness away.  I wonder if teachers keep so busy that they don’t take time to consider what good talks might mean to their professional lives and their teaching?  It might be time for all schools to consider that coaching can mean emotional support to a staff as well as professional development.

                 About Teachers

You can find me always behind that door.
I reach
out to each student more and more,
so I teach.
But sometimes on the harder days
I cry.
And I can’t figure out why I’m in a haze,
and lie
to myself that all will pass by in the morn.
If only
I can stop these feelings of loss I mourn.
I teach.


  1. The teachers who have you as a coach are lucky. I thought what your post meant in relation to my small school. There are some teachers who still stay in their room most of the time. Majority of the teachers have opened their doors and visit each other. Sometimes they have a short friendly chat, sometimes a longer professional conversation. These meetings are incidental not deliberate as with a coach. We have made a deliberate effort to get together during the morning break to have tea and coffee, avoid irritating topics, and laugh instead. I personally don’t feel so lonely anymore. However I would love to have someone coaching me.

  2. The collaboration of teachers has been a slow change in schools. When I started teaching you never talked with another teacher about what you were doing. They were almost defensive if you asked about something you may have seen or heard. This new atmosphere is so much better for everyone, but some "old-timers" don't want to change anything from the way it has always been. So much has been put on teachers' plates they need the support of one another to survive. You always give me so much to think about. I love your poem.

  3. I think you've touched on a very important point. Teachers can definitely feel isolated, especially if there is only one teacher per grade level. And reading your post makes me feel very lucky that the principals I work with are so visible in classrooms. It wouldn't be unusual to find my principal in classrooms conferring with students. And I agree with Terje. I'm sure your teachers feel lucky to have your support and understanding.:)

  4. Okay, here goes my second try to get my comment posted.
    I love and agree with the issue you take on, blasting open those closed classroom doors, those islands unto themselves.
    How about slowly, one partner at a time, one unit at a time.

    I began when I was still teaching with a unit shared with my drama buddy, an art teacher.

    My whole department, forget them. No way they would open their classroom,


  5. I love your reflective post and poem! You have captured how I feel a lot because while there are other Spanish teachers in my buildings, nobody else teaches the classes or grades that I do. Added to that is the fact that I move to a new building every 12 weeks, so even when I do establish some collaborative relationships, I soon leave and don't see those people for almost a year! As a young teacher, I would love to have someone like you to help! I seriously look forward to being obseved by my principals to have some feedback and discussion!

  6. I came to this moment of clarity today and your post really speaks to me. I realized that my reason for resigning from a leadership position in my building was this: I have seen multiple colleagues receive negative feedback from our district ad center so far this year (as part of the new vision of the new regime), but I have yet to see a single colleague receive support or guidance. I didn't want to be part of that system. Your words convey exactly what is so obvious to the those of us inside the classroom: we need help and support and reassurance and guidance. Coaches rule!

  7. Open or closed classroom doors...so much depends on the building climate. I've been in schools where it is common practice to welcome colleagues into the classroom, share, collaborate and develop. That is the goal - a place where both teachers and students are engaged in learning. In my building, however...not so much. Heavy sigh!!!

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  9. At the Teachers College Coaching Institute for Whole School Reform a couple years ago, Mary Ehrenworth made the comment that coaches are the intellectual and emotional heart of the school. I certainly agree. I absolutely love how our job is multifaceted -- we grow with teachers and also cheer them on. We have candy, mints, breakfasts, and lunches. Chocolates on the run and grandma's glass dish full of candy corn welcoming teachers into our space. Teaching can be a lonely profession despite our best team-building attempts. Your poem strategy is a beautiful one...one I would be pleased to hold onto. Thanks, Linda :).

  10. I am the kind of teacher who tries to be out and about "blasting" doors - but I've also found myself at lunch time hanging back in my classroom holed up with my feet on the counter with my sandwich because I'm so tired and need to breathe. I wish we were given more time to collaborate so that we could take breaks and work together.


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