For the last few years, I’ve organized my coaching around cycles, and most of those cycles have been by grade level. In October of last year, for example, I might have been working with grades 4 and 5. Then in November, 2 and 3, and so on, guaranteeing every grade level at least two coaching cycles per year. This has its advantages. Grade level meetings are established, all teachers receive similar coaching, the teachers on a particular grade level are working on the same units of study at the same time, etc. But there are disadvantages too. For one thing, just because you are on the same grade level does not mean you need, or are interested in, the same coaching work. We have brand new teachers and veteran teachers on the same grade level teams. This grade level coaching also feels a little bit top down at times. This is November. If you are a third grade teacher, you are entering a coaching cycle, like it or not (need it or not). In this model, I began to feel like I was leading teachers, and sometimes dragging them through the work.
This year, I’m playing around with something new. While I still have some grade level coaching cycles going, I’m trying to also run cycles by topic, and I’m making them invitational. I ran a coaching cycle on building student engagement and rigor through read aloud, for example, sent out a calendar to all teachers, and asked them to sign up if they were interested, and for a time that worked for them. I can’t even begin to tell you how many teachers signed up and how the word spread through the building about this work. Teachers got so interested, that I even scheduled some lunchtime sessions for teachers to come and plan more of these read alouds (and teachers came)! More recently I have been working on a differentiating instruction through small groups cycle. I tried the same approach. I sent out a schedule and invited teachers to join the work if they were interested. I know the power of choice. We all do. When you give people some choice and control over their work, they are more interested, more invested and more engaged. I think that is what is creating this amazing energy around the work we have been doing together.
I’ve received some pushback on this idea. Some people are concerned that teachers won’t sign up and won’t get the coaching work that other teachers are getting (and the children in that classroom might not get the instruction that other children are getting). I hear and understand that concern, but I’m confident that if I continue down this path, all of the teachers will sign up and the work they are doing in the coaching cycle will continue long after the cycle is completed. There is energy growing around this work. The teachers I am working with are talking with other teachers, and then those teachers are coming to me and asking to get on the schedule. This work is growing from the ground up (instead of from the top down). People are signing up because they want to. Now I have the feeling that the teachers are leading out on the work, and I am there to facilitate their learning. For me, that is the work of the coach.