During my younger years, I enjoyed playing softball. I often felt like the Babe without the home run. I would swing for the fence, but often I missed the ball completely. Many of my coaches had suggestions: move up in the box, move back in the box, swing harder, get glasses, watch the ball, keep your head in there, step into the pitch…The suggestions did not seem to improve my slump, but added to my surmounting frustration. But one coach changed my swing. He saw I pulled my head right as I began to swing the bat. This was not new news, but his suggestion to improve made all of the difference. He instructed me to bite my shirt. Of course, he joked, “It’s worth a try.” I needed the help, but felt so defeated I stopped asking for ideas. I did not ask him for a suggestion, but he offered. He knew I needed the help. Reluctantly, I put the neckline of my jersey into my mouth. Just like in the movies with the happy endings-I hit the ball. One suggestion, one tweak made all the difference…
I had the opportunity to learn more about instructional coaching this week during Ann Hoffman’s Instructional Coaching professional learning session. The session, connected to Jim Knight’s instructional coaching teachings, reminding me of what I know to be true-we all could use a coach. Complacency prevents good from becoming great. Coaching can turn the most talented and amazing to a stunning exemplar. I was an average batter at best, but my coach saw a potential, offered a suggestion, encouraged implementation, and supported my attempt. I never did hit a home run, but I hit. Help was given in a way I could accept without being offended, without adding to my frustration, and without escalating an already embarrassing situation.
During my weekly reading, I was reminded of something else I know to be true: “Our identity, is intimately connected with the work we do…” As a passionate educator, I am invested in all I do. What I do is an extension of me. Asking for help is not easy-it is not easy for me. Somewhere, sometime in our grown-up world help turned from a needed request for success to an admission of inability. Strange, isn’t it? Needing help has nothing to do with an inability, but more to do with an ability to recognize we need not be alone in our work. After all, we offer loving help to our friends and neighbors, “Just let me know if you need anything. Call if you need help…I am just next door.” As many times as we let others know we are more than happy to support, our offer is often unrequited. It is hard to ask; it is hard to accept…and isn’t that just ridiculous considering we all know we have all experienced times we need help. Help is golden. We celebrate the assist in basketball, we cheer for the block in football. Help is necessary. Instructional coach guru Jim Knight shares “Five Simple Truths about Helping” in Unmistakable Impact:
People often do not know that they need help
If people feel “one down,” they will resist help
Criticism is taken personally
If someone else does all the thinking for them, people will resist
People aren’t motivated by other people’s goals
The challenge to improve classroom instruction is an ongoing challenge. Knight recommends “treat adults like adults” when supporting and coaching. I would like to supplement Knight’s request and suggest we treat learners like learners. We are all always learning-whether we are on a personal journey or a professional venture-we are always learning. There is honor and humility in continual growth. I recognize my first year of teaching, I had a lot to learn. I also recognize my tenth year of teaching, I had a lot to learn. I am not too proud to admit I am a work in progress.
As I dive into numerous texts supporting my growth as an instructional coach, I can’t help but think of students. Examining the “Five Simple Truths about Helping” through the eyes of a classroom teacher considering his/her students:
Students often do not know that they need help
If students feel “one down” they will resist help
Criticism is taken personally
If someone else does all the thinking for them, students will resist
Students aren’t motivated by other people’s goals
“Our identity, is intimately connected with the work we do…” No matter if we are an adult, a learner, a student, a teacher, a ballplayer or all of the above, we are what we do. My coach did not condescend my attempt at hitting the ball. He knew I was doing everything I could do in that moment. I could not see what I was doing wrong because I was in the event. He did not belittle, and he surely did not embarrass. His respect for me as a learner made me accepting of his coaching suggestion. Whether I am working with students, whether I am working with peers, I will remember Knight’s Five Simple Truths about Helping.
Greeny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzer