Taking the leap into leadership has provided me with opportunities to expand my impact and broaden my influence in ways I couldn’t have imagined until I started living them. Through my progression from teacher, to reading specialist to instructional coach and now administrator, I have dedicated a substantial amount of time thinking about the type of leader I needed and the leader I aspire to be. This introspection has motivated me to seek out ways in which I can create nurturing spaces where teachers thrive, discover their gifts, and infuse their work with a profound sense of meaning and purpose.
Who We Are, is How We Lead
If you are in the field of education, you are acutely aware of the time constraints that can become a barrier to the growth and development of educators. To address this challenge, I have strived to make every interaction with the educators in my immediate learning community and beyond as intentional as possible. During my recent listening of Adam Grant’s Re: Thinking Learning podcast, I came across a powerful statement from guest Brené Brown, “Who we are, is how we lead.” This statement deeply resonated with me. At my core, I will always view myself as a teacher and a coach; this has been my guiding principle in my approach to leadership. Through my background in instructional coaching and my continuous pursuit of learning including engaging in professional development, reflective writing, reading insightful books, listening to podcasts, and observing the actions of exceptional leaders, I have to deeply value the power of leading and living through a coaching mindset.
Observing Through a Coaching Lens: 8 Ideas to Lift the Level of Conversation and Transform Practice
Last year, I wrote a blog post titled, Observing Through a Coaching Lens: 8 Ideas to Lift the Level of Conversation and Transform Practice. I asked the following questions of myself and encouraged others to think about. How can I continue to be the administrator I always needed during the observation process? How can I capitalize on my teaching and coaching experiences to elevate and support the educators I serve? I also shared that I have always appreciated the role of a coach, a thinking partner, a knowledgeable colleague who can help me see things differently than I may have seen them before. I invite you to read it as that post is the foundation for the ideas I am going to share in this writing.
Click HERE to read the previous post.
In addition to the ideas I have shared in my previous post, each year I will continue to refine my approaches and have added the following ideas to my previous post:
3 Ideas to Leverage Learning During the Classroom Visit of the Observation Process
Lean into Learning: There is so much to see when you enter a classroom space. At times, it can become overwhelming if leaders cannot pinpoint what they are looking to learn with the teacher and students. As stated in my previous post, I ground the observation process in the mission and vision of the school district and facilitate conversations that clearly focus on the district’s priorities. The pre-observation conversation is a great time for a leader and a teacher to select a learning focus together with those ideas in mind. This year, I continued with a learning focus that is rooted in lifting the level of classroom talk. In many conversations and professional learning experiences, I have shared Using Dialogic Conversations to Develop Oral Language from Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. You can find the framework HERE. The Engage, Repeat, Expand strategy and the prompts it includes has enabled teachers to plan with more intentionality and has provided students with a tool for more purposeful classroom talk. This practice has helped deepen understanding about various topics and texts, has supported students to actively listen to other perspectives, and put an emphasis on expanding one another’s academic vocabulary.
Lift the Level of Practice: Over the last few years, I have worked toward building relationships and trust with my colleagues. In turn, when I am observing in classrooms, I have become more comfortable with providing coaching in real time. This organically happens as a lesson is unfolding and I can foresee an opportunity for students and teachers to take the learning that is transpiring to the next level. When I started developing the courage to do this, I incorporated this approach into my pre-observation conversation. It sounds something like this: “I am excited to visit your classroom and learn with you and your students. I approach observations as an opportunity to be a thinking partner with you. Since I am a teacher and instructional coach at heart, this can be a great way for me to coach into a lesson if I see there is an opportunity to take learning to the next level. How do you feel about that? The responses I have received have been positive. Often the teacher will respond by sharing that they are excited to grow their practice together and implement the ideas immediately. This year a teacher shared that it helped for me to show her how to take a more teacher-led discussion about literature and shift it to a student-led conversation. Her feedback made my year! HERE are some coaching stems that can be adapted to coach-in during a class lesson.
Listen and Learn Inside the Classroom Space: When I enter a classroom, I really try to take the experience all in. I scan the classroom walls and find the learning that lives in the landscape of the classroom. I jot down what I see in my notes so I can use a displayed teaching tool as a talking point during the post-observation conversation. It might sound something like this: Tell me more about this great anchor chart and how it elevates student learning experiences? I love that you have student work hanging in that space in the corner, tell me more about how you selected that particular work to highlight in your classroom? Additionally, I try to actively listen to as many student and teacher interactions and conversations as I possibly can. This enables me to think about how the interactions are aligned with the assessment criteria, purpose of the lesson, and the standards being addressed. As mentioned in my previous post, when I leave the classroom, I may include a portion of the conversation I heard in a Voxer Voice Note to support and celebrate the goodness I was seeing in the classroom. In that same voice note, I will leave the teacher with a wondering about what I observed. I have been told that this practice has been appreciated as teachers know that I am paying attention to their hard work and leaving them with immediate feedback and something that they can think about implementing immediately before receiving the observation write-up.
The observation process becomes an invaluable opportunity to embrace a coaching mindset and elevate the quality of teachers’ and administrators’ work in schools. If approached with intention and purpose, it provides an avenue of support that can uplift educators, enhance their teaching practices, tap into their untapped potential, and bring forth their best selves.