Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. – Robert Louis Stevenson
I have struggled in my position to feel as though I have made a difference. When I was in the classroom I had many indicators: student data, positive student feedback, students coming back to visit me and tell me how things are going, walk through data, etc. With the shift from working with students to working more exclusively with teachers, many of these indicators are gone. Adults are not as eager as students to let you know when you have helped them implement a change. How do I now know when I have impacted someone? The indicators are a bit more obscure and more difficult to spot…but they still exist. Sometimes I just have to look a little bit harder to find them.
I like to think of what I do now as planting seeds. Every conversation with a teacher is an opportunity to plant seeds of change. A carefully crafted question can lead to shifts in thinking, further questioning, and new ideas. Often questions posed in a coaching session will sit without an answer for days or even weeks. Sometimes it takes a while for the teacher to warm up to the question or be prepared to seek the answers. What is one indicator of success for a coach? When the teacher brings the question back up in conversation or mentions a new strategy they have been thinking of implementing because of the question.
In coaching there are two types: coaching light and heavy. The first year in the position was admittedly more coaching light than I would have liked. However, those too were opportunities to plant seeds of change that would eventually (in my third year in the position) come to fruition and lead to some true heavy coaching moments. One such “seed” was a test bank of formative assessments geared toward my content area. My first year in the position I created this bank of questions and let my colleagues know it was a resource they could access. However, no one seemed interested. Flash forward to this past week (Two full years later) and I now am working with a teacher who is not only accessing this resource but is wanting to have their students goal set and track their own learning from their scores on these formative checkpoints. This too is an indicator.
When I am in a coaching cycle with a teacher, I will often send an email to “check in” on how things are going. Most times, this simple email asks two questions: How are things going with (fill in teacher goal here)? What can I do to help you with (insert teacher goal)? This year I have had something quite amazing happen…I’ve received some unprovoked “check in” emails from teachers I am coaching. These little gems materialize in my inbox filled with updates and questions for me and they are my new favorite thing. This inbox surprise always helps to illustrate how I am helping teachers in my school. The fact they are unprovoked (I haven’t asked for them or sent my “check in” email to guide a reflection) make them extra special to me. These small little emails can really give me a boost when I am struggling.
I have also begun to capitalize off of the best type of advertising, word of mouth. These are pretty quick to recognize, they usually begin with a teacher beginning a conversation with the following statement: “I was talking to (insert colleague name here) and they were telling me how they were working with you on implementing (insert goal, strategy, new practice here). Can we talk about how that could work in my room?” I began to experience this toward the end of my first year. As I continue on in my position this happens more and more frequently. When I am struggling with how much of a difference I am making, I try and focus on these referrals. There is nothing more powerful than word of mouth. If I wasn’t helping teachers, they wouldn’t be sharing with their colleagues how I have helped them and I wouldn’t be getting these referrals.
What is the point of this blog post? I’m not trying to brag or celebrate my own successes. I’m trying to offer some encouragement to my fellow consulting teachers (instructional coaches, building leaders) out in the field. Take heart, even when it seems you are not making a difference, you are. The seeds just may not have sprouted yet. Be vigilant…sometimes the smallest change in circumstance can cause the greatest reward.
What seeds have you planted? What indicators have you experienced? I would love to hear your thoughts!