I have been an Assistant Principal for six months. While that may not be long to you, it feels like a lifetime for me. Every day brings new challenges, new struggles, new successes, and new zeal!
One of my best teacher friends, Trinna, recently called me and asked what do you miss most about being a teacher. I thought about this for a while and said Coaching.
I coached track for five years, and I sorely miss it. Don’t get me wrong; I loved teaching English and showing students the power of language, the impact of words, and the possibility of using those tools to bring about change, but the impact I was able to provide students on the track is profound in a very different way.
I took boys to men, girls to young women and showed them that they mattered in ways that I could not do in the classroom.
Recently, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) has adopted a Learning Walkthrough Tool that leaders use as a way to increase excellent instruction for all of our students. The tool is non-evaluative, so it will require leaders to shift from Supervisor to Coach when using it. During the training of learning how to use the tool, I thought about the shift I made from a teacher to a coach. I had to have a different mindset from being a teacher because a coach has to be so much more. A coach has to be a:
- Motivator: As a coach, I had to encourage my team to believe that they could compete and win. I had to also be willing to show them and model for them the right way. I remember during track practice running alongside of my students to show them proper form, breathing techniques, and how to pump their arms in a manner that would increase their ability to win. While doing all these things, I had to communicate to them that I had high expectations in their abilities. This is the same when shifting from Supervisor to Coach. We have to be willing to run the race with educators and to model best practices while showing that our goal is the help and not to harm.
- Mentor: When I was on the field, I had to act as a mentor for my students. I had to advise them on the proper way to do things. A mentor is a trusted person for the people who they work with. They show others that it is okay to take risks, to fail, and to try again. I had to be more concerned with their success than my own because I understood that my success was through their ability to succeed. This is the same as a leader, I have to be available, approachable, and accessible. I also, as a mentor, had to be honest with my team and tell them when they were not doing something quite right because if I didn’t, they could injure themselves. While educators will not necessarily hurt themselves, my unwillingness to speak truth as a mentor may cause them to harm a child. These conversations are not easy, but children deserve for us to tell difficult truths to improve teaching and learning.
- Trainer: When I was a coach, I would leave practice in pain believing that I should never ask my runners to do something for me that I was not willing to do with them. If they ran laps, I ran with them. If they did iron mikes, I did those too. A coach is not above the team; a coach becomes a part of the team. As a leader, we have to be willing to get in, get dirty, and get to work with our teachers. This could be co-teaching, modeling, or making time each week for mentoring. The possibilities are endless, but the point is to be both a facilitator and a participant.
Leaders should view themselves as a coach: motivator, mentor, and trainer. A leader’s job is to create new leaders around them. I will never forget my former student, Quinton, who ran track for on my team three years ago. Quinton never ran track before, but I saw something in him. He had talent and he was a natural leader, but he needed someone to show him the right techniques.
On a very warm spring day in Georgia, it seemed that my team was plagued with injuries. I lost my 100 meter runner and wondered what I would do. Quinton, who just finished a 200 meter dash, walked up to me and said, “Coach, whatever you need me to do, I’ll put the team on my back and do it for you.” After the race, he crossed the finish line and his body was shaking. He fell down in the grass. The team rushed to his side and carried him to the bleachers. Quinton pushed himself into muscle failure because he believed in something bigger than himself. Quinton won the race, and that allowed the team to win the meet.
He believed in his ability because he was well coached – this is what leaders can do for teachers when we shift from Supervisor to Coach. It will take a shift in our thinking, but if we train, mentor, and motivate, we can coach them in a manner that will yield the highest student achievement and allow them to believe in their own ability to lead.
My time coaching track may be over, but I am still striving to be a coach… on a new field – the classroom!