Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. I especially love November when the Texas weather FINALLY decides to give at least a few days of chilly air and allow me to pull out my boots and sweaters (which I have way more than anyone living in Texas will ever need in a lifetime!). Fall also signals the time of year where I put on a different type of coaching hat. Through the years, I have found certain patterns that occur over the school year. Just as the weather changes with the seasons, the mood and stress levels of teachers and campuses change throughout “seasons” of the year requiring me to adapt my coaching style and skills. From September-May, here are some ways to prepare for the changes during the year:
September-October: The honeymoon.
This is the start of the new year, and teachers are trying new things. There is a sense of hope. Coaching during this season focuses on relationship building, getting to know the students, training, and introducing support for new initiatives. This is the time of year to get flexibly organized. Observe in classrooms to get a feel for each teacher’s style and the conditions that they are working in. Take inventory of what resources are available or needed. Build relationships by finding resources, planning, and being present on a routine basis.
November is a doozy. This is the point of the year when teachers generally hit the first wall and start getting tired or burned out. At this point, they know the students, several assessments have been done, and there is a sense of “Really? They’re still not getting it!” This is also the case for coaches. November is when I hit a wall, too. Teachers that you have been trying to win over are still guarded, some are implementing suggestions, others are struggling to understand why you are even there. It is a frustrating month. Holiday breaks are around the corner, benchmarks are approaching, and there is still tons of work to do. This is the month where I find it helpful to start developing detailed coaching plans. Now that you have had a chance to work with the teachers, what are some areas that need support? Start setting coaching targets or learning goals and work backward to develop actions to help teachers improve practice. What would you see in the classroom if teachers were successfully implementing ____? Break the actions into steps that can be practiced and that improvement can be seen in 1-2 weeks. A plan helps by putting some action to the fears.
January-February: The big panic.
Once the holiday break is over, the stress really starts to set in. I have deemed February the “month of tears” because this is when so many teachers start to seriously panic about getting their students ready for testing in April and May. Semester exams and benchmarks usually happen around this time, and the panic begins in full force. This is also a time of year when teachers are put on growth plans and administrators are under a great deal of pressure after a semester of data collection. This is when I put on my “cheerleader” coaching hat. Honestly, at this point, you’ve worked with them on content. You have developed and continue to work on the coaching plan. The teachers who were resistant at first either truly hate your guts now or have resigned themselves to the fact that they can’t get rid of you. Regardless of all of that, they need someone to be their voice of support in this time. They need someone to focus on what they are improving in and doing RIGHT. Administrators, too. They need someone to help them see the growth that has occurred-even the small amounts. They all need someone to help them see beyond numbers to the bigger picture. Help them see the data that is not collected from paper/pencil tests, and listen to them. This is always a hard time of year for me because we, as coaches, need support too, but we often don’t have a team to work with. Make time for yourself during this time. Take care of yourself, and find someone outside of school to vent to.
March-April: Crunch time.
This is the time of year leading up to state testing, and there is a sense of just work, work, work. I have to put on my “practical partner” hat in this season. I am not a test prep proponent...AT ALL... until this time of year. If teachers have been employing good practices and have been teaching with authentic texts and methods, then this IS the time to show students how to transfer that learning to test-taking. Not every day, all day, but it does need to be built in on a routine basis. Testing is a genre and needs to be taught as such. There are features of a test that are not seen in other types of text. There are navigation requirements that are necessary to understand a test that are not needed for other types of text. If the students have been learning true reading strategies up to this point, then it will be easy to transfer those to how to read a test. If they have been learning test-taking strategies disguised as reading strategies, then you will hit a wall during this season. The students who have been struggling will continue to struggle because knowing the tricks for taking a test don’t matter unless you can actually read and understand using real reading strategies. As a coach, this is when I become a teaching partner. I may work with students or help develop small group or tutoring lessons based on skills using best practices.
May-June: Reflect & Wrap-Up.
Oh, how I love May. After all the stress, the tests finally get taken, and the end is near. There is a ton of activity with awards ceremonies, field days, field trips, special presentations, etc. This is the best time of year to reflect on your coaching and with teachers. One thing I do is keep a summary of my coaching visits for each campus I work with throughout the year. It is just a narrative that reminds me what I did and any patterns, observations, or ideas I noted. I date each entry and refer to it as I move along with the coaching plans. I always try to include a “next steps” statement to keep me on track. At the end of the year, I can look back over the narrative and see the progress of the coaching. Sometimes, I find that I got off track at certain points or that things took a different turn than I was expecting, but it helps to reflect on what I can change or even what areas of support/training might be needed for the future.
As we enter this fall season of the school year, I hope this helps in thinking about how we may adapt our teaching and coaching styles to meet the needs of the teachers and students we support. I would love to hear how your coaching changes through the year!