Thursday I sat in on a Coaching conversation facilitated by a mentor that taught me almost everything I know about coaching. It was with a first year math teacher in my department that we’ve been focusing on directions with for a few weeks. Below is a rough recollection of what was said. (C for Coach, T for teacher)
C: We’ve talked about explicit directions and you understand them when we practice, you just aren’t doing them. Why?
T: I just need a reminder – I forget
C: Okay let’s think about what might happen if you were to give those explicit directions.T: Students would know what to do. They’d be successful in class and meet my expectations.
C: What about if you don’t give explicit directions?
T: They won’t know what to do. They won’t do as well in class and will get lower grades.
C: If they get lower grades what happens?
T: They fail and won’t achieve their goals.
C: What happens if they fail?
T: They won’t graduate high school.
C: With what you know about students and your community what does that mean? How will that impact your students if they don’t graduate?
T: They’ll have less opportunities…
C: They are more likely to be in a gang, be involved in crime, have poor health and die younger than students that do graduate high school. Your directions are LIFE or DEATH. For you, it is just a “Oh, I didn’t do that today and things didn’t go well” but for your students your directions are LIFE or DEATH.
[Data here and here for some of her claims].
The coaching conversation moved on to practicing explicit directions and when it ended I talked to the coach. She admitted it was a “tough love” coaching session then said: “A student of yours was killed last week. If I can do anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again I have to. I feel responsible too. That’s why I was so hard on the teacher.”
We parted ways, the teacher to teach, the coach to visit another school and myself to a meeting. Later I thought to myself: Jake, you taught the student, who was killed last week, your first year. You legitimately struggled every day. Could I have made an impact on his life that would have kept him alive?
The honest answer to that question is yes. I know I struggled my first year, but I also know I did the best I could given the resources I had. I couldn’t have done more for him because I was doing the absolute best I could manage as a mentor-less teacher. More importantly, I think that the Coach is right – we as teachers do have that amazing power to save some lives by simply keeping students in school. Now, I have the skill set that I could create an amazing classroom for every student and invest (almost) everyone in their futures.
That’s not an option though because I’m an instructional coach who teaches Calculus to a handful of college bound seniors. I won’t have that same kind of impact I could have had this year with 120 students.
However, I have so much more influence than every before. I now am responsible for almost 750 students’ math education because I’m the math coach. Imagine the power of a math teacher who LOVES every single student. Imagine the power of a department that has mastered on basics of teaching that increase student successes across the board.
I have to coach every teacher now with such urgency, love and compassion to do everything in my power to keep students at school and on track to graduate. Will we “save” every student? Certainly not. More importantly, through the first six weeks of school, I know that I’m not doing everything in my power to ensure every student’s success. I know I have to do better so one teacher can build that one relationship that keeps them on track to graduate or sends them to college. If that happens once in part because of my assistance I’ll consider myself a success.
I can’t fix the mistakes I made years ago. I can’t bring back my student. But I sure as hell can do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And I will.
This, A.I., I promise.