Saturday, November 17, 2012

Learning to Coach

I like sharing what I learn. It's something I think I've developed enthusiasm for as a teacher. I notice it in a lot of different domains - contact improv, meditation, group dynamics and really anything in the realm of the meta cognitive. It helps me to articulate my ideas. I get excited - it really feels like they mean something. At the same time, while I appreciate the enthusiasm I bring to conversation, sometimes I may not listen very well, and as a new coach I think I have been vulnerable to a certain insensitivity to the impact my thinking expression has on others.

Tuesday I practiced applying a new idea: as a coach I've been struggling I figure out what I'm supposed to say to the teachers I've been talking to. I have these questions I base my conversations around, with varying degrees of formality, but I haven't felt very comfortable knowing what to say when teachers respond. I realized last night that I probably was like this with kids and math a handful of years ago. It's simply experience that's helped me understand what a next good question can be. So I came to work today with a readiness to explicitly practice extending that comfort into this new domain. Here's what I experienced:

I would never expect a kid who was uncomfortable with their two times tables to be able to solve equations with fractional coefficients easily. I would never blindly assume that a 9th grader was familiar and fluent with the concept of equality or ratio and proportion. I would prioritize getting the kid to articulate what they were thinking, ask them lots of questions, enjoy what they were saying, listen for the patterns that they themselves might not know they were finding, and celebrate the moments when they were doing something hard and not giving up, making sense of something on their own terms, learning in any context. I would praise them for deep thinking even if they were wrong in their conclusions and challenge them to the next edge of their thinking before saying goodbye.
So I did that today with my teachers. I trust that they are thinking and working hard to make sense of the magnificent mess of a problem that teaching is. I looked for evidence of their decision making and reasoning. As I'm writing this I'm reflecting on how much perseverance I'm seeing in these teachers as they problem solve and how powerful that is since they are responsible for teaching that practice to students. All in all it was a good day. I was looking and so I saw things! I was curious and so I discovered things. I was organized and so I remembered things.


I have learned how to do this and a whole lot more that no one held my hand and taught me. I was nervous and unprepared when I started working with teachers - hoping against hope that my boss would tell me what to do or that I could just copy what my coworkers did. It didn't happen. I figured a lot out anyway. Reading helps. Talking helps. Supervision helps. Writing helps. Time spent mercifully readying myself to learn new things, to be imperfect and learn from it, to feel my growth edge, though I may want to be so much further along, and pushing myself that way, that way, inch by inch moving, developing, expanding...that helps too.

All of that means something important about all of you and all of those that you teach and work with. I'm not conclusive about the meaning - maybe its that we don't need as much help as we think, or that our students don't either; maybe it's that we can relax a little more as we learn and just dig into the learning; maybe it's that things take time to figure out, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm still working that edge.
During a long chat later that night with my old colleague and dear friend Bobby, I got to practice listening and also got to articulate a bunch of new ideas. (Thank you, Bobby!) One of the big takeaways was this: things are funky all over the place. If there's a problem you can be sure your classroom, your school, your student, your teaching, etc is not alone. You, it and they come by it honestly. Do the best you can and move on.

Live each moment like the world is full of possibilities and you're just about to take them on. Live on that edge all the time. Be fearless and merciful, curious and persistent. There's urgency and there's also the necessity for rest. I hope you all get it this weekend and over the holiday.

Thanksgiving, here we come!


  1. Sounds like a nice way to live!

  2. Hello Jesse,

    Your post is really very nice and your thoughts is awesome, is nice to share our experience with people,thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Thanks for post.

  3. You have shared what a adorable article. I think the experience you have shared here is very helpful for me as a Math Teacher. I also visited your blog which helpful for the both students and the teachers as well. I would like to say Thanks for sharing such a nice collection.