Many of our readers have been amazed to learn that we, the co-authors of the book Coach Approach to School Leadership, never met in person until the book had been completed. You read that right. We are from three different states and the only time we were ever together during our writing process was virtually through Google Hangout, Google Docs and Voxer. In addition, we each have our own professional journey that adds a variety of experiences and perspectives in our Coach Approach work. When we present, Jessica loves to joke (albeit true) that “a Coach, a Principal and a Rabii walked into a bar and then wrote the Coach Approach.” The truth in this joke? Our makeup includes: an Instructional Coach working in suburban schools, a public school principal with experience in urban and rural schools, and a Rabii/Head of Jewish schools, now director of a progressive project based school.
It only seems fitting that our first post to our new website introduces the journey that each of us took to the Coach Approach…
Never in my life did I ever aspire to be a principal…until I became one! My first year out of the classroom was to serve as an Instructional Coach. I was so fortunate to have been given the opportunity and training to do so, by a principal who saw stengths in me that I didn’t even know I had (Thank you Melanie!). It was an incredible year of getting into classrooms to observe, provide feedback, and go through coaching cycles with individual teachers and groups of teachers to provide them with the support that they wanted and needed to improve the teaching and learning in their classrooms. I loved the feeling of having an impact on more than just the 30 students that had been in my classroom in each previous year of teaching. This experience led me to make the decision to move into school administration.
I took an assistant principal position at a middle school that was in its 5th year of being deemed as failing by the state and had this final year to “turn it around” or be taken over by the state. Talk about pressure. I had the amazing opportunity to work with a great principal, Raul Pina, who was well known for being a “turn around” principal. He is still the most courageous and fearless leader I know, with a never ending passion for doing right for students. I learned so much from working with him as we made significant changes in that school. Long story short…the school did turn around that year and continued to rise up the ranks over the years. I took my experience into my first year as principal with the same mindset of wanting to turn around a school. I made mistakes (I’m sure my teachers have a list!), but fortunately I realized early on that I could not lead with the same mentality. I realized that in the former school, the intent of that principal was to make quick and drastic changes before turning the school over to a new principal that would be there for the longterm. I realized that if I wanted to stay in my school (I had a bought a house less than a mile down the road from our school, so I did have plans for my family to stay!) I could not lead with the same mindset and strategies that the turnaround principal and I had led with.
I wanted to go back to my experience as an instructional coach, but also struggled, because a principal cannot just operate as an instructional coach. It is just simply not feasible. As I began having conversations with Kathy Perret and Shira Leibowitz on #educoach, we came up with the concept of a coaching hat; a hat you can wear, but take off when you need to put on the evaluator’s hat. Years of conversations and writing work have finally resulted in our book
Like Jessica, never in my life did I aspire to be a principal. Unlike Jessica, I never even aspired to be an educator at all . . . until I became one!
I began my career wanting to be a novelist, then a journalist, then a rabbi – and ended up in education after teaching in after school programs to support myself through rabbinical school. Being in a classroom with students, I fell in love with teaching. In addition to rabbinical school classes, I began taking education classes and was recruited into a doctoral program in education, and soon found myself teaching and then leading Jewish independent schools (as principal and head of school).
There have been in my career, now spanning more than two decades, high points and low points, and it was through some of the hardest moments that I have grown the most. About ten years ago, facing with growing financial insecurity in our school community, increased competition with other schools, and the realization that our world was changing rapidly and the learning experiences we had provided would likely no longer be sufficient to prepare our students for the challenges they would face, I recognized that I needed to expand my own knowledge and skills. I found myself a coach! So transformed by the experience of coaching, I wondered what our school could accomplish if all our teachers could also benefit from coaches. I sought out support on how I might do that, in the process meeting Jessica and Kathy, starting the #educoach chat on twitter with them, and meeting many more educators passionate about the potential of coaching to support teachers.
Back at my school, I was able to repurpose positions and put together a cadre of coaches available to teachers. I was also able to work toward transforming my leadership practice, to utilize more coaching techniques to support our coaches, and our teachers directly. The experience pushed my own thinking dramatically, leading me to wonder and learn about what is possible in education, transforming my practice and ultimately leading me on a path to join the founding team of a new project based, interdisciplinary, multi-age school.
It all began with being coached; embracing the potential we all have to take in feedback, stretch our thinking, and improve.
Well, I must follow suit. It always amazes me that the three of us have common threads woven into our life’s journey. Like Jessica and Shira and never saw myself where I am at this moment in time. I did know I wanted to be a teacher since the age of 10. I expected a long happy career as a primary grade teacher. That changed the day I was hired as a 4th grade teacher and I spent the next 18 years as an intermediate teacher. I’m thankful for the mentors I’ve had along the way. They were constantly seeing things in me that I didn’t see myself.
My last three years in the classroom were sprinkled with opportunities to facilitate learning for adults. My classroom ended up being a place others wanted to visit in order to observe literacy practices I was having success with. With no coaching background I found myself needing to help visitors reflect on what they saw and determine ways to implement in their classrooms. I also stepped foot in the world of engaging adults in professional development. All this was new to me, but fresh and exhilarating and it opened a new door.
The start of my 19th year in education was quite different. I was no longer in my comfort zone of a classroom. I started my career as an educational consultant. Over the last 18 years my role has changed over time – yet I still focus in the areas of elementary literacy, ESL, school improvement and teacher leadership. There was a period of time where each of us at our agency served as an instructional coach for several schools. I was fortunate to receive training from Jim Knight as a trainer of instructional coaching. In hindsight, this opened more doors – more than I ever could have imagined and I discovered a new love – a love for empowering and inspiring educators through coaching.
During this time I also started to aspire to the role of an elementary principal. I began an endorsement program and even though I had never envisioned myself being a principal – I started to think it may actually be my calling. It was at this time, I met Jessica and Shira – after searching for others that would like to help start a Twitter Chat for instructional coaches (now #educoach). Jessica and Shira were both school administrators and I loved learning from them as I worked on my coursework and intense internship. They were both dabbling with “coach approach ideas” and I followed suit using what I had learned from Jim Knight and other thought leaders I admired and had the opportunity to learn from in person! (Steve Barkley, Joellen Killion, Diane Sweeney, Pete Hall, Alisa Simeral to name a few)
At the completion of my endorsement program I actively sought principal positions – never finding the right fit. One interview question has lived with me to this day. I was asked near the end of an interview…”Do you see yourself as a principal or as an instructional coach.” In my heart and mind, I saw both – yet I don’t think that is what the superintendent saw at the time. But that question has driven me to share with other that BOTH can be an option.
I am now in what I consider the Pay-It-Forward portion of my educational career. My brightest moments are helping other SHINE, whether it’s coaching instructional coaches, administrators, or teachers. A coaching mindset is about having a deep sense of humility and curiosity. I’m thankful for all who have planted seeds in my career and nurtured them with care. Each day I’m amazed by the dedication of educators I meet in person and through social media. I learn from them daily!
As a young child I had a favorite saying, “Every day the thing to do is learn a little something new.” In all the years since uttering that youthful sentiment, I find I still adhere to it as much now as I did then. But at my current level of maturity and experience, I’d revise my words to something even simpler, “Being an effective educator means continuous learning.” The exciting and boundless truth is that learning is academic and humanitarian, personal and public.
On a side note – I never saw myself as a writer either. You can read about my journey as a writer here.
So, there’s the story behind The Coach Approach. We were super excited to meet face to face with our editor, Susan Hills from ASCD:
We also got to meet Thomas Lytle, the graphic designer who created the hat/cover of our book. We were so fortunate to each be given a hat as well!
We look forward to the next stage in our journey. Join us on the first Thursday of each month for the #coachapproach chat. (8:00-8:30 pm CST). We will use this website to share tips and resources and announce upcoming Coach Approach events! And you can find and interact with us on FaceBook here.