What I know from everything I’ve ever cared about is that life doesn’t cater to your expectations. Sometimes, the result you get may not be anticipated, yet it is truth. And in the end, it is all beautiful: the tenacity and strength of teachers that consistently show up for their students, whose coaching and mentoring and empathy and grace towards students is unfailing. These are the moments that mattered to students this year. My students, our students, tell me all the things. It’s okay; it’s our duty to help them stop, reflect, and map out a course when they feel lost.
Authentic reflection in a teacher’s world can be difficult. Knowing the truth of what worked and what did not after hours of preparing a lesson. The truth of learning amazing, upsetting, and sometimes difficult, lessons. Yet life consistently hands you feedback that may not match your perception, your reality. Teaching is more than working with students. It is catering, a multi-tasking of sorts, to the needs of your supervisors, your parents, your colleagues, you and your students, simultaneously. And, if you do it right, in the end, the coaching/teaching experience forces an authentic reflection of your own needs, one that honors both balance and self-compassion. I am so grateful to have RP coaching to allow perception through a different lens, one that isn’t always perfect, or that provided me the solution I was looking for. Success in life is a trial of navigating relationships, keeping your sanity in check and all the while, enjoying the messy process that it is.
Coaching my peers isn’t inherently natural, or easy for me. I feel that most educators would love “strategies in a box”, ones that will guarantee a classroom to function with ease and content for both students and teachers alike. Some set of prioritized items, that crossed off once complete, will restore a classroom to the ideal setting of Danielson’s utopia. A ‘transcendental” philosophy is a belief that as educators we can leverage our personal strengths and talents to foster positive change. It is self-reliance in its purest form. How do you coach for self-reliance? I think that my experience tells me that you provide opportunities: opportunities for reflection, for discussion, for piloting strategies in the classroom to see what the results may be. The art of teaching tends to form a unique social experiment where the star of the play is YOU the teacher as the protagonist/antagonist. Owning all the responsibility, whether things go well or not, all the time gets exhausting. There are teachers who are up for that challenge, and I can say those in my crew were ready.
One specific example of where I have seen impact taking form is in the classroom of Rebecca Eberly. When I first met Rebecca, I knew that her enthusiasm could be used for positive transformation, as she already had a reputation for empathy with a diverse set of learners. I got to know her initially, but not experience her classroom vibe, by sharing the same students. I knew this coaching experience would be powerful for her and for me. By sharing our strengths and focusing on students who might be seen as “at risk” or “challenging”, we could tailor our collaborative efforts to bring out their individual leadership skills. Each week Rebecca would come to me with a new strategy she was trying with the students and give me feedback on the process of what worked well. She recorded so many EdThena videos of her classes to spotlight her students and see how they were leading their own academic conversations and pushing each other into higher rigor. It was true; I witnessed this myself through watching these videos. Now I felt I had a handle on who Rebecca Eberly wants to be in the classroom: a source of empowerment, hope, and unconditional light for these students. The method of restorative practices was working, and Rebecca was feeling more confident and competent as a teacher. As compared to other times in her teaching career, the discipline referrals went down. Students were eager to go to her class. All the while, Rebecca was consistently excited to share their successes with me. I knew this strategy was working when several conversations I had with our shared students developed into, “You know what? You and Mrs. Eberly are my favorite teachers. I know you care, and that means a lot.” This year I found an equal collaboration of strategies with all my crew, such as Lindsay, Alex, and Dave, who were actively and creatively implementing techniques of engagement with their students. When my students found out which teachers were part of the Restorative Practices cohort, they were not surprised. These were some of their favorite teachers. Students that are normally seen as fidgety, disagreeable, and distracted, were now asking me focused questions of why I wanted to be a coach and help others, and how they could do something like that, take on some type of leadership role in the future. “That’s cool that you want to help other people, but I like it more ‘cuz I see you try a lot doing it,” one student said to me. Then the floodgates opened. The stories of home, friends they have lost, family they have lost, when they have felt pain, what they like about their lives and what they don’t like at all, how they wish certain things in life were different for them. The fighting and the words against peers in my classroom that I work all year against so ardently, so earnestly, dissolved for that moment in time into a classroom community of fun while doing a hands-on lab activity. Under the normal conversation of groups I hear something unusual. This sometimes angry, sometimes noncompliant, sometimes “making-poor-choices” student begins singing a Taylor Swift song, and soon others join in until the whole class had come together as “Swifties” in a loud unison. Each student is engaged in the lab, those with 504s, IEPs, ELs and others are focused on writing the data down, submitting their work, and singing along. I see my EL students laughing, interacting with non-ELs, and appreciating the naivety and innocence of what their age should be. When I dreamed about my classroom norms at the beginning of the year culminating in what that looked and sounded like I knew. What I see is that utopia. I finally heard that sweet melody I was waiting for all year long: and it sounds like Taylor Swift. My heart pounds because I know it’s a win.
Each time I coach, I reflect on the conversation I just had. What did this experience teach me? Who am I presenting to my peers that is being shown as a mirror back to me? How receptive am I to receive this specific and valuable feedback? Am I leaning in with love, pushing away judgment, and learning from each coaching experience? In my heart, I can say undoubtedly YES to all three, although each pillar is a work in progress. I am exceptionally honored to be an RPIA coach, as I build connections with others who are the best mentors I could ask for. I am exceptionally grateful for the collaboration and unique viewpoints of each of these amazing people. And I know that it is a gift to be in this role. I have learned so much from them about my classroom and about my needs and what needs to be improved, much more than I anticipated from the start. Even more than that, I get the pleasure to share in their moments of success: students turning around from being behaviorally/emotionally challenged to positive leaders and influencers in their classroom, their joys: losing less students to suspensions, poor attendance issues and tardiness, less discipline referrals, and hearing specific, direct, positive feedback from their students that they are trusted, needed and truly loved. I also hear their fears: listening to questions about balancing student compassion, work/life balance with potential burnout and know that in my own personal growth journey there is so, so much to learn as I feel all these things as well. That is what makes RPIA so perfectly imperfect. There is no one-size-fits-all model, just the tenacity to improve every single interaction, every relationship to better the human spirit. The teachers implementing RP in their classroom are the best examples, the BEST role models for their students, as evidenced through student surveys and videos, and by conversations from these students individually, as each feels uniquely empowered to take on more leadership in our community. I see my teachers’ allowing for so much voice, more ownership and empowerment in their classrooms, and creating brave spaces where students are destined to shine. Another middle school teacher of my crew recently said, “I wanted to do most of these practices anyway. Fostering student empowerment with self-improvement simultaneously will always be personal goals. It is who I am.” I say, her students are very fortunate to have her. I do ponder this: I wonder if they like Taylor Swift?