Lauren Smith, instructional coach in Noblesville Schools in central Indiana, explains the delicate nature of relationships for the learning process and tips for honing on-going relationships throughout the year.
rom the time I enter through the doors of our school in the morning to the time I walk back out those doors to close the day, I'm fortunate to be surrounded by many cordial greetings, smiles, high-fives, laughs, and even hugs from both students and adults! You see, there's something highly significant that—while separated by many years—both groups largely contribute toward within our school community. What I'm referring to is the importance of relationships. Relationships in multiple capacities create the foundation of a school culture—teacher to student, student to student, and adult to adult.
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." —Dr. James Comer
I still remember my first day as an instructional coach and its near constant flow of questions and wonderings in my mind. What should I focus on? Where was my starting point? How would my colleagues welcome me as their coach?
Whether you've been an instructional coach for years or this is your first year in the coaching role, one vital aspect of instructional coaching that remains constant is the power of relationships. My starting point with relationships as an instructional coach is the same starting point from when I was in the classroom among all of my students. Relationships serve as a foundational piece in the learning process, and they provide an essential bridge to get beyond the "you" and the "me," so that we are able to focus on the "we" of making change together.
Managing and following up with relationships is a delicate process because we're focusing on the heart and human side of change of those we work alongside. Below you will find some ways you may wish to use to manage and follow up with relationships throughout the year.
Share Your Why
Each year is a new and fresh start with relationships. At the beginning of the year, sharing your coaching beliefs and your "why" with all your colleagues provides equal opportunities for everyone to feel welcome to enroll in the coaching process. As Atul Gawande states, "everyone needs a coach." Each relationship matters and grounding yourself in your beliefs will center your focus for both yourself and your colleagues.
As a coach, an important part of our role is to support and encourage our colleagues in a multitude of ways. Regardless of your role, expressing your appreciation and gratitude to others can go a long way when thinking in terms of managing relationships. Appreciation can range from leaving feedback after classroom visits, highlighting or sharing instructional practices, randomly dropping by with a colleague's favorite snack, leaving notes of acknowledgement, or a cheerful quote that made you think of them to start the day. Even stopping by to just say hello goes a long way. Showing our colleagues how much they matter supports them in feeling valued in our relationships.
When managing relationships, remember that we're human too. Throughout my career, I've laughed tears of joy and shared tears of sorrow with my colleagues, and it's important to remember we must be willing to be our authentic and vulnerable selves with our colleagues.
Our coaching support extends beyond the professional realm as the well-being of our colleagues matters as well. There are a few ways to get to know your colleagues on a more personal level by sharing funny stories, asking about their weekend plans, and even checking in on their family. Show a genuine interest in getting to fully know your colleagues and be willing to let them get to know you for you. Life and education can be challenging, and we need one another to lean on during those ebbs and flows.
Focus on Trust
As Chris Butler says, "trust is earned when action meets words." Trust when managing relationships matters not a little, but a lot! Relationships take time to build and as a coach, trust should be at the forefront. Whether we are working with individuals or teams of colleagues, maintaining trust within our relationships helps foster reciprocity and our colleagues feeling safe. Simon Sinek says it best: "A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is group who trusts each other." Continue to model trustworthiness through your actions and conversations.
Following Up with Relationships
In our schools and districts—where we encounter handfuls of colleagues on a daily basis—it's important to help stay connected to all relationships. Even if a colleague is not currently working in a coaching cycle, allot time in your weekly schedule to do classroom visits to maintain visibility and a sense of connection to the relationship. Set a weekly goal for yourself of how many classrooms, or areas, you'd like to visit and expand your visits within all areas of your school, not just classrooms. Through these visits, new entry points may present themselves for future coaching work opportunities.
Not everyone will be eager to work alongside the instructional coach at the start of the year. Maintain a sense of "patient persistence" throughout the school year when following up with relationships. Start each semester with a fresh start to provide opportunities to follow up with new relationships with colleagues. Share various areas and goals of coaching work that has taken place within your school or district after the end of each quarter or semester. Show how instructional coaching is an ongoing invitation available to anyone, anytime. Seek ongoing feedback from your colleagues about current coaching, and provide gentle nudges to all colleagues toward future areas of opportunity.
Share in Celebrations and Productive Struggle
As instructional coaches, we support colleagues in their goals that impact student and professional learning. When following up with relationships, be mindful of celebrating the successes, yet also mutually reflecting within the productive struggle along the way. As a collaborative partner in learning, continually help your colleagues recognize their strengths and accomplishments with students and other colleagues, as well as acknowledge and help navigate through the times of productive struggle. If you find yourself within a time of productive struggle within your relationship with a colleague, take time to reflect and be willing to have a honest, yet respectful, conversation about how you’re feeling.
Sustain and Nurture
Relationships should never be viewed as a checklist item and once relationships have been established, actions need to be taken to keep them sustained and nurtured to ensure they are able to continue to flourish. It’s important to remember to go back to Todd Whitaker, Jimmy Casas, and Jeffery Zoul’s "3 Rs" on a daily basis—relationships, relationships, relationships. The more our relationships are nurtured with our colleagues, the more the impact of those relationships will be felt within the school community.
"People will not care about how much you know until they know how much you care." —Theodore Roosevelt
Relationships form the foundation of our school cultures and our work as instructional coaches. When we address the human side of change through our relationships, we're able to see the heart of our students, colleagues, and families. The next time you walk through your school, take time to note all of the relationships that are occurring around you. As an instructional coach, how are you impacting the relationships that exist within your building?
About our Guest Blogger
Lauren Smith is in her fifth year as an instructional coach in Noblesville Schools located in central Indiana. She has over fourteen years of teaching experience and is passionate about supporting colleagues and students in opportunities for ongoing learning and growth. In addition to having a joy for writing, Lauren is an active member of the Collaborate.Lead.Coach community and enjoys serving as a co-moderator for the #educoach and #INCLC Twitter chats. She welcomes the opportunity to connect and collaborate with others across the country.
You can follow Lauren on Twitter @lsmith0917!