I recently spent some time at the counter of my local bank. I had misplaced my ATM card and was requesting a new one. What I thought was going to be a quick and painless task ended up being a lengthy, frustrating session with customer service as a result of technical difficulties. When we finally sorted things out and I was ready to leave, the customer service representative thanked me for my time and patience and reached over the counter to shake my hand. Unexpectedly, she held the handshake a few seconds longer than I anticipated and looked me right in the eye as she thanked me again. Any frustration I felt completely disappeared in those extra few seconds of appreciation. As I thought about it on the way home, I realized there is great power in truly connecting with someone and lingering for just a moment longer than required or expected.
I couldn’t help but apply this kind of thinking to my literacy coaching. Literacy coaches have one of the most complicated, busy, and fragmented schedules I know, and we work feverishly to support as many teachers as we can. Yet, in our fast-paced schedule, are we stopping long enough to simply let teachers know that we appreciate them? That we value them? That their dedication makes a difference to someone? I know I learned a lesson from the bank teller that day on how a few extra seconds of attention can change everything and how I wanted to apply it to my work with teachers. Here are a few ideas I tried to build more “lingering” into literacy coaching:
Plan for lingering in your coaching schedule.
If you are anything like me, you try to pack as much as you can into your day: scheduling coaching visits, professional development, after-school meetings, and, ideally, a bit of planning. Oftentimes, our schedules are so tight that we rarely have time for a bathroom break, and we eat our lunch at the oddest of times.
In our quest to do as much as we can for teachers, we often shortchange our schedule and find ourselves busily rushing through our days that never seem to have enough time in them for all we want to do. But by slowing down our schedule and allowing ourselves a few extra minutes of time, we ensure that we are not rushing through our coaching conversations and are giving teachers our undivided attention. When creating your schedule, allow yourself the time you truly need and deserve. Avoid scheduling sessions back-to-back-to-back and plan just a few minutes more than you think you will need for your work. This ensures that you are not rushing through your day and missing opportunities to connect with teachers. Give yourself permission to move at a slower pace. Sometimes, less is more, and by focusing on the quality of our interactions with teachers over the number of teachers we can meet with across a single day, we can build stronger coaching relationships.
Since we work with multiple teachers, and sometimes, multiple schools, organization is critical to our success. A lack of organization can waste time and cause frustration as we search for materials, find misplaced notes, and gather items for coaching and professional development sessions. By taking some time up front to organize your coaching spaces and materials, you will ensure that your time later on is better spent with teachers. So where to begin? Start by creating a “hub” for all of your important documents: master school schedules, your own coaching schedule, school calendars, and other important files. This hub might be a folder, a notebook, a bulletin board by your desk, or even a digital storage space. Next, create a system to organize your work with different grade levels and teachers. You might choose notebooks, binders, or digital drives, but your method should easily collect lessons, observational notes, and materials needed for coaching. Finally, create time in your schedule to maintain your organizational efforts. I am guilty of creating piles on my desk that never get sorted, posting sticky notes on my computer that never get removed, and recycling items on my to-do list again and again. Are you? Schedule time to put things away where they belong, catch up on housekeeping kinds of tasks, and stay organized. Want to learn more? Head to Gretchen Taylor’s piece on using Google to get organized and tackle organizing your coaching notes with Kathy Provost’s helpful hints.
Have you ever been working with a teacher and realized your mind is on the next thing you have to do, the next thing you have to plan for, or the thing you forgot to do before meeting with her? I know. It happens. We are often so busy that it can be hard to stop in the moment and simply focus on what is in front of us. But we must. When working with teachers, give them your full attention. Make eye contact and learn more about mindfulness for teachers to bring this presence to your coaching.
Schedule “just because” emails, notes, or pop-in conversations.
I am a fan of sticky notes. They are plastered everywhere I go and often remind me of things I have to do, things I need to get, and things I should not forget. These tangible reminders are critical to my success, so why not use them to help better connect with teachers? Just as we might have calendars and schedules to conference with students in the classroom, why not do the same in our coaching? Create a calendar to schedule “just because” conversations with your teachers. You can go “old school” and add this to your paper calendar or go digital and use a tool like Google Keep. Make it a habit to check in with a different teacher each day, “just because” you want to. You might drop into their classroom for a quick hello, send an email to touch base, or even leave a note in their mailbox to let teachers know you are thinking of them. These small tokens of acknowledgment and appreciation go a long way and show teachers you care.
Connect with your teachers.
I often joke that the clocks in the schools I work in are all broken . . . They consistently move too quickly! I am guilty of overplanning professional development sessions and trying to pack in as much content and collaboration as I can. But I have come to realize that those precious moments when teachers start to filter into the classroom are vital to my success as a coach and that time should be allocated for them. Just as children need time for social interactions, so do their teachers. Connect with teachers as they enter your professional development on topics unrelated to teaching. Comment on plans for after school, catch up on family updates, and let teachers have the downtime they need and deserve from their busy day. By planning for this kind of conversation, and capitalizing on the relationships it creates, you might avoid off-topic conversation later on in your sessions.
You might even try an adult version of Debbie Miller’s Literacy Attendance. In the elementary version of Literacy Attendance, students share literacy-related events and happenings in their lives during the morning roll call. Teachers learn about the books they are reading at home and family activities related to reading and writing, and gain insights into their literate home lives to affect instruction. How might you give a version of this a try during professional development? Create a Literacy Attendance graffiti board and ask teachers to jot down events from their lives that connect to literacy as they meander in for a professional development session, like the one I created here:
Teachers might jot down the title of a book they are reading, a note about a piece they are writing, or something they saw on social media, sparked by your examples. You can use these tidbits to start conversations, connect teachers, and develop camaraderie. I first tried this with a group of teachers who met regularly to discuss early literacy instruction and was amazed by all that I learned about: upcoming weddings and events, special relationships with family members, world traveling, and unique hobbies. They were hesitant at first, but once this became a routine, teachers looked forward to sharing. Each time I learned something new about a teacher, it strengthened our connection. Just don’t forget to share your own life with teachers as well!
Imagine what might happen if we took just a little extra time to linger with teachers and build stronger relationships. What if we stopped in the moment to tell teachers how much we valued them? What if we lingered in conversation for just a few extra minutes without giving the telltale signs that we need to move on to our next coaching activity? Teachers might get that same giddy feeling that I did at the bank, knowing that someone valued my time and took the extra step to tell me so. When we feel valued, we think differently and work differently.