Soon after my husband and I moved into our home, we found ourselves locked out. It was before we had a chance to have extra keys cut and stowed on our key rings or in a hidey place. There was one key to the whole place, and we could see it on the end of the kitchen table, taunting us as we peered in the window. All of the doors and windows were locked. We knew, because the day before, we had cleaned all of the windows and double-checked the locks. The garage door openers were in our cars, which were locked inside the garage.
Because the traditional ways of getting into the house were unavailable, we began to look for nontraditional ways. It turned out that if I stood on Andy’s shoulders and he stood on his tippy-toes on a large rock in the flower bed, I could just reach the balcony deck, shinny up the support pole, and scale the railing to reach the sliding door, which we'd unlocked earlier to water the flowers. Shew! It was a much bigger ordeal to enter this way than through the front door. However, because the doors and windows were locked down, we were forced to find another entry point.
Sometimes teachers can be locked down tighter than a house when it comes to working with an instructional coach. When the traditional ways in don’t work, it’s time to think outside the box and try a nontraditional approach. Here are four “keys” that have worked for me.
Ask for Help
I was having a computer issue and was unsure how to fix it. I could have taken it to my friend’s classroom and asked her to help. I was sure she could easily help me with a few clicks. Instead, I sent an email to a teacher I’ve been trying to connect with. Do you have time today to help me with my computer? I typed the note and hit send.
Within 10 minutes the teacher walked into my office with a smile and an offer to help. I was surprised by the speedy reply because usually it takes a face-to-face contact to get a response. As we bent over my computer, I wondered what had caused the quick response.
Asking for help had put me in a vulnerable place. The teacher was able to see that I’m willing to seek support and have questions as a learner. Asking for help is a simple gesture that shows respect. We go to people whom we think will help us in kind and useful ways. Turning the tables and asking for help is a nontraditional way into a coaching relationship.
Go for a Walk
Each year our school health council offers a health challenge. Often one of the challenges is to add more steps to your day. A suggested way to do this is to walk before lunch and/or during prep. Research says adding movement to your day is a great way to increase your productivity. As a way to support the health council, I asked the principal for permission to walk with teachers during their preps.
What I thought would simply be a little bit of added movement to my day turned out to be an exceptional way into a coaching relationship. When I invited teachers to go for a walk, it mattered. The teacher felt valued, and as we walked, we talked. I was fascinated to find that when people move their feet, reflective practice almost always follows. Conversation after conversation turned to literacy instruction, all because I extended an invitation to take a short walk with me.
Be Intentional About Lunch
As a teacher I used to skip the lunchroom several times a week to grab a few extra minutes for planning, grading, or writing. I was fortunate to have lunch with a group of teachers who were positive and uplifting. However, I know some teachers who use teacher’s lounge and negative energy as synonyms! As a coach, I’ve reassessed my view of the teacher lunchroom. It is a place that allows me to get to know teachers.
There was a team I was having a hard time connecting with. They were lovely people, but there were walls that were difficult for me to maneuver around as a coach. I decided to start having lunch with them a few times a week. Our conversation centered on cooking for a couple of weeks. They traded recipes regularly, and I began joining the circulation. I shouldn’t have been surprised when one day one of them said, “We have a writing question for you . . .” By being strategic about my lunch and building relationships, I was given a way into a team of teachers.
Cover a Duty
I look for ways to help cover a duty. If students are heading to a special or lunch, I offer to walk the class for the teacher. If we’ve talked about the importance of a teacher keeping a notebook, I’ll offer to cover recess duty a handful of times to give the teacher a few minutes to write. I keep a copy of the after-school duty schedule and intentionally plan to cover a car pickup or bus duty for a teacher. It’s remarkable how far this act of goodwill goes. I covered a teacher’s car duty one time (in the rain) five years ago, and he still comments about it.
These “keys” to finding a way into teachers’ classrooms all hinge on building a relationship. When teachers know we care, the work of a coach is unlocked.