One of the first pieces of advice I was given as a new coach was this:
Always be busy.
This advice was followed with a list of suggestions of how to always appear busy:
- Carry a professional book or article with you at all times. If you are waiting for a meeting, read professionally.
- When at your desk, make sure to have evidence of the work you are doing for people to see.
- Never have a follow-up conversation with a teacher that lasts more than 15 minutes.
- Make your schedule available to the entire staff.
- Do not eat in the teachers' lounge.
- Never carry coffee.
The advice was well intentioned, but after a decade as an instructional coach, I’m not sold on it. It is true that there will always be people who question your capacity to do the job. There will always be people who think you have too much time and not enough tasks. It is also true that no matter how busy you keep yourself, they will still have those skewed views. Carrying professional books with you at all times and not eating in the teachers' lounge isn’t going to change that.
When I couple this advice with traveling among six buildings, it doesn’t take long to get the reputation of being too busy. I’ve come to believe this hinders my effectiveness. It is often said, Perception is reality. That means that if people think I’m busy, they won’t ask for help and won’t come to me for a conversation because they won’t want to bother me.
I’ve discovered three words that are powerful coaching tools:
I have time.
These three little words have changed my relationships with teachers. When someone emails and includes a comment such as, “I know you’re busy . . . ,” I respond with an answer to their question and include the words I have time.
When a teacher peeks into my office and says, “I have a quick question,” I close my computer and say, I have time.
When I’m walking down the hall and a principal says, “Do you have a second?” I say, I have time.
These three words speak volumes. In our hurry-up society, it is a relief when someone says, I have time. In the world of school, where there is always one more thing to do, it is refreshing to hear, I have time.
To give this response, my perspective has to remain that I do, indeed, have time. Truth be told, this isn’t always an easy perspective to maintain. Often I have more meetings in a week than I have fingers and toes. Many times I have an overflowing email inbox. And more often than not, I’m preparing for a classroom. It would be easy to believe I don’t have time for one more thing.
Here’s the deal: people are not one more thing. Without teachers, administrators, and students there isn’t a need for instructional coaches. Building relationships is the primary thing we must have time to do. Encouraging and empowering isn’t possible unless I have time. Transforming practices won’t happen until I have time. When I remember these things, it is easier to keep the perspective that I have time.
These three words are game changers. Try embedding them in your conversations. As a helpful reminder, I created a printable graphic for you. You can trim one and put it in a 5×7 frame and tape the other into your notebook or calendar. As you use these three little words, I’m sure you’ll be rewarded with a smile and a level of comfort that makes reflective practice possible.