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A Mindset for Coaching

As a literacy coach, I believe my role is to build teacher expertise and support teachers’ spirits so they can do the same for their students. I work tirelessly to strengthen teachers' knowledge of literacy: how literacy develops, effective literacy intervention, authentic reading response and more. But I am very aware of the need to focus on teachers’ mindsets for learning (and my own!) as well. I have had many conversations with fellow literacy coaches on the importance of lifelong learning and the impact it can have on our coaching. In my experience, teachers who embrace a lifelong learning mindset listen, think, act, teach and lead differently. They are enthusiastic learners and look forward to entering the classroom. They embrace professional learning opportunities and have a positive attitude about new ideas and initiatives. They look forward to collaborating with others around instruction and practice and make connections to the classroom. Over time, I have realized while some might be born with this lifelong-learning mindset, it is something that we must consciously embrace and cultivate. It is also something that can wax and wane depending on our perspective of our surroundings.
It reminded me of a recent TED Talk on stress and its impact on our health. Kelly McGonigal shared the results of a health study that showed the perception of stress was detrimental to our health, not the actual stress itself. It demonstrated just how powerful our perceptions and mindsets are to our personal well-being and I hypothesize that the same conclusions could be made about our teaching well-being as well. These experiences brought a new perspective to my work with teachers, particularly those so called ‘resistant’ or less-than-positive teachers. However frustrated I might become with teachers who felt they had nothing more to learn, I realized they most likely did not make a conscious decision to remain stagnant, to stop learning, or to be negative, just as I didn’t in my own experiences. They simply were not accustomed to attending to their own mindset for learning or consciously making decisions to empower themselves. As literacy coaches, we can create conditions to help teachers acknowledge the choices we make and the control we have over own learning and attitude, even if we do not seemingly think so at first. How? By working to:
  • create comfortable spaces to connect as fellow readers, writers, thinkers and teachers
  • coach with intention and honor teachers’ time, busy schedules and individual goals as teachers
  • plan and facilitate authentic learning experiences
  • listen to every teachers’ voice and honor their unique contributions
  • leave assumptions at the door and not make judgments about teachers or students
  • bring joy to our work and savor the little things that might go unnoticed
  • continually work to support teachers’ spirits so they can do the same for their students
This kind of work takes planning, a positive attitude and patience, but our teachers and their students deserve nothing less. So, try this. Think of a teacher that is challenging to work with. Identify why you face those challenges and then think deeper. What hidden factors might be influencing that teacher’s actions? How could a focus on mindset help shift our thinking...and theirs? How could thinking this way change the entire trajectory for coaching in this new school year? Share your thoughts and experiences with our community in the comments!

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