Today’s guest author, Casey Landry, is an Instructional Coach for The Woodlands College Park High School in Conroe Independent School District and has over 19 years experience in education, including teaching all levels of English grades 6-12, World History and US History, and college-level writing courses for the Lone Star College System. She has professionally edited doctoral dissertations in the fields of Education and Philosophy, and her credentials also include the creation and development of unit plans, writing curricula, and professional development seminars.

If it is true that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes before Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives when discussing students and their growth in a classroom, isn’t the same true for coaching teachers? We talk about growing teachers professionally, but have we taken the time to get to know them personally? Can we help them grow without first building trust? And are we truly building trust with adults when we don’t know whether or not they feel safe? Do they feel supported? Do they feel protected? Did they eat this morning?

 

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Coaching is like being a teacher in a classroom full of students who come from all different living situations. Just because a teacher is an adult that doesn’t mean they are safe, secure, and loved. So, how do we, as coaches, meet the diverse needs of our teachers?

 

“I need to recognize those struggles; I need to empathize with each concern; I need to listen.”

Much like a teacher’s relationship with each student impacts learning, an instructional coach’s relationship with each teacher impacts growth. I do realize, however, that I am not a “teacher” in a classroom, nor are the teachers I work with my “students.” The teachers I am fortunate enough to work with are adults and professionals, and they impact children every day. They are my colleagues, and my one and only job is to support their instructional practices and their goals. Many come to work each day facing emotional strains, financial worries, personal sacrifice, and health issues. I need to recognize those struggles; I need to empathize with each concern; I need to listen. Until I meet the basic needs of the professionals around me, no amount of presentations or professional development will go deeper than surface level frustration.

I thought about this as I developed my most recent presentation. How can I be sure to meet Maslow’s Hierarchy in order to achieve upper-level Bloom’s Taxonomy? It was like creating a slope-intercept in the middle of a scatter plot! Each teacher in any presentation is at differing levels of actualization and differing levels of learning. I have a group of Journeyman Educators; a group of Midshipman; and a group of New Recruits! They are my scatter plots on the x and y axis. How do I then draw a line through all of the points indicating growth? 

“…I know each teacher; I know where they are in life; I know what moves each of them.” 

I took the time over the past weeks and months to get to know each and every one of them…and there are a lot of them in a department for a 6-A high school in Texas. I then took one lesson; one idea; one activity and scaffolded it to meet the needs – both emotionally and academically – of the professionals in front of me. Do I reference The Canterbury Tales or do I reference Beloved? Do I reference The Big Bang Theory or do I reference Friends? Nirvana or Jay-Z? The answer is that I know each teacher; I know where each is in life; I know what moves each of them; I know what to reference emotionally in order to help him or her reach his or her professional goals, and I am humbled that each one would grant me access to his or her life. 

 

       

So, what do I do with the teacher who protects herself from an emotional connection with me? What do I do with the teacher who does not wish to open up and share their personal experiences? That’s when I have to realize that it is not about me. That is when I need to take the time to tap into my Super Ego, as you will. Some teachers may have enough support in life that another, personal connection is not needed. That teacher may just need me to provide support in the form of professional ideas, pedagogical advice, or intellectual conversation. Got it! I am on it! 

 

Then, there are times when I just have to realize that the adult in front of me may have been burned too many times professionally or may have too much going on in life in order to connect or to give of herself to one more human being. That is when I feel it is most important to take care of the person in front of me, regardless of how I feel about not being allowed in. It doesn’t mean that I stop trying; it just means that I may search for a quiet time to be near and to listen. It is the time when I stop “coaching” and start providing. I may provide time by covering a class, or I may provide a helping hand in the copy room. I may provide support by stopping by in the middle of a class – not to do an observation but to become a teacher’s aide or classroom support. As a coach, I need to be that type of person. I need to see my colleagues as they are and recognize their needs. I need to support each as an individual before I can support each as a professional. 

The question of how we meet the needs of our teachers is more complex than a teacher in front of a classroom of kids. Adults are complex. Adults bring connotations. Adults bring baggage. I find that when I truly get to know each of the teachers I am honored to work with and learn to meet them where they are, that is when we engage in meaningful learning and create a culture of growth together.