If we are not getting into classrooms on a regular basis, then we have to get honest about what’s keeping us out.
Go-to short hand excuses for leaders like me, include: “There are so many operational demands…The student behaviors are high right now. I have a lot of follow up…I have to get to these compliance tasks. I can’t end up on the ‘naughty list’.”
These pressures are real. They are true. But they are also excuses. That’s what they are.
The most important part of my job is the role of instructional leader. I believe the best hope for students, who are currently outside the ‘sphere of success,’ is skilled teaching that reaches them at their point of need. I know that creating space for teachers to reflect on their practice is critical. In fact, I believe coaching teachers is the most valuable work a principal can do.
So, then what keeps us back?
To be brutally honest, discomfort and fear hold me back. Both consciously and subconsciously, I discover ways to shorten the “coaching day.” Fear pushes me towards more managable, concrete tasks. I end up doing less of what is most important.
After all, when we engage in coaching, it can create mutual discomfort. Some teachers tense up right when we walk in the classroom. Any lack of trust that may exist in the professional relationship suddenly becomes palpable. At times we see practices in classrooms that are disappointing, even startling. We are pushed to have hard conversations. Other days we see dynamic teaching and learning. We “notice and name” the positives, but wonder if pointing out areas for improvement will discourage our best teachers. We don’t want to undermine already strong relationships.
Sometimes we sit in classrooms beating ourselves up. “Wow. I haven’t been in this classroom for some time. What is up with me?”
We wonder if our written feedback will be received the right way.
We hope there are natural moments for coaching conversations, until they slip away.
We wonder what might be triggering a colleague.
We know that the email is stacking up and the to-do tasks haven’t gone away.
We feel discomfort. We feel fear.
And so we retreat.
Courageous and driven instructional leaders all feel these tensions. They hear these doubts. They feel the discomfort and fear consistently.
Courageous and driven instructional leaders push through fear and discomfort. They sit in it and breathe. They schedule the time to be in classrooms and stick to it. They push away operational excuses and improve on their ability to delegate. Courageous leaders are sensitive to teacher preferences, yet insist on space for meaningful conversations. They work hard to refine their coaching practices. Yet they have compassion for themselves in the process.
Yes, we are scared. But we press in.
After all, our kids deserve leaders who push through their own fears.